“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” is a horror cinema cult classic. Arch-villain of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and its sequels, Leatherface, is an icon on par with villains who have had more exposure and longer film series. Leatherface ranks as high as Freddy Kruger, Jason Voorhees, and Michael Myers among horror villains. Which version of Leatherface is the most iconic is a subject of debate among the series’ fans. Ultimately, the original classic film triumphs over any sequels or modern remakes.
“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)” — Tobe Hooper
Tobe Hooper’s directing created a film still considered tense and shocking. Lacking any musical score, the film’s quiet, minimalist tone enhances the sudden action when it happens. Without music warning the audience attacks are is coming, the violence has greater impact.
The chainsaw is the centerpiece of the sound design. The noise has been filtered electronically in various ways and used throughout the movie. You might hear a light clicking sometimes, or a quiet, high-pitched whistle, but it is unmistakably the chainsaw. It adds tension to almost every scene. Sally, the main character’s screams are also filtered and manipulated for background noise, adding additional tension.
Marilyn Burns’ portrayal of manic terror is distinguished. Sally leaps straight through window glass, twice, to escape Leatherface and his twisted family. After she’s first attacked, the screaming is almost constant. Between Burns’ in-character screaming, and the filtered screams adding subtle background noise, the audience’s nerves never get a rest.
Meat is a motif throughout the film. Imagery of slaughter, butchery, and cruelty constantly bombards the audience. Bones decorate almost every set. Lampshades of human skin and furniture of human bones extensively decorate Leatherface’s house. In a chilling dinner scene, Sally is encouraged to feed her captors her own blood, and eat the meat of other victims. Laughter, screaming, and filtered chainsaw noise turn up the tension. A failed attempt to kill Sally with a hammer is among the most bizarrely absurdist scenes in all of horror cinema, but is played to a deeply sickening effect.
“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)”
This film reboots the original movie, rather than continuing Leatherface and his horrific family’s story. Despite their 70’s clothing and vehicle, the characters facial hair, make-up, and physiques are clearly modern. Lynard Skynard plays on the radio, and the movie features a standard horror movie musical score. The inherent realism of the original film’s silence is lost, and does this remake harm.
Lusty characters and sexy wardrobe brings sex to the forefront thematically. Irresponsible sexual activity is a recognizable theme in many horror film series, but seems out of place in “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” Even the updated hitchhiker portrays carnal sexiness, in a deeply disturbing way.
Meat is an afterthought in “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)”, and it’s a sad loss. The film’s motifs center on blood, mortality, and death. There’s a focus on eyes, voyeurism, and masks. More of Leatherface’s mask making and family life is shown, recalling a previous film in the series, “Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation” (originally titled “Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre”).
Tobe Hooper’s original vision is the strongest film of the series, but the Michael Bay produced 2003 remake is a decent homage to that work. In a brilliant nod to the original film, a character is run down by a vehicle, solidifying road-kill as a motif and adding to the themes of cattle, meat, butchery, and death.
An avid movie collector, Joe Capristo owns several thousand DVDs. Horror is among the largest genres in his collection.
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