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“They finally asked me not to come back anymore.”
June 19, 2014 12:42 PM   Subscribe

"The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was the first real “slasher” film, and it changed many things—the ratings code of the Motion Picture Association of America, the national debate on violence, the Texas Film Commission, the horror genre—but it remained a curiously isolated phenomenon. The film itself, involving five young people on a twisted drive through the country, is a strange, shifting experience—early audiences were horrified; later audiences laughed; newcomers to the movie were inevitably stricken with a vaguely uneasy feeling, as though the movie might have actually been made by a maniac—but the story behind the film is even stranger." We begin with a couple of stolen barbecue chicken wings....
posted by zarq (51 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite

 
What about all those Herschell Gordon Lewis flicks like Blood Feast?
posted by jonmc at 12:50 PM on June 19 [5 favorites]


We begin with a couple of stolen barbecue chicken wings....

Which appear to have nothing whatsoever to do with the story...
posted by yoink at 12:51 PM on June 19 [4 favorites]


Mefi's own cortex and Griphus tackle the movie on We Have Such Films To Show You
posted by The Whelk at 1:00 PM on June 19 [5 favorites]


I thank the movie for the ability to add the word "Chainsaw" to anything with "Texas" in its name...

Texas Chainsaw Instruments

Texas Chainsaw Hold-em

Texas Chainsaw Roadhouse

Walker, Texas Chainsaw Ranger

Texas Chainsaw University (TCU, more of a substitution than an addition)

Tex(as) Chainsaw Avery (you HAVE seen the cartoons he made, haven't you?)

and obviously and most appropriately, the Texas Chainsaw Legislature
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:03 PM on June 19 [32 favorites]


Written by John Bloom/Joe Bob Briggs, as is only fitting.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:04 PM on June 19 [2 favorites]


Huh... I lived in Round Rock for years but I'm not sure I ever ventured out to the TCM house, though I do remember hearing that it was local.
posted by kmz at 1:09 PM on June 19


Lyn Never: "Written by John Bloom/Joe Bob Briggs, as is only fitting."

Holy crap! I didn't notice. *hangs head in shame*

I miss Monstervision
posted by zarq at 1:10 PM on June 19 [2 favorites]


Tex-Chainsaw-Mex Cuisine

Texas Chainsaw Blues (that sounds like it could exist!)

Texas Chainsaw Monthly
posted by thelonius at 1:11 PM on June 19


They kept the original idea of an updated Hansel and Gretel story, “only instead of being lured to a gingerbread cottage with gumdrops, it was a little more sinister.” To create the modern version of a witch who likes to cook and eat children, they studied the then-scant literature on real-life cannibals and serial killers.
This snippet gives me some idea as to why the movie is apparently so compelling (I have never actually seen it -- horror is not my cup of tea, so I don't watch it too often).

The paragraph after that is not pleasant and describes a real life person who served as inspiration for unpleasant characters in Psycho and Silence of the Lambs (and a couple of other films that I am unfamiliar with -- it does not list Dressed to Kill but reminds me of the plot there as well). I had no idea.
posted by Michele in California at 1:13 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]


Hansen—experiencing the effect of marijuana for the first time—successfully cut through the door, his pupils big as saucers. “I feel so hot,” he said. “I’m so dizzy.”

OH MY GOD

Great article, btw. Thanks for posting it.
posted by jbickers at 1:26 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]


Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a weird and compelling film cause it feels so rough-hewn and out of balance , a lot of the genre tropes hadn't been codified and chloroformed yet, and the on-the-fly nature of the filming leads to a lot of choices that are completely counter-intrusive and surprising for the modern view and adding to the "this really happened" documentary feel.

