BHE: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) rated R, watched on Amazon Prime

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0072271/mediaviewer/rm548413440Two siblings visit their grandfather’s grave in Texas along with three of their friends and are attacked by a family of cannibalistic psychopaths.” IMDB synopsis

  • IMDB 7.5/10
  • Metacritic 75/100
  • Rotten Tomatoes 88% critics, 82% audience
  • Solee 4/5
  • Mikey 2/5

WARNING: THIS REVIEW IS FULL OF SPOILERS!

Mikey: So here we sit, having just finished a movie that you have chosen for us to see. Really now, what do you have to say for yourself?

Solee: Well … I clearly didn’t remember the movie very well. BUT in my defense, I can see why I liked it in the first place. It has some definite shades of House of 1000 Corpses to it. Very surreal, very violent, very bizarre.

Mikey: I suspect due to the linear flow of time, those shades run the other direction, but we’ll get into that! I had never seen this movie before, and you were always so shocked at that, so at long last, you decided I needed to be educated. And indeed, my eyes were opened. I think it’s interesting to note that this movie predates Halloween by 4 years, and Friday The 13th by 6, so it’s not just “one of the originals”, it is the original slasher movie. I think.

Solee: It’s definitely a “must see” among horror films for that reason. I honestly can’t imagine how shocking it must have been when it first came out. It’s pretty shocking still! SHOCKING.

Mikey: Shocking, I say! That gets to my main, overarching thought with this whole thing. You remember that episode of The Office where they had a Halloween party, and asked Gabe to provide a ‘spooky movie’ for them to watch? What he provided was simply a series of disgusting/disturbing images, intercut with hidden camera footage of the actual office workers (when someone said there was no plot, he said something about how “even if it’s horrific, a plot is a little comfort, isn’t it? This is truly disturbing”).  That’s the feeling I got from this movie. Every inch of it crawled with unsettling-ness.  Everything was meant to disturb you and put you off, and I suspect that’s about all it was meant to do.

Solee: At one point while we were watching, I thought something very similar. There IS a plot to this movie, but it’s so simplistic as to be almost non-existent. It sets up the events–kids are on a road trip to visit some family history–but once the slashing starts the plot disappears. There is zero attempt to explain the bad guys. We have NO idea who they are or why they are there at the end of the movie. These days, even the most slasher of movies tries to throw in some “motivation” or explanation as to why. Do you think that’s the natural evolution of the genre? We explain things now because we’re no longer afraid of the mere existence of boogiemen?

Mikey: One note I had is that this felt like an entirely different genre of movie than the ones I like. It’s not “horror” as we know it, though it’s clearly horrific. It’s more the cinematic equivalent of a walk-through haunted house.  Just “look here, isn’t that weird?” “does THIS scare you?” “how about this?” It’s not a movie, really, just a thrill ride. Kind of like Paranormal Activity, actually, the difference being that that movie tries to elicit fear in the jump-scare sense, while Texas Chainsaw Massacre tries to elicit disgust and a deep-seated horror. Almost meta – “I am horrified that I am watching this”. So then yes, I think the genre has evolved, into an actual movie genre, as opposed to just a use of celluloid to shock.

Solee: Yeah, I see what you’re saying. I think that that kind of evolution comes from desensitization. We’ve seen so many gross/disturbing things thanks to more pervasive media, fake blood and a girl screaming constantly while running from a chainsaw don’t get our hearts pumping like they used to. Culturally we’ve grown to be more afraid of how easy it is for people to be corrupted/broken through abuse and trauma. Or maybe that’s just me. I always find the real world reasons for horror more scary than anything supernatural.

Mikey: Here’s a thought I am having: when you see a monster in a movie, and it’s gonna get the hero, you can only appreciate that through empathy. You’re not in danger. So all you feel there is empathetic fear.  Whereas when you see disgusting things (and unsettling things), that’s happening to you. You are witnessing something gross, and being grossed out (or something wrong). It’s not fear (and you could throw jump-scares in this set – they happen to you too. It’s a way to get fear that actually affects you personally), but it’s direct instead of requiring you to buy into the movie. I think this movie is an attack on the viewer, instead of an attack on the screen victim.  All the constant screaming, horrible sound effects, Franklin’s unbelievably grating behavior, etc. Those are all aimed at the viewer, to hurt you. It’s not a pleasant experience.

