Fortress of Horror 05 - The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

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Fortress of Horror 05 - The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
There Will Be Games

There's just some things you gotta do.  Don't mean you have to like it.

As much as I criticized A Nightmare on Elm Street for its subpar acting, there just might be such a thing as a movie being more well-crafted than it needs to be.  The Texas Chainsaw Massacre might be one such example.

The dialogue is largely the fairly normal, throwaway kind of things that people say.  By extension, the acting, while certainly not phenomenal, is entirely passable.  It's shot like a documentary, further adding to the natural feel to it.  The score, if you can call it that, is sparse and would more comfortably fall into the category of "ambient noise."  Finally, the effects, the sort of thing that you might see and for a split second on some level of your subconscious wonder how it was done, are next to non-existent.  What I'm getting at here is that once the terror ratchets up in this thing, there's nothing there to pull you out of it to remind you that it's only a movie.  The last 20 minutes is exhausting.  For starters, so much is left up for your imagination.  There is no gore.  The antagonists of the movie, Leatherface and his cannibal family, get no explanation, no motive, and aside from this brief glimpse inside their sick, sadistic lives, you're left knowing nothing about them other than that they exist.  The last scenes are dizzying.  The claustrophobia-inducing camera work, the metallic shrill of the soundtrack, the non-stop shrieks of the family's "dinner guest," and the set design that leaves your eye feeling like there is no safe place linger.  It is an all-out assault on the audience.

While I certainly do not enjoy this kind of cruel, malicious horror film, I cannot entirely dismiss it either.  While similar movies, even ones of the same era, rely on pushing the envelope and grabbing you by the hair, forcing you to see that they're pushing it in order to shock and disturb, TCM utilizes legitimately solid film making to achieve the same results.  I went back an read what reviews I could find from the time in which it came out.  All of them mentioned how gory and bloodsoaked it was, which is entirely not true.  The outrage that this movie caused while essentially showing nothing is, to me, the mark of true craft.  I don't necessarily have to like the movie to praise it.




There Will Be Games
Josh Look (He/Him)
Staff Podcaster

One night during the summer of 1997, Josh Look's cool uncle who owned a comic shop taught him how to play Magic the Gathering. The game set off his imagination in a way that he could not sleep that night, and he's been fascinated by games ever since. He spent many afternoons during his high school years skipping homework to play Dungeons & Dragons and paint Warhammer minatures, going on to discover hobby board games in his early 20s. He's been a writer for Fortress Ameritrash and is the creator and co-host of the geek culture podcast, The Wolfman's Lounge. He enjoys games that encourage a heavy amount of table talk and those that explore their themes beyond just their settings.

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Egg Shen's Avatar
Egg Shen replied the topic: #212579 16 Oct 2015 11:51
I really do love this movie. However, it's not something I find myself craving to watch. In all honestly it's not an enjoyable you said it's exhausting. You don't sit down with popcorn and expect to be entertained. Rather, you're just trying to survive the onslaught of demented sights and sounds coming into your living room. The dinner scene, the disconcerting "music", the bizarre set all comes together to create something truly horrific.

I've watched this with people younger than me and many aren't impacted AT ALL by the film. I think that has more to do with how tame the film is by today's standards. It's not overly gory, it's not sexy and it lacks silly jump scares most audiences crave. I also think the film's legacy sets it up to be this crazy bloodbath when it certainly isn't. People want torture porn with in your face scenes of grim violence and loud noises. I can't stand that shit.

TCM is a true horror film about horrific acts. It's not stylized or meant for mass appeal. I find it gets under my skin quite a bit...which is impressive because I know whats coming. It just goes to show that less can always be more.

What are your thoughts on the sequels, remake, prequels pre-sequels etc...
Michael Barnes's Avatar
Michael Barnes replied the topic: #212581 16 Oct 2015 12:12
My favorite memories about TCM actually have nothing to do with the movie or anything in it. When I was a kid, I'd always hear about it, see pictures from it in magazines or whatever and think "oh my god, I bet that movie is just non-stop gore and blood everywhere". I was actually kind of afraid to watch had this brutal, bad-ass title and this seedy, "you shouldn't watch this" reputation. I seriously thought it was going to be like two hours of someone getting cut up with a chainsaw and blood splattering everywhere.

