Sunday, July 31, 2005

Texas Chainsaw Massacre

More of a surreal art film than straight horror, Tobe Hooper's Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a true work of genius.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one of the most brutal films, not because it's a slasher blood-fest (there's actually very little blood in any scene), but because it brilliantly manipulates a viewer through a distant, almost documentary snuff film, point of view. With brilliant camerawork, editing and grainy film stock, you are made to feel the oppressive Texas heat and the claustrophobic confines of a van or a dining room cluttered with garbage. This is a miserable movie with a miserable outcome.

A lot of bad immitations and sequels have been made of this film, but none capture the subtle horror, humor and bizarre and genuine interaction of the characters. I have watched this movie over and over because of the little details- the way the hitchhiker flaps his arms as he watches a photograph burn, leatherface licking his lips, the dinner they set out for Sally, the Cook's disturbing face, the quaint yellowed wallpaper in the house.

But the soundtrack is what really pushes this film into another realm...

Foregoing a typical background orchestral score, TCM uses sound as a primary element in the storytelling. I have ripped the audio of various scenes from DVD. These pieces work on their own and effectively evoke mood and story. Sound as central character...

1. Intro (mp3) - some rustling, some grunting and a distinctive electronic pinging is underlined by a constant delayed drone of cymbals and gongs. Flash-bulb bursts of light illuminate a rotting corpse. Credits roll over high contrast footage of the sun. A radio report fades in and the cymbals hit their crecendo of noise.

2. Hitchhiker (mp3) - This is a remarkable scene. The hitchhiker is frighteningly spastic and his conversation hilariously odd. One of the best performances ever put to film. Listen for "Fool For A Blonde" by Roger Bartlett & Friends repeated over and over adding another layer of surreal dread. Ed Neal, the actor who plays the Hitchhiker, has also appeared in The Mighty Morphing Power Rangers and Sonic The Hedgehog: The Movie.

3. Kurt Gets Killed (mp3) - The first kill scene is devoid of any prolonged tension and is enacted in only one minute. "hello? Is anyone home?" is followed by a mysterious pig squeeling. Kurt then trips and Leatherface appears and smashes a sledge hammer into Kurt's head, and Kurt flaps all about in a seizure. Leatherface drags him into the room and slams the door, which is punctuated by a droning dissonant chord.

4. Jerry Hit With Hammer, Leatherface Panics, Licks Lips (mp3) - A thumping in a freezer, Jerry opens freezer and the flashbulb ping of the intro is reintroduced to emphasize Pam flopping out of the freezer with the strains of rigor mortis. Leatherface barrels into the room with frenzied howls and smashes Jerry in the head with a hammer. The deaths in TCM are so effective because they are so unceremonial. Poor Jerry is looking for his friends and meets an untimetimely death via hammer in the head, which is the last we ever see of Jerry. Seeing death portrayed in such a way is more disturbing than a prolonged melodramatic scene with sweeping string sections. It really underlines how anti-climatic death is and how pointless life ultimately is. Manic chicken clucking adds more tension and Leatherface panics with frantic yelps. He calms down and starts to lick his lips.

5. Dinner (mp3) - An excerpt from the long final act. Sally wakes up from passing out, everything is calm, perhaps it was a dream, a fly buzzes, crockery is takes a moment for her to realize where she is and she screams, only to be ridiculed by her captors. This scene is especially disturbing because the interaction between the family is actually funny- they hound and browbeat each other like a demented Honeymooners episode...all the while Sally is screaming for her life. Various sounds weave in and out of the dialogue, a barking pig hightens the chaos and the flash-bulb ping reappears as the family speaks of how to slaughter Sally.

"There's some things you just have to do": Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chain Saw Massacre - a great essay by Sean T. Collins

Another great essay: "If I Have Anymore Fun Today, I Don't Think I'll Be Able to Take It" - A Consideration of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre by Geof Smith


Blogger Scott Soriano said...

Meat is murder.

3:12 AM  
Blogger han said...

Great post. I am a big fan of this film, and you're so right about the 'sound as central character'. Most modern films are sorely lacking in atmosphere because of their ignorance of this concept.

6:29 AM  
Blogger Keith said...

I've been obsessed with this music forever! I ripped it, too, several years ago, first from a VHS tape to an audiotape, then a few years ago, from a DVD and burned to a CD. Works well on Halloween! :)

I had been planning for a while to post pretty much these same tracks on my blog, too, but I dragged my feet and ya beat me to it! Saves me the trouble, I guess. :) Anyway, fun read (and listen), this post. Thanks!!

PS: I wrote to Hooper many years ago asking about the original soundtrack recording tracks (do they still exist? if so, where are they? will they ever be released, etc?), but never got a response.

2:51 PM  
Blogger 1977 said...

cakeyvoice said...
Most modern films are sorely lacking in atmosphere because of their ignorance of this concept.
I totally agree. But it's not only that. Most horror films nowadays can't even create a good, sick and catching atmosphere through their images. The way they're filmed is so soul-less... Unlike Massacre, which achieves an amazingly sick and disturbing atmosphere through a smart and catchy use of image and sound.

7:01 PM  
Blogger countrygrrl said...

what a great idea for a post....thanx

12:47 PM  
Blogger Chardman said...

Once, back in the early 80's, this movie played un-announced on the late, great Carribean Superstation. I just happened to have an audiotape deck and digital delay hooked up to the satellite receiver for reasons I don't need to explain to fellow audio-weirdos. It sounded great with just a little tweaking and modulation.
It really enhanced its already considerable creepiness.
Unfortunatley, I mixed it so low that there was way too much tape hiss to allow sharing it or digitizing it.
Oh well. Perhaps I'll try to recreate it.

10:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was going back through older posts hunting MP3s so I've no idea if anyone'll see this now, but anyways, some of the music/sounds on the soundtrack were from an album by Texas freaks The Red Crayola called "Parable of Arable Land". The Familiar Ugly (basically their friends jamming with various noise-makers) would make noise between tracks & some of that appears right at the beginning of the film, if memory serves. Great blog BTW!

10:30 AM  
Anonymous pablo said...

WOW what find Thanks again this is a realy superb blog!! been after some of this OST for AGES!

8:32 AM  
Blogger pippiz said...

Hey I know that this post is really old...I tried to access the intro MP3 because I've been looking for the camera flash and recharge soundbite - however, I couldn't access it. Do you still have these sound files?

11:05 AM  
Blogger Raven said...

I cannot access these files, none will download...Are they still available?

9:58 AM  

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