Even though I'd (barely) survived watching the The Exorcist with my wits intact, there always seemed to be another daunting cinematic dare lurking just around the corner. The horror movie book collection that I lovingly maintained as a kid kept making reference to one notorious film in particular that I knew I'd have to confront sooner or later. Described thusly, I wasn't looking forward to our inevitable encounter:
"Arguably the most gruesome movie of the 1970's."
- Horrors: A History of Horror Movies by Tom Hutchinson and Roy Pickard
Right away, this spelled trouble. Do you know how gruesome a movie had to be in order to distinguish itself in the friggin' Seventies? When horror, exploitation and grindhouse flicks were at their apex? This wasn't a good omen.
"Macabre and genuinely horrific...like Psycho...(this film) was inspired by the bizarre crimes of necrophile-cannibal Ed Gein."
-The Encyclopedia of Horror edited by Richard Davis
Inspired by the murders of a real-life serial killer, huh? Well, I'm sure that won't be the least bit authentic and / or terrifying.
"The founding father of the post-1960's blood-and-guts horror film."
"No stomach is left unturned by (this) movie. But whether you like the modern trend towards upchuck visceralism or not, it has become such a dominant feature of recent horror films that it can't be ignored in any survey of the genre."
"The graphic depiction of horror and violence (on display here) paved the way for the present decade in which the motto seems often to be: violence must not only be done, it must be seen to be done."
-Horror Films by the (ever-excitable) Nigel Andrews
Not good. Back when I was sixteen or seventeen I was still a splatter flick tenderfoot and I wasn't particularly keen to watch a movie that might make me test the Scotch Guard on my parent's chesterfield.
But it had to be done. So eventually, one late October evening, I screwed up the courage, marched down to the local mom and pop video store, surreptitiously rented up a VHS copy of the flick and then smuggled it into the house. As a swiftly-lapsing Catholic I felt as if I was trying to procure a snuff movie.
I know it's hard to convey this to people nowadays, but back in the 80's D&D was Satanic, heavy metal music was a siren call to suicide and horror movies were the province of social deviants. Since I was a fan of all three of these things, I might as well have walked around town wearing a scarlet letter.
When I pulled that unmarked but nefarious-looking rectangular black box out of my backpack and then cracked it open to reveal the ratty-looking VHS tape inside I literally felt as if I'd just unleashed an artifact composed of pure evil. I could almost sense the residual bad karma and nightmares that the magnetic tape contained within had inspired over the years.
After my parents went out for the night I hastily performed my ritual. I turned off all the lights, powered up the VCR, popped the tape into the machine's ravenous maw and then found a blanket to huddle underneath. Since every single descriptor for the film raved about how gory it was I decided to eschew the usual movie-time snacks and beverages for fear that I'd decorate my parent's T.V. room with my supper.
As soon as the tape began to unspool I cursed the piss-poor picture quality. Apparently I wasn't the only sick deviant in this burgh who wanted to see this movie. This tape had been watched. At lot. After fiddling with the tracking for a little bit here's what I saw:
Not only was this intro completely unnerving, there was something oddly familiar about it. Later on I discovered that the narrator was none other then Eighties comedic icon John Larroquette, who played uber-scumbag attorney Dan Fielding on Night Court and the Klingon warrior Maltz in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. At the time I didn't have the luxury of associating such relatively light-hearted characters with John's exemplary and somber voice-over work. Nope, I was way too preoccupied trying to keep the contents of my bowels intact.
This atmos-fear-ic intro was the perfect segue for what came next. After "August 18'th, 1973" was established as the current date the screen promptly went pitch black giving way to a series of disconcerting noises, namely the sound of a shovel moving dirt and some creepy heavy breathing. Then the screen suddenly burst to life under the corona of a still camera's flashbulbs, showing close-up glimpses of a twisted, dessicated corpse. Although I was only a few minutes in, the VCR's "STOP" button was definitely calling my name.