Interestingly horror remains a genre where you can, for relatively little money, make a really interesting and personal movie on a small budget and make back bank. Some of the most creative work filmmking recently has been in horror because it working within the limitations helps new ways of thinking and presenting old ideas (And there is of course a lot of robotic stupid shlock but no one ever remembers those thank god. Sometimes they're entertainingly bad at least.)
posted by The Whelk at 1:30 PM on June 19 [6 favorites]


Walker, Texas Chainsaw Ranger

I would watch this show
posted by Hoopo at 1:32 PM on June 19 [9 favorites]


Also:

“Tobe Hooper asked me how I thought it could be improved,” recalls Allen Danziger, “so I told him, ‘Well, you could turn the chairs so that they’re facing away from the screen.’”

DID SOMEONE CHANGE THE CHANNEL TO THE USA NETWORK BECAUSE WE NEED A BURN NOTICE UP IN HERE.
posted by jbickers at 1:38 PM on June 19 [12 favorites]


I always thought Tobe Hooper never really hit his stride. Everyone gives credit to Spielberg for "Poltergeist". "LifeForce" was cheesy, but it had that Hammer Studios but with a big budget vibe going for it that I liked at 17. I even remember liking the remake of "Invaders from Mars", thought I can't remember anything about it. And the "Salem's Lot" miniseries was fairly good.

I keep expecting him to come back with an surprisingly good movie, but it hasn't happened yet.
posted by beowulf573 at 1:41 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]


The author of the article shorthands the title as Chainsaw. This stands out to me because I distinctly remember it as two words in the original title, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, like in the IMDB listing and this poster.

I remember it because it's the only instance I've ever seen chainsaw uncompounded.
posted by Boxenmacher at 1:54 PM on June 19


Texas Chainsaw Toast

(the breakfast of chainpions)
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 2:02 PM on June 19 [4 favorites]


I distinctly remember it as two words in the original title, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, like in the IMDB listing and this poster.

Interesting: the poster on IMDB and the poster that Wikipedia labels as the original theatrical release poster both clearly have it as "Chainsaw," though. I wonder how the title appears in the opening credits?
posted by yoink at 2:11 PM on June 19


I wonder how the title appears in the opening credits?

Answering my own question: IMDB has the trailer, which has it as "chain saw."
posted by yoink at 2:13 PM on June 19


The most frightening film I have ever seen, bar none. Saw it on VHS at home, still horrifying. (Hint: don't see it at night, no matter how many lights are on.)

The movie just never lets up. Most horror movies have a build up of tension which is released by a BANG, a boogieman jumping out at you and then you get to wind down until the next buildup and bang. TCSM just has raw unremitting tension. You don't finish watching the movie, you escape watching it.
posted by Roentgen at 2:21 PM on June 19 [10 favorites]


I think it has aged fairly well too. I watched it again just before listening to the WHSFSU podcast and got the willies several times, and I've probably seen it over a dozen times if not more. It's just really raw - the emotions, the colors, the scenes. Great film.
posted by Big_B at 2:29 PM on June 19


Saw it on VHS at home, still horrifying.

In my opinion, that's the optimal way to watch this movie. Preferrably on a crappy, 14-inch Magnavox CRT.
posted by Atom Eyes at 2:30 PM on June 19 [3 favorites]


...since the whole story takes place in a 24-hour period, everyone wore the same clothing for the entire five weeks. “I’m a big man,” says Hansen, “and we were afraid to send my clothes to the dry cleaners because we didn’t want to lose the butcher’s blood on the apron. I was running and sweating the entire time. By the end of the shoot, no one would sit next to me at lunch.”
Happy fun times. (FYI: Hansen is 6' 4". So, yuppers, a big guy.)
posted by Michele in California at 2:30 PM on June 19


The most frightening film I have ever seen, bar none. Saw it on VHS at home, still horrifying. (Hint: don't see it at night, no matter how many lights are on.)


Whatever age I first saw it (almost certainly too young), it made such an impression on me that I probably won't even be able to read this article in the dark. Like I could barely watch the scenes of it referenced in Summer School at night as a much older person.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 2:45 PM on June 19


Oddly enough "chain saw," two words, is AP style.
posted by Clustercuss at 2:56 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]


It's amazing that for a film that shows so little blood, it is so terrifying in such a primal way. It really is one of those films where you reach a moment where you say "this is too much for me, and then it gets frightening beyond what you thought you could endure. And I think for a lot of people that happens surprisingly early.

