The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

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Overall Rating 76%
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Ranked #1,055
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A group of five hippies on a road trip through the backwaters of 1970's rural Texas fall prey to a murderous cannibalistic family made up of a leather-masked chainsaw-wielding maniac, his knife-wielding grave robber brother, and their cannibal chief father and decaying grandfather. --IMDb
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Review by sidefriction
Added: May 8, 2004
In the distinct trilogy of films inspired by cannibalistic and all around creepy serial killer, Ed Gein, lives some of the most scariest, disturbing, or thrilling films of all time. Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (the first movie inspired by Ed Gein) was a prime example of how terrifying films could be. The next one in line could be hailed as possibly the most disturbing and vile movie ever made. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was a low budget film that documented the murders of five kids in Texas. This is where horror movies turned real. Before this film, the most horrific movie you could see was "Frankenstein" or "The Blob", which will always live on forever no doubt. But this is where grotesque horror started pretty much.

The movie starts out with a 15-20 minute real time conversation with the five kids, who are road tripping to a Lynard Skynard concert. They see a strange hitchhiker on the side of the road, and after almost hitting him, they decide to pick him up. Evidently he is a photographer whose family works at the "meat" factory. He takes a picture of one of the kids, and then says they owe him a certain amount of money or something (the dialogue there isn't very clear). They get pissed off and throw him out of the van. The hitchhiker just laughs and runs away. They continue onward, somehow get detoured to a strange part of Travis County, TX. They find a large, old, run down house and decide to go into it for shelter. They are in for a big surprise when the kids start disappearing because of a vile man running around wearing other people's skin on his face and a chainsaw in hand is killing them off. Eventually, one surviving girl is lead into the family of the chainsaw killer, Leatherface. The cannibalism is more distinct here than in the 2003 remake. The brutal ways film maker Tobe Hooper makes the murders seem so real is the recipe for the movie's cult success. Like one girl is put on a huge meat hook, and then pulled apart. The directing is really good here too, because it's jerky. There weren't any sophisticated cameras used here, just simple cameras showing the struggles between the kids and Leatherface in the most real way.

The title says it all, no more, no less. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a massacre, with a chainsaw used for killing people in Texas. This movie is a classic, no doubt. But there are many gripes I have with it. I know I know, it's a low budget movie...but these things didn't need to be as quirky as they were. The dialogue is long and drawn out, frankly it's boring. The family is not well done either; they could have made them seem a lot more...real...like in the remake. But this does have an instant place in American cult classics and is a horror pioneer forever. The movie, being 83 minutes long, seems to go on for an eternity, making it extremely boring at some instances. All for what? A kill that will last a few minutes? I'm real sketchy on grading this, because it is not a GREAT movie. It is simply an American Cult classic. 6 or 7/10
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Review by Chad
Added: May 27, 2005
I'm sure that any serious horror fan already knows the storyline behind The Texas Chainsaw Massacre by now, but for the kiddies in the crowd, here goes. In a movie loosely based on the real-life psycho Ed Gein, we find that there has been a series of grave-robberies and desecrations in a small Texas town. Sally Hardesty (Marilyn Burns), along with her wheelchair-bound brother Franklin (Paul A. Partain) and a few friends, makes the drive to Texas in order to check up on her grandfather's grave and to make sure that that wasn't one of the ones desecrated. It turns out that her grandfather's grave is indeed intact and all is well with the family burial plot, so the group makes their way home. On the way, Franklin suggests stopping at his grandfather's (now abandoned) house to have a look around. On the way there, they pick up a hitchhiker (Edwin Neal) who turns out to be quite the psycho, but this is only a taste of what's to come. They finally arrive at the house, where Jerry (Allen Danziger), Franklin and Sally hang around back at the van, while Kirk (William Vail) and Pam (Teri McMinn), the two lovebirds of the group, decide to go for a swim in the nearby lake. One thing leads to another, and the group encounters the chainsaw-wielding serial killer known as Leatherface (played by the incomparable Gunnar Hansen).

Before getting in to the actual review, I'd like to address a few comments made by sidefriction in the review below mine. I normally don't do this, but seeing how I disagree with nearly every part of his review, I'm certainly willing to make an exception here.

"Before this film, the most horrific movie you could see was "Frankenstein" or "The Blob", which will always live on forever no doubt. But this is where grotesque horror started pretty much."
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is grotesque horror, there's no doubt about that. Frankenstein and The Blob were also excellent movies, and certainly were horrific for their time. However, and I'm not taking anything away from Chainsaw Massacre by saying this, this was far from being the movie that started the "grotesque horror" movement. One only needs to look at 1963's Blood Feast (the movie which, to this very day, is labeled as the most gruesome movie ever made by many) for proof of that.

