Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Terror of the Mind

I’ll admit, I was skeptical about watching the 1974 film Texas Chainsaw Massacre directed by Tobe Hooper for the first time. But after viewing it, I found it holds up better than most horror films from the past decade.

The film was revolutionary to the horror genre. Taking the classic Hitchcock film Psycho and expanding upon it in a new way, Texas Chainsaw Massacre helped define what we know now as the slasher film. Hooper’s movie is vile, disturbing, and wreaks havoc on the psyche of audience members. With little to no gore, the focus of terror is purely based on the viewers mind. We don’t see a close up of the chainsaw digging into poor Franklin’s chest–our mind does the work for us. What we can imagine is far worse than what Hooper could have portrayed on screen. It makes all out gory films seem lazy and lackluster, relying on visible and tangible disgust rather than psychological terror.

The viewers find themselves thrust into a story of disillusionment and straight up insanity, and they feel every bit of it along with the characters. The simple images evoke so much distress, such as the family of killers eating dinner in front of Sally, which is presumably her deceased friend, Pam. The décor of the house is enough to revulsion and dread, as we hear the crunching of bones on the floor and see the severed arms of human beings tied onto chairs. It’s completely sadistic and absolutely repugnant, but the cinematography is expertly crafted to provide a dizzying contrast to the dark subject matter.

The famous scene from the film is the ending, as Leatherface performs a sort of sick, twisted ballet as he holds the chainsaw over his head. The sun provides a soft, typically romantic lighting on a disgusting and nauseating, aiding the disorientation viewers have felt the entire film. Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a gorgeous movie about an inbred, cannibalistic family that brutally murders a group teenagers. That last shot represents the films conflicting beauty and horror, which leaves the audience with a haunting feeling of discomfort, but also satisfaction.

I’d like to see a horror movie from the last two decades wreak that much psychological terror on an audience while simultaneously looking aesthetically gorgeous.

-B

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