What to say on the Scooby–Doo-episode-gone-wrong that is The Texas Chain Saw Massacre? In review terms at least, everything that could be said about this landmark, pivotal, groundbreaking (no superlative is too great!) grimefest in less than a 1,000 words pretty much already has been.
And so as an attempt to discuss it here is undoubtedly superfluous, I feel the best way to cover one of the banner screenings of Mayhem’s tenth birthday is to look at the screening itself as an event.
For many people, this of course is the first time witnessing this raw picture on the big screen, and especially in such high quality. The 40th anniversary of TCM has meant a new restoration, but this has (to its merit) not removed grit, grain or grime, ensuring it remains a fearsome experience.
One of the crucial elements often relegated (but thankfully not forgotten) about in general discussion of Leatherface, or the atmosphere, or the film’s influence as a whole is the sound design and the score. As Rex Reed memorably described, Chain Saw “is positively ruthless in its attempt to drive you right out of your mind”, and every aspect of the film exists to serve this purpose from the very outset.
The iconic camera whines as we flash from darkness onto close ups of decaying corpses remains one of the most effective and indelible moments in all horror cinema (and a particular highlight in a film full of such moments), and through the cinema speaker system the scratching, blistering scrapes, clangs and tensile whines are emphatically uncomfortable listening, ensuring a lack of audience comfort even when on-screen events are not (yet) souring.
Despite the majority of the audience having seen TCM before – one could have made a drinking game around sightings of Leatherface t-shirts during the whole Mayhem festival – the viewing still contained an atmosphere of suspense, as, through the knowing what infamous moments were about to occur, viewers tensed in anticipation, heightening what is already an intense watch. Case point being the first reveal of Leatherface, wherein a shift could be felt in the audience a good couple of minutes before.
The only other thing to say really is an oft-expressed and very deserved commendation of Marilyn Burns’ unparalleled performance. In basest terms, no one else in genre cinema can express terror and scream for a solid twenty minutes of screen time and not only not wear thin on the viewer, but still have them caring for her fate.
Put simply, if you ever get the opportunity to witness the definitive horror film on the big screen, do it, and if you haven’t seen The Texas Chain Saw Massacre at all, sort it. Now.