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Texas Chainsaw Massacre Retrospective
Horror Enters a New Era
The horror genre has gone through many waves throughout the years. The 1970s ushered in one of the most notorious styles of horror film; the slasher film. Following Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho and George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead, horror had officially left the gothic cathedrals and entered the family home. No longer were we safe in bed, safe in our shower, safe where we felt familiar with.
Then in 1974, director Tobe Hooper set out with a minimal budget to create a film. The film he made would go on to give birth to a horror franchise and the new face of modern horror was born. It just so happened this face was removable and stitched together. This film would live in the annals of American cinema.
A New Icon is Born
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was released amidst every controversy. The film was ultra violent and was seen as incredibly uncomfortable to sit through. The movie was an easy target for groups to point at and say movies breed violence.
The film follows the story of young Sally Hardesty and her brother Franklin, along with a group of friends as they travel into Texas to check their grandfather's grave. Reports of grave-robbing cause them to visit and stop at the hold Hardesty home. While there, they pickup a Hitchhiker who sends the shiver down their spine. Very soon they are under attack from a group of locals after only hoping to get some gas. The locals are led by the Cook who unleashes Leatherface upon them. Leatherface was destined to become a legend from the moment he makes his screen debut.
Leatherface was a mountain of a man wearing the faces of his victims. Surprisingly, the film features very little on-screen bloodshed. The movie was initially looking to avoid the R rating, but the film was simply too terrifying to give anything less. Sally is the final girl brought to dinner with the Family. The Family would be a theme that would carry the franchise into the future. Sally is brutally beaten and tortured by Grandpa and the Hitchhiker until she sees her moment. Sally busts out of the house and the Hitchhiker is met with an incredibly unpleasant demise thanks to a big rig. Sally leaps into the bed of an oncoming truck and is thankfully led away, leaving Leatherface to perform the now famous Chainsaw Dance.
One of the most interesting things about the film is that only one character is actually killed with a chainsaw in the entire film. The movie drew its inspiration from Ed Gein and this is where the idea of skinning human and digging up graves comes from. Leatherface and his Family is extreme embodiment of what Ed Gein was in the populations mind.
When The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was all said and done we were left with a haunting reminder of just how real horror had become. There was no going back from this point. Leatherface tore through the world of cinema with his chainsaw opening up a spillway of freedom for filmmakers. However, it would be over 10 years before the Family would return.
The Buzz is Back
Leatherface and the Family had lied dormant for over a decade until Tobe Hooper decided it was time to revisit the farm. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 was highly anticipated by horror fans everywhere. The film we got was quite unexpected. It was different from the original. It wasn't the gritty and nasty tone we remembered. There was a strange dark humor to this film.
Leatherface is joined by Chop Top. Chop Top is the twin of the Hitchhiker and was off in Vietnam during the first film. He is fun and crazy addition to the family that changes the entire vibe we receive from this film. The movie follows two separate characters as they encounter the family. The first is a young DJ, "Stretch" who overhears Leatherface attack on the air. She is sucked in as she investigates the attack. The other is Lt. Lefty Enright, a former Texas Ranger and Sally's uncle. He has vowed to get revenge for what happened to his family at the hands of Leatherface. The movie culminates with the convergence of lot lines leaving many bodies in its wake. Much of the Family is presumed dead when a grenade goes off, again assuming to kill Lefty, Leatherface and Drayton (Cook). Stretch wields the chainsaw and strikes down Chop Top in the grand finale. She goes into her own form of the chainsaw dance in the final moments.
This film was such a departure from the first, many found it hard to accept is as a true sequel. It's a film that over time has developed a cult following that now rivals that of the original. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 was a launching point for Bill Moseley's career in horror. His portrayal of Chop Top is one that ranks high on many horror fans favorites lists. Dennis Hooper brought serious star power to the production as Lefty. With strong performances, Part 2 actually surpasses the original in quality.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 appeared to be the ending of the series. After all, everyone was dead except for Stretch. How could anyone make it out alive. But as horror fans know, no one is ever really dead. And that was true for Leatherface. While this exact story may have been followed, the Family would return to raise more havoc.
The Saw is Family
Just about four years following Part 2, the saw would return. Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III would mark the third outing for the Family. However, this film would make a departure from the Sawyer Family we had come to know, Leatherface would be the only recognizable face returning to the series.
The film would follow a young couple, Michelle and Ryan, on their way through Texas. After a strange stop at a gas station, The couple would meet Tex. Believing he was shot and killed by the owner, the couple ends up taking a short cut and wrecking their car. While on the run in the woods, they team up with Benny. He is a survivalist that wrecked into them. His smarts may be exactly what they need to survive this night of horrors. They comes across a house and it is revealed Tex is the leader of the Family now. Leatherface is presented with a new chainsaw, this is a beautiful weapon. It is a chrome chainsaw with the words "The Saw if Family" etched into the blade.
