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Texas Chain Saw Massacre

What a title. It tells you everything you need to know about the film. It is in Texas. A person wields a chainsaw. People die. But there's so much more to this movie than that.

It's important to say that this is the scariest horror movie I've ever seen. The atmosphere in this film is so goddamn thick and murky and gross. You feel the rot, not only in the corpses which feature in the film's introduction, but also generally in the living conditions of the murder family and way the world is portrayed. Texas Chain Saw Massacre features barbarism, abuse, cannibalism, the effects of economic degradation, and may be the clearest and most convincing PETA advertisement ever made. The thematic content of this movie is what really sets it apart from other exploitation films of the time and horror films of today. It stands alone in time as an important work of art.

There is so much to cover when it comes to content. I find the writing in this movie to be quite brilliant and unique for horror films. We are introduced to the themes early: the 5 main characters pass the closed-down slaughterhouse and Franklin discusses how the cows are killed using a sledgehammer. The characters then pick up a frightening hitchhiker who proceeds to discuss how he used to work at the slaughterhouse and how switching from the sledgehammer to the cattle bolt put people out of work. He also slices one of the characters with a knife and blows up a picture of that character with gunpowder. Uhhh. Anyways, while this is being talked about, the images shown are of cows packed together in pens. What is occurring to these animals in inhumane, brutal, and frightening. Texas Chain Saw Massacre's main stroke of genius (amongst many others) is the idea of showing what it would be like if human beings were treated as farm animals; if they were seen as meat and meat alone.

Leatherface and his family have no empathy. For people or animals. For meat. Their house is littered with bones and carcasses and remains. They are themselves carcasses though. The world has left them behind. Obviously the film doesn't ask you to empathize with these brutal and disgusting killers. However, it is hard to imagine them doing the terrible things they do without two main distinctions: 1. the already mentioned lack of empathy and openness to slaughter as a means of survival and 2. their economic status. I don't really want to go too far into this because it would be ridiculous if I really wrote it all out but basically the film makes it a point to repeatedly mention the economic difficulties the family is facing. They have lost jobs, they can't pay their electric bill, they cling to a past they cannot get back. They are the abandoned people, the reduced ones, the ones who have long been replaced by automation and technological advances. The world moved past them...but they're still here. And they're really fucking scary.

The casual cruelty they display is frankly appalling. I've watched a lot of movies and none can really affect me the way this movie does. I guess I could talk about Leatherface first. Leatherface kills many of the main characters. He is large, destructive and seemingly unstoppable. The actor for Leatherface viewed the character as someone who had never learned to speak so he communicated in squeals and grunts like the pigs the character would have been surrounded by as a child. He's a fascinating, monstrous creation. What's even scarier though is the family surrounding him. The already-mentioned hitchhiker displays more open cruelness than Leatherface. He derives pleasure from the pain of others and there's rarely been a more unhinged and straight-up dangerous performance than what the actor gives for this character. There's also two patriarchal characters which feature who I won't spoil. But my god. Evil. Horrifying movie!

(Spoiler Here! When Leatherface's brother? father? begins to abuse him and this previously horrifying character is shown to be absolutely terrified of this other figure it's so revealing about this character and this family. It is a family of pain, of hurt, of nothing but the worst aspects of humanity and it may continue to be that way until they all get hit by trucks and die.)

I think two of the things that really sell the scenes of horror are the editing and the music. The editing is fast-paced and often focuses heavily on provocative images. There's a rhythm to this movie which is very unique. The editing is also the main way the film can overwhelm you. There are sequences in this movie which provide pure terror. The rapid cutting, uncomfortable close ups, and sounds of screaming or machinery get into the viewers head and make the movie hard to watch at points. Along with the editing, the music is very creepy and inventive. Honestly, I would consider the music to this film to be somewhat of a precursor to dark ambient or maybe some industrial music. The music is the final ingredient on the terrible, eroding atmosphere the film conveys.

This is genuinely one of the most impressive pieces of art I have seen. The budget for this film was shoestring. It was made in the style of the exploitation films of the 70s. Most of the actors aren't great. There's a lot working against it. BUT! Then there's the movie. This singular document of American brutality, a stark statement against the meat industry, all the elements of its filmmaking building the terror and the pain and the nightmare of it all.

The scariest movie ever made.


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