Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

**Forgive the lack of photos for this review, I was running on E as I put this entire episode together thanks to my heading to PodTales.**

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T3TILW0O_C0 (contains flashing lights that might disturb photosensitive viewers)

Thoughts before I hit play: As any normal 90’s kid did, when I was home sick from school, I would watch shit I wasn’t supposed to on TV all day. Thanks to movies like Friday the 13th, Scream, and Halloween, I gained a healthy respect for all things spooky around October when these movies would play on loops throughout the day. 

Once I met my now husband in high school, I found out there was a whole other classic movie series that I never knew about. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre films. I was amazed that I had seen all but this series during those sick days and in my family’s den on the days my mom was out of the house and my dad let me watch scary movies with him. 

So, naturally I wanted to do some research on the series to see if it was really that great. After all, my husband swears up and down that this series is the best since it’s the only one he enjoys out of the classic slasher films. I remember one day a few years ago, before I was the horror buff I am today, I saw the movie playing somewhere. Within the first 10 minutes of the film someone killed themselves with a shotgun in the back of a truck. That alone was too much for me at the time, so I shut off the film and no longer wondered why I never saw that series in sick day TV rotations. 

Today I’m going to revisit that traumatic moment in my life and push past it for the sake of your entertainment. It probably won’t be that bad, but a little part of me is hesitating for the sake of nostalgia. 

To be frank, I wasn’t planning to review this series until I absolutely had to. After all, it’s not the idea series to watch during the end-of-year holidays you’re all about to celebrate. However, thanks to the fact that streaming sites (including Shudder) don’t have the extensive lists I’d hoped they had when it comes to the series I’m going to be reviewing from now on, the only series that I could find exclusively online, without having to rent movies from a local library or through Redbox, was this series.

I’m anxious, I have no idea what to expect, but at the same time I’m excited because once I watch this series I will no longer have the fear of watching this series hover over me like a gloomy cloud of fear. 

Synopsis: A group of teens goes to investigate whether or not one of their grandfathers was involved in a grisly grave robbing incident. On their way home, they run out of gas. Rather than simply find another gas station, they decide to take a detour to one of their family’s now abandoned homes. This home is, of course, next to the local slaughterhouse and, coincidentally, a mansion full of chainsaw and hammer-wielding backwoods cannibals. 


Main Meat:

This movie was exceptional. It’s now my all time favorite and I can’t believe I let what I now know is likely the remake of this classic affect my watching this. 

Holy shit, folks, this movie changes everything I know about horror as a genre. It has revolutionized the way I see slasher films, and is so far, in my opinion, the best of the films in that genre. 

The weirdest thing about this movie is the timeline. It’s not really clear how everything works out to happen like it does, but the characters are what carries it and makes it an exceptional piece of film. 

The entire time I sat watching this movie I felt uneasy, uncomfortable, and tense. It never let up and I fucking loved that. It was a wild ride of confusion, terror, and a lot of running through stuff. 

To the best of my knowledge, after having to watch the beginning scenes twice to understand the characters’ motivations, I realized that the troupe comprised of siblings Sally and Franklin, couple Kirk and Pam, and Jack, the fifth wheel that drives. 

They’re headed out to a graveyard in which Sally and Franklin’s grandfather is buried. Recently, the graveyard had made the news thanks to someone arriving there, robbing a few graves, and wiring the bodies in various poses around the property. Sally visits to ensure that her grandfather’s grave isn’t one that had been dug up. Thankfully, it wasn’t so the group then keeps on driving in an indistinct direction in an indistinct town. 

As they’re driving to that indescriminate location, they happen upon a hitchhiker.

As any normal person will tell you, hitch hikers are always bad news. However, being one of the movies from which that trope was birthed, these folks had no idea.

So they pick the guy up, he’s greasy, tall, gangly, and has a port wine scar on his face that only intensifies the creepiness of his character. Around his neck he wears some kind of animal skin and in his hands, he carries a burlap sack.

As they get to know this man, all huddled towards the front seats, giving him as much room as they physically can, Franklin, the curious whiny bitch that is, for some reason, obsessed with the local slaughterhouse for which his uncle used to work, asks the stranger if he works there.

During the chat that follows, I remember feeling disgusted, tense, uncomfortable, and generally uneasy as he spoke. His mannerisms were wild and unpredictable, his speech was hurried and stuttering, he didn’t seem interested in them at all, but only concerned about inviting them to dinner and that his brother is a fine chef.

