The Texas Chainsaw Massacre from 1974 has been on my mind all day and night since watching it last night on Netflix’ Watch Now feature–something that was much more convenient and of much higher quality than I expected. I was expecting something much more similar to its 2003 remake starring Jessica Biel et al, yet what I encountered was something much more organic and true to form as a horror film.
But the odd thing was that, by about 45 minutes in, I hadn’t had one scare, I hadn’t seen Leatherface, I just knew that something was ultra-fucking-wrong with ultra-fucking-everything. This vibe was especially rampant when they pick up the crazy-fucking-hitchhiker who takes the invalid’s knife and cuts his hand open, has a conversation about bashing cow skulls at the slaughterhouse, and making head cheese by using the boiled flesh of a cow’s head. That’s not scary, that’s just fucked up. And it adds something. We now know the locals are fucking crazy.
Because of all of this, we can tell that this movie is seriously based in ambience and atmosphere, that this is all to enhance the scares, the jolts and the terror to come. The opening credit roll is shown over what looks like Corona blasts from the sun that are discolored, precluded by a short narration about the events which unfold, making this opening narration akin to a Greek Chorus telling you what’s going to happen and basically saying, “These people you will hang out with for the next hour and a half are completely, and utterly, fucked. Have fun!” During that opening credits roll, there’s a typical news report speaking of a Cholera outbreak and oil fires and sweltering heat and shit shit shit. It all adds up to an experience.
So we had tension, but no scares. And by the poster featuring Leatherface wielding a chainsaw over his head, I wanted scares. And at about 45 minutes I was ready to turn this movie off and go to bed–and then it happened. We see one of the kids go over to the house with his girlfriend after the creek bed is all dried up to ask for gasoline since they’re going to be needing some to get their asses home. He knocks and no one answers. He knocks again, nothing. He must have knocked on that screen door about five times, figuring that backwoods hicks have got nothing better to do than sit around at home or run around in the scary ass woods around the house. With this in mind, he opens the screen door to knock on the front door, which opens up when he hits it. Oh goody. With the door open, he peeks inside and sees a drab, desolate house with tons of bones everywhere, and one wall behind a door jamb painted blood red, with cow skulls and other bones on it. He calls to his lady to check this out, and he, now thinking no one is home, ventures into the house while she stays on the bench.
The moment he crosses the door jamb towards the red wall and skulls, he is fucking NAILED over the head with a hammer. After 45 minutes of slow, angering explication–tense-ass fucking atmosphere–we are hit over the head by a sledge hammer and catapulted into an insane second half of people getting knocked and maimed and chased down.
But here’s the thing. Holy shit: there’s very little blood, and very little gore. Unlike today’s horror films that try to make us squeam as well as scream, we are treated to a horror film that has some of its most graphic moments (aside from someone getting pancaked by a semi) obstructed by other objects. In the 2003 remake, we saw people get hung on meat hooks at least twice, and, this time, the one time it happens, it’s obstructed by the table where the guy who got his head bashed is laying, about to be chopped to bits.
By the time there’s only one person left, we learn some things: the crazy-ass hitchhiker is Leatherface’s brother; the owner of the gas station is their father; and they have a grandpa who used to be the best killer around, according to them (we see him in his flaccid phase, can’t hold a hammer); and the barbecue at the father’s gas station is probably cannibal-cue.
This movie is fucking crazy. The 70’s were fucking crazy. The girl who plays the character Laurie got her hand cut open because they couldn’t get the blood bag to work. The actor who played the hitchhiker said that filming this was worse than being in Vietnam. I’m serious.
I never want to go to Texas again.