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Movie Review- The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

‘Who will survive and what will be left of them?’

That is the morbid question posed towards the unfortunate main protagonists of Tobe Hooper’s pioneering slasher movie. And the answer is very, very little.

The film follows a group of young people composed of Sally Hardesty (Marilyn Burns), her wheelchair-bound brother Franklin, their friends (Paul A. Partain), Pam (Teri McMinn), Kirk (William Vail) and Jerry (Allen Danziger) trekking to the Hardesty’s ancestral home to investigate reports of criminal activity. However, they end up crossing paths with the unhinged, cannibalistic Sawyer clan and their prodigal son, the hulking, human-flesh clad horror icon Thomas ‘Leatherface’ Sawyer, (Gunnar Hansen) whose trusty chainsaw the teenagers soon find themselves caught in the roving teeth of.

This film, along with Psycho (1960) and The Silence of the Lambs (1991), was part of a slew of media that emerged loosely inspired by the crimes of notorious serial killer Ed Gein, who skinned his victims and used their flesh to decorate the interior of his home. Tobe Hooper masterfully crafts a sepia-toned nightmare, scattered with desecrated bones and sun-dried bodies. The enclosed shots interspersed throughout the movie help to intensify the sickening claustrophobia that the film creates, assuming an almost documentarian-style of film-making that offers a subtle condemnation to the audience long before Funny Games (1997). Along with the screech of the camera, this has the effect of replicating the environment of a slaughterhouse, where the travellers find themselves relegated to the role of prey. While some might view the exploitation aesthetic of the film as tacky, conversely, it only increases the eerie atmosphere.

Despite the egregiously violent title, the film builds up a a significant degree of tension before the actual carnage begins. Special mention goes to Edwin Neal, who gives a truly unnerving performance as the deranged hitchhiker that the group pick up. But the grand trophy of terror is taken by the monstrous Leatherface, whose piggish squeals cement him as a murderous, skin-wearing amalgamation of human and animal. This is best exemplified in the stomach-churning dinner scene that the captive final girl Sally shares with him and his kin. Released to both controversy and acclaim, the film still has an impact today, beginning a bloody franchise, with the latest installment set to be released next week and probably many more to come.

9.0/10

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