By: Ben Schatzel
A film whose very title can strike a shiver of fear down the spine of the average person, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, directed by the iconic Tobe Hooper (Poltergeist, Sleepwalkers, Invaders from Mars), is one of the pioneers of the slasher genre and one of the first major cult classics. Of course, however, not before Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. Nobody can outdo Romero.
Upon my rewatch of this movie, a number of things instantly jumped out at me. One of which was the character, Franklin. Franklin is a character who requires the use of a wheelchair and considering how the majority of the story’s opening is told through him, he can easily be considered the main character of the movie. Franklin, somewhat begrudgingly (or maybe a lot begrudgingly) goes on a road trip with a number of his free-spirited acquaintances. What I love is that Franklin is not portrayed in a stereotypical way and the elements of his character are driven by strong motive as opposed to all revolving around his disability. He is disregarded by the other teens, but not in a malicious way. When Kirk takes the girls upstairs in an abandoned house or runs off to find a creek to swim in, it doesn’t feel like the point is to outright exclude or alienate Franklin, but rather a subconscious disregard. Paul A. Partain’s portrayal of Franklin always feels genuine and believable and is an absolute delight to watch. However, like any good horror movie villain, no matter the beauty or relatability of any character, they’re not above the genre. As the saying goes, sometimes you need to kill the ones you love. In a dark forest. With a
chainsaw through the chest. While a cute blonde shrieks in the background. At least, I think that’s how the saying goes.
In addition to the story and characters, there’s a number of filmmaking choices made in this movie that I’d like to touch on. The first is the use of sound. Horror films can be made or broken through sound and this one is no different. There’s not much music throughout, with only a few scenes having some scoring, so much of the sound is delivered through natural noises in the environment. The movie opens with a radio broadcast monologue detailing the massacre which establishes a number of expectations (all of which will be delivered on). The soundscape is brilliantly executed and draws us into the world of the movie, and right as we get comfortable, there’s a chainsaw waiting just around the corner to drive fear into our souls. The art and makeup used throughout is consistently convincing. There’s a number of close-ups on stabs or cuts, and none of them ever look fake or cheesy. The film doesn’t use excessive gore to scare us, but when there is a blood reveal (as is in most of the ending sequences) it seems justified and becomes much more horrific due to its rare usage. The locations are few and relatively unimpressive (there’s a forest, a gas station, interior of a van, and the house), but the usage of these locations is inspired and thoughtful. None of the scenes feel like they drag on too long and the script does a great job of bringing the action to the scenes as opposed to relying on a number of scene changes to progress the story. There’s a number of shots in the film that hold on one subject for a long time while the action continues to happen and these shots have brilliant blocking throughout. One example is towards the end when Sally gets tied up and as she’s being tortured, Leatherface comes in with the chainsaw and attempts to attack her before eventually leaving. The framing allows us to see the reaction of Sally while showing a lot of action, so despite being a long shot with no camera movement, it doesn’t feel boring.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a movie that has been in the public consciousness for nearly fifty years and it’s easy to see why. It’s a terrific film, done by brilliant filmmakers and the narrative that this story accomplishes with the resources that it had is truly nothing short of remarkable. I envy anybody who had the opportunity to sit in a drive-in movie theater in 1974.