Thursday, March 5, 2009

Film Review: THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974, Tobe Hooper)

Stars: 5 of 5.
Running Time: 83 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Gunnar Hansen, Marilyn Burns, Kim Henkel, Jim Siedow ("Old Man" and the only cast member to return for part 2), Daniel Pearl (cinematographer who went on to shoot everything from ZAPPED! to IT'S ALIVE III to Michael Jackson's video for "Billie Jean" to The Police's music video for "Every Breath You Take"), Dorothy J. Pearl (make-up artist who went on to do the make-up for everything from TOOTSIE to POLTERGEIST to GROUNDHOG DAY to BIG FISH).
Tag-lines: "Who will survive and what will be left of them?"
Best one-liner(s): "Look what your brother did to the door! Ain't got no- no pride in his home!"

Excellent, subtle, low-key horror film that has more in common with Eric Rohmer or Jacques Rivette than it does with a traditional slasher flick. Kinda like CELINE AND JULIE GO BOATING AND GET CHAINSAWED TO DEATH BY A FAMILY OF TEXAS PSYCHOPATHS. Or maybe CLAIRE'S KNEE...IS QUITE DELICIOUS WITH BARBEQUE SAUCE ON THE SIDE.

The story unfolds with a documentarian's pragmatism and with sometimes beautiful, sometimes gritty, naturalistic 16mm cinematography. A series of events happen. And Tobe Hooper's camera-eye watches it and records it, passively, with a detachment that sometimes verges on boredom. He doesn't need to editorialize or create a context for these horrific events: it's simply "something that happened." For example, when the kids first encounter Leatherface's eerie home, they discover a tarp that camouflages several rusty vehicles.

Only later does the viewer make the connection that the cars must have belonged to countless previous victims. At no point does one of the kids exclaim, "My God...those cars we found earlier must have belonged God, they've been killing ever since...!" or something shitty of that nature. The event of the kids discovering the cars exists only as one of many points in time, catalogued by the film's indifferent gaze. This film doesn't care about it's characters. This film doesn't care about YOU. And that's why it's scary. I also must give special recognition to Gunnar Hansen (Leatherface), whose evil, babyish frustration bridges the gap between mentally disabled child and slaveringly vicious wild animal.

TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE seems to me to be the perfect illustration of when Werner Herzog says "I believe the common character of the universe is not harmony, but chaos, hostility, and murder." It's not trying to be anything. It simply is.

Five stars.


-Sean Gill

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