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Horror Movie of the Week #4 (?) -- TCM ('74) [for matt]
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The Third M?n
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PostPosted: 05.27.2004 9:51 pm    Post subject: Horror Movie of the Week #4 (?) -- TCM ('74) [for matt] Reply with quote





Given its reputation and its suggestive title, one might have thought that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one of the goriest films to have ever graced the silver screen. Indeed, since the film was banned in numerous countries such as Australia, Chile or Sweden for its revolting content, one cannot help but think that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre guarantees a terrifying night filled with blood and guts. One might have thought wrong, of course. Tobe Hooper?s infamous film is one that gets under your skin not because of what it shows but because of what it often implies. It blindfolds us and lets us ?see? for ourselves ? The Texas Chainsaw Massacre terrifies, if only because of what it forces us to imagine. While it was made in the ?70s, a decade packed with countless exploitation films, this is not one of them. It decides to disturb, and yet it doesn?t offer us pure shock value. It shocks because of the unseen; it shocks because the unseen is often the unimaginable. And that thing which cannot be imagined, mind you, often tends to be one of the most horrifying.



Curtains drawn, lights turned off, telephone unplugged, cat in the oven and anxiety intensely growing within me, I popped in my DVD. There is a pervading sense of dread looming high in the film after the moment of the first killing, one that simply will not cease until the end credits have started rolling. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one of the few horror films which I wanted to end. There is a certain point during the film in which the sheer terror gets so suffocating ? so very unbearable ? that one cannot help but feel under pressure. Like the characters themselves, the viewer wants to escape. Despite spawning various sequels, a remake and several other imitators and rip-offs, this is the daddy of them all. It presents us with a hellish situation in which there is no way out and actually plunges us right in the middle of there. Thirty years on the film has not lost any of its impact, and while it may not be as controversial as it was when it was initially released, it remains a profoundly perturbing and raw film that is hard to forget. Considered a ?video nasty? of the highest range, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a horror film that chills to the core.



Tobe Hooper?s cult classic has gained a reputation that, although deserving of such a film, is often misguiding. It has forever been regarded as a complete gore-fest, mainly by those who haven?t even seen the film (ironically enough). Needless to say, the film is none of this, and scares from the inside. While there is plenty of violence in the film ? what can you expect from a film with such a menacing title? ? most of it is not shown onscreen. The power of the film comes from its macabre imagery, because there is hardly any blood shown. The room full of human bones, the very first scene, the dinner table sequence with Grandpa and the rest? there is plenty of disturbing stuff on show here, but very little gore. Its plot is kept to a minimum, and it isn?t paid much attention to, but the film needn?t do so, anyhow. Told in a quasi-documentary style, the film tells the story of a group of teenagers who, during a road trip in Texas, stumble upon an old farmhouse. Unbeknownst to them, a family of cannibalistic slaughterhouse workers lives right next to it. Amongst them is Leatherface, a chainsaw-wielding maniac with a mask made of human skin who takes grand pleasures in killing cows as much as humans. As the tagline of the original poster reads, ?Who will survive and what will be left of them??



To criticise it for being too clich? would be a silly mistake; The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, being the grandpa of all splatter films, actually invented all those clich?s. A bunch of horny teenagers go into a dark house and get killed, one by one. And at the end, the only survivor ? a woman ? becomes the heroine. Hooper?s film invented the formula for this type of horror films ? one that would be followed by works such as Halloween or Friday 13th ? but this is the king of this so called subgenre, and there is no denying it.



Though it claims to be based to be based upon a real story, all that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre does is borrow some details from Ed Gein?s killings (a character who also influenced Robert Bloch to write Psycho and the character of Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs). He was an isolated farmer from Wisconsin convicted for necrophilia, cannibalism, and murder whose obsessions led him to create a ?belt fashioned from carved-off nipples, a chair upholstered in human skin, the crown of a skull used as a soup-bowl, lampshades covered in flesh pilled taut, a table propped up by a human shinbones, and a refrigerator full of human organs.? There are of course many similar things in Hooper?s film, but unlike the ominous preface of the film would indicate, not many of them actually did happen. Leatherface has, with the passing of time, become one of the most iconic characters of the horror genre. There?s no doubting that he would put Michael Myers, Freddy and Jason to shame, because his malice is as unrivalled as they come.