Solee: SO MANY THINGS TO SAY! First, I agree with you regarding the sounds. They are an actual assault on the viewer. The grossness of the images, though, fall into a different category for me. Because I think any visual input requires some level of empathy. Filth or slime or what-have-you cause us to react because we know what those things feel like in real life. At least that’s how it feels to me. Just the image alone doesn’t upset me … it’s what the image represents, and that seems like empathy in some sense. Finally, you made me think about how much our lizard brain–our deeper, uncontrollable instincts–are involved in the watching of horror movies that rely on “unsettling” us. It’s all about using sounds and visuals that trigger that innate fight or flight response, isn’t it?

Mikey: That is definitely what jump scares are about!  I do want to say that this movie isn’t big on “gross-out” scenes like slime and blood. I keep hauling out the word ‘unsettling’ because that feels right. Like when they pick up the hitchhiker, and he’s got all this weird mannerisms and he’s just full of menace without actually threatening them (at first), he’s just so weird, and you’re so concerned about what he might pull out of his bag next. You’re just totally on edge (and all the sounds and visuals play into it). So I guess I just want to point out to our readers that this isn’t one of those big gross-out movies. It’s just cosmically wrong. Though if you don’t like couches made of human skeletons, well…

Solee: One of my notes was about how often the characters facial expressions didn’t fit. Not only the situation, but also what they were saying. That felt like a deeply ingrained fear–as humans, we’re wired to use visual cues to assess safety and truth. When what people say and what they look like or do don’t line up, it’s very upsetting on an unconscious, emotional level. This used that to great effect.

Mikey: Yes, I think upsetting is another good word here. Upsetting and unsettling. My one last thing before I will let that whole discussion die so we can pick apart random bits, is that during the dinner scene, they did a whole bunch of extreme close-ups of the girl’s eye. That was so very Gabe. Deeply unsettling. Showing her whole face would show her fear better, tell the story more clearly, but showing the eye alone made it so much less pleasant for the viewer.

Solee: True. I didn’t think of it that way, but you’re absolutely right. Another emotional trigger they used to good effect was Franklin and his wheelchair. There were five kids on this trip–two couples and Franklin (the little brother, like in The Altar). I liked how they didn’t make a big deal out of his disability. I’m not sure they even mentioned why he used a wheelchair, it was just a part of who he was. Anyway, there were several scenes where Franklin ended up isolated physically because the couples moved faster and more easily through the bushes and house, but also emotionally because the couples ran off in their own directions and he was left to his own devices. That tapped some abandonment issues for viewers, I suspect.

Mikey: That’s actually more diversity than you’re likely to see today! I spent a lot of time concerned about how he was going to function in the movie, but in the end I couldn’t believe how far through the woods he was able to get (in fact, I think I kind of couldn’t believe it, it wasn’t super real).

Solee: Except that this is an house he used to visit when he was a kid and it had clearly been adapted to suit his needs in some aspects. One of the other kids made comment about Franklin getting to the swimming hole in his wheelchair, so perhaps the paths in the woods, while overgrown, were originally planned with his wheelchair in mind?

Mikey: Oh, I took that more like they were just mocking him and saying he had never gone there himself. But it is certainly possible the paths were set up for him. The house didn’t look particularly so, with a whole upstairs that had zero accessibility. Reminds me of one of my notes: I always question why a group of teens is going to stay at whatever random cabin in the woods in every movie, but in this movie most of all. That place was an absolute dump and a half. I know it had family value, but they were acting like this was a fun camp-out. Gross.

