Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

Director: Tobe Hooper
Writer: Kim Henkel, Tobe Hooper
DP: Daniel Pearl
Editor: Larry Carroll, Sally Richardson
Score: Wayne Bell, Tobe Hooper
Producer: Tobe Hooper, Kim Henkel, Jim Parsley, Richard Saenz
Starring: Marilyn Burns, Gunnar Hansen, Edwin Neal, Paul Partain, Jim Siedow
Distribution: New Line Home Video
Length: 1 hr. 23. min.

Pictured in the above screenshot is a character who has been affected by the grisly events in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. The scene that shot comes from, and the look on the character's face, don't imply any coherent thought or definable emotion; it's nothing but some kind of primal intensity, a point of such high energy that rage, fear, sorrow, and happiness become indistinguishable from each other. In a way, this image answers one of the questions that comes to mind while watching the film: What could possibly happen to someone to make them like the villains of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre? When we see this character's face, we know.

This contagion of horrific cognitive states emerges goes well with the way the film peels away the surface of rural American spaces to reveal unspeakable evil and suffering. Horror can potentially be found anywhere; just listen to the radio at the beginning of the film. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was born from a violence-obsessed media, fed on lies that destroyed the trust between the American government and the populace, and came into its own as a sick corruption of American iconography and a portrait of brutal pain unmatched by almost any other film I've seen.

It takes place among sparse, run-down locales whose former prosperity is evident, but long gone. A family of murderers sits down to eat together with their patriarch at the head of the table, in a home full of ghastly artwork made from human flesh and bones. They discuss their family traditions in reverent tones as one of their victims shrieks in terror and agony. If America has a soul, this film's imagery does everything possible to pervert everything that represents that soul.

It's important to note that the film's treatment of the villains might be seen as expressing of contempt for rural America, or perpetuating stereotypes about the people who live there. However, the film's villains are still unmistakably human in their suffering; there's no other explanation for Leatherface's anguished cries, his brother's overt disdain for his family, or their father's gleeful encouragement of their grandfather. What we eventually realize, from the tone of their father's nostalgic pining for their family customs, is that their grisly traditions and artwork amount to an attempt to rise above their suffering. They're doing something fundamentally human, but it leads to them committing monstrous transgressions against innocent people.

This, combined with how attentive the film is to their milieu, suggests that their brutality and hate is (even if only indirectly) a reaction to global forces beyond their control, something in the cultural atmosphere that allowed this to happen. Why, after all, do such negative stereotypes even exist about a region referred to as America's heartland?

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre doesn't set out to answer that question. Instead, everything about it, right down to its lying about how true its story is, embodies hate. It's a hate that arises from abusive family members, from economic failure, from rank traditionalism, and from being unable to trust a stranger without being unceremoniously killed. It's a hate that comes from the world in which this film was made - an America tainted with divisiveness and distrust that continues, in some form, to this day.

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