One of the key elements which helps weave that unsettling atmosphere is the cinematography. Shot in a grainy, stark film stock, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a film that looks as though it could have been filmed by your next door neighbour, resembling the footage of a home movie. Indeed, the film has a sort of amateurish visual look to it, one that not only makes it all the more realistic, but immediately turns the whole think into something that is uniquely powerful. Tobe Hooper?s eye for visuals is unmistakably distinctive, and this can be especially seen during all of the sunset scenes (including the very last shot of the film) or in the ones where the camera silently stalks the characters from behind of them, thus increasing the sense of ever-existing threat. The cinematography, aided by Wayne Bell?s pulsating score, crafts a truly genuine sense of panic throughout the whole film.



Watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre for a first time is quite the experience ? especially when you?re alone. An achievement in the horror genre like no other, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is the epitome of cult horror films, and one that disturbs and surprises like few others do. At the end, one?s glad that it?s over, because it was often a difficult thing to sit through ? the meathook scene, as gruesome as it is, cannot compare the sheer hysteria of the climatic scenes. And if a film can do that, not because it?s bad, but because it?s horrifying in every sense of the word, then it?s quite an achievement. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is no exception, and proves to be the benchmark of horror by which all others should be measured.
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beltmann
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PostPosted: 05.27.2004 10:40 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

That's quite a post for the man who recently vowed the following:



The Third M?n wrote:
I'll never be back, surely.



Goodbye.


Doesn't that post make 3 today? Glad to see you make an appearance, Mr. Lime!



Good review, by the way, although if forced to choose I'd select Rosemary's Baby as "the benchmark of horror by which all others should be measured." Still, isn't it purposeless to pick only one benchmark--as if an entire genre ought to conform to a specific standard or style? To cast the psychological drama of Rosemary's against the splatter shock of TCM does a disservice to both pictures; although each qualifies as horror, they hardly seem to belong to the same genre.



Eric
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the night watchman
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PostPosted: 05.28.2004 5:03 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Good review, Mr. Lime. Maybe this series ought to be retitled "Horror Movie Quarterly." Wink Comparing Hooper's TCM to the '03 remake proves, with exception, the credo "less is more."* The meat hook scene in the remake is precisely what you'd think such a scene would be -- gory close-ups of metal piercing flesh -- and is all the less effective for it; it's all special effects, prosthetics, caro syrup and red dye #2. Hooper's, on the other hand, suggests everything, and is probably one of the most wince-inducing moments in any film I've seen. The movie works by evoking a sense of xenophobia, the raw, primal dread of the outsider, the other, and the fact that he is different than you, he is incomprehensible, unreachable, dangerous, and maybe not wholly human. I think it might have been Joe Bob Briggs who compared the dinner table scene with the worst experience in junior high school when the bullies, having cornered you, laugh at your pain and mock your tears. Inhumanity dehumanizes the victim as well.



But the most effective aspect of TCM is the understated sense of the supernatural. No, there are no ghosts or monsters (outside of the human variety) or devils, but there is the sense, as I stated in a review, that the madness of the family has seeped into the walls and foundation of the house, subtly but palpably warping the fabric of the world. Their insanity is infectious, their sickness has rubbed off on you, and that's probably even more horrifying than the violence that's portrayed.





*Sometimes, such as, for example, in the case of Re-Animator, Dead Alive, and, so help me, Susperia, "more" is just right. A good filmmaker knows how to use bloodletting; a bad one just slathers it on to cater to the lowest common denominator.
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matt header
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PostPosted: 05.28.2004 5:39 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

An enjoyable, well-written review, sir (and thanks for the dedication). I'm glad you mentioned the dinner scene and the final shot of Leatherface swinging his chainsaw through the golden sunset, the most distinct moments of the film in my memory, and I think the most indicative of all of the virtues that have already been pointed out: its paranoid aesthetic, its sense of the supernatural in reality as we know it, its excellent depiction of claustrophobia and of being unable to escape, the sense of both culprit and victim becoming dehumanized, etc. Haven't seen the remake, but it seems too sleek to achieve the same oppressive effect on both its own characters and the audience: I got the sense while watching this movie that the frame was an unmalleable boundary, and that there was no hope for anything trapped within. Hooper, when he's on, is a really great horror director: Poltergeist is among my favorites as well.



Also, I really enjoy your periodical horror movie reviews, Mr. Lime, perhaps because I may have a certain affinity for the horror/suspense genre. It takes so much skill to do it right, and a truly great horror movie comes along so rarely (I think the last outstanding horror movie may have been 1997's Funny Games, if that fits the bill, or perhaps 1994's The Exquisite Hour) that recognizing the greats becomes invaluable. Keep em coming!
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Danny Baldwin
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PostPosted: 07.28.2004 7:40 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I watched this one in full for once, last night, and I am not a member of its fanclub. Sure, Hooper gets under your skin, and attains his goals by recieving a visceral reaction from viewers. But, from the beginning, is there a point? I suppose it would qualify as a study of human desparity, but haven't we seen better of this? I was not scared by it, simply disgusted, and not in an intriguing way.