Of course, it isn't. It's a small "hillbilly horror" picture that really isn't all that gory and it's actually almost old fashioned in how it builds tension. When something nasty DOES happen, it really fucking counts. Hooper didn't spoil the shock of that meathook with ten other equally violent scenes. This is something that Eli Roth and other torture porn peddlers don't get.

The scene that really gets me is the dinner...the part with grandpa, the girl, the hammer and the bucket. That is by far the most disturbing thing in the entire movie. She's screaming and whimpering the whole time. When he drops the hammer on her, it's so realistic and verite that it sells the entire scene. It's not the willful blow that makes me flinch, it's that he drops it on her.

And of course, the big metal door. Which is one of the scariest things ever in any horror movie ever made. The lunatic with a chainsaw isn't anything compared to it. That big metal door- and the _suggestion_ of what it hides- is scarier than Leatherface ever was.

I think this is a great horror film that blurs into terror film, but I do agree that it is exhausting in a way that few movies are. And it is cruel as well as grueling. But there's such an 1970s honesty about it, such a sense of it documenting the deranged that it emerges as a true classic of American horror cinema- and it's a perfect film for an America that at the time of its release was still in the final days of Vietnam.

All sequels, remakes, prequels, etc. should be avoided at all costs.
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #212582 16 Oct 2015 12:19
I need to see The Texas Chainsaw Massacre again. The first time was a drunken fiasco, a midnight screening at the campus student union while my friends and I were blitzed. The early scene with the razor blade freaked me out a bit, but the dinner scene seemed like just an extreme laugh riot at the time. Towards the end, I began to sober up enough to detect the craft of it. There was one searing moment near the end where nothing was directly shown, at least not in any sort of clear lighting, but it was relentlessly obvious what had just happened. That reminded me in a way of Hitchcock's brilliant shower scene in Psycho. You never see the blade and the girl in the same frame while she is being stabbed, but the abrupt jumping from one image to the other delivered an almost visceral sense of the stabbing.
John Myers's Avatar
John Myers replied the topic: #212598 16 Oct 2015 15:28
Even more than Psycho TCM reminds of The Birds. Its all those long static shots that give the audience so much time to contemplate what is happening. In both cases that camera work really creates a sense that the audience has stumbled onto some version of reality where everything is wrong and there's no way of getting back.
Josh Look's Avatar
Josh Look replied the topic: #212603 16 Oct 2015 16:33
Yeah, this movie...

Just to clarify, I definitely think this is a great horror film, as Michael said, it's a rare case in which terror transcends into horror. It's entirely due to what you don't see. When I watched it for this review, I rented it from Amazon. I don't own it, I won't own it, and that an exception amongst the other movies in this series. My wife had a friend over, I was watching it downstairs. I suddenly felt very aware of the awful sounds at the end of the movie, I ended up turning the volume way down. It is that scene with the hammer, it's tremendously powerful. I don't think a movie has ever filled me with such an urge to get out of that place, but the camera work won't let you. It fucking brilliant, but there's nothing enjoyable about it.

TCM is one the few movies I've watched that bothers me. The only other thing I can think of to have such an effect is Se7en. I know myself well enough to know that I don't need to watch stuff like Cannibal Holocaust to know I'd be bothered by it, that it can't be unseen, so I don't bother. TCM is my limit, and I've only watched it twice in 15 years.
Michael Barnes's Avatar
Michael Barnes replied the topic: #212605 16 Oct 2015 17:52
Hmmmmm...well here's an interesting topic. Horror transitioning into terror..."what if you were in this situation" turning into "what if you were hurt in this situation".