Then came the creepy part; the hitchhiker then grabs the small pocket knife from Franklin’s hand and digs the blade into one of his own. Blood gushes from the wound as he smiles back up at the frightened teens. He then proceeds to take a picture of Franklin, beg for payment, and when none is received, places some, what I assumed was gunpowder, on the photo and sets it on fire.

Rightly so, the group gets upset and tosses him from the vehicle.

He rubs his bloody hand on the side of the van, later thought to be some kind of marking technique to make sure he keeps tabs on the group. I assume, now that I think about it, it WAS some kind of mark for his father to see once they pulled into the gas station. But we’ll talk about that later.

We never do learn if any of them are local or if they have other business there, but before we can question the weak storyline any longer, they run low on gas. 

Arriving at seemingly the only gas station ever, they are greeted by a very creepy looking Mr. Rogers who tells them that his pump has run dry and they’re out of luck. Franklin, a wheelchair user who does nothing but complain and whine for the vast majority of the film, then asks the gas station owner for directions to a property his father owns. 

Creepy Mr. Rogers then tells him where it is, but encourages him not to go there and trespass. Because this is a horror movie, they do it anyway. 

Jack, Sally, Kirk, and Pam head upstairs while Franklin pushes his way around the bottom floor, bemoaning the fact that a home previously owned by a father whom I assume knew about his child’s condition from an early age, is inaccessible. He spends the time others are laughing and wandering around the upstairs blowing raspberries at the ceiling and finding odd bones hanging in the doorway that are never again referenced. Before long, Kirk and Pam head to a nearby watering hole to canoodle and Jack and Sally hang out with Franklin by the van to wait for them. I mean, guess that’s what they were doing, it’s pretty vague.

Once the group is sufficiently split up, the killing begins. Kirk and Pam hear what sounds like a generator from their new hangout at the watering hole. They follow the sound to a large dilapidated farmhouse and jog across the expanse of thorny grass and yellowed fields to arrive at the front door. Now listen, Kirk is a great guy. He’s your classic skinny love interest with a bowl cut that won’t quit. He’s tan, maybe a surfer, a loyal friend and he’s in love with a girl that is obsessed with astrology, so you know he’s also patient. However, Kirk has one fatal flaw. HE DOESN’T REALIZE THAT WHEN NO ONE ANSWERS A DOOR, HE SHOULD LEAVE.

Sorry, I just…he stood at that door for so long, SO long. He called and called, and when no one answered, he did that stupid thing of walking into the house of a stranger. I mean, come on.

So, naturally, this seals his fate and in no time, we meet our main villain.

Allow me to digress as I praise the beauty of Leatherface’s character. As you’ll learn later on in this episode, the actor who played Leatherface was the whole reason the character succeeded in the first place. His erratic movements, strange noises, awkward posing, and method of breathing life into each mask he wore was not only terrifying, but inspiring. It made me realize that this was a movie made before it could be truly appreciated. Only after sitting through films led by average-height white males with various troubled pasts slowly making their way towards their prey with a knife, machete, or those finger claw things, did I realize that this bumbling oaf of a serial killer is truly outstanding in his field.

I mean, he literally stands out in a field for some of this movie, but in other aspects, he’s just great.

He’s complex, has emotion, makes you care about him, he forces you to look into his gross, abusive, mentally unstable life, and just watches you take it all in. From the scenes where his unintelligible babbling allows him to communicate his afternoon’s activities to his father to the moment where he helps his brother hoist their vampiric grandfather down the stairs, I was tuned in and interested, constantly learning things about him and what the actor brought to the role.

I realize a lot of what his character does is absolutely heinous and disgusting. But coming from someone that could probably perform a lobotomy from the amount of research I’ve done on the topic for fun, he’s basically a new scientific discovery filmed for the very first time and exposed to the waiting world.

Alright, digression over.

Leatherface kills Kirk, Pam comes in and looks for him, she dies too, and we’re sent back to the house where the others are waiting for the couple by the van.

If you’re listening to this episode, you’ve probably already seen the film. You know that Jack goes to investigate where his friends have gone, leaving Sally and Franklin to wait even longer before exploring the now dark woods because Jack has died in his excursion to find the other two. You also know that Sally then has to push a man that weighs twice her size in a metal chair that adds an easy 100 pounds to the equation, over a rough, uneven terrain that, earlier, Pam asked how he had ever managed to travel.