Even though this gruesome image faded into daylight, no reprieve was proffered. Instead I got a wince-inducing close up of a drippy, skeletal face, mouth agape, looking as if it was melting under the arid heat of the mid-day Texas sun. Then the camera slowly pulled out to reveal the sort of grotesque artwork that would make the Bodies exhibition look like a Lego display. Adding exponentially to the creep-out factor was the film's dissonant music, rife with cymbal crashes and echoey drums as well as a running radio news report about the desecration of twelve graves in a cemetery "just outside the small rural Texas community of Newt". We also learn that in many cases "only parts of a corpse have been removed, the head or in some cases the extremities removed, (and) the remainder of the corpse left intact". Wheeeeee!
The trippy main credits that followed were superimposed over a bloody-looking optical effect, resembling something that the U.S.S. Enterprise used to habitually encounter in the original Star Trek T.V. show. At the same time, the audio news reports kept bombarding me with unrelated stories about torture, murder and mutilation. Like many films of that era such as Last House on the Left, I Spit on Your Grave, Cannibal Holocaust and Night of the Living Dead, it could be argued that I was watching one film-makers response to the constant parade of real-life horrors in the news. This disturbing thought would end up nagging me throughout my inaugural viewing of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and years beyond.
After the credits our clearly-deranged director / crypt keeper Tobe Hooper shows us a tit's-up armadillo lying splattered on the road. When I see this now it just looks like someone's taxidermied prop lying on it's back but the first time I saw it I was convinced that it was a real, dead animal they'd found in the field. The film would continue to blend fantasy and reality for me in a seamless fashion throughout the entire length of its lean n' mean run-time.
I was then introduced to our hapless cast of walking flank-steaks. A "Mystery Machine"-type van pulled over to the side of the road, dis-engorging Kirk (William Vail), Sally Hardesty (Marilyn Burns) and her wheel-chair bound brother Franklin (Paul A. Partain). As they pushed him into the bushes to facilitate a pit stop, neo-hippy chick Pam (Teri McMinn) started blathering on about Franklin's astrological forecast:
"Travel in the country, long-range plans, and upsetting persons around you, could make this a disturbing and unpredictiable day. The events in the world are not doing much either to cheer one up."
"Disturbing and unpredictable" indeed.
Franklin's day starts to go south almost immediately when a large transport truck blows by them and the rush of air sends his wheelchair hurtling down the hill. He falls out, barrel rolls down the embankment for a bit and then finally comes to rest at the bottom of the ravine. I was even disturbed by this scene at the time. Back then I must have thought that putting people with disabilities through cinematic jeopardy was either taboo or in supremely bad taste. Nowadays, I find the scene oddly amusing.
After Franklin is safely stowed back onboard the van we learn that Sally is looking for their abandoned childhood home. In order to find the place they stop at what appears to be a tailgate party for a bunch of drunken yahoos. The omens continue to pile up when one of the besotted old rednecks starts babbling that "Things happen here about they don't tell about. I see things." Wonderful.
Automatically I started to think: 'Hey, guys instead of exploring Defilement Country, why don't we go home, throw on a Lynyrd Skynyrd record and just, y'know...mellow out.'
But, nope, Sally got directions to the old homestead and we were on their way. En route they drove through a noxious cloud of olfactory funk, signalling the close proximity of the local slaughterhouse. Sensitive soul that he is, Franklin decided that this was the perfect time to bust out his classic "air gun going into a cow's skull" impression over and over and over and over again. Watching this for the first time, cracks were beginning to show in my naive "disabled people can never assholes" theory.
In a scene specifically designed to put a final stake through the heart of hippy-era peace and love, Jerry (Allan Danziger) obeys majority rule and picks up a hitchhiker played to corn-pone perfection by Edwin Neal. After taking one good, hard look at their new passenger, Franklin immediately declares "I think we just picked up Dracula." And with that Franklin earned a point back in my books.
