Wait… wait… have you not heard of Texas Chainsaw Massacre? It’s a movie about a chainsaw massacre that happened in Texas. Not to be confused with the Wisconsin Chainsaw Massacre or even the Rhode Island Chainsaw Massacre. This movie stands apart as being the definitive American Chainsaw Massacre movie of all time. Really though, this movie is Tobe Hooper’s 1974 horror masterpiece detailing a fictional Ed Gein-esque visceral horrorscape that awaits you beyond the boundaries of Texas’ interstate highways. Watch the trailer below to re-familiarize yourself with the movie, then read our impressions of it below. Warning: spoilers.
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Mark: Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Hey, look… I probably should’ve seen this movie as a whole prior to now. I get it. Mea culpa. We’re not all perfect horror reviewers here on planet A-Z. If it helps, I’ve basically pieced this one together from various random viewings of pirated copies of the film from my old college roommate’s laptop. That counts right?
Jake: No, it doesn’t count. In fact, you should have just lied. Now that our credibility is destroyed because you inexplicably hadn’t seen this as a whole before this week, should we just skip ahead to ratings and shut our site down?
Mark: You’re overreacting. Call it better late than never, okay? Interestingly, I had basically the exact right understanding of this movie despite my lack of ever actually watching the thing front to back. I guess that’s probably because the tone is pretty constant throughout? Even if you only catch random bits it still screams “Texas” and “Summer” and “Hot” and “Really Fucking Violent.” If you’re anticipating a hand-holding intro-to-slashers experience then you are wrong and you should go watch literally any other slasher. This is a master’s thesis in fucked up shit.
Jake: Most definitely. In a profound display of mercy to the viewer though, this flick never really misleads you. If the opening narration and incredibly visceral and disorienting camera sequence at the beginning of the film didn’t make the point pretty clear, one would assume the fucking title of the film is a good indication of what’s to come. The movie opens by explaining there is a string of grave robberies happening in rural Texas, and we are quickly introduced to a group of kids (early 20’s maybe?) who are travelling back to the site at the request of the “invalid”, Franklin, whose grandfather’s is among the desecrated tombs. It’s a Tobe Hooper flick, so there are a lot of exaggerated characters. Franklin is a whiny bitch, and everyone else (Sally, Pam, Kirk and Jerry) is a super-hippy. As such, they pick up a hitchhiker who looks like a skunk and a platypus mated while suffocating in cow feces. It does not end well.
Mark: I mean, he might be one of the least subtle hitchhikers of all time right? There is literally 0% of the population that thinks this dude isn’t a goddamn psychopath. By the time he’s cutting his own hand with the straight razor he pulled out of his boot, you are straight out of this conversation and who the fucking why would you pull over to pick up a hitchiker in the first place? Regardless of the setup (the 70’s were a different time, man) the combination of idiotic retrograde astrology and the performance of Edwin Neal as the hitchhiker sets this thing up to be pretty tense from the get go.
Jake: After said hand cutting and some Franklin slashing, the idiot kids are able to kick that fucker into the creek. And by creek, I mean out of their flower-power van. In a shocking twist of events, they run out of gas and are essentially stranded in the west Texas hellhole. By this point, it has become abundantly clear that Hooper is really good at making fucked up characters. And we haven’t even gotten to the best of it yet. Commendable shit, my friend.
Mark: The group continues on to Sally and Franklin’s grandfather’s estate and you get this random bout of exposition from Franklin. Look, Franklin is a strange character, he is literally one of a very small set of slasher movie characters to be in a wheelchair and I get his frustration, but this burst of exposition is one of the few moments of this film where I was very aware of an actor reading lines. I don’t know if that’s because of Paul Partain’s own abilities, but I kinda doubt it unless he adlibbed the long stream of incoherent raspberries that his character spouted off.
Jake: Just #Hooperthings. Remember Craig T. Nelson’s friend in Poltergeist who is included for no other reason than to get fucked with and spill beer everywhere in the most hilarious way possible? His characters are going to have weird traits...
Mark: … and speaking of weird character traits, we soon get our first appearance of Leatherface. It’s quick. It’s violent. It’s really goddamn brutal. He appears out of the fucking blue and just brains this dude with a meat hammer. Hooper pauses for a moment on his imminently dead torso seizing about like a fish on a dock to set the tone for the rest of the movie. It’s an incredibly violent scene punctuated by a now famous shot of Leatherface slamming the door to his slaughterhouse, and thus starts our slasher. If your 1970’s socks are still on, then I am legit impressed that this scene didn’t blow them off.
