Francisco Andrade

My Favourite Horror Film: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

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Leatherface and his deadly friend. ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ (1974), by Tobe Hooper. U.S.A.: Bryanstone Pictures

Never has the sound of a chainsaw been scarier until Tobe Hooper’s masterpiece, ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’, changed the horror genre. Before 1974, the horror-film audience had grown accustomed to themes related with the supernatural or human psychopaths and serial killers. Even the less-grossing b-movies were influenced by these themes, although it was expected that the innovative genres would come from non-mainstream films, which were less accountable for their content. Nevertheless horror started to diversify itself with the introduction of Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’ (1960), whose maniac Norman Bates impacted the genre with his in-depth lunacy, and showed for the first time that directors could be influenced by real-life serial killers and portray them and their actions onto the big screen. The Hitchcock’s Norman Bates wasgreatly inspired by notorious serial-killer Ed Gein and his foul deeds in the state of Wisconsin, U.S.A., but another film explored Gein’s actions in a similar but also groundbreaking way. Tobe Hooper produced, wrote and directed in 1974 what would become the first ever example of explicit violence in the horror film genre, ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’. With a budget of 300.000$, Hooper’s classic was the first “road trip horror” film and introduced a sub-genre for others to follow, as well as spawning various imitations and starting a fad of “based in real-life events” horror, which most directors tried to avoid, as most films at the time got heavily censored, which could damage prominent director’s careers, like what almost happened to Wes Craven due to his violent ‘Last House on the Left’ (1972).

The fear environment is ever present throughout the film. 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre' (1974), by Tobe Hooper. U.S.A.: Bryanston Pictures

The fear environment is ever-present throughout the film. ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ (1974), by Tobe Hooper. U.S.A.: Bryanston Pictures

The premise of the film is rather simple and one that any regular cinema enthusiast is familiar with: five teenagers drive to visit one of their grandparents grave and homestead, and while wondering off to take a dip in a swimming-hole, they come across a mysterious house. It doesn’t take too long before a chainsaw-wielding maniac, hiding behind a mask made from the skin of his previous victims, starts to pick them up one by one. The writing and storytelling were simple but it didn’t stop the film from becoming a milestone in the horror genre, and it generated a large fan-base in response to the “road-trip” scene. The critics response wasn’t very positive at first, many even considering the film to be despicable due to its gory nature and by depending too much on it, but after a while and with time, ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ became a cult film, because of its originality and edginess; one can’t think of many previous killers with a chainsaw in film until then. It also created a sub-culture in horror genre, apart from relying on real serial-killer stories, which was the dread in American culture of rural areas and its inhabitants, popularly labelled as “inbreds”. Many famous horror-film directors relied on this imagery for their work, like Rob Zombie or Eli Roth, and several others, like Quentin Tarantino, praise the film to be a source of inspiration in creating memorable and stylish films, while keeping them simple and entertaining.

As a horror film fan, one has to consider ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ as its own genre, mainly because of how much it achieved with such a low budget. All of its other components just highlight the brilliancy of Hooper’s production, has its cinematography and scenery just come together in a remarkable fashion, adding to the detailing in every frame (see the macabre inside of Leatherface’s house) to enhance the sense of fear that made millions of people jump off their seats since 1974, and will continue to do so.

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