To be absolutely honest, I think you're right about it not being reliant upon shock-value onscreen, but the difference is, my imagination didn't run wild during it. All I felt was the annoyance of constant screaming and bloodshed. It made me cringe, yes, but it didn't go anywhere with that. Hooper had a great idea, and I'll give him credit, but my mind only wanders when I try to think of how this is a classic motion picture. I'd vastly prefer the campier, more stylistic interpratation of the remake, which is, indeed, scarier to me. Sure, it's more superficial, but I found it to be more effective, while maintaining a less revolting presentation. I can think of a hundred better horror pictures than this one, and while I do not loathe it, I don't fully appreciate it, either.
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HoRRoRFaN
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PostPosted: 07.28.2004 10:20 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Danny Baldwin wrote:
I watched this one in full for once, last night, and I am not a member of its fanclub. Sure, Hooper gets under your skin, and attains his goals by recieving a visceral reaction from viewers. But, from the beginning, is there a point? I suppose it would qualify as a study of human desparity, but haven't we seen better of this? I was not scared by it, simply disgusted, and not in an intriguing way.




What should be the point? To scare the living shit outta you, and TCM did exactly that for me. It doesn't need to offer any remarkable depth, that is not Hooper's intention. What disgusted you anyway? You realized that it does not depend on exploitation and on-screen shock, so then what did disgust you exactly? I'm just curious. Even after so many viewings, the film couldn't be more nerve-wracking for me. The first time that I saw it, I couldn't get over how much I cared about the characters. I respect and understand that it didn't work for you, Danny. I know that it didn't scare or haunt you in any way, but did you at least admire Hooper's efforts? I didn't think that the bloodshed was constant at all. Instead, the scenes of violence were perfectly timed. As far as the screaming goes, I thought it was absolutely necessary. I assume that this would annoy a lot of people considering they were disinterested and taken out of the film. Though the remake had its memorable moments sporadically, I disliked it, its nothing compared to the original IMO. I'd love to ramble on -- but I'm practically out the door. Will try to expand later, though... Smile
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Dr Giggles
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PostPosted: 07.29.2004 1:22 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

yeah the bloodshed is minimal, and thats part of its beauty.

Its funny that this movie created the term "splatter" when theres no splatter. and one of the few movies that gets an R rating for its general feel rather than specific scenes. which I think says it all about what Hooper achieved.



This is one of few horror films where I felt like part of the action,

I was just as much dying to get out of there, as Marilyn was.

And her screaming really wore me out, and by the end I felt tired,

disturbed and releived to see the end credits roll.



And just when your thinking things cant get any worse, out comes grandpa and does your head in, literally.



Nice one Tobe.



I enjoyed the remake, but its no where near the as good as the original.

the part with the baby in the remake really annoyed, like they were trying to make a heroine out of the main character, in the original it was all about survival, thats all that was left.



What is everybodys thoughts on Hoopers sequel?

when I first watched it, I was expecting another onslaught of similar levels that the original had. I was dissapointed initially until I realized Hooper was kind of taking the pi$$ with it. I should've picked up on it with the Breakfast Club parody front cover. Gold.



Let us not speak of the other sequels.
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beltmann
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PostPosted: 07.29.2004 2:57 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

HoRRoRFaN wrote:
What should be the point? To scare the living shit outta you


We can debate whether TCM satisfies that goal, but I'm more interested in exploring whether that goal, when separated from a larger context, has inherent value. Thoughts?



Eric
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Danny Baldwin
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PostPosted: 07.29.2004 3:50 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

HoRRoRFaN wrote:
What disgusted you anyway? You realized that it does not depend on exploitation and on-screen shock, so then what did disgust you exactly? I'm just curious.


I suppose I was disgusted by the way in which the violence was instituted and characterized. I think the whole ideal of Leatherface is one to be debated; isn't her glamorized just like the rest of the horror villians out there, just in a grittier way? Doesn't this make it worse? As if Hooper embaraces his doings, but not at all because they represent cheesy fun, if that makes sense.
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the night watchman
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PostPosted: 07.29.2004 4:05 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

beltmann wrote:
HoRRoRFaN wrote:
What should be the point? To scare the living shit outta you


We can debate whether TCM satisfies that goal, but I'm more interested in exploring whether that goal, when separated from a larger context, has inherent value. Thoughts?




