Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
Film: I was a latecomer to seeing the Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Being in Australia and too young in the eighties to be part of any tape-swapping scene, and then a bit of a loner in the early 90s, I didn’t actually get to see it until it was first released on DVD.
Should I hand my horror fan card in now?
The problem with seeing it so late is I was completely entrenched in the hype from mags like Fangoria, Samhain, Fear and the hundred of other mags and books I had been exposed to before seeing the film. Could a film live up to everything I had heard for all those years? Of course not!
Texas Chain Saw Massacre tells of a group of young kids travelling through Texas to see a family home; Sally (Marilyn Burns), Kirk (William Vail), Pam (Teri McMin), Jerry (Alan Danziger) and the disabled Franklin (Paul A. Partain) who decide it would be fun to pick up a hitchhiker (Edwin Neal), an extraordinarily strange man who is kicked out of the van after attacking Franklin with a knife.
The group go to the abandoned family house and split off in their various directions, as horror youngsters do, exploring the surrounding area. Unfortunately for them, they find out exactly where the hitchhiker lives, and that he has an extended family of the cook (Jim Siedow), the practically immobile (and maybe mummified?) Grandfather (John Dugan) and the terrifying, monstrous, chainsaw-wielding beast Leatherface (Gunnar Hanson). This family LOVE having people for dinner, if you know what I mean… and unfortunately for some, there is fresh, young meat available…
Since that first watch, I’ve respected this film, but haven’t held it in the high regard on my personal list of most loved films like others had, mainly because I had seen and fallen in love with so many other horror films before I had the opportunity to see it, and it didn’t feel as special as I thought it was going to be: it wasn’t very gory, or bloody, but I could appreciate it was a pretty good story and the family, especially Leatherface, the main killer and TCSM icon, were terrifying.
There’s no doubt the film really looks the business. Made with a low budget in 1974, the film looks hot, and dirty, and horrible… but not as in horrible filmmaking, because it really looks like a proper horror movie. Hooper makes every set up scene sweat with the heat, and every scene with the bad guys in it is full of dread, and that combination of heat and dread really makes the whole experience really claustrophobic, which is what proper horror really does, and because you see the cast both hot and in fear, you find yourself in the film with them. The upgraded and cleaned up version of the film may have been criticised by some upon release as it made the film look ‘nicer’, but it’s a grimy enough film to be able to overcome that.
I must put a caveat here and say ‘except for one’ in regards to the cast of characters. For me, the entire experience of this film is spoilt by the character of Franklin. I like to get really involved with the characters experiences and feel what they are feeling, but every time Franklin’s immature, whiny drawls come out, I disassociate from the film and find it hard to get back into it. Thankfully he doesn’t spoil the final scenes of the film, so at least the pay off is good.
I appreciate just how important this film is not just to horror, but to the film industry in itself, but personally, there are a lot more films that appeal to me far more. Still, everyone should see it at least once in their lives so they can understand that a film doesn’t have to be Citizen Cain or Gone With The Wind to lay industry foundations that will forever hold strong.
Extras: The disc opens with trailers for the Umbrella Entertainments releases for The Babadook, and The Quiet Ones, before we get SO many extras! There’s so much information for cast and crew across these extras, after you have finished watching them, you will feel like an expert on the film.
There are 4 (!) commentaries on this disc! One with Tobe Hooper, another with cinematographer Faniel Pearl, Sounds Recordist Ted Nicolaou and Editor J. Larry Carroll, a third with actors Marilyn Burns, Paul A. partial, Allen Danziger with Art Director Robert A. Burns and finally one with Tobe Hooper, Daniel Pearl and Leatherface himself, Gunnar Hanson. The first two commentaries are labelled as ‘new’ so I assume the others are on previous releases. There is just buckets of anecdotes and recollections across these 4 commentaries they almost make the other extras redundant!
‘Off The Hook’ with Teri McMinn is an interview with the actress who portrayed Pam, who, for me has the iconic shot in the film where she walks across the from of the house in the bright red shorts. There’s also that other iconic scene where she I’d definitely ‘on the hook’ but still, I love the shorts scene.
Interview with actor John Dugan, who played the Grandfather, under LOTS of makeup, obviously. He talks about his days in set and the heat (a common theme) under that mask.
Interview with Production Manager Ros Bozman of which TCSM was one of his earliest jobs, but he went on to do films like Philadelphia and Married to the Mob… he went legitimate, if you will. Again, interesting look at the film production from the POV of the actual production manager makes for an interesting watch.
40th Anniversary Trailer is the trailer made for the remastered version of the film.
Horror’s Hallowed Grounds with Sean Clark – a visit to TCSM Location. I like the HHG stuff in general as the revisiting of some of the locations can be fascinating, and this isn’t different. I do have to say I hate the skate punk film clip intro, but I’m willing to forgive that for the content of the rest of the episodes.
Deleted Scenes and Alternate Footage are the usual bunch of things that the film is probably better off without, which it’s popularity obviously proves.
Blooper Reel is ok but looks like it was filmed through a screen door.
Theatrical Trailer, Tv Spots and Radio Spots is about 5 minutes of the original advertising for the film. Now we have this beautiful remastered version it almost seems weird to see it so washed out and grainy… has the film lost something with the clean up? Not to me but I’m sure there are many who prefer the more ‘grindhouse’ feel to the way it used to look.
There are two documentaries on this disc; ‘Flesh Wounds’ and ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Shocking Truth’. Flesh Wounds is divided into 7 parts and is a far more by-the-fans-for-the-fans affair, whereas The Shocking Truth is made as a more traditional doco about the film.
The Tobe Hooper interview and Kim Henkel interviews are certainly the nuts and bolts interviews of the entire disc. Interesting but some of the info has been heard before on the various commentaries and other extras across the disc.
Killing Kirk outtakes is exactly what it says on the box. Some different takes in Kirk’s murder. No commentary or sound though.
Outtakes from ‘The Shocking Truth’ is about 7 minutes of extra footage from the Shocking Truth doco not used in the film.
A Tour of the TCSM House with Gunnar Hansen is a 1993 shot-on-video look at the original location for the house where the original film was made, with commentary by Hanson as he wanders through with the camera crew, and then another in 2000 after the house had been restored… and it’s disturbingly filled with Easter bunnies and paraphernalia!
WISIA: Even though it’s not even in my top 20 favourite horror films, I still will watch it now and again to remind myself of it’s importance not just in the horror film industry, but the entire film industry.
This review was done with the Australian release of the film, provided by Umbrella Entertainment.