May 25, 2010

24FPS Top 100 Films

DIR: Tobe Hooper

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was banned in the UK for over a quarter of a century. This was at a time when, especially on video, cuts for category were prevalent, but the BBFC’s head, James Ferman ruled that Chain Saw couldn’t be cut, because it wasn’t one scene that presented a problem but the atmosphere of terror created by the film. It’s a sad day for a critic when the best possible review of a film is given in one sentence by a censor.

When I finally saw the film, on its uncut release after Ferman left BBFC in 2000, I was blown away by it. Parts of it are clunky as all hell, some of the acting (especially from the extraordinarily annoying Paul Partain, as wheelchair bound Franklin) is really awful and the script is incredibly basic, but what it really hits you with is that sustained atmosphere of abject horror. The film is based loosely on the exploits of Ed Gein, the real life murderer whose grisly crimes also inspired aspects of Psycho, Deranged and The Silence of the Lambs but rather than just one of him the film proposes a whole family of Ed Geins.

The film takes a little time in getting its cast into jeopardy, but once they stumble on the family’s home it ratchets up into a pressure cooker of terror. The violence is brief, and not very bloody (incredibly, Hopper made the film with a US certificate of PG in mind, hence the lack of claret) but the build up to it and the impact of it are genuinely disturbing. A couple of moments are actually all the more disturbing for their brevity, in one Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen, creating one of horror cinema’s great bogeymen) hangs a girl on a meathook, and it’s the ease and speed with which he does it that really make it scary. The other is, for my money, one of the great shocks in cinema, as a wounded young man makes his way through the house and, quick as a flash, a door opens behind him, Leatherface smacks him with a mallet, drags him through the door and slams it shut again. It’s not explicit, but it’s terrifyingly brutal and nonchalant.

The other great scene is the family dinner, in which final girl Marilyn Burns is served up to the families dessicated Grandfather. Here again it’s the speed, or lack thereof, with which things are done, along with the mounting hysteria of the scene, that really allows it to get under your skin.

The 2003 remake of TCM is drenched in blood and viscera, is much better acted, and boasts a glossy beauty to its camerawork, and not one frame of it is frightening, for all it’s technical problems this film understands fear, and that alone makes it a rare and brilliant horror film.

While it’s not glossy it would not be fair to say the film is badly made. Leatherface in particular is a brilliantly realised character, and his mask - made from the peeled off face of a victim - is horribly convincing. It’s also worth noting that whether by luck or by design, Tobe Hooper hit on some iconic images here, not least of all the final frames, with a screaming, blood covered, Burns getting away as Leatherface dances, whirling his chainsaw over his head against the rising sun.

Supper time
A pressure cooker of terror, shot in one 26 hour shift, which surely explains the hysterical tone.

One of the most authentically painful scenes I've seen in a movie.

The aforementioned appearance of Leatherface from behind that sliding door. One of the greatest shocks in all cinema.

Narrator: The film which you are about to see is an account of the tragedy which befell a group of five youths, in particular Sally Hardesty and her invalid brother, Franklin. It is all the more tragic in that they were young. But, had they lived very, very long lives, they could not have expected nor would they have wished to see as much of the mad and macabre as they were to see that day. For them an idyllic summer afternoon drive became a nightmare. The events of that day were to lead to the discovery of one of the most bizarre crimes in the annals of American history, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

Old Man: I just can't take no pleasure in killing. There's just some things you gotta do. Don't mean you have to like it.

Hitchhiker: My family's always been in meat.

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UK: 3 Disc Steelbook Ultimate Edition / Blu-Ray Ultimate Edition
USA: 2 Disc Ultimate Edition DVD

1 comment:

  1. I have to say whilst I do think its good I never thought that much of this film. Hooper creates that atmosphere of terror really well but by the time we get to the scene with a whole bunch of people sitting around a table screaming for 20 minutes it becomes less scary and more boring.

    Gotta love that final shot though.