A group of five hippies on a road trip through the backwaters of 1970’s rural Texas fall prey to a murderous cannibalistic family making up of a leather-masked chainsaw-wielding maniac, his knife-wielding grave robber brother, and their cannibal chief father and decaying grandfather.
Written by: Tobe Hooper Kim Henkel
Directed by: Tobe Hooper
Starring: Marilyn Burns, Paul A. Partain, Allen Danziger, William Vail, John Dugan, Teri Mcminn, Gunnar Hansen and Edwin Neal
This film is a classic opus of almost bloodless brutality. It has been praised in the Horror industry by many and shunned by those who could not believe what they were feasting their eyes upon. During its year of release in 1974, one other film (The Last House on the Left) had the use of a chainsaw for bodily harm. Of course, this could be no other than the seminal classic horror masterpiece, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
What sparked the macabre vision in Writer/ Director, Tobe Hooper’s (Poltergeist, Salem’s Lot, The Mangler, Eaten Alive, The Funhouse) head was a mixture of his own twisted way of dealing with Christmas shoppers in a crowded hardware store… and stories he use to hear from relatives about the notorious serial killing cannibal, Ed Gein. Tobe spotted a section of chainsaws and thought, if I could start one of those, I could mow my way right through these people with no trouble at all. He held onto that thought and added the characteristics and grotesque furniture manufacturing talents of Mr. Gein into an entire family of cannibals known as the Sawyers, from deep within the “lone star state.” Their cross dressing son, Leatherface (or “Jr.,” as they called him) wielded the trademark chainsaw.
The film has been referenced in many other features and paid tribute to in various ways over the years. Even titles that stray from the Horror genre (such as Summer School). Other films such as The Lost Boys (the original and its sequel) pay homage to this timeless classic. There has been a documentary on the film, entitled The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: A Family Portrait, which is now a collector’s item among many fans. The film has spawned three sequels (the second, also directed by Tobe Hooper as well as the score provided) and a new series of re-makes.
Hooper originally wanted the film to be tagged with a PG rating. There was barely any blood and no swearing throughout the entire feature. Even still it has been banned in several countries for its sheer brutality and dark, horrific atmosphere. Mallets, a meat hook, chainsaws, home freezers and even a broom are used in creative ways to make one suffer… or make them into a family supper. The original working title at one time was Head cheese (which is mentioned earlier in the film by the introduction to the Sawyer family only known as “the hitch-hiker, played by a man of many faces, Edwin Neal of JFK, Holy Hell, Satan’s Playground and Murder-Set-Pieces among many others).”
The infamous house used to portray the home of the cannibalistic tribe still stands in Texas today as one of its major attractions, along with the gas station and cemetery in the opening. It has been turned into a restaurant and remodeled to escape the constant fan base of travelers that want a look inside of the home. Even still, this has not stopped visitors from miles around from visiting. This cinematic legend “still haunts Texas… It seems to have no end.” Some even still think it is a true story and that Leatherface (played by Gunnar Hansen of Hellblock 13, Sinister and Murder-Set-Pieces) still roams Texas to this day.
The direction, look and feel of the film is gritty, hand held and almost has a documentary feel to it. The characters are very memorable. Some to the point of painful realism on the set (such as the handicapped and wheelchair bound Franklin, who got into his part so much on and off of the screen that some could not bare to be around him. This showed during their performances). The viewer can really tell his dedication by viewing. Morbid set designs of caged chickens, bones and other macabre set pieces are peppered throughout. Close-ups of facial expressions and a (multiply duplicated in recent years) eye shot adds to the surrealism of the pain and torture that the characters (as well as the cast members themselves) endured. Actual rotting meat was used to add to the realism of the situation, which induced sickness and vomiting by cast and crew as it was left out and under the stage lights for a period of time.
The creepiness of the feature is set from the minute John Larroquette voices the introduction at the very beginning. Immediately afterwards, the viewer is subjected to up-close and personal snapshots of mummified corpses and bones, all leading to an grisly work of art in the middle of a cemetery, and fit for a psychopath. There are some good jump scares that awaits the unsuspecting virginal viewer. Entertainment Weekly didn’t call it, “one of the scariest movies of all time” for nothing.
The film was re-released in a remastered and restored print thirty years after the original unleashing. This two disc ultimate edition comes with the feature and one disc of extras sure to quench the thirst of any hardcore fan (and there are many out there). The special features include two full length commentaries, theatrical trailers, and TV and radio spots. The second disc includes a documentary called The Texas Chain Saw Massacre: The Shocking Truth and a second documentary entitled Flesh wounds. There is a tour of the original house with Leatherface himself (Hansen). Also, deleted scenes and outtakes, a blooper reel, outtakes from The Shocking Truth documentary, a still gallery and much more.
Overall, this is a must see for any fan of the genre. There are very few who haven’t witnessed its gritty glory time and time again and a new generation are seeking the original, due to the re-make (which personally, I think we could have done without). This film will forever go down in the annals of Horror history as one of the most disturbing films ever made. I give this film, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, FOUR HORNS UP.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre now enjoys its 40th Anniversary complete with a brand new mega DVD/bluray release from Dark Sky Films. The release is also available on itunes and as Digital Download
The release includes a number of extras listed below:
Track 1: writer-producer-director Tobe Hooper, actor Gunnar Hansen, cinematographer Daniel Pearl
Track 2: actors Marilyn Burns, Allen Danziger, and Paul A. Partain, and production designer Robert Burns
Track 3: writer-producer-director Tobe Hooper
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Shocking Truth
Flesh Wounds: Seven Stories of the Saw
A Tour of the TCSM House with Gunnar Hansen
Off the Hook with Teri McMinn (1080p, 17:02)
Production Manager Roz Bozman interview (480p)
New Deleted Scenes & Outtakes
New interview with actor John Dugan ( Grandpa )
New interview with editor J. Larry Carroll
Deleted Scenes & Outtakes
Outtakes from “The Shocking Truth”
Dr. W.E. Barnes Presents “Making Grandpa” (still gallery)
Still Gallery (posters, lobby cards, etc)
TV Spot 1
TV Spot 2
TV Spot 3
Radio Spot 1
The special features, includes hours of historical re-tellings from the original production and acting cast. In review of these segments I found it to be a great addition to the film. I sat for several hours learning about what type of conditions, issues, set problems and solutions the production team were tasked with and had to endure. Further information provided goes into detail on how, despite the 100 million or more the film made, it failed to reward any of the original teams with any real source of profit. The story of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” film is indeed one for the books.