Horror Film Review: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (dir by Tobe Hooper)


Occasionally, I get asked why I am always making mean-spirited jokes about Vermont.  Well, believe it or not, there is a reason!  Would you believe that it all goes back to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre?

In an editorial that was posted on this very site, I argued that one reason why, ever since it was initially released in 1974, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre has remained an iconic horror film is because the title specifically alerts you that the film takes place in Texas.  For whatever reason, people across America are terrified of my home state.  Despite the fact that we’re all pretty friendly down here, people are scared to death.  They think we’re all walking around with guns or that something’s bad is going to happen if you make a wrong turn.  (And, of course, folks from up north can’t handle the fact that the temperature occasionally gets above 85. “OH MY GOD, IT’S GLOBAL WARMING!” the tourists shout.  No, morons — it’s just summer in Texas.)  In order to prove my point, I pointed out that no one would want to see a movie called The Vermont Chainsaw Massacre.

For good measure, I may have then added, “Fuck Vermont.”  Because — well, why not?*

Within hours of posting that editorial, I heard from someone in Vermont and OH MY GOD, she was so offended!  Seriously, she seemed to be really upset that I was suggesting that nobody would be scared of getting horribly murdered while driving through Vermont!

So, to the people of Vermont, accept my apologies.  Y’all are just as capable of killing people with a chainsaw as we are, okay?

Seriously, though, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre would never work if it was set in Vermont.  That’s not just because Vermont su …. uhmm, is a lovely state.  That’s because The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a uniquely Texan film.  One reason why this film is so successful is because it was made by Texans and it starred Texans (no inauthentic accents here!) and it was filmed in Texas during the summer.  From the minute we see that van driving down the road, we feel the isolation of the characters.  Every frame of the film is filled with Texas heat and humidity and, as such, the audience can almost literally feel how uncomfortable it is inside the van, so much so that you really can’t blame everyone for wanting to get out and walk around for a while.  Ultimately, the burning sun is as important a character in this film as Sally (Marilyn Burns), her obnoxious wheelchair-bound brother Franklin (Paul A, Partain), or Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen), the hulking cannibal who chases after them with a chainsaw.

Actually, it’s a little bit difficult to know what to say about The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  It’s such a famous film that even people who haven’t seen it feel as if they had.  And every review always points out the reasons why it works: the film is shot in an almost documentary style, Marilyn Burns was one of the great scream queens, Leatherface’s final dance with his chainsaw is pure nightmare fuel, and, despite the fearsome title, next to no blood is actually seen on screen.  This is one of those films where we imagine we see a lot more than we actually do.  Despite being advertised as being a “chainsaw massacre,” only one person actually falls victim to a chainsaw and he’s so obnoxious that you’re kind of happy that he finally stopped talking.

They may not be much blood on the screen but this is still one of the most stomach-churning films ever made.  When Sally finds herself trapped in the house with Leatherface and his family, that house is so filthy and disgusting that you can literally smell the rotting flesh coming off the screen.  This may be a case of my own OCD speaking but the squalor of that house tends to disturb me even more than some of the murders.

Speaking of the murders, the death of Jerry (Allan Danziger) always freaks me out.  Jerry is looking for his other dead friends when Leatherface appears out of nowhere and hits him with a sledgehammer.  Up until that point, Jerry seemed like the smartest of the five people to find themselves wandering around that desolated part of South Texas.  Certainly, if I had been there, I probably would have wanted to stay with Jerry.  Perhaps that’s why Jerry’s high-pitched scream before getting killed always disturbs me.  If you’ve seen enough slasher movies, you know that the men in these movies — no matter what is happening to them — hardly ever scream.  When Jerry does so, it makes the movie feel real in a way that most film influenced by Texas Chainsaw do not.

Listen, Vermont … I’m sorry you can’t have a chainsaw massacre of your very own.  But The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a part of our history and, despite the negative implications of the name, we do take a certain amount of pride in it.  It is truly one of the great horror films.  Ignore the remakes, which were made by non-Texans and are all so excessively stylized that you have to wonder if the filmmakers even saw the original.

One final note: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre also has one of the truly great trailers.  Check it out below!


* I should mention that I can usually trust someone around here to ask me if I really want to say something like “Fuck Vermont” before I hit publish.  But that weekend, Arleigh was on vacation and this was before I had recruited my sister to come work here so there really wasn’t anyone else around the TSL offices who was used to dealing with me and my impulsive nature.  I tried to show the post to Leonard to get his opinion about the F Vemont line but he was busy watching hockey…

16 responses to “Horror Film Review: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (dir by Tobe Hooper)

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