I can’t really remember when I made the decision to “become a horror guy.” I guess it might have been (subconsciously) around the same time that my mother confiscated my copy of The Shining, as mentioned in a previous post. I’m not really a “horror guy” by “horror guy standards,” but I think there are a lot of horror movies that stand on their own as legitimate classics, and not just within the genre.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is one of these, notable and demanding acknowledgment for the boundaries it crossed, the genre-defining parameters it set, and the just plain dull and mean worldview it projects. TCM is, unfortunately, among those horror movies that today’s poorly educated and even more poorly brought-up audiences would probably snicker at if they happened to wander into a screening, but if you can properly contextualize a film in a way that allows you see past its technical limitations, it’s clear that TCM is a straight-up nasty film, with a ferocious, nihilistic message that remains one of the more true and terrifying themes that continues to endure in modern horror: there is not necessarily any “why” when it comes to evil. Mainstream audiences are often disturbed by this notion, which is reflected in the newfound popularity in horror “origin stories” that suck all mystery out of films that rely on the unknown to create fear. The potency of TCM’s game-changing ethos is revealed in reading outraged critics of the era breathlessly describing images that do not actually exist within the film, so powerful was Tobe Hooper’s well-oiled machine of menace, so refined his coaxing manipulation of our senses. A similar phenomenon occurred years earlier with the media response to the granddaddy of all slashers, Psycho (critics were certain that Hitchcock showed us images of the knife penetrating Janet Leigh’s body).
The groundbreaking nature of TCM, the fact that it’s a well-regarded Texas film, and the knowledge that it was all put together with little else than some drive, a few twisted ideas, and a camera, makes this film one of my all-time favorites. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre puts forth the idea that the world is an unknowable and terrifying place, and it’s one that resonated with me into my own creative endeavors. Tobe Hooper’s masterpiece not only inspired one of my great cinematic obsessions, it made me think that I could create things that explored and played with this idea as well, which in my mind is one of the most noble things a piece of art can do.