When Roger Ebert first saw The Texas Chain Saw Massacre 40 years ago, he said, “I can’t imagine why anyone would want to make a movie like this, and yet it’s well-made, well-acted, and all too effective.” Judging by their cheers and applause, the audience at The Royal’s 40th anniversary screening would agree.
It’s been over 10 years since I’ve seen the movie, and I wondered how my interpretation of it would change since my impression as a teenager. I remember being quite scared to see the original (my curiosity piqued after seeing the 2003 remake in all its post-7th Heaven Jessica Biel greatness).
It’s certainly more sexist than I remembered (oh how our horror movies love to torture women especially), but also much more well-shot and well-directed than I remembered. These details may have been more noticeable due to the fact that the film was recently restored, frame-by-16mm-frame and projected in 4K resolution. I didn’t know about the restoration until after the screening, but when watching the movie I did notice how vivid the colours were, and how clear much of the photography was. It definitely has some deeply jarring and amazing suspense-building editing. The gore? The truth is, the name of the movie suggests more gore than is actually in the film. It’s bloody and it’s intense, but the gore isn’t any worse than scenes on CSI or American Horror Story. Instead, it’s the tension and the psychological terror that makes the movie so effective.
It also gave me one of the most intense jumps I’ve ever had in a theatre, which left me laughing for about 2 minutes. In fact, I found myself laughing through a lot of the movie’s more disturbing and scary parts this time. Not because they were cheesy, but because I can appreciate supreme-level wackiness. The dinner scene is as disturbing and horrific as it is funny. The sheer absurdity of three generations of cannibals (one wearing someone else’s face) tormenting a captive under the guise of a family dinner is, in its own way, hilarious.
As you watch the proto-clichés unravel, it’s clear the film laid the blueprint for so many horror movies that followed, and yet, it’s still able to be watched as purely it’s own creation–an original. As I left the theater I overheard a couple arguing about the movie. “We don’t know why anything’s happening. There’s no backstory!” It’s true. There are no perspectives on the cruel family, no explanations for their murderous dysfunction that we’ve come to expect. It’s simply terror for terror’s sake, and that’s precisely why it’s such a fun movie to watch—even 40 years later.
Happy anniversary, Leatherface, you ol’ nightmare-maker you.