FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Oct 2, 2014

SHOCKtober: THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE


Having indulged in the new 40th Anniversary Blu-ray earlier this week, this film has been on my mind even more than it usually is. That's right, I'm talkin' 'bout

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)


Pure, unadulterated grindhouse, my friends. That title– one of the most lurid in all of cinema– laid out as simple and no-nonsense as you please against the roiling, unsettling background of blood and gore and...no wait, it's the sun. It's just the sun. Well what's so scary about the sun?

Nothing, usually. It's "things that go bump in the night" after all, and most horror movies eschew the daytime hours in favor of the dark. It's understandable, obviously, but Chain Saw flips it around and gives us pure terror out in the bright sunshine.

The grueling Texas summer heat is as much a character in the film as any of the beautiful teens, the wackadoo cannibals, or Franklin.

(Aside: holy crap, I don't know what happened when I saw the movie this time, but I loved Franklin. I thought he was pretty great. And I wonder if that sausage he munched on was made of some other unlucky young folk...?)

The weather here is a touchstone, something that makes the world of the film feel more alive. Everyone knows by now what the actors had to endure during the shoot, those stifling temperatures that made them all sick and miserable. And we're right alongside with them, knowing what it feels like to be subjected to the relentless, inescapable, suffocating heat. Their shirts and brows are soaked with sweat. There's a lot of flesh on display, bare chests and backs and legs, but it's not to titillate, it's to survive the weather. What else is there to worry about? Nothing bad ever happens under skies this blue.

Except in Chain Saw, where a man wearing someone else's face will snatch you right out in the sunshine, hang you on a meat hook, and serve you up for dinner.

It's still a shock to me when Sally Hardesty jumps through yet another window in order to save herself and she lands outside...in daylight. It feels like safety, as it always does after a night full of terrors real or imagined. But again, the movie takes that away from us as we're left knowing that Leatherface is still out there, twirling in his manic dance of frustration with his chain saw set against the orange skies of the rising sun. Even so early, it looks to be another hot one.

8 comments:

AE said...

Anyone who says "I loved Franklin" has definitely been out in the sun too long.

Stacie Ponder said...

I know!!

But I felt so bad for him, never having any fun. Getting on everyone's nerves. He would have gotten on mine as well for sure, but still, he just couldn't do anything right. He was so nice to the hitchhiker! And his idea not to split up was a pretty good one. He's the one who heard Leatherface out in the bushes and, let's face it, gave Sally time to get away. If she'd gone tromping off alone, she wouldn't have been a dinner guest, she'd have been dinner.

What the heck is all this Franklin love in me, it's like I don't even know myself anymore

Antaeus Feldspar said...

I'm ashamed to admit it, but ... I still have yet to get more than twenty minutes into TCM. I know it's a gap in my horror education, but I've somehow just never had a copy of the movie, and an environment where I can give it proper appreciation, at the same time.

Even so, though, I've absorbed a lot about the movie, and lots of pieces of it - clips from documentaries about horror, stills on horror blogs chosen for their impact - and what you say about the oppressive, inescapable heat adding to the horror rings so true. Once it's clear that sunlight does not mean safety, what it DOES mean is that you may well see your death in grotesque detail as it comes to claim you.

For some reason, your closing line - "Even so early, it looks to be another hot one" - gives me a little chill, and makes me think of Blue Öyster Cult's "Then Came The Last Days Of May". It's a ballad from their first album that tells a tale much like TCM - young people heading into the desert in the heat, unaware that death waits for them there - tells that tale in every verse, except the last. The last verse makes no mention of murder or death or tragedy ... it just makes a would-be casual invitation to come out to that same desert, and in the context, it too gives a chill.

(I need to see TCM. I really do.)

Stacie Ponder said...

I'm gonna look up that BOC song, never heard it. How curious!

And yeah, you should probably see TCM, although believe me I judge no gaps in movie education (horror or otherwise) because I've got plenty. The new restoration is gorgeous, if you can swing seeing it that way...although seeing a far cruddier print has its appeal, too. It's almost the way this repugnant film (I say with affection) should be seen.

bozobuttons said...

I consider TCM to be one the scariest movies of all time. If you're feeling jaded, and think you can't be scared anymore, this is the film for you! And yet, there's a perverse sense of humor that's almost always at play. There's one bit toward the end where the camera focuses on a small child's toy, and it tips over as Leather face is running through the house. It's these little details, that make this movie so great. I'm sure the shoot was grueling, but the construction of the sets must have been a true labor of love.

Shawn Robare said...

I need to watch this again. It's been far too long, and it's still one of the few horror films to actually get under my skin.

B.E. Earl said...

I just watched "All the Boys Love Mandy Lane" two nights ago. A film that tried so hard to be TCM for at least the first half of the film, and then failed miserably. But watching it made me want to see TCM once again, so that's a positive. I guess.

vampy said...

I've run into people in real life who think Texas Chainsaw Massacre is in poor taste because "it was horrible what happened to those people."

Sometimes I wish I lived in their world...