For me, it was when Edwin Neal starts talking about head cheese. I spent the last 20 minutes of the film literally frozen with fear, unable to do anything at all.

My girlfriend made me turn the film off after two minutes. And she typically enjoys horror. But this is just oppressive. It's like Last House on the Left. It doesn't feel like a film made for pleasure. It feels like it wants to upset you, very very badly.

I think it's great. I also love its campy sequel, for what it's worth.
posted by maxsparber at 3:01 PM on June 19 [6 favorites]


Yeah, as mentioned above, and by Griphus about the " screaming scene" there is no catharsis in this movie, just unrelenting oppressive dread - the movie somehow looks hot and sticky, they mention working in hundred degree heat in the same clothes every day and god somehow you can SMELL the movie it's so overpoweringly gross and hot and airless.

Like its super impressive and compelling but I do not ... Enjoy watching it.
posted by The Whelk at 3:06 PM on June 19 [2 favorites]


SPOILER ALERT: This is where the title of the FPP comes from, if you, like I, have been wondering:












Ed Neal watched the movie repeatedly at the Village Theater in Austin, where he would scare unsuspecting patrons by tapping them on the shoulder while he was acting crazy on-screen: “They finally asked me not to come back anymore.”
Yes, it is taking me all day to read this. Why do you ask?
posted by Michele in California at 3:13 PM on June 19 [4 favorites]


Answering my own question: IMDB has the trailer, which has it as "chain saw."

Thanks for pointing out the trailer. I'm pretty sure that's where I originally saw (heh) the title.

In the mid-80s, when I was in my early teens, a local TV station aired the original TCSM on air at midnight on Halloween. I suppose they could because there is not much gore. They used that trailer for the promos.

I stayed up to watch it, turned it off about ten minutes in. I taped it to watch in the daylight.
posted by Boxenmacher at 3:15 PM on June 19


Michele in California: " Ed Neal watched the movie repeatedly at the Village Theater in Austin, where he would scare unsuspecting patrons by tapping them on the shoulder while he was acting crazy on-screen: “They finally asked me not to come back anymore.”"

Ack, sorry! Didn't mean to stress you or anyone else. If you ever have a question about why I chose a particular title, please by all means feel free to ask. Usually the titles of my posts to the Blue are from quotes or phrases within a linked article. But I'm always happy to point out from where. :)
posted by zarq at 3:21 PM on June 19


Only the late Warren Skaaren, the first director of the Texas Film Commission, who would become one of the highest-paid rewrite men in Hollywood, and Ron Bozman, the film’s production manager, who would accept the 1991 Academy award for best picture as one of the producers of The Silence of the Lambs, ascended to the pinnacle of their profession.

And one more. The opening voice over is by four-time Emmy winner John Larroquette.
posted by maxsparber at 3:22 PM on June 19


zarq, I was not stressed. I just had no idea what the context was. I have not seen the movie, so for all I knew it was a quote from the movie. I am finding this piece really fascinating, in spite of it being kind of overly long and rambly.
posted by Michele in California at 3:28 PM on June 19


I would watch this show

Preferably, while eating Texas Chainsaw Barbecue.
posted by offalark at 3:35 PM on June 19 [2 favorites]


I found the movie on youtube and watched it while reading the article. It'd been a long time since I saw it. I think every tracking shot is great, with the standout being the swing shot at 35:45, which I think is the best shot in the film. There sure are a lot of edits, they must have shot a lot of film. The night chase is also great, with it's jump cut zoom ins of Leatherface.