It’s rough, hard to watch, and just as they near the house, Franklin is killed and Sally is sent running through the woods in an attempt to evade the blundering, chainsaw-wielding Leatherface with no more than the light of a shitty flashlight.

After a very long, very drawn out, slightly tense but not really because it’s kinda long and drawn out for the sake of filler, run through the woods, Sally is captured by the man known in this film only as The Cook. Earlier, I referred to him as Creepy Mr. Rogers. Yeah, same gas station owner from before.

Now, the thing that happens next in the movie is the second funniest scene in my opinion. You’ll hear my opinion on the first in a few minutes. What I’m about to tell you is real and really happens in this movie. In a way, it’s kind of beautiful because of how pathetic it all is, but that doesn’t stop it from being hilarious to me.

Sally backs herself away from Creepy Mr. Rogers who is now carrying a piece of rope and large burlap sack. As she does this, she grabs a knife. We find out during this film that the gas station is either solely a front for or is at least in part a BBQ joint. There are sharp ass carving knives all over, and Sally thankfully thinks to pick one up.

It’s no match however, for Creepy Mr. Roger’s broom.

Yup. A broom. He grabs a broom and smacks the knife from her hand and she falls to the floor. She doesn’t kick, bite, punch, or anything and simply squirms around a bit before she’s tied up by the man.

In the process the broom must have broken, because once he finishes tying her up and setting her in the passenger side of his truck, he uses a broken piece of the handle to jab her with as they make the drive to the generator house.

On the way, we see a glimpse of the hitchhiker in the headlights and all the pieces of the wacked out family come together. We find out that The Cook is the father of Leatherface and the hitch hiker and that they keep their nearly decomposed almost dead grandfather in the attic. It’s a beautiful family gathering once they invite Sally to dinner.

I’m about to skip over some strained lines and weird screaming in just a second, but I’d like to come back to the grandpa character for a second.

Grandpa is never mentioned in the movie besides this scene in which, for some reason, they prick Sally’s finger and let him suck the blood from it for an uncomfortable amount of time.

Besides Sally and Pam, the only other woman we see in this movie is a decomposed skeleton sitting next to where grandpa hangs out in the attic. We’re not sure if there has been any inbreeding going on, but we do know that the family has been skinning animals and working for the slaughterhouse for some time. There is literally no reason for the grandpa to suddenly be revealed as some kind of vampire here. It makes no sense and is weird. He doesn’t gain any magical youthful effects from doing it, he’s not reinvigorated in any way, and there’s no explanation, even in the frantic yelling of his grandsons during the rest of the movie about why they did what they did.

I have no idea why it exists beyond creep factor and it wasn’t mentioned in any of the interviews I found either. So, if you have any ideas or actual reasons for why this happened in the movie, dear listener, please enlighten me.

Okay, now we can skip ahead a bit. There is a frantic dinner scene through which Sally screams and there are weird VERY close-up shots of her eyeballs I would have been interested to see how they filmed before ultra-zoom was a thing, and they attempt to kill her as a family. Leatherface holds a hammer in the hands of his decaying grandpa, the hitch hiker holds Sally over a bucket to collect the blood, you know, so it doesn’t make a mess, and Sally is reassured over and over that grandpa is the best killer of them all and that she won’t feel a thing.

Thankfully, Sally is tenacious, and in a moment of changing hands between her captors, she jumps out of a window and makes a run for it. She makes it to the road and then one of the strangest scenes occurs.

Step 1: A truck coming up the road stops to help and also kills the hitch hiker that was so close to Sally, he had a hold of her hair.

Step 2: the driver captures Sally and assures she’s far enough away from the killers to get into his cab safely.

Step 3: Leatherface makes a little scrape with his chainsaw on the side of the truck’s door.

Step 4: The driver and Sally then get OUT of the truck on the opposite side and tear ass down the road away from the family.

Step 5: The driver is killed after a tussle with Leatherface

Step 6: Another truck drives by, the driver never leaves the vehicle, and Sally jumps right into the bed to be driven away laughing and covered in blood.

Step 7: Leatherface gets so frustrated that he’s missed his chance to kill her, he stars dancing around with his chainsaw and randomly swinging it around in the air.

Step 8: The movie ends.

Like….What? What just happened? Why didn’t the driver just fucking drive away and maybe knock Leatherface off his ass or possibly kill him under the wheels of his huge truck? Why didn’t they just like…GO.

