“So wake up, young lovers–
the whole thing is over”
In the voice of a young John Larroquette from Night Court (1984):
The film review which you are about to read is an account of the tragedy which befell a group of five youths, in particular Sally Hardesty and her invalid (and annoying) brother, Franklin. It is all the more tragic in that they were young as was this reader, he saw this film at the impressionable age of eleven, and has never been the same since…in a good way. 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. The events of that day were to lead to the discovery of one of the most bizarre crimes in the annals of American history, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974).
Our eyes are instantly scarred with the quick flashes of a corpse that transitions to a grave marker ornamented with a gruesome stiff as a radio newsman informs us of grave robbing, vandalism, and other nefarious nocturnal deeds being committed in cemeteries. The opening shots grab your attention right from the start, and cements the fact that the viewer is about to go on one heck of a ride for the next 84 minutes. Our narrator was not lying.
Welcome to Texas! It’s a hot, unbearable August day when life seemed simpler minus the constant A/C, internet, and cell phones of today, while Sally Hardesty, Marilyn Burns of Helter Skelter (1976), and wheelchair whining brother, Franklin, Paul A. Partain of Race with the Devil (1975), are day tripping it down the road with friends, Jerry, Allen Danziger of Eggshells (1969), Kirk, William Vail of Poltergeist (1982), and Pam, Teri McMinn of Butcher Boys (2012). The gang travel by hippie van like our favorite Mystery, Inc. kids in their Mystery Machine from Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! (1969), as this Texas teen/twenty something team visits the grave of the Hardestys’ grandfather to ensure his bones still rest in peace.
At the cemetery, we get to see a menagerie of good ole boys, aged tombstones, and a delirious drunk which rambles about how things happen there and that he sees things. This sot is a poster child for the detrimental effects of hard liquor, I’ll stick to tea thanks. He is memorable in forewarning our gang about the terror that is in store for them like Crazy Ralph, Walt “You’re all doomed” Gorney, of Friday the 13th (1980) and F13 Part 2 (1981), did to the counselors staying at Camp Crystal Lake.
Since they are already in neighborhood, content that Gramps still rests in peace, the gang decides to visit their grandparent’s old abandon home where Sally & Franklin spent many a happy days as tikes. Enroute to Pappy & Mammy’s, they pick up a gangly, birth marked ghoul of a hitchhiker, Nubbins Sawyer, Edwin Neal of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (1993). “I think we just picked up Dracula,” is an accurate statement made by Franklin directed at our new passenger. Nubbins, a creepy conversationalist to say the least, talks proudly about his family loyalty to the slaughterhouse industry, before he cuts himself, takes a picture, demands a payment, burns the picture, cuts Franklin, exits the vehicle and marks the van with blood while dancing like a loon on the side of the highway. Phew! What a bizarre few minutes. This scene alone, warned me never me to never pick up a hitchhiker, and I never have. Anytime I see someone standing on the road, I think of this hitchhiker from Texas, and keep driving.
Our group with their innocence now lost to the madness of the real world (though I believe that Sally’s apparent bralessness and Pam’s mini shorts reveal their innocence was lost already), drive on to a gas station, W.E. Slaughter’s (get it?), to refuel, only to discover from Drayton Sawyer, Jim Seidow of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986), that the pumps are dry. Drayton is a creepy chap that sells the gang his tasty “BBQ” and warns, “You boys don’t want to go messin’ around some old house.” Once again this gang is warned, but hey, if they decided to go back home, we wouldn’t have an interesting movie. Low on gas and brains, they forge ahead with the intent to get fuel later after they return from Gramp’s place.
They arrive and wander the abandoned property while Kirk & Pam venture off to skinny dip at the swimming hole leaving Franklin all by his lonesome while Sally and Jerry cackle in upstairs in the daddy long leg infested abode. The hole now dry, leads to disappointment for the couple, before Kirk hears a generator in the distance from the adjoined property. The generator leads our young lovers to believe that the owner will kindly sell or trade some of his fuel for a guitar so the youth can gas up their van. Kirk and Pam venture onto the neighbor’s property, before they trespass into the innocent looking house, hook line and sinker, or hammer should I say, into the hands of the infamous Leatherface, Gunnar Hansen of Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers (1988).
Cerebral tremor shocks, meat hooks, chicken feathers, and oh yes, the chainsaw, accent and horrify the next few minutes on the screen. Pam’s attempt to escape before the massive Leatherface scoops her up, is absolutely frightening and effective in that it makes the viewer question their decision to enter this dangerous world by watching this flick. I originally watched it five times in two days, I was mesmerized at the whole spectacle of it all. Plus the VHS cover art from the 1986 Media Entertainment release was pretty cool eye candy promising a weird horror trip for all takers. After Leatherface tucks the young lovers for their eternal dirt nap, our “Craftsman” of the Saw, is frantic to assess the situation of trespassers at his homestead. The close-up tells it all, the man behind this horrible hide mask has deep seeded issues.