With his prominent birthmark, antiquated camera, sassy varmint purse and a head of hair that looks like it was combed with a porkchop, this dude has to be the number one reason as to why no-one ever picks up hitchhikers anymore. The scene starts with a dose of coal-black humor but it turns really sour, really quick. He snatches Franklin's pocket knife away from him, cuts his own palm open and then calmly hands the blade back to him. Then, in a twisted version of show-and-tell, he produces his very own straight razor. All the while I'm watching this thinking, 'Quick, Jerry, his the f#@king eject button! Launch that mutant into the nearest cornfield!'
The Hitchhiker then used his ancient flashbulb camera to take a Polaroid of Franklin and then promptly demanded to be paid for the resulting photo like a Caribbean beach huckster. After our "hero" flatly refused to participate in this extortion we all watched in horror as the Hitchhiker created a nice little tin foil funeral pyre, charred the picture with gunpowder, and then calmly pocketed the remains. After this standard operating procedure was concluded the Hitchhiker then whipped out his straight razor, grabbed Franklin's arm and then started sawing away at his wrist like it was a porterhouse steak.
Aaaaaand that's when I shut the movie off.
In my previous horror movie encounters I'd managed to contend semi-successfully with demons, werewolves, ghosts and zombies but this was completely different. Never before had I witnessed such a harrowing and convincing portrait of good, old-fashion human mental illness in a film before. Edwin Neal's portrayal of the Hitchhiker was just so damned weird and disjointed that you got the feeling that it made perfect sense within his own fevered brain. And whereas it was possible to discount supernatural threats as pure fantasy, I knew that there were people out there in our own world who made freaks like the Hitchhiker look like Jason Bateman.
After taking a few deep breaths and indulging in the scaredy-cat mantra of "it's only a movie...it's only a movie..." I acted contrary to my better judgement and hit the "PLAY" button again.
There was a flurry of smoke, screaming and chaos as Jerry pulled over to the side of the road and the Hitchhiker was unceremoniously chucked out. As the van tore away, yon weirdo decided to do a little speed painting on the side of the van using the oft-overlooked medium of blood.
As if in direct rebuttal to my silent plea to turn around and drive home, the kids started telling me about their script-convenient gas woes. After pulling into a service station manned by a pair of genetic casualties the manager informed them that "my tank's empty! Transport won't be here until late this afternoon. Maybe not even 'til tomorrow morning." Although the kids don't get any gas they decided to help themselves to some "barbeque". Which is why I always ask: "Okay, yeah, I get that it's 'barbeque', but what kind of 'barbeque' is it, exactly? Beef brisket? Pulled pork? Smoked sophomore?" Sorry, but I still put "human flesh" above "deadly nut allergy" when it comes to my food sensitivities.
Eventually the kids found the old abandoned Hardesty house and I was "treated" to some more ominous and echoey music as they walked up to it. The wiggins factor continued to rise for me after Kirk spies what appears to be a giant cellar spider orgy in the corner of an abandoned room. Awesome. Despite the fact that I actually owned a pet tarantula at the time, I couldn't believe that Tobe Hooper and his cinematographer Daniel Pearl saw this and said, "Hey, look, that's totally disgusting! Quick! Get a shot of it and we'll include it in the movie!"
Meanwhile, Franklin got left behind outside the house and for a moment my young, pathetically-sappy self felt bad that was being excluded because of his disability. That is until the fat bastard pitched the worst sort of temper tantrum, replete with extended dance mix raspberries and a mocking impersonation of his sister and her friends:
"'Hee, hee, hee! Come on, Franklin! It's gonna be a fun trip! Hee, hee, hee!' If I have any more fun today, I don't think I'm gonna be able to take it!
Suddenly cruel thoughts began stampeding through my head. This nasty little flick was starting to have a bad influence on me!
'Yeah, I got yer 'fun' revvin' up right here you fat f#@k,' I thought to myself. 'God, I hope you become chainsaw fodder!'
