To live in Texas, or to die at the hands of a chainsaw-wielding maniac, which fate would be worse? Would both paired together be an end mired by embarrassment and gore? Tobe Hooper dare not compose a clear answer to this, but his work in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is good enough to support an unclear response to this rhetoric. Screeching far ahead of anything at the time, the iconography and hard work put into creating memorable titans and villains of the screen does not go unnoticed. Made on a compact budget for the time and producing such incredible, influential moments, it is hard to deny the effect The Texas Chain Saw Massacre has had not just on audiences, but on those that look to entertain these groups of numbed, fearful souls.
Hooper and his crew do a good job of instilling fear. Even the premise, a sister and her paraplegic brother checking on the grave of their grandfather, has ominous intent. This looming sense of dread is preserved rather well throughout, but some moments offer little in the way of quality. Aside from the essential but briefly featured Leatherface, there are no characters here that exude any sense of interest. That is, to an extent, the point, but at least one of these plucky young heroes needs to represent or recall some fathomable concept of genuine likeability. Sally (Marilyn Burns) is not remembered because she is a strong character, but because she features in arguably the most infamous scene of all. There isn’t much depth to her or anyone else, and I have come to terms with the premise that this is the point of the horror, and that the focus is on kills, rather than genial chemistry.
But surely, if you were to kill characters off in quick succession, a bit of backstory couldn’t hurt? All we’re given here is a group of nobodies, off to trot along the freeway until they arrive at some ghoulish, spooky destination. It is not the characters that are of interest, but the actions of those they encounter. What happens to them, rather than what they do. Saying that, though, the interactions and horrors Hooper throws at these characters define the first act with class and brilliance. A classic, and undeniably deserving of its status as such, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre offers the anxiety and agitation that so few films after have captured. Its first act is mesmerising, brilliance flows through these moments, but it falls apart rather quickly after that.
While it may have the “classic” tag branded and clamped to it forevermore, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is not a truly great movie. Classic and average can co-exist. Impossible it may be to deny the obvious influence it had on the genre; we can assess how positive an impact it had. Does that devalue the core of Hooper’s craft? Perhaps not, but those gory horrors and the sardonic smile stapled to the face of those caught in the act is as perverse as Hooper had hoped for. It will have its appeal, to those that wish to seek it out. For me, though, it does little more than offer up an enjoyable and weird experience. A tremendous ending, a good deal of filler before it, but not without its moments of engaging horror.