#31DaysOfHorror: Oct 28th

Oct 28th: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre(1974) http://youtu.be/Vs3981DoINw

and

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2(1986) http://youtu.be/7dyZVSNwJV4

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Two of the most misunderstood films in Horror History! We all know that the tale of Leatherface, and the rest of the demented cannibalistic Sawyer clan are loosely based on the crimes of Ed Gein, so I’ll save the Gein analysis for a later article I plan on serial killers. Texas Chainsaw Massacre is NOT the best film made by Tobe Hooper…but it is certainly his most well known, having become his infamous calling-card. Hooper has described in several interviews how the seeds of this film were planted as he was shopping in a crowded hardware store. He was getting annoyed at the huge crowds of people, when he thought to himself “If i were to grab that chainsaw and fire the sucker up, I bet these jackasses would get out of my way”. Glad to know I’m not the only one who has had similar thoughts. Other influences included changes in the American cultural and political landscape. The opening line of “The film you are about to see is true” is intentionally misleading as a reaction to “being lied to by the government about things that were happening all over the world”. As cool and smart as that sounds, the original working title for the film was “Headcheese”, so let’s not get too excited.

Sally Hardesty and her Brother Franklin, along with three friends are on a road trip to visit the grave of their Grandfather, after hearing reports of vandalism and grave-robbing in the area. After finding his grave has not been disturbed, they decide to pay a visit to the old family home…and on the way, they pick up a hitch-hiker. This fidgety ball of crazy talks about his family, the slaughterhouse, lights pictures on fire, and cuts himself AND Franklin, before he is booted from the vehicle. Continuing on to a nearby gas station, the kids find that the station is out of gas until the fill-up trucks come by later that evening, so they buy some Barbecue from the owner, and make their way to the Hardesty property. While exploring the grounds, more and more of the group find their way to the neighboring Sawyer house, filled with furniture made from human bones, wherein they are dispatched by Leatherface, a large, mentally handicapped cannibal, who compulsively kills and butchers the trespassers. Normally in a film like this, we kind of feel sorry for the victims…but since these idiots are trespassing in someones house, I don’t feel the slightest bit bad that they are bashed in the heads with large fucking hammers, hung up on meat hooks, and carved up with chainsaws. And the screaming…oh good god the screaming! It’s both fantastically expressive and mindbogglingly annoying as well.

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When only Sally is left alive, that is where the film really picks up steam. After fleeing to the Gas station, Sally learns that the owner at the station, Drayton, who at first had seemed so nice, is serving slow-roasted human flesh to his patrons. He captures Sally and brings her back to the Sawyer home, on the way, we run back into the Hitchiker, revealed to be Nubbins Sawyer, and brother to Drayton and Leatherface(whom they call alternately Bubba and Junior).

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After arriving back at the Sawyer House of Horrors, Sally is lashed to a chair and taunted while the demented cannibals eat dinner. Eventually she manages to escape, but is pursued by Nubbins, who is run down by a truck once Sally reaches the road, and Leatherface, who does the famous chainsaw dance of frustration after Sally gets away.

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The film is a classic! Painting a grim picture of an Insane Family who kills simply because they like it, and saving their body parts to make their furniture…or in the case of Leatherface, to express himself. Gunnar Hansen(who portrays Leatherface) explains that Leatherface is essentially controlled by his family, he’s afraid of them, and kills to protect his family home, even showing fear when new people enter the house. He is like a big dumb animal. He’s never learned to speak properly either, instead communicating through squeals and grunts. When we first see him, he is wearing a mask made of human flesh, and a bloody apron, but later, when it is time to prepare dinner, he has shifted to a flowered apron and a mask made from an old woman, complete with grey hair pulled back in a bun and brandishing a wooden spoon. This is how he expresses wanting to be helpful around the house. For the family dinner, I guess he wanted to look nice, so he dons a suit and tie, and a mask made from a woman’s face, complete with curly hair and make-up. As demented a picture this all paints of Leatherface and the Sawyer clan as a whole, the film is relatively tame compared to the reputation it received. Hardly any blood or gore is actually shown on screen, rather most of the violence either happens off camera or is all in the implication. By showing us just enough of the insanity to allow us to fill in the rest, Tobe Hooper managed to craft one of the most iconic and influential horror films of all time.  A backwoods Masterpiece of Fear and Loathing. Years later, Hooper would return to the franchise with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, one of the most under-rated pieces of Demented cinema ever unleashed! A film positively packed to the gory gills with severed limbs, bisected skulls, flayed flesh and screaming freaks! Truly a cracked out masterpiece, that actually WAS everything it’s predecessor got a reputation for being.

Faced with the dilemma of re-producing the claustrophobic pseudo-documentary style of the untouchable original, Hooper and screenwriter Kit Carson, opted to build an entirely different beast. Instead of idiotic/screaming college kids, we get Dennis Hopper! He portrays an alcoholic, half-mad, stetson wearing Texas Ranger named Lefty Enright. Fuck Yeah! Lefty is the uncle of Sally and Franklin from the first film who has been chasing the Sawyer family for the last 13 years. We meet a Daisey-Duke wearing DJ named “Stretch”, who inadvertently captured the slaughter of two idiot high school seniors by the Sawyer clan, when the yahoos call in to Stretch’s radio show from their car phone. The scene looks insane and awesome thanks to the FX mastery of Tom Savini. Lefty convinces Stretch to play the tape on the air in an effort to flush out the Sawyers, which works like a charm. Stretch is cornered at the station by Chop Top, the twin Brother of Nubbins, who was on a tour of ‘Nam during the events of the first film.

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For a trashy film, the portrayals are incredible!  Hopper’s brilliant saw-for-a-saw turn as the vengence-crazed Ranger, to Bill Mosely’s career defining turn as the spastic, scab-swallowing, music obsessed hippie with a metal plate in his head, to Jim Siedows cantankerous rambling expansion of his Drayton Sawyer character, are all so pulpy and over the top, that they threaten to jump right off the screen. An odd twist is the dramatic change to the portrayal of Leatherface. This time he is portrayed as a sweet-natured, confused, sexually frustrated innocent…who just so happens to kill people with a chainsaw and eat their flesh. The “Fuck-Me-Gently-With-A-Chainsaw” encounter with Stretch is both tense, and hilarious! As you can probably tell, I like this film FAR better than i like the original. Hooper and Co. ramped up the black-comedy in this sequel to make up for those who missed it’s subtle flourishes in part 1. Rather than dwelling within a creepy old house, The Family goes balls out and makes their home in the tunnels beneath a deserted theme part, decorating the place in garish lighting, corpses and remnants of the carnival they have scavenged.

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While film-makers such as Rob Zombie have openly stated they have taken great influence from the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre while making films like House of 1000 Corpses, more credit belongs to TCM2. The campy, silly, wanton violence, the over the top eccentricity, and most of all, the joyful insanity is off the charts, making Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 the film that is perfect for those with cast-iron stomachs, and jet-black senses of humor.

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