Friday, October 22, 2010

Halloween Nights 4 of 13: Texas Chainsaw Massacre

One of the seminal works in modern horror history is reviewed by one of the writers of Death4Told, Jim Palmquist.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
by Jim Palmquist

Being a child of the 80s, I frequented the mom and pop video star in my small hometown near Cleveland, Ohio. I took extreme delight in perusing the cover art of the VHS tapes in the horror section. It was not until I was 12, however, that my mom finally relented and allowed me to watch them. To this day, I have no idea why she agreed to such a pact as she hates horror films, but she did and boy did I take advantage. I watched every Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, Hellraiser, Phantasm and anything else I could get my hands on. Watching those films though, there was one figure that stood out more than Jason and his machete, Freddy and his glove, Pinhead and his puzzle box and the Tall Man and his spheres. It was Leatherface and his chainsaw.

From the opening scroll voiced by John Larroquette telling of the heinous events that we are about to watch all the way to the iconic end with Leatherface swinging a chain saw wildly over his head, terror, fear and dare I say awe will grip your very being. Before The Blair Witch Project or Paranormal Activity, here was a movie claiming to be based on true events. And who could argue? We didn’t have the internet to verify such claims. And even though we do now, I still have people swear to me it is a true story.

Tobe Hooper, with a combination of skill and luck, gathered a group of unknown actors and filmed his masterpiece during the hottest four weeks of the Texas summer in 1973. Very common at the time, he shot his independently financed movie on 16mm film (some of the funding which came from the profits of a little movie titled Deep Throat). Not so common, he shot the script in chronological order. Both choices proved incredibly effective. The saturation and grain of the film, not to mention the excellent cinematography becomes a character itself. You can also feel the anxiety grow as the film pushes forward, both a product of the tension naturally built into the script as well as the cast’s exhaustion at the filmmaking process itself. Often overlooked, I also have to appreciate the sound design of the film. At times very annoying, but extremely effective, the senses are overwhelmed to the extreme with clangs, squeals and chicken sounds while our brain tries to process the visuals presented to us. As an audience, we are thrust into the macabre. And in the end, just like Sally, we can’t believe what we have just witnessed is happening.

Jim gives The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

Jim currently writes and produces for the weekly blog which discusses all things nerd including movies, comics and video games. And if you want to snag some of Jim's movie writing work, pick up Death4Told at the Facebook fan page. Just click on the "Shop Now" tab.

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