But this movie probably works best on VHS when one is innocent and easily scared.
posted by Catblack at 3:35 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]


Michele, Ah! Okay. Thanks for clarifying.
posted by zarq at 3:41 PM on June 19


Also how effective was the running through the woods scene? So disorienting and frantic
posted by Hoopo at 3:42 PM on June 19


The second half of the film does nothing for me with the running and the screaming and the "Family Dinner" scene and what-not. But the first half, whoa boy. To my dying day, I will never forget that metal door slamming shut.
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 3:49 PM on June 19 [2 favorites]


The Texas Chainsaw Legislation
The Texas Chainsaw Hayride
The Texas Chainsaw Aggies
The Texas Chainsaw Junior League
The Houston Chainsaw Texans
Frederick Bean "Tex Chainsaw" Avery
The Chainsaws of Texas are Upon You
Texachainsarkansas
♫ And the Yellow Chainsaw of Texas
shall be mine forever more ♫

posted by Smart Dalek at 5:06 PM on June 19 [3 favorites]


Apparently the rented house where they filmed.. the back yard was basically a field of marijuana plants. The crew was paranoid the whole time that the cops would show up and bust everyone on the scene, even though they had nothing to do with the plants.
posted by Liquidwolf at 5:07 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]


Great article, zarq, thanks for posting.

Despite generally being a horror film (& book) fan, this is one of those movies I just kinda never got around to watching for many many years - I knew it was groundbreaking and all, but I think I sort of assumed that it was one of those groundbreaking pieces of art that's admired for its' originality but doesn't really "work" for a modern viewer.

Then one day, only about ten years ago, I saw a trailer that included some shots from the last scene where Leatherface is swinging the chainsaw around and around, backlit by the setting sun, and I found it such an oddly, compellingly, beautiful image (as weird as that sounds), that I figured it was long past time for me to actually watch the damn thing.

TCSM just has raw unremitting tension. You don't finish watching the movie, you escape watching it.

Yeah. This. Exactly.
posted by soundguy99 at 5:29 PM on June 19


I watched TCSM as a fully grown man, all alone, in the dark, in a hotel room when I was traveling for a work conference. I had to pause it a couple times to catch my breath and remind myself it was not reality. Such an amazingly terrifying experience.

It has very little gore that so many modern horror movies throw at you, yet it _feels_ gory. And dirty. And so tense. If only we had more modern masterpieces like it, maybe horror wouldn't be the 'dirty word' when talking about genres of film.
posted by rsanheim at 7:51 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]


Interesting essay. The original film was too intense for my taste.

The ironic Grand Guignol-style sequel was kinda entertaining, if you like gore, dark-goofy dialogue, Dennis Hopper running around with two chainsaws in his hands, etc. A couple of the original actors re-appeared in the sequel, and hopefully they scored an adequate paycheck the second time around.
posted by ovvl at 8:17 PM on June 19


Warren Skaaren... would become one of the highest-paid rewrite men in Hollywood

Yeah, but he really took an axe to the scripts
posted by whir at 8:28 PM on June 19


I have a new respect for the movie after reading this thread, and most of the article. I think I mentally wrote it off without even watching it as yet another schlocky gore fest with a mostly undeserved cult status. I'm not really into slasher films or gore for its own sake. (It usually strikes me as pointless and tasteless, as much as I like horror films otherwise.)

The backstory is interesting. I found the critical reception amusing. I shall have to download a copy soon-ish, after I'm finished watching a slew of other horror films that are taking up all of my hard drive space thanks to a certain neonate MeFi film discussion group...
posted by quiet earth at 8:48 PM on June 19


I saw it twice in one week at The Sunset Drive-In in 1975. It made such an impression on me (I couldn't stop thinking about it) that it may be at least partially responsible for my going to film school.
posted by cleroy at 9:45 PM on June 19


Honestly, I have never been able to understand bloodshed-as-entertainment. Especially as the gratuitous violence just keeps escalating movie-to-movie. It's a genre of film making I am utterly unable to come to terms with.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:44 AM on June 20 [1 favorite]


When I was a kid in the 70's, this kind of movie really inspired fear and awe in us, like you might actually go insane or become possessed by the devil if you watched it. None of us had seen it, it was just like a terrifying thing that we knew existed. I remember there were kids in my class, that would have been about 5th grade, who saw 'Jaws' and were afraid to swim in a pool or even take a bath for a year.

