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!

Nov 7, 2019


The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is frequently–and rightfully–lauded as one of the greatest horror films of all time, but it doesn't always get the adulation it deserves as one of the most beautiful. It's truly packed to the gills with breathtaking shots, and it's a shame that cinematographer Daniel Pearl isn't praised every time Tobe Hooper's name comes up. Once you see this film, it is forever imprinted on your brain–because of its shocking grotesqueries, sure, but also because it's frequently flat-out stunning. The extreme close-ups of Marilyn Burn's eyes...the long shot of the van under all that sky...Leatherface doing his mad twirls as the sun rises...and, of course, that low tracking shot of Pam as she approaches the farmhouse. Even when we're repulsed by what we see (think of Pam falling into that room full of bones and feathers), we're also drawn to it because it's shot so damn well.

Because of this, it's a bit tough for me to choose but one moment to post today. But this one came up in conversation recently, so this one it is: Leatherface emerging from the darkness into the beam of Franklin's flashlight, chainsaw roaring:

It's a nightmare image. Kudos, by the way, to Gunnar Hansen for all the acting he does underneath that mask; whether it's wide-eyed mania, like we see here, or weird lip-licking or what, we get the feeling that Leatherface would be just as terrifying if he was just, you know, Normalface or something.

And, as always, kudos to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre for daring to make the disabled character the least-likable character, right? I will admit that on occasion I have felt some sympathy for Franklin because hey, he's got it pretty rough. He can't do anything right. He's stuck in that chair, in the heat, while his babe of a sister and all her hot friends go off to swim and make out and whatever. It's understandable that he's miserable, but then he takes it out on everyone around him, which makes them dislike him, which makes him more miserable and more likely to act's just a big ol' ouroboros of awfulness. I don't know why I have been cursed to be the only person on the planet with a small modicum of Franklin feelings, but here we are.

One person who didn't have Franklin feelings was Marilyn Burns! Here is a chunk of an interview I did with her once upon a time, where we talk about Franklin and this scene above specifically:
Marilyn: Oh, God was he annoying! The thing is, that guy’s the nicest guy in the world, but I didn’t know it until 20 years later because he acted like Franklin the whole time, he was like a method actor. He continued to be just as whiny and horrible when they yelled “cut.” He’d sit in his wheelchair and say “Someone get me a Coke!” and we’d go “Hey, Paul, you’re not crippled. Get up and get it yourself.” Nyah nyah nyah- he’d whine! And I’m sure someone finally got the guy a Coke. It was weird. I should’ve known he was acting, but…it was 20 years later when I talked to him and he said “I felt so bad being so terrible!” and I’m thinking, “Paul, I thought you WERE terrible.” He was just doing his job, and I mean brilliantly, especially since we were so young then…who would have thought some jerk would stay in character the whole time and be such a terrific guy and you’d not know it until 20 years later?  
Stacie: Didn’t Tobe Hooper kind of set you two against each other to get emotion out of you?  
Marilyn: I know right before the flashlight scene, where we fight over it, he said “Paul said this about you” and then he went to Paul and said “Marilyn said this about you”, but it was already set. I mean, the whole shoot was real hard and the more Paul whined as a character the more we went “Oh God!”  But it worked good for the film, because we were ready to kill each other. 
Stacie: You can really tell in the scene outside the van, before you start pushing him and he’s honking that horn… 
Marilyn:  He was so damn…I mean, I didn’t really think I could push the guy, especially with all the brambles and brush. But it made it all funny later. Ha ha ha. Later.
It's probably one of the very few times that both the audience and the cast were happy to see a character get killed horribly. Well, at least he got to enjoy some gas station sausage before he died.

Wait, that was probably ground up people, right? Aw, poor Franklin! Couldn't have happened to a whinier guy.


CashBailey said...

The first time I saw this movie it was on a 20 year-old VHS in a yellowed, crumbling clamshell that had been watched a million times and the movie felt genuinely filthy and diseased.

The perfect way to see it, in other words. All of these 4K restorations and all that stuff can't possibly match the atmosphere of watching this movie that had such a fearsome reputation alone on my little 34cm tube TV back in the 90's.

Have I established enough that I'm really old?

Stacie Ponder said...

Now that I've seen it so many times, I enjoy the restored version because it really is a beautiful film. But yeah, I'm so glad i saw it for the first time on cruddy VHS as a teen. It's beautiful but sleazy.

Cg said...

I saw it for the first time at the college campus theater in 1978 (four years out from it's release... I'm the old one).

Still my most horrifying movie experience (and I was taken to see Deliverance when I was 12). More horrifying than the movie though was near the end when a guy in the audience stood up during Sally's last mad desperate run and started screaming "Get her! Get her!"

...Men, Women, and Chainsaws was an interesting read but I'm not sure it's thesis on the POV of slasher films and the empathy generated by them was 100% accurate.

P. K. Nail said...

Aw, I feel for Franklin a bit too.

This movie was on my Never Gonna Watch It list for the longest time because the idea of it freaked me out too much. Power tools and human flesh? NOPE. Then it showed up on the IFC channel, as part of a show they did called "Talking During the Movie," where they would essentially just play a movie with the DVD commentary over it. And watching it that way sort of demystified it for me and made it more approachable and I was so glad I had finally been able to watch it because it is SO GOOD. And for the longest time I had to watch the commentary version first and then watch it straight.

I made a post about it on LiveJournal years ago and a friend of mine said she could never watch the movie because she'd heard it was based on Ed Gein and her father had been one of the kids that Gein used to babysit. Hard to argue with that.