My family’s always been in meat.
The original version of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one many movies I’ve been meaning to watch for a long time. I struck a bit of cinematic gold late one early October night by catching it on TV.
One day, five fictional young adults walked into the truly terrifying world of a rural Texas area which is inhabited by a family of twisted murderers who keep human remains to create furniture for their home and who find delight in killing people in gruesome ways.
The whole movie is extremely scary in that gritty ’70s horror film kind of way. It’s chilling.
And it begins with the opening title.
The narrator – a man with a deep, omniscient voice – explains the impending terror that awaits the movie’s five main characters – and the audience. The text accompanying the narration fades to black and the black screen fades into unsettling visuals and sound effects and the opening credits roll…
When the main characters – five young adults – are introduced, they are en route to the rural Texas cemetery where sister and brother Sally (Marilyn Burns) and Franklin’s (Paul A Partain) grandfather’s grave has reportedly been vandalized and possibly robbed. Their friends are Jerry (Allen Danzinger), Pam (Terri McMinn), and Kirk (William Vail).
When they arrive at the cemetery, they notice several bizarre people hanging out near it. (Would it be a proper horror film if there wasn’t strange activity near a cemetery?)
After their brief visit, the gang heads on to check out the old homestead of the Hardesty family, which of course, is also located in rural land.
Things start to get really strange when the kids reluctantly decide to pick up a strange-looking hitchhiker (Edwin Neal). He indeed is a bizarre fellow. He is unkempt, with long greasy hair and a large streak of blood on the right side of his face. His mannerisms are sketchy and it’s obvious from the get-go that something is “off” about him.
The hitchhiker tells the group about how some of his family members used to work at an old slaughterhouse down the road. He goes on to show them his Polaroid pictures of hacked up cows. And then he grabs the pocketknife in Franklin’s hand and proceeds to slash his own hand with it.
Then, the hitchhiker takes the Polaroid camera that’s hanging from his neck and takes a photo of everyone else in the van without any explanation. After they refuse his random demand that they pay for the photo, he burns it in front of them and slashes Franklin’s arm with the pocketknife. They finally kick the hitchhiker out of the van after that. But he gets the last word by smearing his blood into a mysterious symbol on the side of the van as they drive away.
Then, the gang stops at a gas station and are told by the owner that there is no gas there at the moment. The kids tell him where they are headed and he warns them not to go into the old abandoned house and instead, enjoy barbecue made at the station. They decide to go to the house anyway and to come back for gas later.
While Sally, Kirk, Pam, and Jerry seem obliviously unsuspecting, both Franklin and the viewer of the movie sees that their destination is – sooner or later – going to be scary as (fill in the blank with your choice four letter word). Franklin is the only one who freaks out when he sees what the hitchhiker smeared on the van; everyone else mocks him and tells him to lighten up.
All five of them step into the old Hardesty house with varying degrees of excitement. Franklin, who is in a wheelchair, is left by the other four as they run upstairs and run around, squealing and giggling. I honestly thought that the scary stuff was going to take place in that old house. Boy, was I wrong.
Once Franklin tells Sally and Kirk that there’s a swimming-hole on the property, they gleefully set out to find out. But when they get there, they find that it’s dried up. There’s also the sound of a generator nearby. They walk a little ways and find a house and Kirk decides to see if the people inside can spare any gas.
Well, it all goes south from there.
As I’m not one who enjoys spoiling film plots, I won’t wander any further. If you’re reading this, love horror films, and haven’t ever watched The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (the original one!), please do yourself a favor and watch it. It’s pretty crazy.
Looking deeper into the film’s history, it’s important to think about how audiences in the 1970s reacted to this movie. They weren’t completely used to seeing movies which were that scary. Horror films as we know them today were just starting to become popular.
To put things into perspective, the low-budget cult classic Night of the Living Dead was released in 1968 and The Exorcist was released just one year before The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was. Those were the days.