Seldom has a film made my heart so tense. Tope Hooper’s classic, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, is a landmark in budget horror filmmaking. It’s deliberate, it’s messy, it’s unrefined, it’s creepy and disgusting, and it’s scary. It misleads you, then it works to scare you out of your wits, not through blood or ghosts, but through the methodical deconstruction of your mind.
Its villain, Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen), is not really a villain at all; more of a misguided soul. The real villain is his family from hell–complete with Half-dead Grandpa–who has imprisoned him to a life of servitude (at home, he dresses up as a housewife, complete with apron). This is the kind of psychological torture Hooper puts us through. Here we have a big man, wearing a mask made out of human skin, wielding a chainsaw, chasing helpless people around, and who wears an apron at home, subjecting himself to verbal and physical abuse from his “relatives”. How would one even begin to analyse this guy’s head? Would we even want to?
On top of all that, the Leatherface family are cannibals. They live in an eerie house and they have eerie family dynamics. They’re in the middle of nowhere, and so the “father” lures victims in from his nearby petrol station. Even though Hooper claims the story is true, it isn’t. Yet he makes us believe that it could be true. Remember, this is before the endless stream of slasher flicks numbed our senses to the thrill of watching teenagers getting hacked to pieces. In fact, Texas Chainsaw is said to have pioneered many of the genre’s characteristics. Indeed, just a few years later, Carpenter’s Halloween emerged and, in its own right, is also a magnificent film.
Texas Chainsaw is one of my Great Films simply because it has this natural ability to disgust like no other film can (not on this kind of budget anyway). My brother claims that he won’t be able to sit through it a second time, and I can understand why. The visceral response to this film is just too intense.