THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974, 18)
Dir. Tobe Hooper
It has three sequels and one remake, and neither one came even slightly close to the sheer buzzsaw power and terror of the brilliant original. In the early 1970s, it was not uncommon to find films akin to TCSM - largely in the form of rather pointless orgies of bloodletting inspired by Night of the Living Dead (18, 1968). What singles out TCSM is its surprising lack of gore – blood is rarely spilled, but when it is, the effects are shattering.
Made for $500,000 in a sweltering August in 1973, Tobe Hooper's feature length debut was banned in a number of countries, as well as the UK - a campaign sperheaded unsurprisingly by those protectors of moral values, The Daily Mail. It was years before mainstream audiences in the UK saw it, and before it finally got the acclaim it so obviously deserved. It is a horror masterpiece. No, there is no intricate complex plot involved here, it's not The Ring. It does what it says on the tin. A group of teenagers driving through texas are waylaid by a rather 'unconventional' family, out of work since the Slaughterhouse closed down. The first inkling they get of this family is the slightly crazed hitchhiker (Edwin Neals) who hints at what is to come with an amusing lack of subtlety ("My family's always been in meat") before they run out of gas, and poke around an old house before they explore a little too far.
What with there only being five teenagers, the bodycount is low but their deaths are quite awesomely shocking. Deaths are delivered via hammer, chainsaw and meathook – by the insane squealing Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen), a rather unfortunate name to give a growing young man but hey, it has the intended effect. The sole survivor, Sally (Marilyn Burns) spends most of the remainder of the film running away and screaming – unlike most scantily clad film heroines however, you're actually screaming with her. The chase is truly terrifying, and as the film powers into its final minutes, we're still holding our breath and trying not to scream. As a hysterical, shrieking Sally finally escapes, we see the most chilling shot in all cinema – leatherface screaming, waving his chainsaw around his head in a fit of rage.
It is a horror film with a distinct lack of frills and is probably one of the purest horror films ever. It's the bad guy and his quarry, laced with black humour (seen particularly when Leatherface is in the kitchen, being hounded by 'paw') and plenty of shocks and a constant sensation of dread. The film forces you through one nightmare after another; in fact, some of the most disturbing scenes are where leatherface has no weapons and the whole family are sat around the dinner table, shrieking and laughing hysterically at the bound and gagged girl. Okay, so the film is unlikely to win awards for acting – although Gunnar Hansen is fantastic as the insane and child-like Leatherface – but having Shakespearean actors in a film that is all about getting cut up with a chainsaw is not strictly necessary. The film has dated, but it has never lost the power to terrify. The power of the film was such that it was felt that it needed a remake with higher production values and a larger 'Sawyer' family – but the 2003 effort just couldn't get close. Hail one of the great horror movies of all time, as well as one of the greatest and most frightening villains.