The Classics of Horror #9 – The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

When I sat through and played The Texas Chain Saw Massacre last night, my expectations were really high.

Not only is this film about Leatherface and his psycho-cannibal family an iconic horror movie, but I also remembered watching it a few years ago, and being struck by its powerful scenes.

Unfortunately, it didn’t have the same effect on me last time I watched it. Simply, it wasn’t as good as I remembered it to be – or as I wanted to remember it to be, if that makes sense.

You all know the plot of Tobe Hooper’s film, even if you didn’t watch it and that’s because the same plot has been re-enacted in so many flicks since The Texas Chain Saw Massacre came out, in 1974.

A group of five youngsters in a van are travelling to visit the grave of the Hardestys’ grandfather to investigate reports of vandalism and grave robbing. When they run out of petrol, decide to stop in an abandoned property which happens to be located near the house of Leatherface and its crazy family.

Texas Chain Saw Massacre - 2The villains are, by far, the best part of this movie. In particular, Leatherface figures as both an unbeatable monster and a traumatised big kid who is bullied and forced to be evil by his twisted family.

In between the clever madness of Norman Bates and the pure evil of Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees, Leatherface is a complex character which gives compelling results without the need for dialogue or exposition scenes.

Although quite overacted, the other family members – mostly Leatherface’s dad and brother – are effective since they are depicted in a gritty way.

Other than that, though, this horror classic is, in my opinion, a very frustrating film.

The Texas Chain Saw MassacreThe Texas Chain Saw Massacre lacks entirely of compelling ‘good’ characters. The main guys are not only quite disposable, but also extremely annoying, in particular the lead girl who survives at the end. Her dialogue in the last 30 minutes or so consists of constant screams and moans.

I get that Hooper wanted to convey realism through her performance, but her endless stream of yells got to my nerves quickly.

Also, the first 30 minutes are dull and boring, whereas the ending is just laughably bad.

What’s left between 30 minutes of boredom and 30 of frustration is merely 20 minutes of good cinema. In my humble opinion, not enough to list The Texas Chain Saw Massacre among the best horror movies of all time.

Nevertheless, this film fertilised the ground for a very successful sub-genre, whilst keeping room for improvement – eventually, we got The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (this time around with the right spelling) we deserved with the 2003 remake.

All in all, I suggest you to watch this film only if you want to know more about the origin of various horror sub-genres or are interested in checking out for yourself all the classic horror titles. Besides that, I wouldn’t recommend to watch The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

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The Classics of Horror #5 – Psycho (1960)

As I previously mentioned in my Rosemary’s Baby review, I have a ‘special’ chapter of The Classics of Horror dedicated to Psycho.

My girlfriend and I, in fact, went to watch the screening of Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece at Grosvenor Park – a quiet oasis in the middle of the chaotic Londoner nightlife on a summer Friday night.

The location itself – which my girlfriend will talk about shortly on her blog – was worth the price of the ticket (22£ each, including a glass of fine wine) and created a mystical atmosphere that added to the quality of the film.

If you’re interested in Nomad Cinema initiatives and want to catch a glimpse of our day at the outdoor screening, check their website and enjoy the photo gallery at the end of this post.

In regards to Psycho itself, I thought to write about what makes it so iconic and inspirational to these days, since its plot, cinematography and general features have been discussed quite a lot within the last… well, 57 years!

Considered as the first slasher flick ever – although the origins of this sub-genre may find their roots back in Maurice Tourneur’s The Lunatics (1912) and countless giallo novels in the late 1880s – Psycho is much more than that.

Its influence spread through various cinema genres, such as psychological thriller, mystery and, of course, horror. Putting aside various attempts on imitations of sorts and a shot-by-shot shameless – and soulless – remake (Psycho, 1998), Hitchcock’s movie has inspired, deliberately or unconsciously, an endless number of directors and filmmakers.

Needless to say, the iconic stabbing in the shower has had tons of reenactments in probably half of the modern horror movies. That specific sequence has been received as shocking and gut-wrenching for the 60s audience but, in all fairness, experiencing it before a big screen and surrounded by an excellent sound system… well, it’s striking enough even today.

Again, the sudden change of main character – typical Hitchcock’s signature – has pushed brilliant directors to try unconventional story-telling patterns.

As if atmosphere, cinematography and music (damn, that score!) weren’t enough, the abrupt switch from one protagonist to the other puts the viewer in an uneasy condition, where the audience feels abandoned within a film universe where there is no one left to rely on.

However, what keeps me – and, I guess, all the cinema lovers – going back to Psycho and re-watch it any time with the same attitude is the character of Norman Bates (masterfully portrayed by Anthony Perkins, in the role that made him immortal). First great horror villain, Bates’ personality and psychology are compelling and captivating to these days. His character, despite the psychiatrist’s exposition scene towards the end of the film, is still a mystery for viewers and critics.

Even though the direction of Psycho is nearly immaculate, in my opinion the success of the movie – as well as its effectiveness – massively rely on Norman’s bony shoulders. Bates is an unsolvable enigma, portrayed in a various range of emotions that make him more and more unpredictable as the movie progresses. He’s also such a quotable villain, whose statements will remain impressed in people’s memories, similarly to Darth Vader’s and Heath Ledger’s Joker’s.

No antagonist in slasher flicks history has ever reached such a complexed and all-rounded characterisation. The invincibility of Myers and Voorhees, the sarcasm of Krueger, the cruelty of Leatherface, the intelligence of Vernon, the pure evil of Pinehead can’t rival with the ‘regular madness’ of Norman Bates.

Hitchcock, similarly to a few directors in cinema history, had also a strong faith in audience’s intelligence and pleasure in challenging it. There aren’t many films, in cinema history, that feature nearly no exposition as Psycho did. Here, the story-telling develops through the characters’ actions and the actions, whereas the dialogues serve as creation of compelling protagonists.

Nonetheless, there is a huge exposition scene towards the end of Psycho, which makes it a bit less timeless than it could have been, although it doesn’t affect the perfection of the film itself.

Needless to say, I strongly recommend this film. If you can, try to find a cinema nearby where they show old classics, so that you can enjoy Psycho to its finest. Cheers!