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.

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