We leave now the “spiritual horror” movies to focus on other gems of the 70s. This is my personal piece of the gem of the first half of the decade: “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” aka “TCM” also known in French as “Massacre a la Tronconneuse”.
This is the kind of movie I watched from afar, having this aura of having prohibited to be displayed in French theaters from its release date until 1981 (if French socialists did something damn good, it was to lift bans on movies, government oversight on audiovisual contents including TV and radio). The movie will never had a chance to come in theaters after his theatrical release but it had pulverized as a VHS tape, by a one of the most refined VHS collection, the “Rene Chateau Distribution”:
VHS tapes was what was DVDs in the 2000s, and what are currently Netflix and others: an immediate access to movies that you could not see in theaters. This is where I got introduced to horror movies. The VHS tape was readily available in retail stores but the cover was not very explicit, except with tag lines “Banned from theatrical release” and having this lore that the movie was super-violent and gore. What else a 8 year boy like me would not like to see that?
It took another 10 years before I can put my hand on a VHS tape, the same VHS tape than Rene Chateau Edition and finally watch it. My first vision of it was insane, troubling and a crush.
This is a movie that was sold as “based on a true story”, I would rather say a romanticized and inflated version of Ed Gein, a serial killer and body snatcher. The movie starts with someone digging in the night, with flashed snapshots of cadavers and a striking sound, these snapshots becoming more and more often until we see a cadaver impaled on a gravestone. It tells you the tone of the movie. It is gonna be infernal.
Here starts the movie, following a group of youngsters coming to Texas driving in the typical Volkswagen minivan to assess Sally and Franklin’s grandmother grave. As they drive, they take an hitchhiker that is indeed looking very suspicious and slowly raises some questions about its mental health. Especially when he takes a picture of the group, to only burn it and slash the hand of Franklin.
Running low on gas, the group decide to stop in a remote gas station to hear there is no more gas available and have to wait the day after for the refill. If you drive in Texas out of the interstate system, you know what it means, especially if you are in West Texas. When I drive down the US-TX287 from Amarillo to Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, I have a chance to fill gas at best every 50 miles. In between, empty lands. The group decide to head over the deceased grandmother homestead (they never explain how they had access to the house). Pam and Kirk, two friends from the group, decide to go swim into a nearby pond for a swim. Hearing the sound of an fuel electrical generator in far, they decide to go in the direction of the house. This is where things become scary as Kirk enter the house, looking for the house owners. Then suddenly come from a corridor a massive man wearing a dirty shirt-tie and an apron, with a gross mask and an hammer, stunning Kirk. This guy is Leatherface, the main character of the movie. Kirk lies unconscious and driven by convulsions, leatherface carry inside a room and close a metallic door with a huge “wham”. The done is set and everyone is set now for being on the kill list.
The movie has a lot of symbolisms inside. The whole generation of the psycho family (grandpa, pa and Leatherface) were all working at the slaughterhouse and lost their job due to modern techniques to slaughter cattle (the airgun). It is the symbolism of the transition of the US industry slowly outsourcing its jobs overseas (first it was made in Japan, then made in Taiwan, then made in China….), leading to employment loss of lots of jobs often being a family business. This is certainly one of this kind.
The second one is certainly linked to Vietnam, as the youngster appears as a veteran of the Vietnam war. The madness maybe representative of the PTSD that affect veterans. It also show the disintegration of the family. Furthermore, the creepiness of the house and the skin-face of Leatherface (and the grandpa) tells more about this folly haunting the family. It adds a certain level of disturbance to the movie that is also fascinating. We never know why they are fetish of bones and skin. We never know why the mummified their deceased family member. We never know why Leatherface once show signs of virility and once show sign of travesty (as he wears a wig and lipstick), if not some transgender issue.
If you never had a chance to see the movie, see it! As for the other iterations, just ignore anything after the original TCM. The other movies are just trying to surf on the original one with the insipid tasteless.