But then, when Franklin nearly rolled over this weird bone fetish altar thingie, noticed a matching totem hanging overhead and the soundtrack suddenly raised hackles up my spine with a rattlesnake-tail sting, I quickly changed my tune. I wouldn't wish this budding nightmare on my worst enemy!
I then watched as Pam and Kirk made their way down to the ol' swimmin' hole back behind the property, which turned out to be all dried up. That's when they caught a glimpse of a windmill and the top of a roof on the horizon. As they approached the property they could hear the distinct sound of a gas generator, leading Kirk to theorize that the owners might have some gas to spare.
But as they wandered through the foreboding property my Spider-Sense started to go nuts. What kind of freak ties a bunch of rusty old junk onto tree limbs? What's the deal with all those abandoned cars? And, more importantly, why are they covered up with camo netting?
Kirk knocks on the front door of the house but there's no answer. As he turns around, his foot kicks up what appears to be a discarded molar which he then helpfully deposits into Pam's unsuspecting hand. Naturally she freaks out, drops it like a One Direction CD and then storms away in disgust. Kirk then goes back to pounding on the door which opens up just a crack. Apparently in Kirk's twisted world, this is an open invitation to barge in and make himself at home.
As he crossed the threshold, warning klaxons started sounding in my head. As he ventured down the hallway toward the crimson-hued back room covered in animal skulls and taxidermy projects we both started to hear what sounded like pig squeals and grunting noises. Just before Kirk got there he tripped on something underfoot, stumbled head-first into the room and came under the auspices of, in my humble opinion, the scariest villain in the history of horror cinema.
Suddenly the doorway was dominated by a hulking brute clad in a filthy short-sleeve dress shirt, a blood-splattered butcher's apron and, because he takes pride in his job, a jaunty little tie. Of course, he was also wearing a mask made entirely out of stitched-together bits of human flesh, so I guess that last statement's a bit of a wash.
So "bang, bang" Leatherface's silver hammer came down upon Kirk's head. After falling to the floor, actor William Vail decided to add a distressingly-authentic touch to the scene by going into convulsions. Non-plussed, Leatherface gave him a few more smacks, picked him up like a side of beef, hucked him off to the side and then slammed the metal door shut in a fit of super-human rage.
And that's when I decided it was time for another intermission.
Now, up to that point I'd seen stills of Leatherface in my horror movie books but to see him come to life on screen right in front of me was just too much for my poor adolescent brain to process. Between his crazed vocalizations, horrifying appearance and rage-fueled physicality, actor Gunnar Hansen managed to give me weeks worth of bad dreams within a few short seconds!
I turned on every light in the house and walked around for a little bit, trying to remind myself that all was not dire and repellent in the world. Eventually I shook off my feelings of despair, slowly trudged back upstairs, took up the remote with a heavy heart and then voluntarily re-immersed myself back into that living nightmare.
Tired of waiting for Kirk to come back, Pam returned to the house to look for him. This was accomplished with a terrific low P.O.V. shot which not only showcased Teri McMinn's amazing red shorts but also made the house look overwhelmingly imposing. Frustrated that Kirk wasn't answering her calls, Pam entered the house and then make the mistake of stumbling into the ironically-named "living room".
Pam's shellshock mirrored my very own as the camera took a brain-melting inventory of the biological detritus scattered about the room. There were piles of feathers, scattered bones, a live chicken crammed into a tiny cage, chairs re-enforced with tibias, hanging skulls with a horns driven through the mouth and plenty more charming bric-à-brac. All the while that horrible discordant music was clawing away at our tenuous grasp on reality.
After sharing my own impulse to dry-heave, Pam managed to get to her feet and run for the door. Just as she came around the corner, however, the metal door to the back room flew open revealing Leatherface who immediately let out his signature (and terrifying) bull-moose call and then chased after her. Yeah, she didn't get very far. After snatching her up, Leatherface dragged her kicking and screaming back into the killing room and then chucked her up on a conveniently-placed meat hook. Still alive and dangling there, Pam watched in desperate horror as Leatherface fired up his titular chainsaw and then proceeded to massacre her boyfriend right before her unbelieving eyes.
