Continuing Simon Augustine's countdown of the Most Disturbing Movies (Read Part 1 for the first 13). [<< #5]
4. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) 8/8
Tobe Hooper, a talented and innovative filmmaker who never quite got his mainstream due, even after making Poltergeist (and be embroiled in controversy with Steven Spielberg about who actually directed it), made this perennial classic on the cheap in the early seventies. Taking the baton from Wes Craven and Last House on The Left, it expresses the miasma of violent dread and disorientation that hung over an America left schizophrenic by the auto-cannibalism of Vietnam, Kent State, Attica, Watergate, etc. Hooper swings at the audience with the kind of gritty haymaker that only very hungry, very creative, and very poor directors just out of the gate can make.
A group of young college age kids, including a young woman (Marilyn Burns) and her wheelchair bound brother, get lost in the nowhere land of rural Texas, and wind up in the clutches of a very deranged family of cannibals: there's Grandpa, who lives in some state of half-mummified, vampiric state, and favors blood as his beverage of choice, a younger brother who lures victims in (Edwin Neal), and of course, Leatherface - a huge lumbering behemoth who wears the skin of his victims and is on chainsaw duty.
Like Psycho, Halloween or Blair Witch Project, Chainsaw Massacre became the blueprint for scores of films that followed in its wake, but none of the imitators could match its ferocity and artistry. It became synonymous with the new emerging focus on gore in American cinema, but like the three other films I just mentioned, it actually contains little explicit violence compared to splatterfests to follow. The remarkable thing is how much tension and sense of gathering mania Hooper was able to create through use of sound effects, music, inventive camera work, set and art design, and sheer resourceful talent.
We are treated to scene after scene of brilliance. Watch for the beautiful tracking shot following Marilyn Burns under a tree swing as she approaches the house of horrors; or when Leatherface first appears and bangs her boyfriend over the head with a mallet, whereupon the victim falls and flops around the floor like a stunned fish just pulled up on deck, followed by the giant butcher slamming the “meathouse door” closed with a thunderous and decisive gong; or the marvelous scene in which Marilyn discovers a macabre room of bone and feathers signifying the absolute madness that has festered in this remote rural corner of America; or the excruciating family dinner scene in which Marilyn is tied to a chair, scared to the point of insanity, her bulging paranoid eyeballs darting in quick-cut close-ups; or the chilling finale, in which Leatherface is left swinging his chainsaw on the highway at dawn. Trivial tidbit: listen for Night Court's multi-Emmy winner John Larroquette delivering the somber opening voiceover.
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