Jake: It’s a well earned scare that somehow manages to be unexpected. To this point in the film, things have been a slow but unsettling burn. I have to try to put myself in the position of watching this movie for the first time, and I’m pretty sure my expectations were such that the violence would be of the “hear it from a mile away” variety. The way Leatherface manages to appear swiftly and silently while still managing to be a hulking monster leaves you reeling a bit as the viewer and really shifts the feel of the movie as a whole.
Mark: Before long we get the next two victims served up on a platter. Pam (see hero image) walks into the house to figure out what the fuck Kirk has been up to since he went to investigate the generator. She ambles about the house, as you do, discovering various atrocities and real-life-inspired human trophies. I’m gonna put a plug in here to read up on Ed Gein if you haven’t. His story is in no way entertaining, but it was sufficiently fucked up enough to inspire no less than three classic horror movies: Psycho, TCM, and Silence of the Lambs. Stay tuned, I’m sure we’ll review Silence of the Lambs in the coming weeks.
Jake: Yeah, the Gein story is unbelievable in the truest sense. When you watch this flick and see the state of that house, it is unsettling in that it is within the realm of technical possibility that someone could fashion face-skin lampshades and seats made of femurs. When you take a moment to realize there was a dude in Wisconsin that actually did that, it inspires a whole new level of nausea. You know what else inspires nausea? Leatherface deadlifting Pam and hanging her on a meathook to watch while he butchers Kirk’s very dead corpse with a chainsaw. That’s what. NOW the chainsaw is in-play, kids. Similar to Pam, Jerry (the other, other hippy) goes snooping around the house of horrors. Leatherface is in pure burn-the-boats mode by now, so he hammers his dome in too, because fuck it.
Mark: I would've gone with a Gallagher reference there, but to each his own I guess. There's no wrong answers when comparing serial killers to famous 90s personalities. Anyway, now we see the end of Franklin. He obviously wasn’t long for the slasher world, but you kinda gotta feel for the guy. He gets murdered real hard. Like way harder than is needed. In fact, he is the only true victim of the eponymous chainsaw in the entire film and he get’s killed like five times over. Dude is in a wheelchair. Why you gotta be like that?
Jake: Why not, Mark? Why not? So for those keeping score, we’re now down to one hippy. Sally. We reach a sequence in the film where she runs around for quite some time with Leatherface in chainsaw-equipped pursuit. It’s pretty great, actually. Plus you can start playing a drinking game called “chug a beer when Sally jumps out a window”. By the end of beer one, she will be back at the gas station getting the shit beaten out of her by the old dude from earlier in the film. Turns out, he’s in on Leatherface’s action.
Mark: Why would you choose a broomstick as your weapon of choice? You’re a guy protecting your hidden cannibalistic way of live and literally the only thing you can do to protect it is keep a loosely screwed in broom in a closet? This was one of the other scenes I found more hilarious than scary, but who am I to judge? Long story short, wouldn’t you know it, Sally ends up back at the very house she escaped from earlier. Just short one window. Life’s a bitch, then you marry one, eh boys?
Jake: At least there’s a dinner party this time. Except it’s got a lot less alcohol and a lot more Leatherface dressed as a woman than I’m used to. The audience is now treated to an extended and extremely fucked up scene of psychological torture. We could have honestly written an entire review on just this scene, from the grandfather sucking blood out of her finger to the shots of the veins in her eyes while she frantically tracks the room looking for a way out.
Mark: This scene is stupid creepy. It’s the scene people point to when they say it’s the scariest movie they’ve ever seen. There have been a nonzero amount of people who have pointed this out to me as the scariest thing they’ve ever seen on film. You got Leatherface crossdressing as his grandmother. You got desiccated corpse grandfather-who-is-actually-alive drinking the finger blood of the victim. You got weird hitchhiker guy also just yelling shit because fuck you that’s what he does his name is Nubbins. This scene is full-on uncomfortable.
Jake:...and then once again the Hooperness of this film ends up making a terrifying scene something that is actually rather funny. The Sawyer family decide the best way of dispatching Sally is to have old dessicated man-corpse grandpa Sawyer bash her in the head with a meat tenderizer.
Mark: This would probably work had they not planned on him being an old dessicated man-corpse. That's where they made their biggest mistake. He repeatedly drops the mallet and Leatherface kinda squeals at him and the process repeats for an incredibly long time. As you might expect, Sally capitalizes on their inefficient killing techniques (they shoulda used an air hammer) and smashes her way through another window. It seems like that’s kinda her go to move at this point.