Which meant it was time for another pause.
It was just too much, too goddamned realistic. I'd joked before about smuggling a snuff film into the house but now I was starting to think that I'd inadvertently succeeded. The film's gritty, lo-fi sensibilities were really driving home the possibility that what I was watching was within the dark boundaries of real-life human madness and cruelty.
When I fired the video up again I was delighted to get a temporary reprieve. There we were: back at the van again with good ol' Jerry, Sally and Franklin...yay! But then good ol' Jerry had to cock everything up by going off in search of Pam and Kirk. Accompanied only by a disjointed audio panoply of cymbal crashes, echoey steel drum and an incessently-roaring generator, Jerry approached the house and then found the towels that his friends had brought along with them for their swim. Naturally this led him inside the house.
Now, you may be tempted to think 'C'mon, Dave, these people are all idiots and they deserve what they got!' but permit me to play screenwriter's advocate for a bit. You're in the middle of nowhere, your van is out of fuel, you find a house that has a gas generator, you're stuck and you really need some help. Sure, the decor inside the house is a tad eclectic, but never in a million years would you ever expect that the place is home to a homicidal, hammer-wielding ogre who would just as soon bash your face in as look at you.
But to give credence to your unspoken objection, Jerry did go a helluva lot farther then I ever would. First off, he knew that his overdue friends are somewhere on the premises because their towels are on the porch. He could also clearly tell that they weren't answering his calls. And most importantly, he started hearing a weird girlish giggle coming from deeper inside the house. Did he think that it was Pam?
Regardless, Jerry ventured inside and then made his way to the exposed back room. After hearing thumping noises coming from inside the deep freezer, Jerry opened it up only to find Pam lying there like a box of frozen fish sticks. To make matters worse she suddenly sprang to life, causing me to pee a little and startling the crap outta Jerry who promptly stumbled right back into Leatherface's raised mallet. After Jerry was dispatched I almost stopped the tape again but then something interesting happened, something that made Leatherface infinitely more interesting to me then fellow slasher juggernauts Micheal Myers and Jason Vorhees.
He actually started freaking out. Still making his characteristic hoots and grunts, he ran over to the window, frantically looked around outside and then collapsed into a nearby chair, holding his head. That's when it dawned on me: he's actually scared. He's fretting over the appearance of all of these pesky kids and wondering if they'll ever stop coming. For a second you almost feel bad for the poor shlub. Almost.
Which brings me to another point which I can't stress enough: IMHO only one actor has ever played Leatherface and his name is Gunnar Hansen. Every subsequent depiction of this character in the Chainsaw "franchise" has been decidedly L.I.N.O. or "Leatherface In Name Only". From Bill Johnson's hyperactive, two-stepping goofball in the direct sequel to Andrew Bryniarski's neckless, meat-headed goon in the remake, every other portrayal of Leatherface has been miles off the mark. Only Hannsen succeeded in making the character authentic to me and, subsequently, completely terrifying.
Back at the van, Sally and Franklin are blowing the horn and shouting their friend's names into the Stygian darkness in the hopes of guiding them back. They argue about whether or not they should jump in the van and leave but when they realize that Jerry has the keys, they decide to go out into the woods and look for him. I can only only imagine Sally's burden here, trying to push a bloated, whiny Franklin through the underbrush in a wheelchair. Good times.
When they saw lights from the house up ahead Sally doggedly redoubled her efforts. Then, all of a sudden, Leatherface and his roaring chainsaw popped up from out of nowhere and quickly turned Franklin into a Jackson Pollock painting. Although his sudden appearance scared the friggin' bejesus out of me, the video quality was so dark and muddy I had to assume that Franklin had just been eviscerated in the most painful and protracted manner possible. I won't lie to you; the mere thought of this kinda gave me a warm, fuzzy feeling.
