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.