It cannot be stressed enough the impact visual images alone can have over an adolescent mind unprepared to fully process the visual overload it is suddenly forced to compute. And it can be anything. Read Marylyn Manson’s autobiography (Long Hard Road Out Of Hell) and you’ll read in grotesque detail what he and his cousin saw out of their grandpa which went on to scar them for life. Hopefully, none of us have to deal with lecherous visions of perverted grandparents like that, but, without a doubt, there could be something that you saw while you were little that left a searing brand smoking on your psyche.
I sure did and it stayed with me for years! It helped develop my obscene taste for horror-gore and death metal music too. And though there is a macho Manic pride growling inside me to not reveal any hint of fear over anything I cannot deny the one thing that did really, really mess with my head at an early age.
I stumbled upon it while glancing through the magazine rack at a checkout line way back when. Being an avid horror/monster fan from the time I was in diapers I was eagerly skimming through a Gorezone magazine, my own little happy space when I turned the page to see a girl being hoisted up by a maniac to be hung on a rusty meat hook.
I cannot tell you why but fuck-a-monk that got into my head! Like could it be possible for a movie – even a scary one – to go a little too far? I was only eight at the time so I hadn’t explored the gorier side of horror yet. This single image alone alerted me to a side of horror I was unaware of. Something that felt genuinely dangerous.
I was a stupid kid so cut me a little slack.
I didn’t know a thing about cannibalism at that age so I was unaware she was going to be that evening’s main course. I just knew what followed was going to be terrible for her. I later learned about people eating people being an actual thing and – again – that fucked with my head a little more. I didn’t know people did that. In fact, I wasn’t aware that was even possible!
But one thing that did cross my mind while staring wide-eyed at that macabre image was how very taboo this was. Like I was going to get into trouble just for looking at it. That girl, someone young, pretty, and very helpless, about to hang in agony on that hook. They can’t put that kind of stuff in movies, could they? I closed the magazine and with some newfound trauma stood silently waiting for my aunt to finish up so we could leave.
What kept repeating around in my head was, That must be the scariest movie ever.
Long story short my parents decided to become missionaries when I was in 4th grade so I ended up spending the next 15 years in St. Petersburg, Russia. I loved it if we’re being honest. The horror and metal scene are both strong in the city, at least when I lived there. Once a year we would travel over to Helsinki, Finland where I would go to comic shops and books stores and load up on comics, figures, magazines, and books.
While skimming the magazines I got hold of a horror mag and, well wouldn’t you know, there was a huge piece on the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Bear in mind I was about seventeen at this time and was still trepid over the fucking movie without ever even seeing it.
Out of obsidian curiosity, I poured over the lengthy article, soaking in each and every grizzly detail, and learned about the puking hot despicable conditions the actors put themselves through.
How Gunner Hanson stank to high heaven and made people sick due to the odor when he was around. Because no one would wash the costumes! And filming under the glaring heat of a Texan sun inside a humid shack lacking any AC was entirely unbearable.
Sally’s finger really did get cut open to feed Grandpa because actor Gunner Hanson just had enough. And, shit, I can’t blame him. Conditions were disgusting, hot, uncomfortable, and it played through on film fantastically.
Considering how I hadn’t seen the movie yet I was bewitched by all the details. And then I read it was based on a true story – and not knowing much about Ed Gein at the time – I closed the magazine and let that bit of obscene info sink in. My teenage brain really thought this shit happened! Whatever dread I may have already established in my mind over this little film increased tenfold!
Oh but that’s not all. For whatever reason when I was seventeen it was totally all about TCM! Day after reading that magazine article I was out and about looking around the Helsinki flea market where I saw a clamshell copy of – yeah you already know – TCM. I was also too chicken shit to buy it. You may all laugh at me. I was seventeen and stupid. Something I rapidly got over while pouring through all the Video Nasties I could later find.
However, I did return back to Russia entirely pissed with myself for not buying the fucking movie. And for some reason it was not at all easy to find a copy of some movies – Last House On The Left, I Spit On Your Grave, and Texas Chainsaw Massacre were almost all impossible to find. And there were no streaming services like Shudder or eBay to order hard-to-find movies. And that’s what made me kick myself over not getting the film.
A whole year passed before I found myself in Helsinki again and back at the flea market. It was there, the clamshell video of TCM. I swear it was waiting on me like some malevolently patient stalker. My celluloid devil at the crossroads. I had to buy it this time and took the movie back home and watched it that very night. Lights were off and I was in bed watching truly the scariest movie I had ever seen up till that point.
I don’t need to tell you how great the movie is or the merits of its scares. It works. Still to this day it works. It plays out like a demented dream and allows ghastly visuals to tell a simple story.
One thing the remakes and succeeding movies never quite manage to capture is the hellish simplicity of just letting scary images progress a story. It’s so simple but chillingly effective. The movie starts off with a corpse and it concludes with the ravings of a blood-drenched lunatic.
Added to the macabre images is a soundtrack of grating metal objects, static akin to a geiger counter, and shrill moans. It’s not at all traditional and fits perfectly into the strange and demented story of Leatherface and his family. It’s been said before but it really does feel like you’re watching a grotesque documentary.
Even though I had this film hyped up in my head I was not at all disappointed when I finally watched it. It did give me chills, like what the fuck is with the chicken in the parakeet cage? Weird shit like that just weirded me out and made me love the movie more and more.
Joe Bob Briggs calls it the best movie ever made and he might be right. It’s certainly one that scared me years before I ever even watched it. It’s a dirty little product of its time and was influential in establishing the slasher genre.
Future Past of Chainsaw
Gun Media, the guys behind that little Jason game I’m always yammering on about (check here), have gone and done it again by bringing fans TCM to play. The game is one of the most highly anticipated games among horror fans today as we wait for the chance to traverse the dangerous backwoods of Texas and, oh please let it be, become Leatherface and chase down stupid little fucks with a roaring chainsaw.
So the legacy of Leatherface isn’t slowing down. And sure the franchise as a whole isn’t all that amazing but the first film alone is more than enough to keep fans screaming and scared. If you’ve never seen that original film it’s high time we fixed that. Grab a beer and turn the lights off as you cozy in for some Texas Chainsaw Massacre. And if you scream a little well that’s ok.