If I were to rate my favorite horror flicks of all time Tobe Hooper’s 1974 masterpiece would rate in my top 3 along with Halloween (78) and Night of the Living Dead (68) and I love all 3 films so much it’s hard to pick one over the other since I love them for different reason, but the one thing I can say for certain is The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is the most terrifying movie that I’ve ever seen. A movie like this would never work with a Hollywood sized budget and Hollywood style filmmaking; while I didn’t hate the remake I thought it was ok, but it fails compared to the original.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was produced on a very low budget and was shot on 16MM and it gives the movie almost a documentary type look; the picture quality is a little rough looking with dirt and grain and while that can sometimes maybe hurt a movie, but in the case of TCM that adds to the power of the movie and also elevates the movie to greatness.
I’m a big horror fan and I love the genre and I also love all different eras of the genre and I’ve seen them all from big budget to lo budget and mainstream to barley known, but of all the horror flicks I’ve seen TCM is the one I found to be the scariest of them all and even with repeated viewings TCM holds up. Back when TCM was made nobody involved had a lot of experience and the conditions on set weren’t exactly the best and they also shot in extreme heat and all these elements can really hurt a film, but with TCM I think these elements are what help make this movie the brilliance that it is. The poor conditions in many ways I think makes the movie even better and all these things that could have been negatives are really the backbone of the picture.
The reputation of the film is being a really gory flick, which is actually kinda funny seeing as there is almost no blood in the film. The violence is rather brutal and raw and I think that’s where the gory reputation comes from. People forget that a movie can be really graphic, but yet have very little gore. I think the violence in the movie is quite graphic and when you think about it you forget that there is very little blood, but the graphic nature makes you think you are seeing more than you actually are.
The screenplay by Kim Henkel & Tobe Hooper was fairly good, but a movie like this doesn’t need a great screenplay; the script serves its purpose and works well, but none of the characters are very well developed, but they serve their purpose for the film. If anything the script might be the only flaw I can find with the movie. Again the script isn’t bad or anything; it’s entertaining and gets the job done, but it isn’t anything special.
To be quite honest I’ve never really been a big fan of Tobe Hooper besides TCM and TCM 2. Besides that I personally find most of his flicks ranging from average to below average, but I did enjoy both his Masters of Horror: Dance of the Dead & The Damned Thing. But there is no doubt Tobe Hooper created one of the all-time greats with TCM.
Like I said any possible flaws you can find with TCM is with this script, but Hooper more than makes up for that with his direction. From a visual side TCM looks amazing and it’s not visually stunning like something you’d see from say Dario Argento, but the visuals are excellent and sometimes it’s simple shots that are the most effective. TCM starts off a little slow, but it’s never boring and Hooper keeps the pace moving along thanks to the eerie sense of dread he’s able to create. Even before the violence starts, Hooper sets a really morbid tone and you get the feeling that at any moment something bad can happen.
Again of all the horror flicks I’ve seen for me TCM is by far the most terrifying of them all. The very first kill scene in the movie I’d rate as one of the scariest scenes I’ve ever seen and when Leatherface (Hansen) attacks Pam (McMinn) that is another scene I’d rate as one of the scariest. One TCM gets going it never once lets up. Tobe Hooper is relentless with the suspense and he never loses it. He’s able to make each scene as terrifying as the last and again while I’m not the biggest fan of Tobe Hooper’s work as a whole TCM rightfully deserves all the credit it gets and is easily one of the greatest horror flicks ever made; the movie is rather simple and sometimes simplicity is all you need.
Gunnar Hansen as Leatherface is one of the scariest horror movie villains’ simple as that. A lot of times performances like this are often over-looked due to the fact the killer is silent and wears as a mask so the general thought is anybody can play the part. In some ways that is true anybody can indeed play the role, but that doesn’t mean they’ll play it well. In my opinion Nick Castle who played Michael Myers in the original Halloween was by far the best and scariest, but the actors who played the role afterwards didn’t hurt the movie even though they never matched him in the scare factor, but Hansen proves that there is an art behind playing a silent killer with a mask.
Gunnar Hansen in my opinion gives a performance up there with Boris Karloff as the Frankenstein Monster; Karloff is my favorite actor and not many performances in the horror genre have come close to his, but as Leatherface, Hansen comes close. Hansen is more than some guy wearing a mask. The character is insane obviously, but there are different kinds of insane. For instance someone like Ted Bundy can function is everyday society; he was actually so well thought of people called him the next John F. Kennedy. Then you have people like Ed Gein who of course this movie was partly inspired by is someone who can sort of function, but is really weird and creepy. Leatherface is somebody so insane he cannot function in everyday society and he’s almost childlike and I don’t think has any concept of right or wrong.
He can understand, but he doesn’t seem able to speak and by the characters entering his house he seems scared and only knows violence. After he kills one character he seems sort of panicked as he looks around and then quickly goes to the window to see if there is anybody else and Hansen plays this off to perfection. The fact we know nothing of Leatherface adds to the character and makes him so much scarier. As sequels are made the character starts to lose their fear factor and loses it even more as back-stories are attempted, but in the original Leatherface easily rates as one of the scariest villains and Hansen gives a performance up with the likes of Karloff.
The rest of the cast is surprisingly good for a low budget horror flick. The performances may not be Oscar worthy, but they are solid and the Cook (Siedow) and the Hitchhiker (Neal) are really creepy and scary and Marilyn Burns as Sally makes for one of my favorite final girls. And those who know the story of the making know this movie was quite a brutal experience for the cast and crew that it makes the performance by Marilyn Burns even better.
Tobe Hooper’s goal believe it or not was to make a dark comedy and it actually works because at times TCM is funny, but the comedy is what makes the movie so scary. The Cook and the Hitchhiker are totally insane and I mean no disrespect to the mentally ill, but sometimes they can be sort of funny; if you’ve ever seen any documentaries on the mentally ill at times the things they say and do are funny and the Cook and the Hitchhiker are hysterical, but the fact they are funny because they are so insane it makes them really scary.
The dinner scene is probably the most well known in TCM and this scene in particular shows how the comedy is terrifying. As Sally pleads for her life while crying the Hitchhiker begins to mimic her and it’s so mean spirited that again the comedy becomes terrifying. This scene for me is one of the most brutal even if there is no violence. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is without a doubt a classic of the genre and even all these decades later holds up as a masterpiece.
-Dave Kaye (Last Road Reviews)
To order from Amazon: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Two-Disc Ultimate Edition)