31 Days of Wicked Watching [DAY 9]: Butchers, Backwoods and (not) a Bunch of Blood

This movie is markedly one of the most important slasher films of all time. Its success is it in its fear-making and moneymaking–leading to a number of sequels, remakes and origin stories. Yet, this movie, despite its love by so many, especially in the horror community, is not one of my favorites. I actually, much like the movie that will be tomorrow’s film, rarely watch it because I can’t seem to get connected to the narrative, despite my love of the visual techniques that are borrowed from my favorite literary genre. Today’s movie is “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”

The 1974 film predates most of the other iconic horror monsters that emerged within a decade’s time, but there is something about it that I can’t bring myself to watch it 365 as I could some of the others. I don’t know if it is because the film leans in hard to the fact that it is based on a true story, a tagline I have extreme moral objections to its liberal usage in general. I don’t know if it is because we are asked to oddly sympathize with a family who I struggle to accept belongs into the moral fabric that is America. Maybe it is because it is trying to tell me to become a vegetarian. Part of what I do know, however, is that the opening sequence is one of the most brutal and haunting of any film I’ve ever seen. The use of camera work and facial expressions, coupled with subtle movement and disgust, sits with me for a long time. It is a scene that reappears in my dreams a few days after I watch this film, and that doesn’t happen with many films I’ve ever seen.

Unlike many films in the genre, in some cases the blood is real, and Tobe Hooper’s masterpiece certainly leaves his audience so immersed that they can feel or smell it. What is interesting about this film and Hooper’s creation of it is that he shot seven days a week to stay on his tiny budget, and he attempted to reduce the amount of blood in the film to achieve a MPAA rating of PG (keep in mind that PG-13 wasn’t added by the MPAA until ’84, which is why films like Jaws achieved the PG rating and why Hooper attempted to get it as well). It didn’t matter as the brutality of the film earned it an MPAA R. Much of this brutality, surprisingly, was more real than one would assume with a horror film. Hopper even said that many, if not all, of the cast came away with some injuries by the end of filming.

While the film itself set a new standard for horror, particularly the slashers, it is certainly controversial. Part of this controversy is that it was, in fact, social commentary on violence using the tropes of the American Gothic (which stylistically I adore) and vegetarianism, which much of the good slasher films and the pantheon of their monsters have come to do. As time has gone by the film is now considered a hall of fame film and a work of art, and the British Film Institute even named it one of the 250 greatest films of all time.

Enjoy yourself some Leatherface today. Ed Gein would be proud.

Published by Patrick R. Johnson

Patrick is a Ph.D. student and graduate instructor in the SJMC. He comes from nearly a decade of teaching high school journalism and English, and an adjunct professor of journalism and media studies at Marquette University (where he received both his bachelor's and master's degrees). He is a former Dow Jones Distinguished National Journalism Teacher of the Year. His research interests include the intersection of news literacy, journalism ethics, journalism studies, and professional boundary work. He also focuses his attention on issues of deviance within the media industry, particularly as it relates to issues of sex and issues resulting in paradigm repair. Patrick is also deeply passionate about teaching and the role of journalism schools in the professionalization of their students. He focuses a lot of his thinking on mass communication and journalism pedagogy and identifying ways for journalism courses to be both rewarding in content and enriching in skill. He currently teaches Journalistic Reporting and Writing in the SJMC and taught a number of courses at Marquette, including Media Ethics, Visual Communication, Magazine Design and Production, Digital Journalism 1-3, Strategic Communication Writing, and the Journalism Capstone course for the department. His work in curriculum, instruction, and educational leadership includes serving as the Journalism Education Association’s Mentor Program Chair, designing curriculum to accompany Pulitzer Prize winning content for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, reviewing the Praxis national journalism certification exam, and developing a number of courses at the high school and collegiate levels. Patrick served as a 2021 Public Humanities Intern through the Obermann Center where he worked specifically with University Special Collections to develop public-facing exhibits and curriculum materials related to the Tom Brokaw Collection.

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