It was a very strange way to end the movie in my opinion. Also, I find it odd that Leatherface is so frustrated at the end. We’re not sure that he really enjoys killing these people or if he’s doing it purely for necessity since I assume the family makes money off of the BBQ they sell. Maybe we’ll never know, or maybe we’ll find out in the sequel!

I hope to watch these movies in order, rather that the idea I toyed with of watching this one, all the remakes of the first one, then moving on. I want to see if there are influences of the other movies infused into the remakes at all.


Year Released/Director: 1974, Tobe Hooper (Who’s credits also include Poltergeist, Salem’s Lot, and Most of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre series by either writing or directing credit)

Rating: I’m excited to announce my brand new rating system! Since I’ve switched over to reviewing horror series that don’t all suck entirely, I’ve changed up how I rate these movies.

This is the first to get rated under the new system, so this one gets a “woah!” Which means “I didn’t expect to like this movie as much as I did.”

2019 Ratings Banner SITD

Favorite Death/ Funniest part: I’m combining these categories for this film because my favorite death WAS the funniest part. After Pam runs into the murder house to seek out Kirk, she’s literally picked up by Leatherface and set on a meat hook. Now. I don’t know about you, but if I had a meat hook stuck into my back. Possibly fucking around with my spine, I would do more than repeatedly shriek and move around like Pam did. Were I to have cast this movie, I would make sure all of my actors had that classic scream we all look for. BUT, I haven’t gotten to why Pam’s death is my favorite. As I’m sure you know, because I’m likely the last person on earth to have watched this film for the first time, there’s a later scene that involves Pam when Jack is searching the house. He hears a knock come from inside a freezer to his left and once he opens the lid, what I assume was a cheap attempt at post-mortem twitching sends Pam bolt upright with a wide expression on her eyes and a strange shiver through her entire torso. We quickly realize she was dead the whole time, but it’s an unnecessary, cheap attempt at a jump scare and I fucking died laughing watching it.

Normally at this point in the review, I would discuss what the film did right. This was also something left over from my days reviewing solely bad horror movies. So, rather than give you a bunch of positive reviews with this section inundated with repetitive praise, I’ve decided to add a new category called “How I would have done it” where I detail what things I might have done differently to make the movie more cohesive, fix plot holes, or make edits in general. 

So, if I were to have written/directed/edited this movie, I wouldn’t change much besides how the running scenes were done. They were all very long, drawn out, and at times, you could tell that the assailant was intentionally slowing down since they had caught up with the runner. I thought the way the film was edited, the use of sneaky camera angles and clever shots, was enough to entice the viewer to watch more and maintain the level of tension that those pieces of the film created.

At the point in the beginning where the hitchhiker burns the piece of paper, I either would have omitted that entirely and had the guy do something weird like eat it, or I would have alluded to it later on in the film like it was a part of some kind of ritual.

Finally, I would have entirely rewritten the ending. The driver of the big ass truck would have just driven away and maybe even injured Leatherface in the process, saving Sally and making the one black dude in the movie the hero of the whole film. 

 

Thoughts from Interviews: 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aPtdXs_f98I

I found a fascinating interview with the guy that played Leatherface. In it, he stated that he wasn’t even originally cast for the role. He had just lost his job, was looking for something to do over the summer, and when he auditioned, they told him the role had been filled. A few days later, he met up with someone from the film that told him the guy they had cast was held up drunk in a hotel room and before he knew it, Gunnar Hanson became one of the greatest horror icons of our time.

I also found it interesting when Gunnar was speaking about the script and Tobe’s directing process, that Tobe was a very hands-off director. He seemed to give his actors the bones of what he wanted them to do and where he wanted them to end up, but overall, a lot of their actions were their own, in character. I also noted that we learned what was going through Leatherface’s mind during the scene where he runs to the window. Evidently, Gunnar was instructed to look distressed and curious about where these people were coming from. It’s so cool to see how that was conveyed on screen. 

At the end, while Leatherface is doing the frustrated dance at the end, he was initially told to stomp around and be angry. However, he improvised once he saw Tobe duck out of the way of the live chainsaw he was holding and his goal then became to hit him with the saw. So that entire scene is just Tobe avoiding the blade of the saw while Latherface swings it around. Apparently he even let go of the thing once they stopped filming in part because he was so tired of filming, he had nothing left in him. 

