We lost Tobe Hooper this year. A legendary filmmaker who created among the most powerful and exuberant genre films the world has ever seen. How appropriate then that a 35 mm screening of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre would be projected at BeyondFest, a film festival showcasing film culture’s fun house genre appeal. Don Coscarelli, Mick Garris, Tom Holland and Adam Rifkin introduced the film with each one commemorating an experience with their comrade in genre. It became clear quickly that Tobe Hooper was being honored as a person first and foremost. By all accounts, he was a passionate artist, wanting to entertain and striving to create new methods of expression on film. To paraphrase Mick Garris, the best way to honor him is to watch one of his films. And so we did.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is hardly a movie by traditional standards. Influenced by what was happening in French New Wave and films dealing with unorthodox styles, Tobe Hooper brought to life something unprecedented in American horror. A complete and total wreckage of sanity.
From the opening shutter frames, we are assaulted with coarse film grain and screeching sound. It’s not the revving of a chainsaw (yet). It’s quick camera flashes, capturing the aftermath of a grizzly grave-digging and molestation of carcasses. There are no people in the frame of the film as of this point. It’s flashing light close-ups, a voice over and misconstrued limbs hung on display. Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a complete assault on the sense. An onslaught of madness and cruelty, splattering itself under the guise of grindhouse exploitation.
Shot on 16 mm film, this grizzly meat grinder looks less like an intentionally framed work of art and more like home video footage of Texas’ worst fictional nightmare. Make no mistake, this is a gorgeously shot film. A wonder of subtle framing techniques and aggressive punctuation with a camera not common even in horror today. It doesn’t come across as low budget. It comes across as authentic. And that makes it all the more horrifying.
As the five teens drop off one by one, each one dragged into a grizzlier death than their former, the scope of the film is narrowed. Thickets and branches wrap around the final victims. A steel door is slammed shut after a few bashes to the skull. Someone meets a terrible fate atop a meat hook. Another bash to the skull. A chainsaw makes quick work of a helpless victim. All until we are left with but one final girl: Sally. A scream queen if there ever was one. As she loses her mind, so do we. Noise. There’s nothing but clanging, the revving of power generators, constant prodding to the mind as we await the next shattering of glass or thud of another hammer.
Nary a splatter of blood on screen, what is shown is often caked makeup and smearing, it’s all in Tobe Hooper’s uncompromising vision of a relentless night of terror. Even as Sally rides safely off into sunrise from the back of a pickup truck (screaming, crying and possibly laughing into insanity), Leatherface continues swinging his weapon of choice. The buzzing of the chainsaw continues, drowning out Sally. It continues. It might never stop. Leatherface dances with his chainsaw against the rising sun…
Cut to black.
Thanks for the nightmares, Tobe Hooper.