Solee: Were they really planning to stay overnight? Or did that only happen because they ran out of gas or whatever? And then a couple of them “disappeared” (read: got chainsawed without the others knowing) and the rest waited until after dark to go looking for them? Now we’re getting into the things that bothered me … but they can all be explained by the fact that plot was completely ignored.

Mikey: Good point, I don’t actually know if that was the plan or not. I found this to be the original “people making stupid choices” movie as well (which fits right in with slasher). Pretty much the wrong choice at every turn. Including the ten or twelve times that girl jumped through glass windows!

Solee: Well, a couple of those times, going through glass was infinitely preferable to the alternative. Wanna hear the Horror Movie Life Lesson I found most glaring in this movie? (Aside from DON’T PICK UP TWEEKED OUT HITCHIKERS!)

Mikey: I always want to know!

Solee: Life Lesson #183: An open door is not the same as an invitation to enter. Especially when said door is attached to a creepy house in the middle of nowhere and belonging to strangers. Why do people always walk into busted up houses just because the door’s hanging open?? UGH.

Mikey: Yeah, I’m on Leatherface’s side for sure. He just wants to be left alone. It wasn’t even just that the door was open, it was “well, if you’re not going to answer when I yell, I’m gonna come in and find you! I’m entitled to your time, stranger” Real consent problem. These kids were budding telemarketers – I’m super glad they died.

Solee: Seriously. This is why I always call before visiting someone.

Mikey: Well, I have tons more notes and could say things all day about this, which surely makes it High Art, but we gotta stop boring the readers. Would you like to share your rating with us?

Solee: Hmmm. So I didn’t really enjoy watching this movie … but I think that means they did something right. It hasn’t aged well, in terms of being something that is still impressive by today’s standards, but it was obviously groundbreaking at the time it came out. I kind of feel like I need to boost my rating a little out of respect for elderly movies, so I’m going to give it a 4. If I based it on how much I liked it, I’d give it a 3, but I don’t think this movie was trying to be liked. How about you? What’s your rating?

Mikey: Whoa! I should point out also that you are being respectful to the memory of Tobe Hooper, who died just about a month ago. I, on the other hand, will do no such thing. As I said before, this didn’t feel like it even belonged in the genre I enjoy. I wouldn’t argue calling it horror, it’s just not the same horror. I like to learn about what ghosts want and try to placate them. So, in that vein, I will award this grating, noisy, off-putting assault on the senses a 2. I’d give it a 1 for my enjoyment level, but a 2 for really spawning the whole idea of slasher films. And, we haven’t really mentioned this beyond your one comment, but House of 1000 Corpses is very, very heavily inspired by this, and is amazing. So bonus point.

Solee: I just looked back at last year’s reviews and confirmed that you have House of 1000 Corpses a 5 out of 5! So I feel compelled to ask if you know what it is that caused you to react so differently to this one?

Mikey: I think there’s a million ways it is better, but at the core of the difference is one simple thing: Corpses is a winking, fun, madcap homage to this movie. Texas is a dead-serious, self-important lumbering monster of art, intent on jabbing your brainpan with an icepick.

Solee: Well said. That feels about right.

Mikey: To be sure, I think Tobe Hooper accomplished exactly what he wanted with this movie, he did a great job in terms of creating an art piece.  But he shouldn’t have wanted to do that to me.

Solee: Haha! Art can be painful. Since his art birthed a whole new genre that eventually led to Corpses, I’m going to forgive him the 45 minutes of incessant screaming.

Mikey: Maybe I’m convincing myself of why this movie has such high critical reviews, but I think my rating is more about whether I recommend others watch this, and I don’t. So I will stand strong.

Solee: Fair enough. So what’s next??

Mikey: I think we’re about to go to the opposite end of the spectrum, by finally letting me pick a movie! I hope this one counts as Horror rather than Thriller. I guess we’ll find out: it’s time to watch Split, so hooray for M. Night Shyamalan!

Solee: Mmmmm … psychology-based horror! My favorite!

(We watched Split via FandangoNow if you want to see it before tomorrow’s review!)

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2 thoughts on “BHE: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

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