The Texas Chainsaw Massacre chilled audiences in 1974 when it first released, not Tobe Hooper’s first venture into horror territory (Eggshells takes that precedent, though not specifically horror) but certainly one of his most influential films. While the sequels to Texas Chainsaw Massacre took the campy Sawyer family and made their antics into pseudo-comedic roles, the original film didn’t skimp on the violence or the grit, and what Hooper subsequently made into humor is mostly just demented in his introduction to Leatherface and the rest of the family. Below, we’ll talk about what makes The Texas Chainsaw Massacre such a classic, as well as its role in your Halloween season viewing.
What makes it a classic?
Part of Hooper’s directorial style in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is to make the film as gritty and realistic as possible, without much in the way of filmmaking fanfare. Even the opening shots of the film, of flashes of photographs and then a very realistic-looking desecrated monument built of real human body parts, is set to an authentic-sounding news broadcast talking about the recent reports of grave robbing in the area. It helps set the tone for the film itself, and one of Hooper’s best choices was to keep The Texas Chainsaw Massacre devoid of music for much of the film.
Instead he opts for a noisy score, one that is aided more by diegetic sound rather than true music. The sounds of the Sawyer family’s farm fill the air as our characters make their unfortunate ways to the house; Kirk (William Vail) and Pam (Teri McMinn) are drawn in by the sounds of a gasoline generator, while Jerry is pulled in by curious pig noises elicited by Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen), whose surprisingly high-pitched vocal effects maintain the eerie atmosphere.
Hooper’s attempts to make The Texas Chainsaw Massacre seem as real as possible begin to take shape during his lengthy scenes, ones that tend to go on for an interminable amount of time. Sally (Marilyn Burns) and her friends pick up a Hitchhiker (Edwin Neal) early in the film, and there’s a long take in the van where Hooper rarely edits the shot; instead, he focuses on the Hitchhiker, making the viewer as uncomfortable as possible as the scene continues on, the Hitchhiker rambling like a madman about slaughterhouses and his obsession with knives. To some viewers, it would seem painful to watch, and that’s the point.
It happens again in the Sawyer household once Sally is captured, a long and drawn-out dinner scene where Sally screams while Leatherface and the Hitchhiker yell along with her. Hooper drags these moments out, letting them fester, allowing Burns’ piercing cries to discomfit the audience. It works, and a technique that Hooper uses in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 – which becomes grating after a while – instead highlights the realistic terror of this scenario, unbroken by flashy editing.
That’s what makes The Texas Chainsaw Massacre a classic – its dedication to gritty depraved realism, allowing the sadism of its storyline to play out without worrying about how much it might disturb the audience. And, on many levels, it’s deeply disturbing.
Is it good for Halloween?
Of course! If everything that I’ve said above isn’t enough for you, then just think – the proliferation of blameless chainsaws as props at Halloween was basically due to Hooper and his Chainsaw legacy. It’s hard not to recommend the film for that alone. But Hooper’s gritty filming, spooky farmhouse atmosphere, and attention to gory detail – most of it offscreen – makes this a perfect Halloween mood-setter, especially thanks to the screamy soundtrack.
Where can I find it this Halloween?
If you have a Showtime Anytime subscription, you can stream this via that service. Otherwise, you’re stuck buying it from YouTube or Amazon. If you didn’t want to stream, though, then you can pick up the new Blu-Ray release with 7.1 surround sound.