“Everything means something, I guess.”
While on a trip to visit their grandfather’s grave, a young woman (Marilyn Burns) and her wheelchair-bound brother (Paul A. Partain) — along with three friends (Allen Danziger, William Vail, and Teri McMinn) — encounter an unsettling hitchhiker (Edwin Neal), then the rest of his family of psychopathic cannibals: Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen), the Old Man (Jim Siedow), and “Grandpa” (John Dugan).
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Horror Films
- Living Nightmare
Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “ferocious, independently made cult horror film by Tobe Hooper” — which led “to his Poltergeist assignment in Hollywood” — is “well-made but unpleasant”, filled with “quirky humor, bizarre characters…, and terrifying, brutally violent sequences.” He points out that “in the weird cannibalism subgenre,” it is “the most striking example of a picture that emphasizes the slaughter of human beings for ‘meat’ rather than for outright feast.” His suggestion that it might have been “made by vegetarians and animal lovers who wanted to make viewers identify with poor animals in a slaughterhouse that have their heads crushed by sledgehammers…, are hung on meat hooks…, are put in freezers…, [and] are sliced up into little chunks by chain saws in preparation for human consumption” seems right on the mark. Peary points out that the “film duplicated the nightmarish effect of Herschell Lewis’s Two Thousand Maniacs“, and notes that while “Hooper claimed Hitchcock influenced him greatly”, their “styles are dissimilar except for their shared ability to get viewers to imagine there is more blood on the screen than is actually shown.” Finally, Peary notes that while “Hitchcock builds suspense“, “Hooper prefers having one shock after another to achieve terror” — and while “Hitchcock reminds us we’re watching a movie, Hooper strives for reality.”
In his Cult Movies book, Peary goes into further detail about the legacy of Texas Chainsaw — including the fact that during its sneak preview in San Francisco, some unsuspecting moviegoers “threw up; others stormed the lobby to protest what they (and their children) were being subjected to”; and “when no money was refunded, punches were thrown” and “two city officials in attendance that night threatened to sue the theater on behalf of themselves and other irate viewers.” Thus, Peary writes, “began the bizarre history of the seventies’ most controversial cult horror film.” He adds that the film “kept doing great business wherever it played”, and “as its cult grew, so did its reputation for quality.” He notes that “the main differences between Chain Saw and both Psycho and Deranged” — also loosely based on the real-life exploits of Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein — is that “its villains are completely unsympathetic”. Ultimately, this film “perfectly reproduces our worst nightmares — being in a strange locale where we are attacked for no reason at all by homicidal maniacs we have never seen before”; and while it’s most definitely not for everyone’s tastes (certainly not for mine), it should be seen once simply for its place in cinematic horror history.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Effective cinematography and direction
- Memorable sets
Yes, but only once, for its infamy and cult status.
- Cult Movie
- Historically Relevant
(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)