“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.”
“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
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)
(iTunes rental) B-