Fright Nights: THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE (1974)

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Chris Goodger enjoys an idyllic summer afternoon drive.


The original Texas Chain Saw Massacre is a chilling, horrific piece of cinema. Although not as gory as it was considered to be upon its release in 1974, it's still psychologically brutal. Marketed as both a true story, and as a subtle commentary on the era's political climate, this movie surely deserves its place alongside Halloween, Carrie, Dawn of the Dead, The Exorcist and other seminal films that were part of the 1970's horror film revolution.

En route to visit their grandfather's grave, to investigate reports of ritualistically desecrated, five teenagers, including Sally Hardesty (Marilyn Burns) and her paraplegic brother, Franklin (Paul A. Partain), drive past a slaughterhouse. They pick up, and quickly drop off, a sinister hitch-hiker, who in a moment of madness had slashed Franklin's arm with a straight razor. That is only the start of their troubles, as when they end up at the old family home they're plunged into a never-ending nightmare as they meet a family of cannibals who more than make up in power tools what they lack in social skills


The social commentary is clear in the story. As a result of the technological revolution, the twisted Sawyer family has been led into madness because of the loss of their American values. They used to run the slaughter house, but have now been replaced by machines, so in their loss of fulfillment they turn to murder and cannibalism in order to fill their void. This is obviously an allegorical statement by writer / director Tobe Hooper regarding the loss of jobs and substance at this particular point in American history. This is a family that has gone insane because of a loss of tradition. The youths disposed of in this film represent those victims that are caught in the after blast of this condition. It's also is a film that stresses the deconstruction of the family.

The 'true story' label was likely added to attract a wider audience, but the main plot is entirely fictional. However, the character of Leatherface and some minor details were inspired by the crimes of real-life murderer Ed Gein. Gein was a serial killer who took the skin off his victims and made wigs from them, he also made furniture, art and jewelry with their body parts, and was also the influence for Psycho. Hooper has said that the film was also influenced by a story he was told as a child. But the fact that it is treated like a true account adds to the fear. From the moment you hear John Larroquette narrate the opening dialogue you know you're going to witness something special, and maybe something horrifying. It's an anxiety that will last the duration of the film.


I'd long been a horror fanatic, and had seen many contemporary horror movies before I saw this, but The Texas Chain Saw Massacre took me into another world. I was in awe. It held me to the edge of my seat. The chase through the woods by Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen) kept me wide eyed and fixated solely on the screen. I actually got tense, and that never happens to me during movies. This is raw film-making brilliance, produced on a budget of less than $300,000. This works to its advantage though, as the cheap, grainy quality of the film gives it this eerily realistic and dirty feel. You can almost feel the heat of Texas through the camera lens.

Upon its October 1974 release, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was banned outright in several countries, and many cinemas pulled it in response to complaints about its violence. And it is a very violent movie. Just look at the dinner scene. It's an all-out assault on your senses and the family is reveling in it while poor Sally is screaming her head off. Only when she bursts through the window is she back in reality. But the madness still doesn't stop. In fact, from the moment the teenagers stumble across the Sawyer house, the terror doesn't let up. Not for a second.


It's an old cliche, but they really don't make them like this anymore. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one of the scariest, most powerful horror films ever. As psychologically terrifying as it is gruesome, it's an absolute must see for any fans of the mad and the macabre.

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