27 April 2010

Clarky's Review: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

Its been a while since we viewed The Texas Chain Saw Massacre at Horror Club but the pain still seems so fresh.

Yes, pain. This film, more than any other film, really puts you through the ringer. It is a deeply uncomfortable watch and genuinely physically draining. By the end you are glad the film is over.

In fact, if it hadn't been chosen by Ally I genuinely don't think that I would have ever watched this film again, so disturbed was I after my first viewing. Such was the impact that the film had on me that, to a certain extent, the feeling after watching that initial viewing is actually fresher in my memory than the horror club viewing. Therefore my review will be in two parts, that first viewing and the horror club viewing.

The initial viewing was in a dark and dingy cinema in Clydebank in the west of Scotland. It was the re-release of the film for its 25th anniversary, and it was the only place it was on. Unfortunately I was only 16 at the time and unable to drive. Therefore I did the only thing I could, asked my mum to take me! Let me get this straight, my mum hates horror films, but being a loving mother she agreed to take me and sit through the following 83 minutes of horror (granted with her eyes closed for the entire time).

I wasn't really sure what to expect. For some unknown reason I assumed it wouldn't be that scary, but given it was a classic that I had heard so much, and being a massive film fan, I decided I wanted to see it to see what all the fuss was about. What a mistake.

Whilst in the cinema at the time I remember I didn't find the film that scary. At times I thought it was almost laughable, the constant chase and the lumbering villian Leatherface. However, on leaving the cinema something came over me. The past 83 minutes had seeped into my subconscious, and I was overcome with extreme naseau. And then I was sick.

I had never physically been sick because of a film, and at the time I thought I had food poisoning. However, I wasn't sick again that night except for the 5 minutes after I had left the cinema, and any time I thought about rewatching the film something inside me immediately veto'd the idea.

So it was with real dread that I sat down to watch it with Ally and Fin. And whilst the film is one of the most visceral film experiences I have ever seen, it is also a stunning piece of cinema. I was looking at the film through different eyes and I finally understood what all the fuss was about.

Whilst the premise of the film is simple, young teenagers in the middle of nowhere get chased and terrorised by an unknown monster, the execution is anything but. The sound design is something else in this film. Unsettling, discomforting, distressing, there are so many words to describe all the various tools and unatural sounds that Tobe Hooper uses to his advantage. But the most powerful are the lungs of Marilyn Burns who plays Sally.

Whilst watching the film its hard to believe what Tobe Hooper put her through. Her larynx must have been in tatters by the end of it, as she seems to scream for the entire film and by the end your nerves are shredded. It is an assault on the senses by the director, and by the end you are left reeling.

It was little technical details like this, the stunning cinematography, the incredible set design and some incredibly beautiful shots that I noticed on the second time of viewing (the first time the cacophonous noise and the endless terror make it hard to focus on anything else!) and which gave me an even greater respect for the film. Sure I knew it was terrifying, but I didn't know that it was also such an incredible "film", a true piece of cinema.

Whilst made on a shoe string budget, Tobe Hoopers raw talent is something to behold. He really knows how to unsettle the viewer by attacking them from every angle. The set design in Leatherface's house, the sheer cold blooded brutality of some of the deaths, and how naturalistic they are, the knowledge at the back of your mind that this is based on Ed Gein and the way some of the shots appear to be documenting what is happening really make you forget you are watching a fictional film.

Added to this you have the ongoing chase from Leatherface, a truly iconic horror villian, as well as the down right uncomfortableness of watching the rest of his family (especially the grandpa). There are lots of uncomfortable shots (such as the hitch hiker cutting his hand) and some tense moments as they walk around the deserted house. Every shot in the film is preceded with an air of unease, and you're never allowed to relax.

The film really doesn't let up, even at the harrowing denouement when Sally manages to escape she starts laughing uncontrollable. A horrible maniacal laugh and you know that this will define her life from now on. She will never get over this, and that really sticks with you once the film has finished.

Even though I was able to enjoy the skill behind the movie on second viewing, it still left me feeling battered and bruised by the end. All my muscles were aching from tensing up and I felt as if I had no nerves left. An incredible viewing experience which every horror fan should see at least once, but do not go into this half hearted.


  1. Do you know what I remember most about this film and why I'll never watch it again? The scene in the barn when Leatherface hits that guy on the head with the hammer. It comes out of nowhere, the realistic "thump" of the hammer hitting the head (like a hammer hitting a ripe cantalope)sickened me, and then how the guy just drops/collapses like a bag of potatoes. That scene, by itself, made me not want to watch it again. It sickened me.

    1. That scene is no joke. Especially when after hitting the ground he starts shaking uncontrollably. On first watch I really struggled with the film and found it hard to take. On second viewing I did enjoy it more and could appreciate some of the shots and the tour de force that it is.


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.