The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

(USA 1974)


“The film which you are about to see is an account of the tragedy which befell a group of five youths, in particular Sally Hardesty and her invalid brother, Franklin. It is all the more tragic in that they were young. But, had they lived very, very long lives, they could not have expected nor would they have wished to see as much of the mad and macabre as they were to see that day. For them an idyllic summer afternoon drive became a nightmare.”

— Narrator


“Look what your brother did to the door! Ain’t he got no pride in his home?”

— Old Man

I didn’t expect much when I sat down for the low budget slasher classic The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, a movie that somehow escaped me all these years. I’ve got to admit, it’s not bad.

The premise is simple: five friends in their 20s, three guys and two girls, are driving a van on a road trip through rural Texas in the summer. The purpose of the trip is to check on a few dearly departed relatives of Sally (Marilyn Burns) and her disabled brother, Franklin (Paul Alan Partain), after a gruesome grave robbery in the town where they grew up. It’s very Scooby Doo.

They pick up a crazy hitchhiker (Edwin Neal) outside a slaughterhouse who grosses them all out talking about killing cattle with a sledgehammer. He passes around a few photos of some he finished off himself. He’s dirty, scabby, and jittery. He snaps a photo no one asked him to, then has the nerve to charge them two bucks for it. He invites them over for dinner (head cheese) with his family before he cuts his hand with a pocketknife. Freaked, they pull over and throw his nasty ass out.

That’s not the worst of it — it’s just the beginning. Working from a screenplay he wrote with Kim Henkel, director Tobe Hooper taps into something pretty fucked up here. Mixing hicks with chainsaws is unsettling enough, but “Leatherface” (Gunnar Hansen), the masked executioner behind that sliding freezer door, is truly frightening. So is decomposing “grandfather” (John Dugan). When you stop to think about it, so is a gas station barbeque.

All the essential elements of horror are here: characters stranded in the middle of nowhere, empty houses, no phones or gas, bugs, bones, rotting corpses, chases in the dark, falling down, power tools as weapons, kidnapping, a faceless menace, and a bunch of blood.

Cinematographer Daniel Pearl creates some surprisingly artful shots, particularly on the highway, in a sunflower patch, and a scene with feathers. They look great. The artful moments, however, are far and few between. The pacing is strange: the first four victims are picked off in quick succession, leaving just Burns, who has nothing to do but run around and scream for nearly the entire second half. Even after all she goes through, no one needs that. Still, for all its flaws, I winced, I snickered, I looked away in disgust. But I saw the whole thing through to the end — no pun intended.

I hate to spoil the ending, but contrary to the movie poster…none of this is true.

With Allen Danziger, William Vail, Teri McMinn, Jim Siedow, John Larroquette

Production: Vortex

Distribution: Bryanston Pictures (USA), Astral Films (Canada), New Gold Entertainment (Italy), Succéfilm AB (Sweden), Jugendfilm-Verleih (West Germany), Bac Films (France), New Line Cinema (USA), René Chateau Productions (France), Filmways Australasian Distributors (Australia)

84 minutes
Rated R

(iTunes rental) B-

Foxy Brown

(USA 1974)

“That’s my sister, baby. And she’s a whole lot of woman.”

— Link


“Death is too easy for you, bitch. I want you to suffer.”

— Foxy

To use a term straight from Willie Hutch’s theme song, director/screenwriter Jack Hill’s Foxy Brown is superbad. It’s definitely not something to see for technical or artistic excellence, but it’s cool nonetheless. A sort of reworking of Coffey, it’s a sexy vigilante revenge tale that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Pam Grier is Foxy Brown, a bodacious woman on a mission to track down the goons who shot and killed her boyfriend (Terry Carter), a government agent who just had plastic surgery to change his identity, right outside her door. Obviously, this is the work of a Los Angeles drug ring.

Foxy quickly figures out who the rat is: her own brother, Link (Antonio Fargas). He identifies her boyfriend’s killers as affiliates of a “modeling agency.” The agency is run by fixers Miss Kathryn Wall (Kathryn Loder) and Steve Elias (Peter Brown). Their clients are crooked high profile men of the law like judges and politicians who trade favors for girls.

Posing as a prostitute, Foxy gets inside the operation and does some major damage. It gets her in serious hot water when she’s exposed, bringing her into the center of a lesbian bar brawl and then onto a coke ranch as a junky sex slave. Fortunately, she’s tough and resourceful. No one gets the best of Foxy.

Built on sex parties, chase scenes, shoot outs, and boobs, the plot is structured like a sitcom, and it’s about as complicated and predictable. Naturally, Foxy gets what she wants in the end. Except for the very cool opening titles, there are no effects to speak of. The acting is average at best. However, the action is surprisingly steady, leaving very few dull spots. Plus, there’s real sas here, mostly from Grier, that keeps the whole thing interesting.

I wouldn’t go so far as to call Foxy Brown a feminist work, but Foxy is a badass heroine with her heart — and her head — in the right place. It’s a thrill watching her take control, especially in heels and those fabulous frocks. I wouldn’t want to piss her off.

With Harry Holcombe, Sid Haig, Juanita Brown, Sally Ann Stroud, Bob Minor, Tony Giorgio, Fred Lerner, Judy Cassmore, H.B. Haggerty, Boyd ‘Red’ Morgan, Jack Bernardi, Brenda Venus, Kimberly Hyde, Jon Cedar, Ed Knight, Esther Sutherland, Mary Foran, Jeannie Epper, Stephanie Epper, Peaches Jones, Helen Boll, Conrad Bachmann, Russ Grieve, Rodney Grier, Roydon E. Clark, Don Gazzaniga, Jay Fletcher, Gary Wright, Fred Murphy, Edward Cross, Larry Kinley Jr.

