Saturday, 31 October 2015



Let's not mess about here: the original The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is a genuine, full-on, copper-bottomed classic. A demented primal shriek of a horror film, it's one of the very few films that feels as though the howling insanity on view has somehow infected the film stock itself. There's no comfort, no light relief, no sense that it's only a movie and everything will be all right in the end. It won't. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is not a human film; it's like watching a transmission from another planet. Unsettling doesn't come close to describing it. (Having seen it several times over the years, from a well-worn VHS rental to a battered print at the Scala, I've found a good way to still derive the full effect is to see it with someone who's never seen it before, and leech vicariously off their reactions).

You know the story: two couples and one of the girls' wheelchair-bound brother are on a road trip through the wilds of rural Texas, to visit a grave and the old family home. After a disturbing encounter with a hitch-hiker and the inevitable "you don't want to go messing around in those old houses" from a friendly-sounding gas station attendant, they go merrily wandering round what's left of the old homestead. But the apparently unoccupied house next door appears to have petrol, which they'll need to get home...

Leatherface's first kill is still a shock, and Pam's discovery of the room of bones, feathers and caged chickens (and her subsequent demise) is the start of the full roaring horror which never lets up but which also never goes for the easy horror option of blood and gore. Before long there's only Sally (Marilyn Burns) left, a prisoner of The Family: Leatherface, The Gas Man, The Hitch-Hiker and their 115-year-old Granpaw, barely able to grasp the hammer to kill her. It's the kind of sustained hysteria you hadn't seen in films up to that point, and you've hardly ever seen since. The film might end with Sally's narrow escape, but there's no way she'll ever recover psychologically.

This has always been a film I've appreciated and respected rather than enjoyed, and it's probably Tobe Hooper's best work in terms of pure horror (although I love Lifeforce!) while never being a film I've ever wanted to watch regularly. The soundtrack - all dissonant clangs and rumbles - is hardly music, but it's effective, the photography conveys the blazing heat and discomfort, and the set design for the inside of Leatherface's house is astonishing. In the end it's a pure horror film, a pure nightmare on 16mm, and now in what must surely be a definitive presentation. And finally: it's Chain Saw, not Chainsaw in the title.


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