The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre ★★★★★

Ed Gein was born on this day, August 27th, 111 years ago. Tobe Hooper, who made “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” died yesterday, at 74 years old. This film is based, at least in part, on the terrifying transgressions of Gein, who committed some of the “most bizarre crimes in the annals of American History.” The story is set on August 18th, 1973, right after the dog days of summer, when the season begins to transform into fall.

I don’t think it’s particularly meaningful or inauspicious to watch this film on this day, specifically, but Hooper’s death did bring me back to it. And at its most basic level, “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” is about life, death, and transformation, so I suppose some of the above details are at least worth mentioning.

What struck me on this re-watch, though, was the excellent film-making: the sound is eerily disjunctive; the acting is intensely manic; the editing is ragged, full of point of view shots and oddly-angled zooms; the settings vacillate from vast & isolated to horrific & claustrophobic; the pacing is quick and climactic; and the cinematography is sometimes strikingly beautiful. Yeah, I said that. Try, for a while, to not focus on the suspense or the story, and instead to pay attention to the shots. You will discover quite a lot of good-looking imagery: endless blue sky, a vintage white farmhouse, young lovers walking through a meadow, even the morning sunlight into which Leatherface wildly spins his weapon. Obviously the film is primarily filled with brutal and violent imagery, including numerous dreadful close-ups of bones, blood, and eyes, but the juxtaposition is what makes the horror all the more impactful.

Consider the bright summer’s day outside in contrast to the gloomy darkness inside the cannibals' family house; again, a stark juxtaposition. But once darkness falls, the difference between inside and outside ceases to matter. All that matters is survival, and the (thinning) line between life and death. To survive means holding onto one’s senses, which Hooper makes very difficult, for his characters and for his audience. “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” is a harrowing experience.

To be the final girl, to survive when all else is lost, to go on after having been reduced to whimpering, “I’ll do anything you want” to a group of dirty, corrupt psychos, is to enter the realm of living-dead. Sally may have survived for now (will the driver of the truck bring her back?) but to what end?

Tobe Hooper leaves us there, in the blood-soaked sun, teetering on the edge. RIP.

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