It's Horror Movie Month! "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre" Review

Photo Credit: New Line Cinema

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It's Horror Movie Month! "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre" Review

Rating: R
Length: 83 minutes
Release Date: October 1, 1974
Directed by: Tobe Hooper
Genre: Horror

A pioneer for slasher films, "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre" created many horror clich├ęs that were used in similar movies in the decades that followed. Although the film was believed to be based on real life events, the truth is that much of the plot was derived from fiction. The main character of the film, Leatherface, was loosely drawn from the crimes of Ed Gein, a murderer who became famous because of his fascination with keeping dead bodies as trophies.

The idea for "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre" developed in the 1970s when director Tobe Hooper was studying at the University of Texas. He was employed as an assistant film director and spent much of his time creating plots for potential films. While working on a title for the film, Hooper came up with "Headcheese" and "Leatherface" before finally settling on "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre." Apart from Ed Gein, Hooper also got his inspiration for the film by watching graphic media coverage in the San Antonio area. A chainsaw became the primary weapon of choice for the antagonist after Hooper was held up in a hardware store, and he imagined cutting through the crowds of people in order to get out.

Hooper got help from Kim Henkel in finalizing the screenplay, and the pair formed a company known as Vortex Inc. Through a financial contribution from a mutual friend, Bill Parsley, filming was permitted to commence. Originally, the cast and crew were told they would not receive any salary until the film was picked up by a distributor, but a compromise was reached and Vortex Inc. agreed to share a percentage of the profits with the cast and crew.

As the film only had a production budget of less than $300,000, the vast majority of the cast and crew were comprised of local Texans who had very little experience in the film industry. Marilyn Burns was given the lead role of Sally, and Paul A. Partain was cast as her paraplegic brother Franklin. Gunnar Hansen was chosen to play Leatherface, in part due to his slurred speech, which made him seem all the more scary.

Filming began in the height of summer in an old Texas farmhouse not far from Round Rock. Due to the limited budget, the cast and crew worked up to sixteen hours a day, every day of the week. During the editing stage, the budget was exceeded and other film production companies had to chip in to complete the post production. The downside to this was that the cast and crew were only left with 40 percent control of the film, thus diminishing the profits due to be dished out to those directly involved with production.

The film opens with Sally and Franklin traveling with three friends to check out reports that their grandfather's grave was vandalized. Later, they pick up a hitchhiker who slashes himself and Franklin after a scuffle breaks out. The group continues on in search of gas, and a couple of Sally and Franklin's friends enter an old house and come across Leatherface. The two are killed along with the third friend.

Sally and her brother set out to find out what happened to friends, but Leatherface kills Franklin with a chainsaw before they can enter the house. Sally flees to a nearby gas station but is captured by Leatherface's brother and brought back to the house. Later that night, and after an attempt to kill her, Sally manages to escape once again. Leatherface and his brother set off in hot pursuit, but the latter is killed by a passing truck. Leatherface uses his chainsaw to kill the truck driver, and while he is distracted, Sally jumps on another truck and gets away.

Upon its release, the film received mixed reviews from critics. Some described it as too gruesome and too violent. However, others applauded the film for breaking new ground in the horror genre. Most critics agreed that "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre" was one of the scariest movies of all time. Some overseas markets banned it completely due to the level of violence.  Despite this controversy, the film earned around $30 million at the box office, of which more than half came from international markets.

Now, close to four decades on, "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre" is firmly established as a classic horror flick, with many people claiming it revolutionized the slasher cum horror genre. Since the original, six more films have been produced as part of the series, the last of which was "Texas Chainsaw 3D" in 2013. While it is safe to say that "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre" has never been short of controversy, no one can deny the impact the movie still has on horror films today.

Rating: 4 out of 5