By Philip Newton (England)
What is the nature of true terror? Perhaps cinematically this can be best shown in the form of a small low budget exploitation film made by Tobe Hooper in 1974 called The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Historically based on real life serial killer Ed Gein, Chainsaw is truly a one of a kind experience and an intense attack on the senses so severe that it can never be forgotten, and stays in your psyche almost as though you have lived the experience yourself. A truly terrifying piece of visceral horror cinema, which came at a time where filmmakers wanted to truly shock their audiences, not in a distasteful way in streams of blood and guts, but through subtlety and suggestion which continues to be honoured as legacy to this masterful work.
The plot is quite thin and to speak of it now it would seem like a cliché, a group of young teenagers are driving around Texas to a grave site of the grandfather of two of the teenagers after finding out that his grave has been vandalised. While in town, they also decide to visit their grandfather’s old house, from there they realise the home next door houses some truly strange individuals, with bad and violent intentions, which will change the lives of the unfortunate guests forever.
What is so special about this plot? Well nothing in particular, to speak of it now is to almost reel off the premise of most blood and guts slasher movies from the last thirty five years. It is almost like a checklist which is needed, naive teenagers; check, abandoned houses; check, scary oddballs; check. However this is the film that would set the trend, and this set up in subsequent films would lead to often predictable horror tropes such as teenagers in too many unnecessary sexual situations before being bumped off, to violence often too sensationalised and over the top with blood, that it would simply become boring.
The original Texas Chainsaw Massacre however, as previously stated, set this trend and never feels for one minute boring. On the contrary it is from beginning to end an unnerving experience, sometimes so much so that as a viewer I found myself shouting ‘make it stop it is too much’. In reflection I found it interesting how I would say this to myself as there is almost no actual physical violence or blood on screen, Director Tobe Hooper created these feelings purely by suggestion.
On technical terms, the film is expertly made both on an intelligent and visceral level, Hooper creates a documentary style which moves often with obscure camera angles, some long shots and then some close up. The camera often moves frantically keeping the audience disorientated as well as very much a part of the experience with the film exuding an extreme sense of claustrophobia.
The film’s other major factor is its effective use of sound which perfectly complements the imagery, creating results which are illogical in nature which in turn allows us to question what we are seeing. The sounds are very encompassing of the experience, extreme noises of chainsaws and screaming play so many more head games with our minds than obvious blood and gore. Which is the genius of Hooper, here his decision to allow us to play with our own imaginations will not only satisfy casual fans in terrifying them out of their skins, but also have horror cinephiles admiring the cerebral manner that has Hooper terrifying them out of their skins.