"the dialogue there isn't very clear"
This is nitpicking, but the dialog is nearly crystal-clear throughout the movie. There was only one scene (near the end of the movie) where I couldn't make out every word being spoken by the main characters.

"I know I know, it's a low budget movie"
Budget concerns have no merit whatsoever when viewing a film. Money can produce nice visuals, but (in my eyes, at least) those visuals do not make a memorable film. Excellent films have come from small budgets, while multi-million dollar budgets have produced steaming piles of crap many, many times over. This is one of those rare movies that may not have had very much cash behind it, but in spite of that, still comes across as being one of the most truly brutal and horrific films of our time. And for the record, this is indeed one of the most brutal films of our time - there's no comedy relief once things pick up, and there's no slowing down. Director Tobe Hooper puts the viewer through the same hell as the characters by showing every detail, every last action without pause or a chance to catch your breath.

"The dialogue is long and drawn out, frankly it's boring." - "The movie, being 83 minutes long, seems to go on for an eternity, making it extremely boring at some instances. All for what? A kill that will last a few minutes?"
Now, this is the sort of comment that bothers me. The movie aims to be realistic, and by adding some actual dialog and character development, we connect with the characters much better. This leads to the viewer caring for the characters, it leads to shock when one dies, and the movie is much more engaging to the viewer as a result. I'm not a fan of the "music-video" style of fast-paced, quick-edit horror that, sadly, seems to be the way to go these days. When the main characters of a movie actually have a bit of time to interact with one another (and it isn't boring in this film by a long shot) instead of showing up and introducing themselves to the camera before being slaughtered by the main villain, you connect with them and actually feel for them much more than if they were just "the black guy" or "the big-breasted woman" that you vaguely recall from a few scenes ago. The movie is not a formulaic slasher film in which we simply see murder after murder, leading up to a grand finale. Everything is slowly built up as the movie progresses; we connect with the characters, Leatherface shows up and brutally murders all but one member of the group, and finally, we experience the horror of the resulting situation along with the sole survivor. If this style of movie is boring, well, I must hate actual entertainment.

"The family is not well done either; they could have made them seem a lot more...real...like in the remake."
The last comment bothered me. This one, frankly, pisses me off. The remake was decent enough as a stand-alone film, but as a remake (or on its own, for that matter), it doesn't hold a candle to the original in any way. The family that is found here is much better than in the remake because they seem both psycho and realistic at the same time. You have the "mentally-challenged" Leatherface, played by a man who spent a good bit of time around actual handicapped people in order to better prepare that aspect of his character. When you mix that in with his deranged side, you have a character that is fully deserving of his horror idol status. Hitchhiker (I don't believe he had a name) comes across as a deranged, schizophrenic madman. If you compare his actions and mannerisms in this film to that of a number of famous serial killers, you will see that he definitely captures that aspect very realistically. Then, we have the unofficial leader of the group in store-owner Drayton Sawyer (Jim Siedow). He plays the split-personality psycho to perfection, and seems no less realistic than any of the notorious serial killers who "seemed like such a nice boy" to their neighbors. When you compare the characters in this movie to other movie villains, it's true that they will seem to be a bit lacking; however, when you compare them to real-life serial killers, they seem highly realistic. This is what makes the film so scary and so deserving of that "classic" status - the fact that it seems so real and could actually happen just slaughters any monster or demon in the scares department.

What's left to be said? We have a storyline that is very well done, serial killers who come across as highly realistic, and fully developed characters thrown into the mix. That combination alone is the basis for one of the better horror films of our times, but it's the execution of everything that knocks this ball out of the park. The biggest part of that execution is the way that the group of friends were handled. When we're given a group of characters in a horror film such as this, each one typically has to have some "trait" to them - the joker, the slut, the stoner, whatever the case may be. This typically leads us to know from the start who will live and who will die, with the result being a boring movie in that sense. You may get some nice death scenes thrown in and a few twists, but at the core, you know which character will defeat or escape the villain, so it becomes a waiting game until that scene arrives. Here, each character is fully developed, and (with the exception of wheelchair-bound Franklin) nobody has any special traits to them (again with the whole realism thing). This means that each of them has an equal chance at survival in the eyes of a first-time viewer, and the result is a movie that is much more suspenseful and shocking. Then, after all is said and done, we're left with (trying not to spoil things). The actor / actress playing this character (again, trying not to spoil things) plays the part to perfection - you can truly feel the gradual change from a normal person out on a road-trip to the nearly insane shell of a victim that s/he becomes by the time the end rolls around. The tag line of "Who will survive, and what will be left of them?" exemplifies this transition to the fullest.

