Friday, September 4, 2009

A Frank Review of "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre" (1974)

The Short Version? Teens in bellbottoms killed and eaten.
What Is It? Slasher Horror
Who Is In It? Nobody famous.
Should I See It? Yes.

I was a scaredy-cat growing up, but I took my slow but steady 'tween initiation into horror movies seriously. Based on its reputation and grisly iconography, I knew The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was a must see, but played it safe by watching it edited for television on a Houston station. It was my first experience in recognizing that there was a huge difference between perception and reality. I then found the movie plodding and mostly bloodless. A sequence toward the end where an old man just this side of the grave impotently but persistently tries to bash a girl's brains in actually had me chuckling like a little deviant. I later discovered its sequel, and came to look upon the whole series as mere black comedy. As I eventually saw the third and fourth sequels, well after their release to video, I learned that the series was mostly just plain bad. The 2003 remake didn't help terribly much, but at least it was reasonably entertaining, not to mention competent and comprehensible.

To my shame, I was in fact at a Wall*Mart this weekend, and found Dark Sky Films' 2-Disc Ultimate Edition of 1974's The Texas Chain Saw Massacre on sale for just $5, yet still briefly deliberated. My initial interest was due to owning the much loved Part 2, but I long ago learned that kind of completist mentality comes to no good. Instead, I was sold on the aluminum casing, and the extra disc devoted to special features. For the record, the deleted scenes/outtakes are a complete waste of time, with the blooper reel not much better. Both commentary tracks were dull and repeated the same anecdotes as the included documentaries Texas Chain Saw Massacre: The Shocking Truth and Flesh Wounds: Seven Stories of the Saw. Then A Tour of the TCSM house with Gunnar Hansen commits the same sin, but at least extra footage from Shocking Truth yielded some gems.

Having matured, I can now appreciate the film's deliberate pacing, social context, and experimental influences. There is a surprising amount of tension sustained, considering there's only a handful of killings executed mostly within a ten minute span. The swift, brutal attacks lend unnerving legitimacy to the proceedings. It's only later, when one of cinema's first "final girls" is speed walking from imminent yet indefinitely postponed death that you feel the tropes traipsing. The acting is amateurish, but in that unpracticed sense that reinforces the docudrama feel of the "true" events. Post-pubescent, all the skintight clothing is certainly more appealing. The production design is strong where the script wavers, and the villains can certainly give you the creeps even after the credit crawl. For my part, the only lingering unease comes from a literal WiR.

All in all, I'm glad to own TCSM, if only because it reminded me my loaned copy of Part 2 was never returned, so I can now replace my bare bones edition for a double disc upgrade with a clear conscience in our recessed economy. I expect to revisit this first edition on occasional, and I certainly enjoy it more than some other overrated (Halloween) and dull (Friday the 13th) early entries in the genre. Besides, I'd like to work out how they managed stealth attacks with a chain saw. I have trouble starting a leafblower.

Special Features?

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