Review by Rumsey Taylor
Posted on 11 July 2004
With its title The Texas Chain Saw Massacre references the murder weapon. Most slasher weapons retain some efficiency, and each has blade. The chain saw, by and far, is the least efficient, and suggests the film’s exploitative content; the murders therein are expected to be gruesome and bloody. Like Halloween, however, much of what is seen is imagined.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is a slasher film because of the paranoia it invokes, its relentless and increasing sense of dread. The victims are all teenagers, and the killer is appropriately hostile and disturbed — however, this film offers no characterizing background for the killer.
The film is based on the crimes of Ed Gein, as is Psycho, though neither film is an accurate depiction of the serial killer; both films merely borrow details. Chain Saw’s iconic killer Leatherface wears a mask of human flesh, similar to finds that Gein wore the skins of the women he killed. Ed Gein has become a tremendous influence on the slasher film, and is further (and more accurately?) famed in The Silence of the Lambs.
Everything about this film is made to enhance its troubling atmosphere, and this is a quality that is enhanced in its age. It is the product of guerilla filmmaking tactics, and is shot in a high-contrast, grainy film stock, resembling the footage of a home movie. These traits form a stark, realistic quality, and the characters’ fear is unmistakable.
There is also an unexpected philosophy to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. The five youths alive at the beginning, together for a brief summer excursion, pass a slaughterhouse. Afterwards, they enjoin a hitchhiker who is familiar with the place, and they talk of the controversial methods of killing, the purpose and humanity of such a place. (The conversation and ensuing theme of cannibalism evidence speculative claims that Chain Saw is a film made by vegetarians.)
This talk is foreshadowing, as the victims are treated in manners similar to those discussed at the slaughterhouse; one is hung on a meat hook, another thrown in a freezer, another (in a particular similarity to the earlier discussion) is bludgeoned with a sledgehammer. The chain saw — the weapon that distinguishes this film — is ironically unrelated.
It must be stated that this film achieves impact like few others. Even in multiple viewings the anticipation of actions does little to lessen anxiety. Had Chain Saw given reason or described the state of the killer in typical slasher fashion, the impact would be lessened. Every action in the film is entirely sporadic, providing no logical anticipation. In stride, the panicked, brutal ending comes unexpectedly.