Original vs. Remake: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

The following article is presented for entertainment purposes only. It is not intended as scholarly research and is not a final authority on the subject. 

Welcome to Wild Card Wednesday and another installment of the Original vs. Remake series I do with Tiffany A. White.  This month’s movie is The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  As the title of this post indicates, I’ll be doing the original.  Tiffany will do the remake on Friday.

[Note: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake is one of the few remakes I really love.  I thought it captured the spirit of a good remake.]

After I agreed to feature The Texas Chainsaw Massacre for the original vs. remake series, I realized I have talked about The Texas Chainsaw Massacre on this blog before.

The official topic of that post was the house in which the movie was filmed.  However, I talked some about the production of the movie, and I talked a little about the inspiration of the movie.  If you’d like to read that post, click here.

I’m not going to cover the same ground for this post.  Today, we’re going to examine what puts The Texas Chainsaw Massacre on my Best Horror Movies of All Time list.

We’ll start with the basics in case you’re unfamiliar with the movie.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

Homemade Summary: While visiting a deserted family homestead, a group of young adults stumbles on a family of sadistic killers.

If you’ve not seen the trailer, why wait another day?

About the Film

The film was directed by Tobe Hooper–who also co-wrote the screenplay.  Marilyn Burns, Paul A. Partain, Edwin Neal, Jim Siedow, and Gunnar Hansen starred in the film.  The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was filmed on location in the Texas Hill Country–specifically the Round Rock area.

[Fun Factoid: The original title of the film was Headcheese.  You’d have to watch the film to understand the reference.  Rest assured, it is mighty gross.]

How Chainsaw Influenced the Horror Genre

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was an extremely influential film in the horror genre.

Leatherface, the main villain, uses a chainsaw to dispatch his victims–who are then ostensibly served as barbecue in the family gas station/convenience store.  This simple formula changed the landscape of horror.

The imposing, faceless villain who seems unstoppable shows up in the Halloween franchise, the Friday the 13th franchise, and the Scream franchise. It has become a staple of the horror genre.

After Chainsaw, the theme of the villains being a family inbred, cannibalistic nut cases began to show up in horror cinema.  This can be seen in The Hills Have Eyes (1977) and Wrong Turn (2003).  To some extent, the same theme is present The House of Wax remake (2005), Vacancy (2007), and Wolf Creek (2005).

Based on a True Story

Though the film purports to be based on a true story, it is not.   The screenplay’s writers (Tobe Hooper and Kim Henkel) claimed three different sources.

  1. Ed Gein, a Wisconsin graverobber, murderer, and necrophiliac.  When he was arrested, police found decorations made of human body parts.  I wrote a blog post about him some time back.  Click here to read it.
  2. A childhood doctor of Tobe Hooper’s told young Tobe a story that stuck with him for life.  The doctor claimed that, as a pre-med student, he skinned a cadaver’s face and wore it as a mask to a party. (I am not sure if I believe this one, but it is interesting.)
  3. Elmer Wayne Henley, a Texas serial killer who worked with two accomplices.  He is thought to have participated in the deaths of no fewer than 28 boys and young men.  Stop back by here on Friday.  I’ll do a whole post on Henley’s crimes and what became of him.

Why is Chainsaw a Classic?

To prepare for this blog post, I watched The Texas Chainsaw Massacre for the first time in at least fifteen years.  I don’t watch it every year because it’s an uncomfortable film.  This time, I tried to pinpoint what horrified me as I watched.

The following is a list I’ve compiled.  It doesn’t come from a book on horror films, and I’m not a horror expert.  The items on the list are just the things that I found upsetting.

  1. The very beginning of the movie has a voice over (by John Larroquette) that leads the viewer to believe the events of the film are based on a true story.  I can only imagine seeing this film in 1974 when there was no internet to check such things out.
  2. Throughout the film, a litany of disastrous news reports plays in the background.  It is said this type of news report inspired Tobe Hooper to write Chainsaw.
  3. The hitchhiker.  This happens early in the film, and I think it sets the stage beautifully for what follows.  I don’t imagine all of us have picked up hitchhikers.  But I bet we have all found ourselves in a situation with a stranger where we felt genuinely scared–even if it was for just a second.  Click here to watch the scene in its entirety.
  4. Isolation.  For most people, civilization equals safety.  Being in an unfamiliar environment–especially a rural one–sets the stage for all sorts of malevolent activity.
  5. The killer never speaks an intelligible word.  Gunnar Hansen, who played Leatherface, said he observed mentally disabled patients in an Austin hospital to prepare for the role.
  6. Help is not coming. This arises from two factors: 1) the isolation and 2) the conspiracy theory–or “everybody is in on it.”  This is one of my favorite horror themes because we live in a society where we are constantly connected–internet, cell phones, densely populated cities.  It makes sense to think we’ll always be able to reach someone to come to our rescue.  But what if we couldn’t?
  7. The violence is cringe-worthy. I shouldn’t need to explain this one.
  8. The music.  If you want to call it music.  Click here to take a listen.
  9. The murder house draws the victims like a spider web draws its prey.  They can’t help but approach it.  One of the most horrifying scenes happens when they find the cars of the previous victims.  Not knowing what they’ve found, the victims approach the house anyway.
  10. The ending does not show the death of the villain. So he’s still out there.

If the horror genre interests you at all, I recommend spending 90 minutes of your life watching this movie.  It is old–almost as old as me–so the pacing is slower than today’s pacing.  Despite that, this movie stands the test of time.  It’s uncomfortable, gory, and terrifying.  It earns its place on my Best Horror Movies of All Time list.

If you’re interested in watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, it is available for purchase on Amazon.com both on DVD and on BluRay.

Sources:

The Mad and the Macabre Part 1 by Christian Sellers

They Came, They Sawed by John Bloom (Texas Monthly–November 2004)