Sally screamed and ran away and Leatherface promptly fell into hot pursuit right behind her. And whereas our heroine kept getting snared up in the brambles Leatherface just hacked his way through that shit. With her attacker just a few strides behind her Sally finally broke free and managed to reach the house. She ran upstairs only to stumble upon the remains of two dessicated corpses sitting there in repose. For me it was a shocking scene that rivaled the classic reveal of Norman's Mom in Psycho.
When Leatherface cornered her upstairs, Sally did the only logical thing she could do: jump right the f#@k outta the window. By now I'm screaming "RUN, SALLY, RUN!" at the television like someone's dementia-riddled grandmother who's totally convinced that what they're watching is real.
Sally slowly got to her feet and hauled ass back into the woods, only to get knocked down again by a low-lying branch. She barely managed to escape just as Leatherface was closing in with his still-buzzing, disconcertingly-authentic chainsaw. After another extended chase scene in which Leatherface closed to within swiping distance, Sally stumbled upon the very same gas station they'd all visited earlier. Overjoyed that she'd finally found sanctuary I watched with growing interest as she burst into the office and ran into the manager who immediately tried to calm her down.
My relief at the time was palpable; our heroine finally had some back-up! Elderly back up, mind you, but back-up nonetheless. But right away something about the station manager's demeanor seemed kinda off to me. Instead of freaking out, locking the door and looking for a weapon, the old man tried to pacify her.
"Call the police!" Sally wailed.
"There's no phone here!" the old man replied. "You just stay here. I'll go get the truck!"
Then, all of a sudden, the crazy old bastard just marched outside,oblivious to the fact that there's a chainsaw-wielding lunatic lurking just around the corner. This left Sally sitting there all alone, vulnerable and frantic with the office door wide open.
A close up of Sally's stricken face showed that the poor girl was completely traumatized. Then director / sick little monkey Tobe Hooper served up a lingering shot of the gas station's BBQ cooker. The blood-red light and abstract-looking meats sizzling inside dovetailed with the film's only other audio: more news reports about the local rash of grave-robbing. Suddenly I was overwhelmed with a sinking feeling that things were about to get much, much worse.
And sure enough, when the gas station manager re-appeared, he was inexplicably holding a bag and some rope. My heart wilted as the horrible realization dawned on me that this freak is actually in cahoots with Leatherface.
Sally grabbed a knife and tried to defend herself but the old reprobate knocked the weapon out of her hand with a nearby broom. He then proceeded to whale the snot out of her, a sadistic and pervy sort of glee lighting up his twisted features. After he knocked her out and tied her up, he crammed a legitimately-filthy-looking rag into her mouth, threw the bag over her head and then chucked her into the truck for the long and painful drive back up to the House of Horrors.
Within the span of a few short minutes, actor Jim Siedow made the Cook one of the most reviled and repellant characters in cinema history. As if beating Sally into unconsciousness wasn't bad enough, he then spent the entire drive back to the house alternating between comforting her with reassuring words and then roughly jabbing at her with his broken-off broom handle. Between the perverse script and Siedow's eerie portrayal it's one of the most convincing depictions of mental illness I've ever seen in a movie.
This necessitated another extended pause for me.
Just like my horror movie tomes had warned, I was starting to feel sick, but not because of any graphic depictions of gore. In fact, most of the violence thus far had been implied. No, the thing that was making me queasy was the unrelenting, cumulative depiction of aberrant human behavior. Although I wasn't sure whether or not I'd finish watching the film, I did know that a forty-minute shower was somewhere in my future.
What really amazed me about The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was how, just seconds after thinking "Well, it can't get any worse then this!", it did. Like, a lot worse. En route back to the house the Cook stopped to pick up a hitchhiker. Yep, that's right kiddies the Hitchhiker. As it turns out our l'il buddy from the beginning of the film is a card-carrying member of the same whack-a-do clan of degenerates. As I kept watching through a web of interlocked finger, the bizarre family dynamic of these mondo weirdos started to come into focus.
