Thursday, October 2, 2008

THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (Tobe Hooper, 1974, USA) Flash bulbs burst the dark curtain revealing sickening glimpses of death, the remains of unearthed corpses, twisted, rotting, putrid reminders of our own mortality. The foreground narration overlaps these quicksilver images with a matter-of-fact voice, a newsman repeating the top story about grave robbers…he may as well be talking about the weather. The film establishes this horrific dichotomy in the very first few minutes blurring the boundaries of what we accept as normal, the chainsaw’s edge that separates madness and the mundane. Cut to: five friends traveling to this cemetery to check on a relative’s remains, cramped together like cattle unknowingly on their way to the slaughter. Franklin is crippled, bound to a wheelchair and is a metaphor for the audience…bound to their seats and unable to escape. Tobe Hooper brings the camera in for close-ups, confining the characters to a coffin-like hermetic space inside the van. The tension quickly mounts when they pick up a hitchhiker who proves to be rather mentally unbalanced…to say the least. The girls are reading an astrology magazine while Franklin and the stranger discuss their work in a slaughterhouse, foreshadowing the fate of our five protagonists. Their future is already written in blood, digesting in the belly of the beast. Once they discard this human refuse and are low on gas, they eventually drive to a relative’s house, a decaying shell whose timbers are exposed like broken bones. Now Hooper opens up the frame and gives us some medium long shots to establish their isolation as the smothering darkness settles upon them. TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE is a film with little blood or gore but the masterful editing and, dare I say, quick cutting subliminally convinces us that we see more then is actually shown! One by one, they find their way to a charnel house and become victim to a psychopath in a leather (or human skin?) mask. They become dinner to a family of cannibals. Sally is the last survivor and is sadistically tortured; slashed and gouged while grandpa suckles her blood in an orgy of repressed sexuality. The gallows humor is quite “heavy-handed” as the old man tries to bash her head in but it brings an uneasy laugh…as does the family’s backwoods caricature. She escapes (I suppose her stars were aligned accordingly) and the final scene of her bloodied face and hysterical laugh is chilling. We cut to black with the killer’s gasoline powered danse macabre contrasted against the sunrise which is violently beautiful and disarming. The film’s minimal score adds an eerie sublime quality and the chainsaw’s deafening roar becomes our prime-evil epitaph. (A)

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