The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
Reviewed on 2006 November 14
I wanted to rent the original The Texas Chain Saw Massacre for some time — not being a Trump I usually like to rent movies before investing in them — but all I could find was the remake. I finally found one lonely retail copy of the original, clad in a shiny tin box and waiting for me. I snapped it up and it was one of the better $20s I dropped. A lot of things amazed me about this movie, but the most surprising thing is that Tobe Hooper could produce such an atmosphere of dread for the price of a few bones and a couple six-packs for his cast.
Sally Hardesty (Marilyn Burns) and her wheelchair-bound brother Franklin (Paul Partain) take a van trip into rural Texas with some friends, Kirk (William Vail), Jerry (Allen Danziger) and Pam (Teri McMinn). The Hardestys want to show their friends an old family home and hit a nearby swimming hole. After picking up and getting rid of a deranged hitchhiker, their nerves are shot and they’re low on gas. They stop at a gas station/cafe that is waiting on a fuel delivery but extremely well-stocked with barbecue. The cook (Jim Siedow) warns them away from the old homestead; the people nearby don’t cotton to strangers and why don’t they just have some nice ’cue and be on their way instead? Because almost anybody would rather swim than eat even the best barbecue on a blistering hot Texas afternoon, and because the cook and the “restaurant” seem pretty seedy, the kids take off. They find the old family home but still need fuel to get back. Pam and Kirk wander off and hear a generator running at a nearby house, and decide to see if they can get some fuel from the owner. Never mind that the owner has a suspicious amount of cars rusting in the front yard and that this house is little better-kept than the Hardesty homestead; if they have a generator they must be civilized, right? When they don’t come back, the others set out to find them…
This movie is enjoyable largely because no actions are wasted. The less intelligent things the characters do either have a purpose or are more a product of the comparatively innocent ’70s than actually being dumb. Picking up a hitchhiker was never a MENSA move but back then it seemed safer. When Pam and Kirk wandered onto someone’s property they were looking for fuel and not just being nosy. They weren’t dumb. (The characters in Wrong Turn drove me nuts — you’re in the middle of nowhere where nobody would see you sneak behind a shrub, yet you go into a house that screams “freaks live here” just because you have to pee?) The most remarkable thing of all is Leatherface himself. Gunnar Hansen looks kind of like Kris Kringle in real life, but with a simple, creepy mask he was turned into a horror movie icon. And it is scary. Few things are more frightening than the first good look at that furniture…
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre gets three old-fashioned chocolate morsels.