On sight, the Cook immediately started beating the Hitchhiker with the broom handle, chiding him for unearthing all those graves and drawing media attention to the area. Also, in a glorious moment of dark humor, he proceeded to lose his shit after seeing the state of the house:
"Look what your brother did to the door!!! Ain't he got no pride in his home?!?"
After the Cook took a few pot-shots at Leatherface with the broom handle I noticed that the big lug had switched faces, presumably to prepare supper. The "Old Lady Mask" was even more disturbing since it revealed his abject willingness assume the matronly role in the family. I don't think I need to explain why this goes above and beyond the traditional definition of "disturbing". Given the fact that Leatherface and the Hitchhiker have been marinating in an environment rife with violence, fear, intimidation and cruelty things actually start to make a weird sort of sense.
Hooper and screenwriter Kim Henkel then proceeded to blow the needle right off of the ol' DISTURB-O-METER. The Cook told the "kids" to bring Grampa down from the attic who, as it turns out, is still (barely) alive. I then watched in total revulsion as the Hitchhiker slashed Sally's finger open and then crammed her bleeding digit right into the old man's maw, who then proceeded to take a long, lingering, contented suck. It's a tender mercy that she passed out at that moment. I certainly wish I did.
Eventually Sally woke up to find herself seated at the family "dinner table", her hands and feet bound to a skeletal chair. At the far end was The Cook, to her left the Hitchhiker and to her right Leatherface, sporting yet another new mask in honor of the special occasion. This time he'd assumed his "Pretty Woman" guise, replete with makeup, a saucy black wig and a spiffy black suit. This just seemed to intensify the squirm-factor for me.
Regaining consciousness in such hellish surroundings, Sally reacted the exact same way any self-respecting captive would: by screaming her ever-lovin' guts out. In a maddening twist, her three degenerate hosts started screaming and howling right back at her in a mocking parody of her terror. Based solely on this performance alone, Marilyn Burns belongs right up there with Faye Wray and Jamie Lee Curtis as one of the greatest Scream Queens in cinema history. I'm sure the harsh shooting conditions inspired a lot of method acting; her agony, suffering and mental deterioration is so realistic that it's still almost impossible to watch.
Hooper then clobbered me with a succession of knockout blows. We get a series of twitchy, microscopic closeups, perfectly conveying Sally's wide-eyed horror. The Hitchhiker mocks her torment. The Cook exhibits leering, perverse delight. Leatherface leans closer, emitting a series of distressingly-porcine sounds. As the industrial-style soundtrack reached a crescendo, Hooper hit me with another orthodontic close up of Marilyn's mouth agape in a soul-rending scream. Watching this for the first time I literally felt as if my own wits were unraveling along with Sally's.
"Hey, Grandpa, we're gonna let you have this one!" the Hitchhiker enthused.
"Grampa's the best killer that ever was!" the Cook chimed in. "Never took more then one lick!"
I didn't get a lot a lot of solace from that statement, especially as Leatherface dragged Sally over to the decrepit old mummy propped up in the chair. Simultaneously, the Hitchhiker produced a large, ominous-looking metal washbasin. Oh, God, this did not bode well.
My worst fears were confirmed when Leatherface roughly positioned Sally's head over the metal bucket and the Hitchhiker tried to shove a mallet into Grandpa's barely-conscious hand. It immediately slipped out of his grip, grazed Sally in the head and then fell to the bottom of the basin with a loud "BANG". Realizing that Gramps was too old and infirm to hold the hammer, the Hitchhiker put the weapon back into the old man's hand and then took a few practice swings on his behalf. Employing this clearly-unsportsmanlike method, the hammer connected with the back of Sally's skull a few times and her screams came anew.
"Nope! Sorry! I'm done! I quit!" I said out loud, mashing the "STOP" button on the VCR. With the last vestiges of my inner child now huddled into a fetal position, I had to bring an end to my self-abuse.
