When Sally (Marilyn Burns) hears that her grandfather’s grave may have been vandalized, she and her paraplegic brother, Franklin (Paul A. Partain), set out with their friends to investigate. After a detour to their family’s old farmhouse, they discover a group of crazed, murderous outcasts living next door. As the group is attacked one by one by the chainsaw-wielding Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen), who wears a mask of human skin, the survivors must do everything they can to escape.
There is something so haunting and dreary about The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, probably because it feels so real. It’s a movie that, while you’re watching it, you feel like you shouldn’t be. It feels like you are watching actual footage of a group of young adults getting tortured in unimaginable ways, and it sort of invented the whole “Is it real, or is it fake?” question in horror cinema, that 1999’s The Blair Witch Project nailed to perfection.
It’s genuinely a miracle that director Tobe Hooper was able to film The Texas Chain Saw Massacre on a budget of $80-140,000 back in 1974. Virtually everything about it screams low-budget filmmaking but in all the best ways possible. Some filmmakers would have tackled this story and put forth a massive amount of money into the project, which may not have been an awful thing back in the day, but Hooper’s vision is certainly nothing short of a masterpiece.
If anything, Hooper proved with this film that sometimes a lower budget can actually work out in your favor and can be more useful than if you had millions of dollars laying around for you to use for your film at your dispense. It’s one of the reasons why the newer Texas Chainsaw films have failed to capture what made this original entry so creepy and haunting – they quite simply didn’t feel real and grounded. It was obvious that they had million-dollar budgets and they no longer felt rooted in reality, but instead, overly fictionalized.
This original film could be called corny and cheesy by those who are looking to watch a gore-fest of a horror movie, and while you can look at some of the scenes here and call them a little bit goofy, I wouldn’t personally call anything about this film silly. It’s genuinely a miracle that The Texas Chain Saw Massacre holds up as well as it does today. For a film that was released back in 1974, it certainly manages to deliver all the chills to satisfy any horror fanatic.
It’s also one of the best-structured horror movies I have ever seen in my life. The first act is sort of a setup act where we are introduced to our lead group of characters and we get to know a little bit more about them. It transitions us perfectly to the second act where some people get picked off one by one by the horrifying Leatherface, which in turn, causes the other characters to go looking for their friends.
Finally, the third act comes and hits you right over the head and almost makes you feel sick with how unrelentingly twisted and evil it is. It preys on all of our internal fears. Despite the fact that this is a fictitious movie, the ending of the movie is scarily plausible and will make you not want to pick up hitchhikers for the rest of your life. All in all, Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is a behemoth of a horror story. It feels a bit too real for comfort at times, but that’s what makes it so memorable forty-six years later.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is an unrelentingly brutal and scarily plausible horror masterpiece from legendary director Tobe Hooper.
Overall Grade: A+
MPAA Rating: R
Directed by: Tobe Hooper
Distributed by: Bryanston Distributing Company
Release Date: October 11, 1974
Running Time: 83 minutes