Production: American International Pictures (AIP)

Distribution: American International Pictures (AIP) (USA), Sociedade Importadora de Filmes (SIF) (Portugal), Film AB Corona (Sweden), Cinema Mondo (Finland)

92 minutes
Rated R

(Impact) C+

Swept Away…by an Unusual Destiny in the Blue Sea of August [Travolti da un insolito destino nell’azzurro mare d’agosto]

(Italy 1974)

“Oh, Madonna! This nightmare is finally over. God, do I want some coffee. Fresh, of course.”

— Raffaella Pavone Lanzetti

More than 40 years after the fact, Lina Wertmüller is still an audacious filmmaker. Not only does she incorporate sociopolitical commentary, satire, and crazy sex into her work, but her ’70s films are inherently interesting because they push buttons. She’s the first female nominated for an Oscar for Best Director, and there’s a reason for that: she’s a radical with more balls than just about anyone else working, even today.

Case in point: Swept Away…by an Unusual Destiny in the Blue Sea of August [Travolti da un insolito destino nell’azzurro mare d’agosto] — or simply Swept Away for short — is not a standard comedy. The plot is simple: an insufferable rich bitch, Raffaella (Mariangela Melato), is vacationing in the Mediterranean with her millionare husband (Riccardo Salvino) and their friends on a yacht. Raffaella is thoughtless and demanding, and she relentlessly berates rugged deckhand Gennarino Carunchio (Giancarlo Giannini) because the coffee isn’t fresh, the fish doesn’t taste right, and the pasta isn’t al dente enough.

She insists that Gennarino take her swimming. The two end up stranded in the water, far from the yacht. They eventually spot land, which turns out to be a small uninhabited island. Gennarino, a fisher, has no trouble finding food or shelter. Raffaella isn’t used to doing things herself, and soon finds that she is dependent on Gennarino. He isn’t exactly gracious about his new upper hand. It isn’t long before their relationship takes a sexual turn.

Wertmüller, who wrote the screenplay as well as directed, plays on traditional notions of sex roles. By today’s standards, Swept Away is probably too violent to come off as funny. The many scenes where Gennarino slaps and physically pummels Raffaella are bad enough, but when he rapes her on the beach? It’s disturbing. How is that funny? That’s the point — at first, anyway.

Swept Away isn’t really about sex: it’s about power. Here, the power dynamic shifts once Raffaella and Gennarino are out of the “civilized” world and lost in the wild, where economics and social status no longer define one’s place. Like all of her early films, Wertmüller has a lot to say about class structure; here, she also has a lot to say about male/female relationships. She’s controversial, but her approach works really well. It helps that Melato and Giannini, who starred in earlier films together, have a believable chemistry — and they spend a bit of time here wearing very little.

Swept Away is not a typical film. I call it a comedy, but it doesn’t fit neatly into any category. It’s sharp, subversive, and still pretty potent.

With Isa Danieli, Aldo Puglisi, Anna Melita, Giuseppe Durini, Lucrezia De Domizio, Luis Suárez, Vittorio Fanfoni, Lorenzo Piani, Eros Pagni

Production: Medusa Distribuzione

Distribution: Medusa Distribuzione (Italy), Cinema 5 Distributing (USA)

116 minutes
Rated R

(iTunes rental) B+

Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore

(USA 1974)

Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore defies classification: it’s a road movie, a coming-of-age film, a romance, and arguably a feminist statement.

On one hand, it’s a dark study of Alice Hyatt (Ellen Burstyn), a neglected Soccoro housewife thrust into an awful situation: her husband, Donald (Billy Green Bush), is killed in a truck accident, leaving her with nothing. Forced to fend for herself and her 12-year-old son, Tommy (Alfred Lutter), she turns to the only thing she knows: singing. In dark piano bars. Um, in New Mexico and Arizona. It doesn’t pan out, so she takes a job as a waitress in Tuscon, which, we are informed, is the “weird capitol of the world.” Fucking dismal. On the other hand, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore is a marvelously sublime but uncomfortable comedy that exploits for all it’s worth Alice’s cluelessness in her search for the American Dream. Director Martin Scorsese and screenwriter Robert Getchell throw out so much to laugh at, and I do—it’s just not clear that I’m supposed to. Hence the genius of this film, one my absolute favorites.

Like most films you watch over and over, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore is loaded with great lines—far too many to even begin repeating here; this is what keeps me coming back. Early career performances by the likes of Harvey Keitel, Kris Kristofferson, Valerie Curtin, Diane Ladd, and yes, Jodie Foster are a treat! The acting is superb; in fact, Burstyn won an Oscar and Ladd was nominated for one (as was Getchell). Audrey (Foster), clearly a precursor to Taxi Driver‘s Doris, is the smartass trouble girl I always wanted to hang out with: she drinks Ripple, steals guitar cords, and refers to her mother as “Ramada Rose.” Fuck yeah! And how cool to witness the birth of Alice, the TV series? Mel (Vic Tayback) is the exact same character, and Ladd, the original Flo—she doesn’t say “Kiss my grits” but she does say “Mel, you can kiss me where the sun don’t shine!”—was reanimated as Belle after Polly Holliday left.

Alice and Tommy might be pitiful, but they’re not pitiable. For all its tragedy, the film’s ending is a positive if not happy one: Alice and Tommy make peace with where they end up. Who knows whether it ultimately works out? They’re good for now. They can always start over—in Monterey or anywhere else. If there were such a thing as American neorealism, this film qualifies (except maybe for the fact that these are professional actors).

I’ve seen Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore hundreds of times, usually edited for late night TV. I can see it a hundred times more. It never gets old. I recommend the unedited original version.

112 minutes
Rated PG

(Home via iTunes) A