It’s All About Family – The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Every horror fan seems to stumble upon this little flick, and, out of the vast array of slaughterhouse horror films, is left with an irreplaceable mark that none other can match. The movie’s not backed by a huge budget, its soundtrack is minimal at best, and it doesn’t feature any big names among its cast.

Something entirely against the grain for Hollywood standards. And yet the bloody film captivates, cuts deep, and then cauterizes the mind. It haunts the viewer long after the end credits roll. In short, the movie just works!

When you watch The Texas Chainsaw Massacre you are pulled in – whether you want to be or not – and made to endure the menace and the horror awaiting the character therein. It doesn’t feel like you’re watching actors but more like you’re in the thick of it with real-to-life people who are about to meet with an unfortunate end.

That’s just part of what makes this film such an ongoing success. For one thing, it’s not what people expect it to be. And that being some mindless little splatterfest.

Sure there is a lumbering chainsaw swinging murderer-butcher called Leatherface. But it’s not just about him. It’s the maniacal family of fellow ghouls who naturally adds to the macabre that made this movie legendary.

The Hitchhiker (Nubbins Sawyer)

Choosing to open your movie with a lingering shot focused on a nice oozing corpse is one helluva way to slap your audience to attention. Before the viewer even gets a chance to settle the film goes full-on grotesque, a slight sucker punch to the senses informing the viewer as to what kind of movie they’re in for. There’s no turning back now, folks. We’re in for a nasty bit of cinema and all we can do is sit back and enjoy as best we can.

I know you love it.

Turns out a string of grave robberies have been transpiring all over the county. We’re introduced to our heroes who stop by the local graveyard to see if their grandpa’s grave was among those desecrated or not. His was fine.

But the jelly-faced ugly we saw at the film’s opening was one of the unfortunate dead dudes dug up and propped up like some maniac Halloween decoration.

It doesn’t take long before we’re introduced to the ghoul responsible for the midnight graveyard monster mashing. He gets picked up on the side of the road by our cast of heroes and we all just know the shit’s about to hit the fan.

The Hitchhiker’s (Edwin Neal) scenes alone could be considered the scariest of the whole film. He’s weird, he has something all over his face, and he has all the manners of an unmedicated schizophrenic. His jittery behavior immediately sets an unsettling mood. This fucker is unstable as all Hell and now our heroes are trapped in the van with this lunatic.

It doesn’t take long before he cuts himself (to everyone’s shock), performs some kind of black magic ritual, then cuts poor Franklin’s (Paul A. Partain) arm. That’s exactly the kind of behavior that’ll get you kicked out of the car, buster! He leaves the vehicle after scaring the bejeezus out of everyone inside, but not before leaving a bloody smear on the side of the van. Why? Just to fuck with them. And it works perfectly.

Fucking fuck’ sake and Hell what was that all about? It’s just the kind of craziness we can expect out of this movie.

The Cook (Drayton Sawyer)

I love this guy! I always thought he was the dad to both Leatherface and the Hitchhiker. It just seemed obvious to me and still does if we’re being honest. But due to the dinner-time scene where the looney bin candidate (Hitchhiker) says, “he’s just the cook!” and getting a violent “QUIET” in rebuttal that causes people to think he’s just that: the cook. But in my defense, the Cook could be dad and cooking is just his thing. He doesn’t enjoy the killin’ part of things and leaves that up to both of his sons.

Makes sense to me.

There’s also the hilarious scene when Cook comes home and sees the mayhem Leatherface has done to the front door. Infuriated he hops out of the truck and indignantly yells, “Look what yur brother’s done to the door!” That sounds just like something a dad would shout. It’s also insight into the character’s psyche. Kind of a practical kind of guy. It’s hilarious how pissed he gets over property damage. It’s subtle but also a glimpse into his unhinged behavior.

Upon introduction, you wouldn’t suspect much from Cook considering he’s presented as the nice gas station owner who calmly advises the heroes not to go poking their noses into places they shouldn’t be. Later, and after one of the most hair-raising chase scenes in any movie ever, Sally (Marilyn Burns) seeks refuge back at the gas station where the kindly owner offers her shelter.

That’s where we’re shown the double-sidedness hiding behind Drayton’s crooked smile. Lo and behold he’s part of the clan and the audience is presented an alarming fact: this atrocity is county-wide. So who can you trust? Poor Sally learns there’s no one out there on her side.

Drayton smacks her around with a broom and ties her head-first into a potato sack. He traps her in his truck but then runs back into the gas station to turn off the lights first before taking off. “The cost of electricity is enough to drive a man outta business,” he reasons with his sobbing captive. Quite practical. He takes off down the road and can’t help himself and starts poking Sally a little bit with a stick. Sadism making him giggle with childish glee drooling off his face.

The role was brought to life by the one and only Jim Siedow who would return to the role in Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 and plays pretty much the same guy. I love him. The man chews up every scene he’s in.

Grandpa Sawyer

Creepy, creepy, and fucking creepy. This old corpse of a character shouldn’t be alive and defies mortality. He looks like a dry husk. I wasn’t even really sure he was alive – and come on, it’s entirely feasible that this family of lunatics would carry down a corpse to have dinner with them – until he helps himself to some of Sally’s warm blood.

In Conclusion

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is legendary among horror fans. It’s often repeated and, in many cases, remade but there’s something special about the original, something that cannot be repeated or done over. I personally think it has to do with the impression made by the Sawyer family. It’s one of those things that came about by the correct alignment of astral bodies and a little black magic. It’s a dark miracle that the thing exists and made its way to drive-ins and living rooms for generations.

The TCM remake isn’t exactly bad. And they tried to give us a rotten family to put Leatherface in the midst of. But the Hewitts (2003) just don’t live up to the macabre nature of the Sawyers (1974). Albeit the Hewitt family is most certainly sinister but they lack the true unhinged quality the Sawyers have. Seriously the instability of the Sawyers is almost otherworldly. Their victims never know what to expect. They may invite you to a home-cooked meal made out of your best friends or they’ll gut you alive. You never know and that alone keeps you on your toes around them. They are pure psychopaths and take obscene delight in that.

Each of the characters mentioned here – in one way or another – reflects the very ghoul who inspired the lot of them, Ed Gein. Grave robbery, slaughtering pretty people, wearing stitched-together human skins, boiling skulls, and eating human flesh. They’re all ghoulish and reflect the heinous nature of Eddy boy.

I think he’d be damn proud of the lot of them!

That’s something lacking in each movie that followed the original. The family was not all that scary and only served to, well, shit just be there. The focus became more and more reliant upon Leatherface in each proceeding film. And none of them match the claustrophobic terror inspired by Tobe Hooper’s exploitation masterpiece.

I know there’s the upcoming Netflix TCM coming out soon. Looks like there is no family to back Leatherface this time around and so we’ll see how well the creepy and the grotesque work. I might not be impressed by the trailer of Leatherface pooping in the field but I’m still going to watch it. Hope it does well. I want a new good scare from TCM.

Whatever the outcome no one can take away the original film that’s proved the test of time.

Manic Out!

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