40 years on and Tobe Hooper’s lo-fi exploitation classic The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is as raw and as real as an open wound.
It’s still impossible to take this film as a whole. Instead it’s a rush of images that settle in the memory like trauma. That first kill is still shocking, even when you know it’s coming – the juddering clang of the steel door breaking the silence, the animalistic spasm of the dying Kirk (William Vail) felled by two savage blows from a hammer. It’s a call back to the discussion with the leery hitchhiker (Edwin Neal) in the van earlier.
“The old way,” he trills gleefully, “with a sledge! You see that way’s better. They die better that way.”
Everything is a callback and no moment is wasted, it’s what makes the movie so infinitely rewatchable. The barbecue, the slaughterhouse, the graverobbing, the drunk, the cars under the camouflage netting, the bone art and the wooden folk magic charms… HBO’s True Detective would have been a very different show were it not for Hooper’s gristly classic and its cannibalistic gumbo of Southern Gothic and grindhouse gristle.
Newly released on a two-disc Blu-ray with an all-new 4K 40th Anniversary restoration and bundled with a staggering volume of extras (so many in fact, that they’re bordering on redundant with various archive documentaries tripping over each other to offer tours of the original house and spoofs of the original opening crawl), the disquieting veracity of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre blooms under the scrutiny of its higher definition – more real and fascinating than ever before.
While many of its late exploitation/early slasher peers have grown either more cartoonish or more dowdy with age, Hooper’s grim conviction, use of authentic locations and unflinchingly visceral detail has armoured the movie against the passage of time.
There’s nothing stagey about this movie. Its film stock lending a documentary grain that has always set it apart from the rest of the genre and always made Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen) an ill-fitting horror icon, more closely kin to Ed Gein and Jeffrey Dahmer than Freddy Krueger and Jason Vorhees.
The eerie angles, often low, often tracing a path through the foreground, the buzzing percussion of the score and the flies, crafting a thick atmosphere of tension and unease that only lets up with that iconic final scene.
A strangely euphoric release for both predator and prey, lone survivor Sally (Marilyn Burns) cackling hysterically, drenched in blood in the clean morning light, and Leatherface twirling his chainsaw against the sunrise, beautiful and balletic.