Well, I suppose that's like asking if a comedy provoking laughter has any inherent value, or a melodrama bittersweet emotions (or whatever it is melodramas provoke). The viceral reaction a movie elicits or is intended to elicit, and the importance placed on the reaction is probably subjective. A horror movie can be, as the cliched yet accurate analogy goes, a rollercoater ride, or, like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, it can allow the viewer to explore feelings aroused by the scenerio and events portrayed, as I commented on in an above post.
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PostPosted: 07.29.2004 4:21 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Danny Baldwin wrote:
I suppose I was disgusted by the way in which the violence was instituted and characterized. I think the whole ideal of Leatherface is one to be debated; isn't her glamorized just like the rest of the horror villians out there, just in a grittier way?




Leatherface glamorized? I don't agree. (I don't think anything in the original TCM is glamorized, but it's been ages since I've seen it, so I'm going on my lousy memory here.) Leatherface is presented as a pitiful childlike monster -- abused and bullied into submission by his father. And the film doesn't try to get us to sympathize with Leatherface like, say, Frankenstein does with its monster. Leatherface just is. We don't know much about him other than that he's probably mentally retarded, raised in poverty, filth, and violence. Where's the glamour in any of that? It certainly isn't in the violence, which is ugly and painful, or in Leatherface's appearance, which is freaky but sad. He doesn't have Freddy's cute, clever one-liners or ingenuity, and he doesn't have Jason's uber-cool silent determination. I'd say Leatherface is a pitiful creature.
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the night watchman
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PostPosted: 07.29.2004 4:23 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Danny Baldwin wrote:
HoRRoRFaN wrote:
What disgusted you anyway? You realized that it does not depend on exploitation and on-screen shock, so then what did disgust you exactly? I'm just curious.


I suppose I was disgusted by the way in which the violence was instituted and characterized. I think the whole ideal of Leatherface is one to be debated; isn't her glamorized just like the rest of the horror villians out there, just in a grittier way? Doesn't this make it worse? As if Hooper embaraces his doings, but not at all because they represent cheesy fun, if that makes sense.




I don't think glamorizing violence or the villains was Hoopers intention at all. I think he wanted the viewer to have nightmares about Leatherface and the family. I think he wanted you to feel the need to stay very far away from them, physically and psychologically. The family is potrayed as filthy, ugly, stupid, lacking self-control, and just plain and simply mean. They are presented at the far end of a ten foot pole. Horror movies get a bad rap because, it seems to me, most people mistake what the movie presents for what it endorses.
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Danny Baldwin
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PostPosted: 07.29.2004 4:46 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I don't think horror movies have to endorce their villian. Take The Exorcist, Psycho, and The Shining.
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the night watchman
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PostPosted: 07.29.2004 5:16 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Danny Baldwin wrote:
I don't think horror movies have to endorce their villian. Take The Exorcist, Psycho, and The Shining.




That last bit was kind of a tangential thought. I wasn't necessarily directing it your way, Danny. Smile
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PostPosted: 07.29.2004 5:39 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

As Michael said, there is no glamorizing in Leatherface and his family. In the Hooper sequel, it takes the family's story into extreme black comedy territory, of course resulting in a completely different take on the family. This was, I assume, Hooper's intention in allowing a new observation on the family. Though it is the same family in the original, the darkly wicked humor completely takes over and makes fun of the horror amidst. Even if twisted humor is scattered throughout the original, it is not presented in a way where the characters are made fun of or glamorized. It is simply not the case because Leatherface's story is tragic, and we can notice this and understand the family as depicted, but that does not mean that we're rooting for them or that we sympathize with them. There is a difference because from what I realized while watching, there are definitely details that Hooper's vision allows. We probably can't appreciate it as much as we would if we went to see it at the time it was released. From its opening moments on, Hooper surely paints a haunting picture of the time itself with Vietnam, the machinery overpowering the work force, cult issues, etc. Anyway, I think that the family (the father runs the slaughterhouse) becomes more and more corrupted as they progress and now they have broke down. At first, they saw this as a way for them to survive. Nispel's direction for the remake seemed more content in obvious ways of telling its story because instead of subtext, there is the skin disease explaining why Leatherface wears a mask that was unnecessary. If you run with the atmosphere and come to a conclusion on your own, then TCM will work the best because Hooper does not wish to tell us anything but imply with certain details that allow his viewer to draw from the events after recovering from a horrific experience.
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