Jake: Resume drinking game, please and thank you and your welcome. Sally runs down the road, drenched in blood, with Hitchiker/Nubbins and Leatherface in tow. It’s a weird scene because Nubbins is so much faster than Sally he essentially has to just run along side her and pick daisies as they pass by various fields. It speaks volumes about how this movie was made that this does not feel at all out of place.
Mark: … and then he gets reamed by a semi truck. You know, there’s an old Yiddish saying: “cut an invalid with a boot switchblade and karma will run your ass over with a gigantic truck.” It’s a surprisingly specific and accurate aphorism, just not particularly useful outside of this exact situation.
Jake: I’ll keep it in mind for future trips to Texas.
Mark: And then the movie just sort of ends, with Leatherface flailing his way off into the Texas sunset. One of the most romantic horror movie endings ever, no? Ratings time.
For 1 - Think of how George Costanza would rate the efficacy of Rageaholics Anonymous:
For 10 - Think of how Sling blade would rate french fried potaters:
Mark: 5 - Don’t get me wrong, this movie is an iconic horror masterpiece. It’s just that there really isn’t much to the story. The Sawyer backstory is basically just Ed Gein’s story, the house-of-horrors-off-the-highway was done years earlier by Psycho, and that basically just leaves kids going on a road trip.
Jake: 7.5 - This movie’s story is a simple and effective execution on a really unsettling concept. Real, real fucked up people doing real fucked up things. Throw in a bit of Tobe Hooper weirdness and you’ve got a relative winner in relation to many genre offerings.
WORLD-BUILDING / IMMERSION:
Mark: 6 - This movie’s age is pretty apparent from the get go. The yellow tinted grainy film coupled with the sub-optimal sound mixing makes it pretty apparent that this was shot over 40 years ago. The funny thing is I actually think those issues might help the movie out overall by giving it more of a sense of self, but that’ll be reflected in other categories.
Jake: 8 - The world this movie builds does a tremendous job of accomplishing its main objective. Unsettling the shit out of you. It was hard to determine whether to pot the feelings this movie makes you feel into world building or scare-factor, but I think this is one of those rare films where each and every piece works in tandem to help the other elements. It’s true synergy.
Mark: 9 - I’ve heard a non-zero amount of people describe this as the scariest movie they’ve ever seen, specifically invoking the dinner scene as something that’s haunted their nightmares for years. To be perfectly frank this one doesn’t stick with me as much as that, but I do appreciate how goddamn terrifying the whole experience is.
Jake: 6.5 - I can’t go as high with this particular score but I also can’t really argue with a really high rating here either. For me, it boils down to whether or not the scares that were produced in the movie stuck with me to any degree afterwards, and unlike some other movies in this vein of unpleasantness, it really doesn’t. I’m not sure if that is being biased by my many times having seen the film, but it’s now impossible for me to separate. There are effective scares here, but their staying power is really the duration of the film’s runtime for me.
EFFECTS (OR JUDICIOUS LACK THEREOF):
Mark: 10 - Remember how earlier I said that my sub-optimal score in immersion would be compensated for in other categories? Well, here we are. It’s flabbergasting to think that this film was shot for less than $150K. The execution of the house and all of the props in it are phenomenal, the practical effects and gore look great, and the costume design of the Sawyer family is exactly what it needs to be. This is as close to perfect as effects can get in a movie, and it happened over 40 years ago. Get your game together, Hollywood.
Jake: 9 - I agree with Mark almost wholeheartedly. It’s not a perfect score, but it’s damn near it. Here’s the thing about how I consume movies. I feel like there is a budget for every film that makes sense. Star Wars flick? Yeah, that needs a big budget to tell a massive, epic, sweeping story. This? This benefits from the tremendous care that was given to the design and the work that was done to make things look the way they needed for this film to feel realistic. This is a shithole, rundown house in Texas. That screams low budget. It looks the part, and rightly so.
Mark: 7 - Mathematically speaking this score comes out to be a 7.5, but I’m adjusting it downward because it doesn’t strike really strike me the same way other movies of similar ilk do. Objectively, I recognize that this movie is incredible. Subjectively, it’s great but not phenomenal.
Jake: 7.5 - Classic. Big time classic. My rating is for almost the same reason as Mark. Do I recognize this movie’s greatness? Absolutely. Do I enjoy watching it? Not particularly. The top tier in my personal ratings system are reserved for those films that do both, but I would never argue with someone giving a higher (or even close to perfect) score for this thing.