The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

George A. Romero died this week, though someone might want to check his grave and make sure. You see, Romero made one of the most influential horror films ever, Night of the Living Dead — the film that spawned the sub-genre of zombie horror.

As it happened, earlier this week I watched one of the other great influential horror films: Tobe Hooper’s 1974 original The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the daddy of frenzied slasher flicks.

I reckon more people know about this film than have actually watched it, which makes it the cinema equivalent of the Ramones, a band who seem to sell more T-shirts than records. I can vouch for this because I’ve had a Texas Chainsaw Massacre T-shirt for years before actually watching the film. (The T-shirt gives the movie’s French title, ‘Massacre à la tronçonneuse’ — literally, ‘Massacre, Chainsaw Style’. That’s because I got it in France, at the merchandise table of a new bands night in the hold of a barge moored on the Seine in Paris. I don’t wear it much. Now read on.)

Notoriety, from being banned initially and from its evocative title, means that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre has a reputation far worse than it deserves. Yes, it’s gory and disturbing in parts, but compared to today’s torture-porn like Saw overall it’s quite mild and mostly just plain weird. One of the bigger set-pieces in the final third, a shocking peril for one of the protagonists, now seems almost funny. You could even dispute the accuracy of the title.

Its plot is now the standard jump-scare template: a Scooby Doo-style group of young people in a van venture off the beaten path and before you can say “Don’t go in there!” they’re shrieking and running and seeing all manner of gore, some their own.

Not all the brains in Hooper’s film are oozing down the front of someone’s shirt, though. One of the group is a young man in a wheelchair, a sight which in 1974 probably screamed ‘Vietnam’ to American audiences, and his peripheral and burdensome status in the group, plus a couple of his mannerisms, make him not too dissimilar to the main antagonist.

Oddly enough, another prominent theme is family. The group are on their journey to visit the grave of the grandfather of the wheelchair user and his sister. Later on, another grandfather appears, and that’s all I can say about that. In between, you see what happens to two wildly different families when they are lost outside the compound of a normal community.

If you’ve watched any blood n’ guts horror at all, then you’ll be well able for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. And even if, like me, you’re not normally into horror, it’s still an entertaining and memorable film worth watching. Just don’t watch it after your summer barbecue.

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