George A. Romero died this week, though someone might want to check his grave and make sure. You see, Romero made one of the best and most influential horror films ever, Night of the Living Dead — the film that spawned the sub-genre of zombie horror.
As it happened, earlier this week I watched one of the other great influential horror films: Tobe Hooper’s 1974 original The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, the daddy of frenzied slasher flicks.
I reckon more people know about The Texas Chain Saw Massacre than have actually watched it. This makes it the cinema equivalent of the Ramones, a band who seemed to sell more T-shirts than records. I can vouch for this because I had a Texas Chain Saw Massacre T-shirt for years before actually watching the film. The T-shirt gives the movie’s French title, ‘Massacre à la tronçonneuse’ — literally, ‘Massacre, Chain Saw Style’. That’s because I got it in France, at the merchandise table of a new bands night in the hold of a barge moored on the Seine in Paris. I don’t wear it much. Now read on.
Notoriety, from being banned initially and from its evocative title, means that The Texas Chain Saw Massacre has a reputation far worse than it deserves. Yes, it’s gory and disturbing in parts. However, compared to today’s torture-porn like Saw it’s quite mild overall and mostly just plain weird. The main set-piece in the final third, presented as a shocking peril for its protagonist, now seems almost funny. You could even dispute the accuracy of the title.
Its plot has become the jump-scare template. A Scooby Doo-style group of young people in a van venture off the beaten path. Sure enough, before you can say “Don’t go in there!” they’re shrieking and running and seeing all manner of gore, some their own.
Not all the brains in Hooper’s film are oozing down the front of someone’s shirt, though. One of the group is a young man in a wheelchair, a sight which in 1974 probably screamed ‘war veteran’ to American audiences. His peripheral and burdensome status in the group, plus a couple of his mannerisms, make him not too dissimilar to the main antagonist.
Oddly enough, another prominent theme is family. The group are on their journey to visit the grave of the grandfather of the wheelchair user and his sister. Later on, another grandfather appears, and that’s all I can say about that. In between, you see what happens to two wildly different families when they are lost outside the compound of normal society.
If you’ve watched any blood n’ guts horror at all, then you’ll be well able for The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. And even if, like me, you’re not normally into that style of horror, or any horror at all, it’s still an entertaining and memorable film worth watching. Tip: don’t watch it after your summer barbecue.
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