The film culminates with Benny lighting Tex on fire and helping Michelle escape from Leatherface. Benny and Michelle flee the Family believing they are all dead. The film ends with Leatherface revving his chainsaw. This would be a sign that Leatherface would return to haunt audiences once again.
The film was a strange one. The film features a young Viggo Mortensen as Tex is a delightfully creepy turn. His Tex is one of the few Family members in the series to actually be more frightening than Leatherface. Horror veteran Ken Foree played Benny and added some brute strength to the heroes side for a change.
Within the film we also saw Grandpa make a return. He is nearly a fully decomposed corpse at this point. The Family is feeding him bloody on a drip to keep his skin fresh. The film also adds a little girl to the Family. Quite a shocking turn of events as children are often not included amongst the evil and violent characters. The little girl would also show her bloodlines as she brutally kills Ryan. The movie also features tow different endings. Originally, Benny died in the film, but audiences enjoyed him enough to warrant reshooting some scenes to keep him alive.
This film proved that the Family will always endure and that was true when the Sawyer's returned again.
Leatherface is a What?
In 1997, Leatherface and the Family returned in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation. The film would focus on a group of kids getting lost on their way to prom. When their car breaks down, they are confronted by the Family. The main girl, Jenny, is kidnapped by the Family strung up in the house. Vilmer is now the new leader of the Family and he is obsessed with the idea that the Government is trying to control the world. He believes what he is doing it the right thing to rebel against society and keep a status quo.
Leatherface is most confusing this time around as he is depicted as a cross-dresser.There isn't much to say about Leatherface this time around as he isn't a major focal point. Vilmer is the Sawyer that steals the show. The film ends with Jenny escaping with Special Agent Rothman who arrive upset with the Sawyer family. He believes the Family is failing to do their jobs. Rothman takes Jenny away from the house telling her Vilmer lost all control. Vilmer has been killed by one of Rothman's men in an airplane and Leatherface is left to swing his chainsaw in the dust one final time.
There is a nice cameo moment in the final scene as Rothman leaves Jenny in a hospital where she sees Sally Hardesty being wheeled along on gurney.
This film features two future Hollywood superstars. Jenny is played by Renee Zellweger and Vilmer is played by Matthew McConaughey. Both deliver serviceable performances. McConaughey steals a scene or two with his insane portrayal of Vilmer.
The movie has a strange subtext to it that may be trying to deconstruct horror films. The Agent storyline is perhaps trying to say the Sawyer's are there to maintain a balance in good and evil and that sacrifices need to be made. It's almost like a poorly delivered version of what Cabin in the Woods tried to accomplish. A very different film and one that would bury the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise for years.
Family is Forever
The original franchise took a detour with both a remake and prequel to said remake by Platinum Dunes. Both films featured a new Family called the Hewitt's. These films attempted to relaunch the series for a new generation with the remake craze. Then, in 2013, the Sawyer's would return. Thus proving you can't keep the saw down forever.
Texas Chainsaw 3D would go back to the series roots. It would serve as a direct sequel to the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre. This film ignored the three sequels that would follow and pick up immediately following the ending of the first. The movie shows the murder of nearly the entire Sawyer Family. A small baby would be all that survived. When her grandmother dies, Heather embarks on a trip to Texas to discover who she really is.
As it turns out Heather isn't the last surviving Sawyer. Leatherface is still waiting to be unleashed. He is unaware who Heather is, but during the film's climax he unites with Heather to save her life. This is the first film in the series to truly humanize Leatherface. The film ends with Heather, all of her "friends" dead, taking care of Leatherface. He is sworn to protect the Family at all costs.
The movie marks one of the first franchises to return to its original storyline following a remake. The Sawyer Family has been a staple of modern horror and with this film released, the saw isn't likely to be kept quiet for long.
Heather is played by the beautiful Alexandra Daddario. She delivers a strong performance as the lead and mixing in some dark tones into her delivery. This always keeps you guessing if she is really a good girl after all. Texas Chainsaw veteran Bill Moseley returns to the series playing Drayton (Cook). He does the role justice as only he could. The opening of the film also has a cameo of Gunner Hansen, the man would originally played Leatherface.
What is your Favorite Texas Chainsaw Film?
The Saw Will Always Rev
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise has a passionate fan-base that will live long after the Family is officially buried. With the introduction of Heather and the Sawyer's ability to never stay dead, the saw may yet return to slice through cinema's.
When the great horror franchises are ranked throughout time, Texas Chainsaw will proudly hold one of the top spots. With a groundbreaking first film, a campy sequel, two wildly strange entries, and a unique rebranding; Texas Chainsaw simply will not stay down. The buzz of the saw is bound to play us to sleep for years and years of more nightmares.