'Seriously,' I thought to myself, 'what sort of damaged brain comes up with this sick shit?' And that's when I realized that this fictional edifice was nothing compared to the real-life cruelty being inflicted on people every day by other people. Back then I was barely aware of the concept of serial killers and the news didn't strive to turn them into notorious celebrities. This was art imitating life, not the other way around.
Praying that I was getting towards the end of the flick, I pressed "PLAY" again for what would be the final time. I writhed at the edge of my seat until Sally finally experienced a Herculean adrenaline rush of strength, broke free of her captors and then jumped out though the nearest window. 'Cripes, this chick's gone through more panes of glass then friggin' Batman!' I thought to myself.
Bleeding from head trauma, lacerated by a slew of glass cuts and hobbled by her awkward landing, Sally got up and started to run / lope down the dirt road away from the house, screaming bloody murder all the way. In a flash, the Hitchhiker was right behind her, slashing at her exposed back with his straight razor. Suddenly they burst out onto the main road where Sally's pursuer experienced a spectacular and wholly-overdue tête-à-tête with a speeding livestock truck.
As soon as the driver got out of his truck the first thing I thought was 'This guy is awesome!'. Morbidly obese, dressed in "slacks", wearing a pup-tent sized yellow t-shirt and sporting a righteous 'fro I could tell that this guy (actor Ed Guinn, BTW) was the prototypical Seventies-era exploitation film actor. Anyway after jumping out of his truck to check on the street pizza, Mr. Perfect caught a glimpse of the approaching Leatherface, quickly concluded "F#@k this shit!", grabbed Sally and then retreated right back into the truck.
Sawing vainly at the driver's door, Leatherface finally noticed that his quarry had retreated out the opposite side. Just as he cleared the truck, the driver beaned him right in the melon with a heavy thrown wrench. Down he went in a heap, the chainsaw's blade coming to rest on the meaty part of his thigh. 'Yeah, how does that feel, ya creep!' my inner cheerleader enthused.
As good fortune would have it a pickup truck happened to drive by. Sally flagged him down and barely had enough time to crawl in the flat bed just as her pursuer's wild-swinging saw roared within a few inches of her battered body.
Not needing any more incentive, the pickup driver quickly tore off, the sound of Sally's involuntary screams slowly degenerating into peals of maniacal laughter. Even though she was now physically safe, it wasn't difficult to tell that her sanity was clearly in tatters. The very last shot is of Leatherface, spinning around like a whirling dervish of impotent rage.
Slowly I found my way out of my state of shock. When I came to I was watching the closing credits; the accompanying music sounding like rusty farm equipment tumbling down a bloody metal sluice. I sat there for the longest time, studying the names of the sick bastards who'd just inflicted all that mental and emotional abuse on me. I vowed to find these deviants and personally congratulate each and every one of them for hauling me kicking and screaming through one-hundred and twenty minutes worth of escalating, sustained, mind-shattering terror.
It's not too often that a film changes you somehow, but I can safely say that the me that sat down to watch The Texas Chain Saw Massacre that evening was not the same me that now sat gaping at the closing credits as if I'd been struck in the back of the head with a vulpine hammer. My inner child had taken quite a few body blows and I didn't feel quite so squeaky clean and innocent.
For the first time ever a movie of all things forced me to consider the genuinely horrifying fact that truth was stranger then fiction. I was left to wrestle with the troubling concept that dark things were happening in our world which made the events depicted in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre look like an episode of Scooby-Doo. That's a pretty harsh pill for a kid to swallow but I also think it's important to have realistic expectations about the darkness that resides within some of our more twisted fellow human beings.
Oh, and there's one more very important thing about this movie that haunts me to this day:
What the hell happened to that poor cattle truck driver?
EPIC MAKING OF DOC An ample amount of real-life, behind-the-scenes horror likely contributed to the film's authenticity:
FAILED FRANCHISE That first film was so good it's a bloody shame that the "story" was continued for purely mercenary reasons.