This review has grown to be far too long as it is, and I've skipped over numerous things that I planned to cover - the special effects, the lighting (those flashlight scenes were superbly done), the underlying themes to the movie, and so many other things that made this film special. This may seem like a typical, boring slasher to the ignorant viewer who is used to the modern style of Hollywood horror that has basically pissed all over the genre, but for those fans who want a little substance with their horror films, there really isn't much out there that is better than this. I'd like to finish this review up as I did with the remake. If you enjoyed that remake more than the original, you should be shot. 10/10.
Clarence Bodicker #1: Clarence Bodicker - added July 30, 2004 at 2:08am
I can't help but get a little angered whenever I read this review. After all, it's my favorite movie of all time.
Chad #2: Chad - added July 30, 2004 at 2:18am
One of my favorites as well, and my review shall be up as soon as the DVD arrives from Netflix (queue #20-something as of now). Could watch this old battered up VHS copy I have, but eh.
311fanx16 #3: 311fanx16 - added July 30, 2004 at 10:23am
This a very good movie. and MMMDI you dont wanna watch an old battered up vhs heh.
Big D #4: Big D - added August 24, 2004 at 3:12pm
LOL...battered up VHS. Anyway, it's a great classic.
Crispy #5: Crispy - added November 13, 2004 at 10:50pm
hate to make waves, but yeah this movie struck me as extremely drawn out. It kinda bored me
BuryMeAlive #6: BuryMeAlive - added October 21, 2005 at 11:04pm
Best horror movie ever made.
Tristan #7: Tristan - added November 4, 2005 at 1:26am
This is the only movie that I can remember seeing that has actually scared me. Not a jump out of your seat scared, I mean a scared to walk around outside at night scared. Brilliant movie. It just gets everything right.
Tristan #8: Tristan - added November 4, 2005 at 1:34am
I just read Jeff's review, and he's missing SOOO many points. They weren't going to a Lynard Skynard concert, that was the remake. They didn't get lost and stumble across an old house, it was their father's old house. They didn't almost hit the hitchhiker, they came across him. It almost seems like you're not only confusing the remake with the original, but you're writing this review based on(what seems) to be a movie you haven't seen in years, and the parts you comment on are only what you can recollect.
Ginose #9: Ginose - added March 1, 2007 at 3:19pm
I love this movie. Living remarkably close to the house where this was filmed, I feel especially close to the movie. It's a great film all its own and certainly Tobe Hooper's best. It's not a fluke, it's not true, and it's not mindless gore. This was shot to be a PG movie and, if rated by today's standards, could get such a rating. "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" is slightly misleading as far as titles go. Sure it was a massacre... but only one death was caused by a chainsaw (but hey, at least it was the guy you're suposed to hate... and he was in a wheelchair! Classic!), and the gore is almost non-existant, it still disturbs you, soley for what you can't see. More than a cult-classic, one of the greates horror films of all time. 10/10
Dametria #10: Dametria - added April 24, 2007 at 11:34am
You just have to see it. Its like a rule or something
bluemeanie #11: bluemeanie - added April 24, 2007 at 11:49am
Figured it was my turn to chime in on "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre". First off, kudos to Chad for a nice dissection of the previous review for this film. I don't have a problem with people disliking films, as long as they have valid reasons for doing so. "It just didn't do it for me" is a valid reason. Picking apart the technical aspects of a film that helped shape the genre is not a valid reason. "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" was a milestone for the horror genre and it helped pave the way for other independent horror films like "Halloween" and "The Evil Dead". It was one of the first horror films to really add a realistic touch to the experience -- it wasn't like the over-the-top Herschell Gordon-Lewis films or like the grindhouse "Cannibal Holocaust" flicks -- it was far more realistic, and that had a lot to do with the dialogue and the pacing of the film. This was a film that went out of its way to shock the audience and to make the experience as uncomfortable as possible. For those reasons alone, this will always be considered a horror masterpiece. 10/10.
Shakes #12: Shakes - added July 8, 2008 at 5:37am
It's all been said and I agree. 10/10
George Snow #13: George Snow - added August 10, 2008 at 11:07pm
I love the horror genre, from Chaney's Phantom and Hunchback to the 30's classics and up.

TCM is the only movie I ever left the theatre and kept looking behind me. I was 15 and it scared the hell out of me. To me, it's still the sickest movie ever made.

LOVE LOVE LOVE this movie.
Hellknight03 #14: Hellknight03 - added July 2, 2009 at 8:23pm
Classic movie. The shot of leatherface in the sunset is a hauntingly beautiful moment.
Rest Easy Soul #15: Rest Easy Soul - added July 25, 2010 at 11:11am
This has become one of my favorite horror movies as I've matured. I understand and appreciate it more. The setting adds so much to it and the grainy feel is something to be admired.
Lucid Dreams #16: Lucid Dreams - added September 11, 2010 at 2:47pm
I never want to be in a wheelchair in a horror movie. 10/10
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