Movie Project #35: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre [1974]

The 50 Movies Project: 2013 Edition

In what has become an annual tradition, I have decided to embark in a third round of the 50 Movies Project. The premise is simple — I have put together a list of 50 movies that I feel I absolutely must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. With so many films to see, it’s easy to get off track and forget about some of the essentials. This is my way of making sure I watch those that have been on my “must see” list for too long.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre [1974]

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre [1974]
Director: Tobe Hooper
Writers: Tobe Hooper, Kim Henkel
Country: USA
Genre: Horror
Starring: Marilyn Burns, Edwin Neal, Allen Danziger, Gunnar Hansen
Running Time: 83 minutes

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is pure, unadulterated terror.

Other slasher flicks have tried to imitate this over the years, but there’s a reason this is considered one of the most terrifying films ever made. Yet even with this recognition, I don’t think I was ready for *this* type of madness.

The film tells the story of a group of five friends, including Sally Hardesty (Marilyn Burns) and her paraplegic brother Franklin (Paul A. Partain), who are traveling to investigate possible acts of vandalism at the grave of the Hardestys’ grandfather. While in the area, they decide to visit their grandpa’s old house, now a run-down shack.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre [1974]

The peculiarities begin when the group picks up a hitchhiker along the way. This guy (played eccentrically by Edwin Neal) is completely off his rocker, rambling — in great detail — about an old slaughterhouse his family worked at. His erratic behavior only escalates, leading to the group kicking him out of their van, thinking that’s the last they will see of him.

When they finally reach their grandpa’s house, they begin exploring the bountiful land it was built upon. There’s another house not too far in the distance, and two members of the group head in that direction in hopes of borrowing some gasoline.

Enter: Leatherface.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre [1974]

In what is arguably one of the most startling introductions in horror history, Leatherface makes his first appearance by unconventional means. Whereas most horror films slowly build up the suspense before introducing the main antagonist, here Leatherface simply enters the frame with no warning, knocks someone out with a mallet and then slams the door in our faces. It’s all done so matter-of-factly, and it’s utterly brilliant.

From there, the terror only intensifies, with characters getting picked off one-by-one until only one remains. This poor girl has an awful, awful night, getting chased by a chainsaw-wielding Leatherface through seemingly endless fields. Eventually, she is forced to endure a dinner with “the family”, in a scene so bizarre that I’m pretty sure I just sat there with my mouth gaping open. The last ten minutes or so of the film are balls-to-the-wall insane — I can’t think of a more intense conclusion in any other movie.

It’s amazing that The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was filmed on a budget of under $300,000. It’s clearly low budget, with a cast of mostly unknown actors, but it all feels so authentic. This is a story that could happen in real life (it is loosely based on the real-life serial killer, Ed Gein), and it’s the type of film that will make you think twice about stopping in small towns. Completely, absolutely horrifying.