One of the most revoltingly gory cheap horror films ever made, with graphic depictions of meat hook impaling, pickaxes in the head, and freshly dismembered corpses.
Loosely based on the ghoulish ‘career’ of Wisconsin farmer-turned-necrophiliac serial killer Ed Gein, this is also, undeniably one of the best horror films ever made, with young director Tobe Hooper taking exploitative violence into previously unexplored realms.
From the opening credits, the world you know is gone – and you’re in a town that nightmares can only begin to compete with. The stench you smell is real.
The movie starts with a group of friends – Sally Hardesty (Marilyn Burns), her disabled brother Franklin (Paul A Partain), Jerry (Allen Danziger), Kirk (William Vail) and Pam (Teri McMinn) – travelling through rural Texas en-route to a graveyard to see if the graves of Sally and Franklin’s grandparents were defiled in a rash of robberies.
They meet a weird hitchhiker (Ed Neal) who proceeds to freak out when Franklin ruminates on how they kill cows at slaughterhouses. The hiker is thrown out of the van. Eventually, the journey ends in an abandoned family home.
The characters wander off one-by-one (in accordance with horror film convention) and meet up with the infamous Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen) and his family – a motley crew of skin-wearing, hammer-dropping, knife-wielding hillbilly thrill-killers.
All the male visitors are wasted quickly while the women are tortured slowly and methodically. Our only remaining hope is that the last remaining girl survives – or dies quickly so that her misery is over.
If you find sitting through dinner with Leatherface and family uncomfortable, just imagine what it was like to shoot; 27 hours in 115 degree heat; Marilyn Burns (Sally) hit over the head with an unpadded crowbar and cut with an unshielded knife; 18-year-old John Dugan having to spend four hours in makeup to make him look 110; dead dogs injected with formaldehyde in the top bedroom.
As Burns summed up recently, “I was a vegetarian for many years after making that movie”.
The fact that barely a pint of blood is spilt onscreen is astonishing. There’s very little visible violence in this film, but the atmosphere of sheer dread and terror is simply overwhelming.
Made on a shoestring budget, and under much duress from all involved, Chainsaw Massacre is the most frightening film you’re ever likely to dismiss as crap without even viewing.
But it set a new standard for ‘splatter flicks’ and proved enduringly popular with college film clubs.
Paul A Partain
John Henry Faulk