Gunnar even talks about what the inspiration for this movie was. Like I assumed, it was based heavily on the crimes of Ed Gein, But it seems like only the bony furniture and the mask were inspired by Gein. “everything else, we just wanted to sink everything that ever frightened us into one movie.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wWV4YOw_zQM

I found another video that isn’t quite an interview but was just so interesting that I had to watch it. Gunnar returns in this video to give us a tour of the house they used to film the movie. There weren’t multiple rooms in a set studio, rather they used each room of the house to film each part of the story. Someone even lives there now! 

In this video I learned that, at the one point in the movie where Leatherface cuts down the door and enters the house, he jumps like he’d been scared by something. When I first watched it, I thought this was intentional and that he was scared to see where Sally was inside the house. Turns out, this happened because there was a camera man at the base of the door filming Gunnar cut down the door with the chainsaw. He hadn’t expected him to come through so quickly, so when he ran out of the way, it startled Gunnar and he jumped.

I think the best part of this video is that the scenes shift between clips from the movie to a beautiful house decorated for Easter. Stuffed bunnies, chicks, and pastel colored baskets line the walls and adorn the tables all while Gunnar details where he tied Sally up to a chair made of human bones.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z1T4gw5S3r4

While it was awesome to hear from Leatherface himself, I wanted to get a good smattering of interviews with other members of the cast. So, I found a Q&A panel! It was about 40 minutes of footage and I watched it all so you don’t have to!

Marylin Burns, who plays Sally, was asked about her vocal chords after all the screaming she did, something I was also curious about. She replied that she made sure her chords were always preserved and well maintained because she enjoyed filming the movie so much.

Something mentioned here that I hadn’t considered till it was, is that there are some blood stains on the walls, some mild injuries, but overall there is no real gore, it’s mostly psychological. The most explicit it gets is when Leatherface gets hit in the leg by his chainsaw.

When approached by the casting director for the remake, they asked Gunnar to reprise his role of Leatherface. According to him, she led with “this time, it’s going to be a dark psychological horror, not a bloodbath like the first one.” His reply was “did you ever see the original?” When she replied “oh yes!” He mused “No you didn’t, you little 18 year old idiot.”

When asked how difficult it was to push that wheelchair through the thick of the woods, Marilyn responded “I wasn’t yelling at Franklin, I was telling the director ‘I can’t push him down’ and I couldn’t….they said ‘Sally, just push him down that hill.’”

Trivia: 

Gunnar was so excited and jazzed up to be playing this role that, during the first scene in which he appears, he literally threw the actor that played Kirk into the wall and actually hit him with a hammer that gave him a bruise. 

At the time of it’s release, the film was banned in several countries. 

The thing used for the gore when Leatherface’s chainsaw falls on his leg is a steak

The movie took 6 weeks to 3 months to film total.

The dinner scene at the end was filmed during a 28 hour shoot.They shot it during the day in 100 degree heat with blankets over the windows.To make things worse. Leatherface’s costume was never washed due to a fear that it would change or turn a different color and at that point in the filming process, he had been shooting for four straight weeks, 16-18 hours a day. Gross.

During the scene where Pam runs into the chicken room and falls over a bucket, she filmed 13 takes of it. When Tobe had a scene in mind, he wanted to make it happen no matter how many takes it took to happen.

Paul Partain, the actor that plays Franklin was so meta, that his costars ended up hating him for years after filming. It was only later that he mentioned it was due to intense meta acting he never told anyone about. Apparently, he even forgot he knew how to walk at some points.

Marilyn Burns, whose character was chased by Leatherface through the undergrowth, actually cut herself on the branches quite badly, so a lot of the blood on her body and clothes is real.

The soundtrack contains no sounds from musical instruments (with the exception of some copyrighted music they had the rights to), instead they used sounds an animal would hear inside a slaughterhouse.

Summary: This is another section I’ll be adding at the very end of my reviews so it’s not as blunt as they sometimes can be.

I loved this movie. I truly did. It had some weak points, some strong, and some that were just plain confusing. Overall it seemed like both the actors and directors really enjoyed making this movie and that the choices made were intentional and smart. I mostly loved that this is the first slasher I’ve watched personally that makes me feel bad for the murderer. To a degree I feel that way about Michael Meyers, but I’ve not seen the entire series yet and he just seems like he has some really intense mommy issues rather than an entire psychological spiderweb of possible inbreeding and abuse like Leatherface has.

I hope that the sequels aren’t as disappointing as I think they will be. I didn’t even know they existed until I looked into this series, so I have low expectations, yet high hopes that they will, at the very least be watchable.


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