“If I have any more fun today, I don’t think I’m gonna be able to take it!”
I’m really learning to love exploitation cinema. It’s messy and sometimes only there to scratch an itch, but when it works, it pays off big. Texas Chain Saw Massacre hits every beat with perfection, scratching the itch like nothing else can. I hadn’t seen this movie in a good while, and it really overtook me in this viewing. It’s a standard slasher in so many ways, but it rises above convention with a gritty, uncomfortable premise that never lets you (or its characters) off the hook.
The film follows a group of friends on a trip to visit an old family homestead. They pick up a strange hitchhiker in a terrifying encounter that only foreshadows a night of darkness and suffering as the friends are picked off by a neighboring family of killers. The characters are boiler plate: some douchebags, an ignored voice of reason, and a final girl, but they play their parts perfectly and seem secondary to the experience Hooper is crafting. Rather than focus on character-driven conflict, Hooper distills the slasher formula to its core, focusing on atmosphere and commenting on the hollow arrogance of his characters.
There’s a neat documentary style in Texas Chain Saw, including a creepy opening narration that implies the film is a true story (which it’s not), a clever marketing ploy for 1974 that also shrouds the film in an unsettling sense of realism. The “murder house” feels dirty and inhabited. It strips away the aesthetic façade you find in a lot of horror movies that only serves to distract. Instead, Hooper is hell-bent on immersion. The set construction is detailed and impressive, and you see tons of its elements borrowed by the found footage movies of the 90s and 2000s. In a way, Texas Chain Saw paves the way for this genre, with its own camera working as a sinister observer, lurking in corners and relishing in the bloodshed.
On the topic of bloodshed, there’s really not much of it. I appreciate the straight-on method by which Hooper shoots the killings, and this blunt approach is what brings the scares rather than gushes of blood. The movie seems really interested in invasions of space: people being where they don’t belong, and most of the deaths in the movie (both heroes and villains) seem to embody this principle. The terror of Texas Chain Saw is people being out of their element, stepping into a world they have no business in. It’s a powerful motif that is still imitated in movies today.
I must also mention the cohesion of the film: how all of its elements fit snugly into place. I think “scene weave” is a really underrated aspect of a screenplay, and Texas Chain Saw masters its arrangement of plot events. This feels like one of the shortest horror movies I’ve ever seen, and I think that’s some of the highest praise a slasher can get. Every scene cranks up the momentum, and every detail from the first act is revisited. Even the cut-to-black at the end of the movie feels sinister and abrupt in a way that brings you chills of excitement, leaving you wanting more.
This movie was famously dismissed as a lesser form of horror. It’s messy and indulgent and emotionally hollow, but that’s the only way Texas Chain Saw works. It’s a tight, timeless story that holds up today as a frightening October flick with some really smart ideas.
Films Left to Watch: 868