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 clanked..it 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