I wonder if kids now just take stuff like the Saw movies in stride? That seems like it would be a bad thing.
posted by thelonius at 8:36 AM on June 20


I recommend watching this movie like I did, as a naive fifteen year old at a rural drive-in in 1983.
posted by RedEmma at 8:49 AM on June 20


The movie just never lets up. Most horror movies have a build up of tension which is released by a BANG, a boogieman jumping out at you and then you get to wind down until the next buildup and bang. TCSM just has raw unremitting tension. You don't finish watching the movie, you escape watching it.

I agree. Most horror movies will release some tension at some point, not necessarily because of censorship, but because of the way nightmares work. You have a nightmare, but you can always wake up from it. In Texas Chain Saw Massacre, you never wake up from the nightmare until the very end. You're always jumping out of the frying pan into the fire. Perhaps the reason why Tobe Hooper looked like he had no idea what he was doing when he was shooting the movie is that he had to put his cast through hell, because there might have been no other way for him to get that effect of unremitting tension and nightmare without end.
posted by jonp72 at 9:54 AM on June 20


The first time I watched this was on VHS in my house in Florida after my parents had gone to bed, and I was eating a bacon cheeseburger burrito from Taco Bell. They discontinued the bacon cheeseburger burrito shortly after.

I don't remember being terribly scared by the movie that first time, but I was instantly in awe of the filmmaking. Wasn't this supposed to be some kind of dated grindhouse cheapie held together by duct-tape, I thought, notorious only for its high level of violence? How is it this good?

It's securely in my top ten favorite movies of all time, any genre.
posted by doctornecessiter at 10:08 AM on June 20


The result was Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, easily the best-written, best-acted, and best-directed of all the sequels.

Bloom must be friends with Kim Henkel, because WHAT. This makes me question his very positive take on Henkel's Last Night at the Alamo (which I've neither seen nor heard of outside of this article).

(To be fair, we are talking about a set of three at best questionable sequels. Just saying that the only one I'd watch more than once is part 2.)
posted by doctornecessiter at 10:13 AM on June 20


A few random thoughts on this wonderful, horrible movie...

• Like a lot of great-great movies, the first shots are keye to its attitude. The movie begins with flashbulbs illuminating unidentifiable meat; presumably it's the pictures that Hitchhiker shows off in thevan. Right away, the camera aligns itself with the killers, seeing people as nothing but squishy, ugly meat, a perspective it'll stick to with sweaty implacability.

• Speaking of: One of the most chilling moments for me is when Leatherface impales one of the girls on a meat hook. Not the kill itself, though that's bad enough. No, it's the way that his whole body relaxes once she's hung. She's still screaming, trying to pull her body up, suffering horribly, but none of that matters to Leatherface; the pig's on the hook, and soon enough it'll be done. Unlike Michael Myers or Jason, there's a terrible lack of sadism to Leatherface; he mostly conveys a childish desire to do right. It's his respectable business-owner brother who's the true monster. If the film is a reflection of the dying 60s, Myers is the alternative to the flower children, a child born to Nixon's angry, white, Southern "silent majority", too ugly and twisted to do anything but destroy.

• Structurally, sure, it's like a lot of slasher movies: Spooky opening, banter, kill #1, banter, kill, kill, kill, climax. But while most movies treat the banter sections as dead time, TCM creates an unbearable sense of sickly dread even when nothing terrible has happened. Franklin's sickening tantrums, the horrors on the radio, the whistling-in-the-dark horoscope conversation ("Everything has to mean something... doesn't it?") all let's you know that these kids live in a world that wants to smash them.

•The DVD included all the footage shot for the first kill (in front of the sliding door). It's fascinating to see how many shots they chose not to use, to preserve the purity of that shock.

• This movie has one of the great scores in horror cinema. A lot of the musicians in The Industrial Culture Handbook cite is as a favorite, not only because of its bleak vision, but also because the musique concrete that plays through its establishing shots is evocative and terrifying without the minor-key stabs that defined slasher-movie music ever since Psycho.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 4:50 PM on June 20 [3 favorites]


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