When the narration started at the beginning of the movie I knew I was in for a rough ride. The expectation is set – you know what you’ll see will be heinous and grotesque- and then the camera goes from a series of camera flashes over a series of red disturbing images, before cutting away to a decomposing, grotesque cadaver sculpture. Through this immaculate progression, Tobe Hooper was able to set the pace and tone of the movie, while creating an initial shock to get the viewers ready for the slasher horror to come in his seminal independent movie, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
We follow a group a of young 20 something’s with no care in the world as they attempt to check on the graveyard of the titular character Sally’s (played by Marilyn Burns) grandfather. After they check and leave the station, they end up picking up a hitchhiker and everything starts to go downhill from there. The unsuspecting and happy-go-lucky group are forced to endure nightmarish events and visuals.
When everything goes to hell in a hand-basket, the camera really helps amplify the tension and induces a panicking feeling. The camera dips and turns, slants sideways, quickly zooms in, and constantly keeps the viewer on edge. It perfectly highlights the chaos and disorientation of later scenes, creating a morbid dread. The lighting is also incredibly interesting. A lot of the horror/scenes leading up to those moments have a lot of sunlight in them. The juxtaposition created with the grotesque and inhumane acts with a sunny background, really highlighted how nefarious and isolated the main environment is. It helps highlight the hopelessness, which along with some early foreshadowing, really makes some character fates tragic.
All of this is even more surprising, when you realize the movie, unlike its titles suggestion, isn’t especially gory. The violent scenes aren’t scary because there’s tons of blood and guts, or a lot of loud bumps. The movie is scary because it puts you in a paranoid and disturbed state of mind, and forces you to confront the way you’ve normalized and participated in “violent” actions.
The way the movie introduces it’s villain and their subsequent actions really drives the point home- humanity is capable of awful, violent things. From the way it parodies elements of family life, to its commentary on our relationship to food, the movie constantly makes it clear- humanity is its own worst enemy. What we see as depraved, is merely those undercurrents amplified. The movie honestly feels like it’s bringing to light the worst subconscious traits and tendencies we have as a species, and forcing us to really confront those things.
I felt scared and uncomfortable the whole time the film. From the opening scene to the very end, I never felt “safe.” That kind of feeling is rare and unsettling. It’s also really surprising because I saw Poltergeist earlier last week, and after realizing that Hooper directed both films, was in a positive shock. Some of the visual effects in that movie make a lot more sense now that I know it came from the same mind that made this nightmare. It also made me appreciate how well he, as a director, could capture different moments of horror.
Check out my spoiler thoughts where I go in more intensively on some themes and why the movie felt as unsettling as it did.
TLDR: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is an incredibly frightening and grotesque look at the undercurrent of our psyches.
Final Rating: 10/10. Chilling. Innovative. Revolutionary. If you want to feel scared, genuinely scared and off balance, watch this movie. People who like slashers or artistic takes on the dark undercurrents of humanity should also check it out.
Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!