“Travel in the country, long-range plans, and upsetting persons around you could make this a disturbing and unpredictable day.”
What is a nightmare? If you are reading this on this particular website then the chances are you (like myself) associate that word with one person in particular who has a fondness for gloves. A nightmare is a brief moment of time when we lose what we desire most, control. All the demons we suppress in our minds escape and create a world; one we have no desire to be in. A world that affects all of our senses for the worse. Pain, hopelessness, and dread are the things we leave behind when our eyes open, the world imagined is gone. In 1974 a motion picture was released that created a genuine nightmare. A vision that tops every list and continues to be analyzed and studied and followed. It is deserving of these accolades because like a nightmare, it creates a world, one that amplifies and festers our senses. And unlike when we wake up in the morning, and the sensation of anguish resides. Here, when the screen ends in black the viewer is left only with hopelessness. That film is The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
The plot is as bare bones as it gets. “Young people get picked off one by one.” In lesser hands it could have easily joined the ranks of the forgotten and countless that came and went through the grindhouses. Instead, we are treated (or subjected) to a true work of art. One that deserves its spot in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. There is not a single frame wasted here, from the moment it begins every moment is ruthlessly designed to elicit not only fear but more importantly a tangible unease. The pleasantries begin with a narration by John Larroquette telling us that what we are about to see actually happened. His voice is 100% believable because he isn’t embellishing, he isn’t trying to sell us a good fun scary time. The tone in his voice is one of regret, like a teacher who has to lecture about genocide. It is also important to note that the words we see are in yellow. The words presented this way demand our attention, as it is the most luminous of colors. It is also the color of caution.
The screen goes black and we hear shifting in the dirt, then that screeching horrible sound that has become synonymous with this film, and a flash of something in the dark. We catch on that it’s a camera although no camera in history has ever made that noise. The flashes continue and we get glimpses of something wet, dry, dirty and eventually boney. The screen opens to a decomposed body in a graveyard posed in a way that denotes a sexual position, legs spread and mouth agape. All the while orange and red saturate the setting, the discomfort has begun and one can’t help but feel hot.
To put it simply, it’s effective. It remains effective for the entire picture. The theme of no escape is pervading. It is evident in the heat which is on every characters’ face from the moment we see them drenched in sweat. When our van of protagonists wisely pick up a hitchhiker who proceeds to set a picture on fire, and carve into his own and one of our passengers’ flesh, the driver doesn’t stop and the music doesn’t end. When four out of five have been picked off and Sally runs into the night screaming without surcease we see no visual difference in the terrain. When we think she does escape, she is only delivered back into the abyss. This is where the audience is convincingly shown a descent into madness.
Our heroine Sally is tied up as the special guest for dinner. She has spent the day in excruciating heat, she witnessed her brother murdered, she has been chased by a chainsaw wielding, face wearing killer, she has had her finger cut open and sucked on by a decrepit old man and she has screamed more than humanly possible. More screams by a single character than any other horror movie. She breaks. Tobe Hooper shows us this with disturbing close-ups, closer than any Sergio Leone film. When she finally does escape, drenched in blood, laughing maniacally, we can’t help but wonder, what is left of her? This scene in particular looks best on Blu-Ray, the bloodshot veins in her eyes make you forget that this is acting. It is nothing short of magnetic.
While the work of the villain is taken on by the entire cannibalistic family, it’s Leatherface who emerges as the icon. The late, great Gunnar Hansen only portrayed him once despite the following sequels and remake and remake sequels/prequels. The best villains have charisma and just a touch of sympathy. When Leatherface looks out the window after the body count begins to rise, the camera holds on his “face.” He is beginning to put things together, his violence is strictly reactionary. He does what he has to do, we can’t tell if deliberate joy is taken in his work. The act of wearing a mask itself denotes the need to hide. The magnetism comes into play at the end of the film. It is the last thing we see. One of the most memorable scenes in horror cinema and in this humble reviewer’s opinion, one of the most memorable scenes in all film period. Leatherface dances with a chainsaw at dawn, frustrated at the one who got away.
