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HISTORIC TEXT 5 “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (197 Directed by Tobe Hooper
What led to the creation of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”?
• Tobe Hooper was just out of film
school. His only previous experience behind the camera was an acclaimed short film entitled “Eggshells”. Along with Kim Henkel, Hooper wanted to make a realistic piece which they could use to get more film work. Due to budgetary constraints, the two decided to make a horror movie. When shopping in a hardware store, Hooper was pushed up against a rack of chainsaws. It was that moment which gave him the basic plot. Hooper and Henkel used the true story of serial killer Ed Gein to flesh out their plot into a full script.
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Who was Ed Gein? How has he influenced the horror genre?
Ed Gein was the first American serial killer, and the earliest example of
true human horror Gein was a loner who lived with his Mother on a farm in Wisconsin until her death in 1945. Refusing to accept she was dead, he dug up her corpse and brought it back to their house. Gein proceeded to dig up other bodies and take parts from them. He made a female bodysuit from human skin in order to “find out what it was like to be a woman”. He also decorated his home with human remains. In 1957, Bernice Worden went missing from her shop. A till receipt for Gein was found at the scene. When the police visited his farm they found Worden’s gutted body on a meat hook in the outhouse. During his trial, Gein claimed that his Mother had been giving him orders to dig up corpses and to murder women with “inappropriate morals”. Gein’s story has inspired a variety of films such as “Psycho” (1960), “Deranged” (1974), “Silence of the Lambs” (1990), “Ed Gein” (2000), and of course “Texas Chainsaw”.
Intertextuality: was “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” a new departure for the horror genre?
“Chainsaw” follows on from
“Night of the Living Dead” (1968), as it does not offer to explain why the protagonists behave the way they do. Like “The Exorcist” (1973) and “The Wicker Man” (1974), human beings are the creators of the horror, not legends or beasts like in “Dracula” (1931). It is similar to movies like “Straw Dogs” (1971) and “Deliverance” (1972), which deal with normal people reacting to threats from the wilderness of America. “Chainsaw” does differ from all previous genre entries in the way it uses its low budget to create a unique documentary style as a way of making the piece seem more realistic.
Iconography: the image and portrayal of the villain “Leatherface”
Leatherface is portrayed as a simple and mentally
unstable villain. His family bully him relentlessly, and he clearly follows their orders. The skin mask worn by the character implies a hatred of himself, to the point where he even wears makeup during the dinner sequence. The terror created by Leatherface comes from his physical appearance and strength; he NEVER speaks a line of dialogue. He is the antithesis to a character like Hannibal Lecter in “Silence of the Lambs” (1990). His appearance and costume is truly unique. He is a classic example of filmic iconography.
Representation: The role of women in “Texas Chainsaw”
Women in “Chainsaw” seem to be more in
control and equal to the men. The character of Sally shows a very strong woman who deals incredibly well with the psychological terror she endures. In a predominantly male film, the fact that the survivor is a woman suggests that gender roles within the horror genre have changed dramatically. During the dinner sequence, Sally spends a large amount of the time in hysterics before managing to escape. The character of Pam is merely window dressing, and rather one-dimensional.
Analysing the syntax: key scenes from “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” Four influential sequences exist in the 1974 text “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”.
1. 2. 3. 4.
The opening segment with the Hitchhiker. The murders of Kirk And Pam. Leatherface attacking Franklin and chasing Sally. The dinner scene and Sally’s escape.
Watch these scenes again and deconstruct them, considering the following:
Mise-en-scène, Cinematography, Representation, Audience, Narrative, Editing, Sound,
What is the story behind the distribution of “Texas Chainsaw”?
After completion, the film was bought by a new company
called Bryanston Pictures. It was a massive success, making roughly $100 million. Most of the cast had worked under a contract which promised them a percentage of the takings. They expected a reasonable reward due to the popularity of “Chainsaw”. Bryanston was owned by the Mafia. As a result, they kept most of the money for themselves. The cast ended up receiving little more than $50 each.
Strengths & weaknesses of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”
1. “Texas Chainsaw” has a dark and disturbing atmosphere.
2. The violence on-screen is kept to a minimum; the film relies on 2. The attempts by Hooper to psychological horror. lighten the darkness with humour do not tend to work. 3. Sally Hardesty is one of the first strong female characters 3. The ending of “Chainsaw” is a in the genre. particularly gruelling experience, with the threat of violence 4. “Chainsaw” has a realistic incredibly unpleasant. documentary style. 4. The movie is an aural and visual 5. The film started the “slasher” assault which can still offend trend within the genre. and disturb many people.
1. “Texas Chainsaw” is an easy film to admire but a very difficult film to like or enjoy.
Practical Exercise: what is the story of “Texas Chainsaw”?
In order to enhance your understanding of this text, you are going to watch the documentary on the making of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”. Entitled “The Shocking Truth”, it contains key details about the making of the film and its impact.
Working individually, you are going to watch the 60 minute programme and complete the worksheet that you will be given. The worksheet has 8 boxes which contain a heading linked to a specific section within the documentary. Your task is to fill in the sheet by listening carefully, and then writing down as much as possible in the relevant box. The boxes are intended to be in the order that they are discussed in the programme. However, there may be exceptions to this rule at some points, so be prepared!