THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE
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A SIERRA NEVADA
(MICHAEL MADSEN & JOHN SAVAGE).
"The film which you are about to see is an account of the tragedy that befell a group of five youths, in particular Sally Hardesty and her invalid brother Franklin.
The events of that day were to lead to the discovery of one of the most bizarre crimes in the annals of American History, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre."
The movie begins with a scroll of text that is further read aloud. Someone is reading aloud to us the words we can plainly read for ourselves on the screen. This is the only time I've ever seen it work.
Quick flashbulb gory images of decaying bodies, sounds of digging and an aural backdrop of news reports.
In a particular area of Texas, morbid grave robbings are going on and the occupants of those graves are left exposed, their bodies desecrated. The events are supposed to have taken place in August of 1973, only a year before audiences actually saw this movie.
The rest of the credits come over a backdrop of the roiling surface of the sun and a soundtrack made up of mixes and cymbals.
All in all it remains amazingly effective even after nearly 40 years. Everything the audience sees in the first 5 minutes both prepares them, and leaves them feeling unprepared, for the movie they are about to witness.
After the credits, the story opens up on a dead Armadillo* rotting by the side of the road.
Five friends, Sally Hardesty (Marilyn Burns: EATEN ALIVE, FUTURE-KILL), her boyfriend Jerry (Allen Danziger: EGGSHELLS), her brother Franklin (Paul A. Partain: RACE WITH THE DEVIL, ROLING THUNDER, TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: THE NEXT GENERATION), friends Pam (Teri McMinn: COUSIN SARAH) and her boyfriend Kirk (William Vail: POLTERGEIST, MAUSOLEUM), have come to check on the graves of Sally and Franklin's family members. The grave robbing and desecration has attracted reporters, looky-loos, and ghouls from everywhere.
Being as Sally and Franklin grew up in the area and once had family here, they have no reason to fear the place or its citizens. Surely the new crimes against the dead aren't being perpetrated by locals. That familiarity, sense of safety, and sensitivity to the awful heat of the day makes them feel secure in giving a ride to a hitchhiker (Edwin Neal: FUTURE-KILL, MY BOYFRIEND'S BACK, SATAN'S PLAYGROUND): an act of charity they soon regret.
Throwing the crazed hitchhiker out of the van after he sets a fire and attacks Franklin, the friends need somewhere to decompress but quick and Sally suggests her old home a few miles up the road.
Pam, who is into studying witchcraft, realizes that every bizarre thing the hitchhiker did was actually part of casting a spell. The crazy guy is a witch.
The van pulls into a gas station where they see that the last act of the hitchhiker was to smear his own blood on the side of the van. The old man at the gas station (Jim Siedow : THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2) tells them he has no gas and kindly suggests that the friends just move on out of the area.
When he understands that Franklin and Sally used to be locals, he is even more kindly, nicely suggesting that they come in for some of the station owner's famous barbecue and then go on to another place far away.
Franklin, who isn't wrapped too tight to begin with, begins absentmindedly vandalizing the van. When it is pointed out to him, he doesn't know why he's doing it. But he is using the knife his attacker used to cut himself and Franklin finds himself fixated on the whacked out hitchhiker.
Eventually the friends make it to the old homestead. Sally and her boyfriend, and their two friends, Pam and Kirk, use the time for romance, leaving Franklin even more isolated and fearful than ever, as in these boondocks, he is utterly reliant on the others.
Night doesn't even arrive before Merry Mishaps occur.
In THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, Tobe Hooper did everything right, including his and co-writer Kim Henkel (EATEN ALIVE, BONE BOYS)'s creation of the iconic Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen: MOSQUITO, BRUTAL MASSACRE: THE MOVIE, REYKJAVIK WHALE WATCHING MASSACRE). It's a performance he would never repeat.
Tobe's actors, all unknowns and first timers, did an amazingly convincing job in their parts. In both the acting and the direction of the actors, no director has ever surpassed it.
The characters of the friends are all real type of people, the kinds of friends you or I would have. The five friends are all flawed, but not idiots. Unlike the tons of movies that came after and sought to duplicate or surpass THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, no morons with dumbfounded-ly stupid motivations and behaviors clutter this tale. Even the crazed hitchhiker had his twisted motivations, later to be revealed as a logic so sinister that the creators/writers of the sequels and the remake were at a complete loss (of talent) to even approach it, so they didn't bother.
Drunks roll on the ground, spouting philosophy in the oppressive sunshine. The entire landscape of the movie is littered with bits and pieces of bones, teeth, hair, fur, things that once belonged to the living. THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE never let's you forget death for even a minute. So throughout the character development and slow buildup to the tale, there is nonstop suspense. A ham-fisted "gotcha" doesn't need to be awkwardly thrown in on every five minute beat, as the altered alien landscape of a sick culture hidden just beneath the surface is always present.
Since 1974, in the Horror movie subgenre of slashers, there has never been a Crazed Killer Horror movie that has surpassed or equaled THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. It genuinely scares. It genuinely horrifies. As of 2012, no movie has ever come close.
THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE is the apex of what great Horror movie making is and should be.
Five Shriek Girls.
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