It feels almost experimental at times, the soundtrack is essentially noise, and for a horror movie with arguably the greatest title of all time the gore is minimal. The viewer is given the door to the blood and carnage and our mind carries us through. Yet this film continues to stagger me every single time. The first time I watched it as an 8-year-old, I felt like I “survived” it. THE horror movie you aren’t supposed to watch, late at night at your grandma’s, on VHS, took intestinal fortitude. And to do it in the great state of Texas of all places? Where it actually happened? Well, you only live once. Nothing else on the planet sounds like a chainsaw. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is truly special. It is deserving of multiple viewings in any and every format available. On one hand a VHS will bring a graininess that enhances the doubt in the film. You aren’t sure what you may or may not have seen.
Conversely, the clarity of Blu-Ray highlights details you didn’t know we’re there. The long haunting shot of Leatherface for example. The first kill of the movie, when the hammer squishes Kurt’s skull, and we first meet Leatherface. Is like seeing it for the first time, it looks gorgeous. It is nothing short of an exhibition of power to see in 1080i on a large screen in surround sound. My hope is that you view this one again, or for the first time. That you get away from the TV shows and spend 83 minutes in genuine fear. But, most importantly when the movie ends in black and you feel hopelessness, believe me, it’s a beautiful thing.
The 40th Anniversary Edition brings all of the earlier special features from the 2 Disc Ultimate Edition DVD along with it. Although they are not upgraded to HD it is definitely appreciated Dark Sky Films was thorough. The previously recorded commentaries are available as well.
Two brand new commentaries were recorded. One with only Tobe Hooper and a second with Cinematographer Daniel Pearl, Editor J. Larry Carroll, and Sound Recordist Ted Nicolaou. Both are definitely worth a listen, and offer further insight, into what goes into this art we all love.
Off The Hook with Teri McMinn: This a great short interview with “Pam,” who made meat hooks famous. Her reflecting on this film’s most notorious scene, brief screen time, filming experience and life after the meat hook is really enjoyable to watch.
The Business of Chain Saw: An interview with Production Manager Ron Bozman and Cutting Chain Saw: An interview with Editor J. Larry Carroll: For those who have followed the production of this film there is nothing particularly new here, but still great to watch for a complete experience on reflections of the production and distribution pre-New Line.
Horrors Hallowed Grounds: TCSM: Scream Factory has been keeping up with these on many of their reissues and I enjoy watching them, it is not presented in HD but still cool to see.
Grandpa’s Tales: An Interview with John Dugan: It is so fantastic that Dark Sky was this thorough. Grandpa has no lines, barely moves and yet is hauntingly memorable. It feels really special to hear his stories which are both hilarious and heartwarming.
Dr. W.E Barnes presents “Making Grandpa”: This series of still photographs details the makeup process for Grandpa. This I had never seen before, Grandpa is almost harder to look at than Leatherface and I was so surprised to see John Dugan under all that wonderful makeup looking like a teenager. It’s only a couple of minutes long but it would put the people on “Face/Off” to shame!
There is also a new 40th Anniversary Trailer in addition to the Original Theatrical Trailer and ReRelease Trailer. I love trailers, it’s an art form I can watch and rewatch endlessly and all three of these are great.
Black Maria Edition Only!
The Cinefamily Presents Friedkin/Hooper: A Conversation About The Texas Chain Saw Massacre Between William Friedkin and Tobe Hooper: Yes. I dished out the dough and got the special box with the bloody apron and small poster, just so I could watch this. It’s strange to think that arguably the two scariest movies of all time, were released not only in the same decade but in the span of two years. William Friedkin himself calls it “the most the most terrifying film I have ever seen.” It is really special to see the two talk about the film and offer further insight. If you are able to find a way to watch this, I highly recommend it.