The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Directed by Tobe Hooper
Screening at Nitehawk on Friday (April 27) and Saturday (April 28) at 12:15am
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one of a handful of films that punctuate the very life-blood of cinematic history. Intensely brutal with very little reprieve or consideration for the audience, Texas Chainsaw Massacre came out of a rift of a socio-cultural framework, bursting onscreen with the evisceration of the family structure, youth culture, and cultural fragility in a post-Vietnam United States. Like Night of the Living Dead did five years earlier, Texas Chainsaw Massacre reveals the unraveling framework of society and places the possibility of horror/death to occur anywhere; not in the Gothic castle nor in the fields of Vietnam but, more terrifyingly, in our surrounding neighborhoods.
The film represents a collective monstrosity where multiple monsters emerge from all angles. This barrage of the monstrous is reflected in the cannibal family, the irresponsible youth, and the cultural codes embedded within. In Tobe Hooper’s world we are all monsters, killers, victims, and survivors.
Despite being Nitehawk’s final film in its Raining Blood midnight movie series, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is actually quite bloodless. Famous for making viewers believe they saw something that was never there (no, you don’t actually see her placed on the meat hook), the film does not contain much splatter despite being a full-force of brutality that comes in quick succession, blunt cuts, and nightmarishly insane characters. The power of suggestion is married with an intentionally violent and disturbed micro-universe to establish visceral terror.
And boy is The Texas Chainsaw Massacre a corporeal beast. Hooper constructs a rotting landscape of meat, flesh and bones found in the slaughterhouse, cured meat stand, graveyards, and the old farmhouse. From the salty sweat in the van to the suffocating dinner scene, the audience looks on to a modern version of hell. And in this house of death, the cannibals consume any fresh meat that comes within proximity, without sympathy; this is business as usual.
Embedded within this inferno are the fresh wounds of the Vietnam War and the resulting unstable domestic environment. This manifestation of immediate historical trauma can be seen in the empty gas station that prevents the teens from driving away (a direct reference to the 1973 U.S. gas crisis), distrust for authority (the teens are hippies and the sheriff a cannibal), reference to the serial killer and flesh-mask wearer Ed Gein, and in the overall elimination of youth. It’s a film that attempts to incorporate the violent world of the early 1970s, turn it inside out, and expose the senseless killing of human kind.
Watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a charged experience, gritty and unrelenting, forty years after it came out is because Hooper presents a mini-apocalypse; the end of the world as the protagonists know it, the continuous cycle of death for the killers, and a window onto the world for the viewers. Enjoy the end of the world.