THE masterclass in low-budget horror9/10
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre can, and will, be reinterpreted by critics and theorists for decades to come. It was shot in the summer of 1973, during the aftermath of the Vietnam War and the Munich Olympics massacre, at the height of the Watergate scandal and the legal investigation into the shootings at Kent State. It was an era of plane hijackings, government oppression and dishonesty, racial conflict, terrorism and revolution. As a mirror of a dark period in American history, Chain Saw remains one of the best evocations yet of the era, as a group of young individuals, returning to the nostalgic home of their childhood, stumble into the raw and irrational cruelty of the modern world.
The movie has a weak, though functional storyline, one that has since became the staple for slasher movies; a group of teenagers get lost, stumble across evil and get stalked and killed. But Chain Saw isn't about storyline and plot; it's about creating an experience, a sensory overload. The cast and crew work tirelessly to create scenes and images that are raw and powerful and ultimately, against all expectations, beautiful. Leatherface's travesty of motherly domesticity as he prepares dinner, his child-like dance in the dawn light, the open door at the gas station, the van making it's slow turn off the road towards the derelict and ivy clad Hardesty residence are all images that burn themselves into your consciousness after just a single viewing.
The cinematography is exceptional. Watching the Special Edition, you'd never know that this was shot on 16mm in poor light. The picture quality is outstanding, the colors rich and vibrant, the blacks inky and menacing. The brilliant azure skies, the jade green of the grass, the bright red generator, the searing sunlight and stifling shadows. Every frame seems saturated in nicotine gold. Beautiful.
Though not always likable, the actors are always believable. Performances are universally startling, but special mention has to go to Marilyn Burns. Though she has little more to work with than the cliched screaming heroine, she works it with remarkable conviction. It was a traumatic shoot, and it shows. Few actresses have so effectively conveyed mind-numbing terror.
The soundtrack is exceptional and deserves more recognition. It is a great testimony to the experimentation and risk taking attitude of the era that all melody is destroyed under an industrial ambient soundscape of metallic clangs, scrapes and screams, evoking the atmosphere of the local slaughterhouse and the Family's state of mind. Terrifying.
Despite the complete lack of gore or extreme physical violence, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre continues to horrify and holds up the countless, shot-on-video, slasher clones of subsequent years for the puerile crap that they truly are. Whether by accident or design, this one is a classic.
9 out of 10