OCTOBER 29, 2007
Whenever someone talks about their experiences with horror movies as a young kid, I always point out how my mother, bless her, had no problem with me watching them, and even rented Texas Chain Saw Massacre for me when I was like 6 or 7. Now, of course, any Friday the 13th film is more violent, and the irony is that TCM is the type of film that works better on someone with a bit more intelligence and understanding of the way the world works than a 6 year old (I probably thought the movie was boring as a kid). But still, it’s worth noting.
More than any other film in Hooper’s career (and certainly more than the sequels), Chain Saw is a genuine classic that stands far above almost any other horror movie ever made. And of course, it cost less and was, production wise, more limited in its resources than any of its rivals. Everything about the film borders on perfect: the way that the film actually sells the hot Texas heat; the hilariously depressing radio news in the beginning that mixes stories about death and destruction with typical stories about oil and the government, which further sells the film’s light social commentary; the 16mm footage... it’s all flawless. Plus, there’s even some of the oddball humor that the sequels reveled in, particularly in the gonzo graveyard scene, and the gas station (the guy who keeps going back and forth to the van to wash the windshield kills me every time).
Also: FRANKLIN. God I love this guy. He looks and sounds like Meat Loaf, whines about just about everything, and seemingly has no little voice in his head that tells him when to shut up (due to non-interest on the listener or just plain “who cares”ity). “BOOM! SCHLIPPT! BOOM! SCHLIPPT!” And the scene where he freaks out and begins spitting all over the place is possibly more terrifying than any of the scenes with the Sawyer family. The poor sod appears in the execrable 4th film as well, but let’s not damn him for it.
The new DVD release (from Dark Sky) sort of pisses me off. In addition to a truly botched 5.1 mix (several sound effects are actually MISSING), they tried too hard to “clean” the film. Look, it’s SUPPOSED to look grainy and raw! I’m all for anamorphic transfers (which the otherwise superior looking Image release did not have), but the excessive attempts to make the film look “pristine” sort of backfired. Unless you have a widescreen TV and absolutely hate using the ‘zoom’ feature, I strongly urge sticking with the other releases (there’s been like 4). The strange artifacting that results from Dark Sky’s attempts to “clean” the film in Sally’s chase (from Franklin’s death up to the gas station) alone is inexcusable.
Ignoring all that stuff though, the film works no matter what. The sounds of the camera’s bulb flashing at the beginning is probably one of the most iconic and terrifying sounds in horror movie history, and I don’t think anyone in the world didn’t at least jump when Leatherface slams the sliding door early on. The abrupt ending (another scene that looks WORSE on this alleged “remastered” release) is perfect editing, ending on the exact right frame of Leatherface’s little tantrum that manages to leave you both unnerved and relieved. And of course, the dinner scene (which the remake wisely avoided restaging) pretty much set the standard for any sort of psychological torture scene in movies since.
There are no exceptions – if you’re a horror fan, this film’s in your top ten or so. It delivers on everything a horror movie requires to be successful.
What say you?