TCM does this really well in part because it captures a couple of pretty subtle qualities of potentially horrific scenarios that everyone experiences in their lives. What if you picked up that hitchhiker? Who lives in that run-down house off the rural highway and how do they live? What if you went in there, what would you find? What if a man with a chainsaw were chasing you? Those are horror elements, and they work at a very elemental, deep psychological level. But TCM transitions us to the terror- the meathook, the dinner, etc. and it brings those horrific elements to fullest fruition when they convert to terror- an awareness of the possibility of pain, suffering and violence being inflicted on you, the viewer. And because this film is so raw, so manages that transition really well.

Psycho was brought up, and that's another masterful transition- in fact, maybe THE masterful transition. You have another horror situation that everyone thinks about- a vulnerable moment when you're alone in the shower and someone is in the room. Then it shifts to terror- the knife, the scream, the blood swirling down the drain. No contact. The psychology there is so strong that it doesn't need KNB effects to shock.

Once again, I'm going to stump for Candyman to make a Fortress of Horror appearance because it does some of this same stuff...but it takes a pretty traditional gothic horror story- the ol' vengeful ghost one- and transplants it to an urban setting. It's not a crumbling Victorian mansion, it's a crumbling inner city tenement. But it gets at these really quite interesting things about racial fear- the nervousness of white people among impoverished black people. There's a scene in it where the lead character goes into this bathroom in the middle of's just this scene of ultimate urban blight. She clearly doesn't belong there and it's uniquely scary. But that horror causes us to reflect on social concerns, prejudice and the waste of the city. "What if you were in this situation".
Michael Barnes's Avatar
Michael Barnes replied the topic: #212606 16 Oct 2015 17:53
FTR, I actually think Last House on the Left is more vile and reprehensible than TCM.
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #212608 16 Oct 2015 18:00
I saw the original Last House on the Left, and I didn't find it scary or horrifying, just disgusting. It sickened and saddened me that the movie was made and there was even a small audience for it. Needless to say, I have no interest in the more modern torture porn movies either, like the Hostel series.
Josh Look's Avatar
Josh Look replied the topic: #212631 16 Oct 2015 22:43
Last House on the Left almost encapsulates everything I dislike about the genre. Almost.

Going back to Egg's question about the sequels/remakes....

The second one has some moments of unrecognized genius in it. I think trying to duplicate the first would have been foolish, so the humorous approach doesn't bother me. I think it's really not great, but I also don't think I can judge it fairly since it was so completely maligned by Cannon. Man, to think that Cannon was going to put out a Spider-Man movie with Tobe Hooper at the helm. Yeesh.

Never seen any of the others, don't care to.
Michael Barnes's Avatar
Michael Barnes replied the topic: #212634 16 Oct 2015 22:48
The second one actually is pretty funny...but it almost shouldn't have been associated with the original. It's SO different. Almost Halloween 3 different. It's totally played for laughs.
And...Dennis Hopper.

So...Poltergeist...Hooper or Spielberg?
Josh Look's Avatar
Josh Look replied the topic: #212638 16 Oct 2015 23:50
I'm in the Hooper camp on that one. It's a good flick and all, but it's not Speilberg good.

And that steak/bathroom scene...
stoic's Avatar
stoic replied the topic: #213042 21 Oct 2015 22:14
Regarding the comments about "The Last house on the Left," it is indeed a horror movie. It demonstrates that everyone in society, whatever your caste, possesses the inherent capacity to perform brutal, violent, and psychopathic acts. The two distinct sets of character groups in the movie offer us a cultural dichotomy. One group is uneducated, poor, brutish, depraved, and criminal--they seem to seek revenge upon society itself. The other group represents the upper echelon, the privileged, the educated, the wealthy, and the ordered/lawful aspects of society. Despite the differences, both groups are capable of performing grave acts of horror in the pursuit of revenge. It's also ironic that only the junkie displays any remorse for his acts during the film. One could say that retribution drives the parents, but, the brutal levels of their revenge and premeditation towards that end transform them into beasts. Finally, if I'm not mistaken, Wes Craven first introduced the chainsaw as a weapon of intense, captivating horror on film with his movie--it could be argued that it inspired its use in the "Texas Chainsaw Massacre." My two-cents....