17 November 2014

Blu-ray Review - The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

Second Sight
BD Release Date:
17th November 2014 (UK)
Tobe Hooper
Cast: Marilyn Burns, Edwin Neal, Allen Danziger
Buy: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre: 40th Anniversary Restoration - 2 Disc Standard Edition [Blu-ray]

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) is quite simply one of the most disturbing films ever to grace the big screen. Even in today's age of torture porn and seen-it-all cgi gore, this legendary slice of terror still has the power to shock. Renowned for its relentless brutality, when you analyse the original film there is actually very little visceral violence depicted. Everyone who has watched the film - and which true horror aficionado hasn’t? - believes they’ve seen more than they actually have. But inference is the magic ingredient of director Tobe Hooper's horror masterpiece. In The Texas Chain Saw Massacre the filmmaker - who later gave us such delights as the none too subtle Death Trap (1977) and classic chillers Salem's Lot (1979) and Poltergeist (1982) - builds on the horrors of what happens off screen, leaving the viewer to fill in the gaps with their own imagination which is always a more effective option.

Sally (Marilyn Burns) and her invalid brother Franklin (Paul A. Partain) have gone on a road trip with some friends through rural Texas, to visit her family's old homestead. Having run low on gas by the time they reach their destination, two of the group head off to a neighbouring farmhouse to borrow some fuel. What they find instead is horror beyond their wildest dreams, plunging the group of kids into a nightmare from which there is no waking.

Looking past the controversy and hype which has dogged the film since its first release, it is actually some of its less obvious scenes which are the most unsettling - particularly those involving the canabalistic family's home . Take for instance the first sight the audience has of the ramshackle house. Though on the face of it this scene may appear tame in comparison with what comes later, it's the building's apparent tranquility which is its beauty. The house, in all its picket fenced glory, standing in relief against a blue sky with only a few wisps of white cloud for emphasis, epitomises the American ideal of a gabled, whitewashed farmhouse. That behind this deceptive facade hides a house of indescribable carnage only makes it all the worse once the horror kicks in.

Which is in-fact a good summation of the film as a whole. From its outset, if you skip the lurid pre-credit intro and its sensational tabloid’esque re-imagining of the real-life story of Texas grave robber Ed Gein who inspired the film's monstrous central figure of the chain saw wielding Leatherface - played with undiluted glee by Icelandic actor Gunnar Hansen - the viewer is lulled into a false sense of security, from which they are soon to be rudely awoken. What happens to the kids could be seen as retribution their sexed up, doped out, louche lifestyle. However, as this was typical for many young people in America (and elsewhere) during the late 1960s and early 70s, did it really make them deserving of what was to come?

Despite several remake abominations in the proceeding years - including a recent 3D make-over - Hooper's original version has never been bettered. Up close and personal on the big screen (as at this year's BFI London Film Festival) is still the best - and most harrowing - way to meet Leatherface and his depraved family. However, with the newly remastered Blu-Ray edition of the original being released to celebrate its 40th anniversary, the film is about to be given a new lease of life with little doubt that its horrific legacy will live on for many years to come.


Cleaver Patterson

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