Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Review: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

Synopsis: Five friends on a road trip in Texas are hunted down and terrorized by a chainsaw wielding killer and his family of grave-robbing cannibals.

Review: This film is often touted as one of the progenitors of the slasher sub-genre of horror films, as well as the magnum opus of writer/director Tobe Hooper. While I certainly can't dispute either of those things, those points also do not mean that this film is everything it is hyped up to be. Nor does it seem worthy of the many sequels that would follow in it's wake.

I found many spots in the film, especially within the first half, that simply drag on way too long. Scenes where nothing really happens. By the time we reach the first kill of the film, you are already about 40 minutes into the film (which has a total run time of about 90 minutes). This glacial pacing in the early part of the film, while perhaps trying to build a mood, simply inspired boredom for me.

Also, while this film is steeped in much controversy, including being banned in other countries for it's "graphic content," and being known as one of the earliest slasher films, it is extremely light on blood and gore. Many later films of this sub-genre would be much more noted for their bloodiness and "graphic content." What Hooper looks to strive for is creating horror through a macabre atmosphere, as the eerie score and odd camera angles and settings would seem to bear out. But these are only effective to a point and some of the strange camera shots quickly become repetitive and owe more to directorial excesses, than to any attempts at psychological horror.

Since none of the actors create any characters you really come to care about, nor does the script often give you any clarity on just what is happening and why, the film hampers itself in making you truly care about anything that happens to these people. And when you are trying to scare someone, if you don't make them feel for either the characters or the situation, that is extremely hard, if not impossible, to do. The only scene that was even remotely scary was the chase scene, at just over halfway through the film. The terror of that scene (which was quite long) is visceral, but it alone cannot make up for so much wasted time earlier in the film, nor for the over-use of specialized camera shots, which make the film seem to drag on way too often.

Is "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre" a macabre film? Yes. Is it a bizarre film? Certainly. Is it even a little bit creepy in some spots? Sure enough. But it is not one of the scariest films ever made, as it often gets billed as. It may be one of the original slashers of cinema history, but later films would do a much better job of defining that sub-genre, which this film may have helped to originate. If you are a fan of this franchise, or a die-hard slasher fanatic, then this is a film you probably should see, if only for the historical significance alone. Everyone else can give it a pass, as there are much better slasher films, which are truly much scarier than this one could ever hope to be. In short, "don't believe the hype!"

Rating: 2 Stars (out of 4)

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