It’s fixin’ to get dark, Jerry goes in search for Pam and Kirk which leaves Sally and Franklin to fight and fend for themselves. Jerry ends up as expected. The sibling squabbles persist, and so does the annoyance of Franklin and Sally screaming “Jerry” over and over again. Please Leatherface, come stifle these two. Anxious and impatient, Sally wheels Franklin into the creepy woods to go look for Jerry. Franklin thinks he SAW something, and he was correct, he did indeed SAW something as Leatherface SAWS him. A memorable scene to be seen. Sally is quick to take off in a fun chase with Leatherface, who revs that chainsaw nonstop as he follows our girl as she descends deeper and deeper into the belly of the beast. Will Sally survive and what will be left of her?
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was directed by Tobe Hooper of The Funhouse (1981) with a screenplay by Hooper and Kim Henkel of Eaten Alive (1977). The concept came to Hooper when he was aggravated standing in a long line at the hardware section and thought a chainsaw would help speed up the checkout years before The Toolbox Murders (1978) and Driller Killer (1979) championed the subgenre of power tool horror. Leatherface is based on killer, 1950’s necro-aficionado, Ed Gein, who’s story and “quirks,’ also influenced Psycho (1960) and Silence of the Lambs (1991) who liked to wear other people’s skin and made furniture out of bones. Gein was like a morbid Martha Stewart, with his own line of demented death décor.
Chain Saw is a nitty, gritty, flick that still stands up today and is revered my fans and filmmakers as one of the best horror films ever made. I concur with their assessment. Though the title does grab one’s attention, there is really not that much blood in it. Hooper and cinematographer Daniel Pearl of Friday the 13th (2009), built tension with effective use of camera angle and the power of suggestion, that at times make you feel uncomfortable and anxious. Chain Saw, relies more on psychological terror than gore, and showcases the talents of the unknown cast, as we dive into the torment and surreal horror of the Sawyer Family within their dysfunctional but operational household
The budget for Chain Saw was less than $300K, but would rake in millions upon millions due to its popularity on the 70’s drive in circuit, word of mouth, and it’s placement on many other countries’ ban list. That latter fact alone, would help spark the interest of cinephiles in training, during the VHS home video explosion of the 1980’s, in addition countless editions and reissues on DVD and Blu-Ray to this current day. Small budget or not, Chain Saw proves that with a solid cast & crew, a memorable movie can be made on the cheap. All involved with Chain Saw still remember their experience, from Burns being hurt repeatedly on the set, the dinner scene being unbearable due to the stench of rotten meat in the Texas heat, the lousy pay before and after the shoot completed for the cast, and the long filming hours to keep costs down.
To make the process even slower, Hooper had a hard time finding a distributor due to the violent content (nowhere close to the visceral violence on the screen today), and originally intended for his little film to have a PG rating. That pot in the 70s must have been some strong stuff! This week on the Disney Channel, Fantasia and Mickey’s Orlando Chainsaw Massacre. You’re funny Tobe.
Chain Saw was a product of its time due to the state of disenfranchised youth during Vietnam, counterculture diehards still hanging on, the American Dream morphing into the American Nightmare with heavy drug use, murder, and corruption on the rise, topped off with an energy & oil crisis. Chain Saw was a swift kick to the psyche of to the establishment and cinemagoers, as it was a wake up call warning all that would listen to the state of current events. Texas Chainsaw was a product of its time, in that it tells a contemporary tale which warns about evil that lurks, and is not much different than one by Brother’s Grimm. This cautionary tale has a legacy with several installments (some good, some bad), which lives on today showcased at a slew of horror conventions around the world with a ton of merchandise to please any fan. There are even expensive copies of controversial 1982 Atari 2600 videogame of Chain Saw floating around if you are lucky to procure one.
Hansen, was a maniacal Leatherface, but all accounts portray him as a sensitive, gentle giant in his real life. After Texas, Gunnar moved to Maine where he would focus on writing, poetry, and act on a whim. Time made Hansen a bigger legend than he had ever expected and all of his accounts from Chain Saw were published in his successful 2013 book, Chain Saw Confidential: How We Made the World’s Most Notorious Horror Movie. Unfortunately, Hansen recently passed away and now joins the ranks with Siedow, Partain, and Burns of the cast who joined the great gig in the sky. Don’t fret, Hansen is just like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, the excitement and power of it all cannot be diminished. Chain Saw and Gunnar will live on in our hearts and minds forever, never to really die.
Check out The Texas Chain Saw Massacre trailer
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- Rick Baldwin is a writer, filmmaker, film/music historian, and can be found on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/rick.baldwin.568
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