Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre


Even though this movie is rather popular and competes with The Exorcist for the coveted title of the scariest movie ever made, it is still a cult classic. It was shot on a shoestring budget and under deplorable conditions. This was Tobe Hooper's first attempt at film making and does a rather good job all things considered. Through this film he became more and more popular and eventually began to get work on much bigger and better projects, such as Poltergeist which became one of Hollywood's greatest successes. The story goes as such... A series of graves in a local cemetery have been robbed and parts of corpses have been used to create gruesome sculptures. A group of friends, including Sally and her younger wheelchair bound brother Franklin, learn of the grave robbing and decide to take a road trip to the cemetery to see if their grandfathers grave has been one of the graves that were violated. Fortunately it was not, but while in town (hardly a town, it's in the middle of nowhere and has maybe three house and a population of ten) they decide to check out their grandfather's house nearby, which is decrepit and hasn't been lived in for some time. Before reaching the house, they pick up the hitchhiker from hell. Some weird greasy guy with a birthmark the size of Rhode Island on his face (probably the result of several generations of inbreeding). He babbles about working at the slaughterhouse and making "head cheese". He then takes a picture of Franklin, burns it and still manages to take a slice of Franklin's arm with a razor before being kicked out of the van. The group stops by a gas station along the way because the tank is empty. The station is out of gas, but at least they have some righteous BBQ. While visiting Gramps old house they notice strange things, like bird bones hanging from strings (very Blair Witch). Kirk and Pam (part of the group and friends of Sally and Franklin, there's also Jerry who is Sally's boyfriend) go down to a nearby watering hole only to find it dried out (much like everything else in Texas during the summer). They hear a generator and follow the sound to a large house close to Gramps old place. Kirk knocks but gets no answer. He enters the house and gets bashed in the head by a giant man wearing a skinned human face as a mask. When Kirk doesn't return Pam goes looking for him. She enters the house, then trips over something and lands in a disgusting room full of bones and feathers. Human skulls and rotting animals hang from strings. Human bones have been used to decorate everything from walls to furniture. Halfway into shock, Pam pukes and tries to run, but she too gets caught by the huge man with the leather face (even though this characters name is never revealed, he ultimately became known simply as Leatherface). Pam is dragged off and hung on a meat hook, she then has the pleasure of watching Leatherface turn her boyfriend into hamburger meat with a chainsaw. Sally's boyfriend Jerry goes looking for Kirk and Pam. He comes across the neighboring house with intentions of asking if anyone had seen his friends around. Jerry finds Pam's body in a freezer and is then greeted with tremendous blow to the head, inflicted again by Leatherface. When dusk arrives and no one is anywhere to be found, Sally and Franklin go looking for them. Out of the woods jumps Leatherface again. This time it's Franklin that gets it (by the way, despite the movie's title, this is the only killing actually performed with a chainsaw. Kirk was dismembered with a chainsaw, but was actually killed by a blow to the head). Sally (a damn good screamer!) runs back to the gas station with Leatherface closing in on her and hysterically lands in the arms of the station manager. The gas station manager (a creepy little BBQ cook) explains that he has no phone and goes outside to have a look. Meanwhile inside the station, Sally sees his BBQ turning over a fire. The meat looks suspiciously like human body parts, arms and legs mostly. The manager returns with a broom and beats the hell out of Sally before dragging her back to the house where he lives with Leatherface and the weirder than weird hitchhiker. Upon arriving home, the cook bitches at the hitchhiker to stay away from that damn graveyard (evidently it was hitchhiker that was making the cemetery sculptures). Poor Sally, who has long since passed out from fright, now awakens into a living nightmare. She comes to, tied to a chair, surrounded by the most disgusting dining room ever conceived. There are lamps made of human bones and skins. Rotting meat is all over the place. And all three cretins that we have been introduced to, are all sitting at the table with her, having their "supper". The more she screams, the more the "family" loves it. Creepier still, Leatherface now has makeup on his leather mask. For real, I'm talking frosty blue eyeshadow and ruby red lipstick. Truly bizarre, sort of as if Hannibal Lecter and Divine had a child. Indeed a very good argument for birth control. Anyway, Sally's screams and pleas for release only feed this "family's" appetite for horrification. We soon learn that there is a fourth member of this family of sub-humanoid cretins... a grandfather that though still alive, looks like he's about 175 years old. After wheeling Grampa to the table, Leatherface cuts Sally's finger and lets Grampa suck on it for a while. Apparently Grampa also worked at the slaughterhouse and was regarded as quite a pro at what he did. Forcing Sally to kneel before a bucket, Grampa is handed a large hammer and tries many times to hit her. He strikes her enough times to bloody her head but not enough to kill her. In the midst of the commotion, the hitchhiker goes for the hammer and Sally manages to struggle free. She runs and bursts her way through a window, plummeting into the early morning light, after a night of pure hell. Hitchhiker runs after her, stabbing her repeatedly until she is completely covered in blood. She makes it to the road where a huge semi runs the hitchhiker over. Unfortunately, Leatherface is still closing in on her. The man driving the semi tries to help, he throws a wrench and smacks Leatherface on the noggin', causing him to land on the ground with his chainsaw gnawing on his leg. Another truck comes by and with all the strength she has left, Sally manages to crawl into the back of the truck and screams for the driver to go go go. The movie ends with Leatherface wildly swinging his chainsaw in the air, showing frustration at having lost his prey. And poor Sally is in the back of the truck, hysterically laughing her way to the nearest funny farm. This film actually has the prestige of being accepted into the official Museum of Modern Art. There is also a plethora of great trivia surrounding the making of this film. To name a few... the meat in the dinner scene was real and rapidly making all the actors sick with it's atrocious stink of decomposition. As Sally runs through the woods in search of help, we see that her clothing is torn and she has bloody cuts all over her. This wasn't faked, she actually ran through the woods and all the bloody cuts were real. When they slice Sally's finger in order to feed Grampa, the fake blood tube in the knife got clogged and rather than fix it, they actually sliced Marilyn Burns (Sally) finger. To keep with the continuity of the film Gunnar Hanson (Leatherface) was not allowed to wash his clothes and therefore began to smell so badly that the other actors would stay as far away from him as possible when not filming. This film was made in August when the heat in Texas is almost unbearable, making strenuous acting difficult and causing the meat on the table to rot much faster and stink much worse. Almost every actor in the film said that if offered another acting job working with director Tobe Hooper, they would most assuredly turn it down. This film, along with Psycho, is loosely based on the actions of serial killer/cannibal/necrophiliac/all around weirdo Ed Gein. This lead to the boasting that the Texas Chainsaw Massacre was actually based on a true story, though only about 5% of it was taken from the Ed Gein case. The rest is purely fictional. Regardless, this movie is a masterpiece and is very effective at installing pure terror into it's viewers.

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