The original classic from 1974 spawned bans, outrage, and fear across America. And while I love it and respect it for the classic it is, I’m not sure what caused such bans, outrage, and fear. Yeah, it’s twisted, a little weird, and oddly humorous in dark ways, but it sure is nothing that should have been banned, and for the life of me, I don’t get what makes it so controversial. Yeah, maybe for the time, I could see it a little bit, but you don’t actually see any gore in this movie. It’s all perception and implication. That said, the implications are pretty disturbing, and I guess all things considered, the material was pretty heady for its day.
We begin by listening to the narrator, John Larroquette, speaking about the tragedy that happened to five youths in Texas, “in particular, Sally Hardesty and her invalid brother, Franklin”. The group, including Sally and Franklin, also consists of Jerry, Kirk, and Pam. Kirk is more of the jock type, and is dating Pam, who is really into horoscopes and the like. Jerry appears to be a total hippie, though honestly, we really don’t see nor hear too much from him throughout the whole movie. Sally is feisty, blonde, and pretty, always watching out for her brother, Franklin, who is permanently confined to a wheelchair. She also gets frustrated with him fairly easily, which always kind of bothered me. Then again, Franklin was a bit of a Chatty Cathy. Anyway, they’re all headed to a local cemetery, where many graves have been found to be disturbed and robbed. Concerned for their family members, they check in to see that all is secure. It takes about two minutes to accomplish what they came there for, and the rest of the time is spent driving around, talking about slaughterhouses, picking up hitchhikers, reading horoscopes, and trying to find an old house the Hardesty family owns.
Franklin begins a long, disgusting diatribe about cattle slaughter and all the sick, sad details. Pam tells him to shut up, and that people shouldn’t treat animals that way (Go Pam!), and he nearly ends up making everyone sick. They pass by the slaughterhouse, reminding Franklin their grandfather used to work there, and that he had an old house nearby they should go check out. On the way, they pick up a strange hitchhiker (Edwin Neal) with a huge birthmark on his face, and a permanent ridiculous look about him. He’s completely fucked up, and gets Franklin started on the slaughterhouse talk again. Enough already, seriously. Anyway, he grabs the same knife that Franklin’s been fiddling with, and cuts himself deeply on his hand. He’s bleeding profusely, and seems to like it. No one can quite realize what’s going on. The hitchhiker takes Franklin’s picture, and proceeds to set it on fire in the van. The group pull over to get him the hell out of there, and on the way he cuts the fuck out of Franklin’s arm. This is just a really, really germy van. They finally kick him out, and Sally tends to Franklin’s wounds. Pam reads in her horoscope book that the day is not going to be good, considering Saturn is in retrograde. Sally’s in particular, states that at times, she will not be able to tell if what is happening is really true. “Pinch yourself, and you may find out that it is”. That’s the most accurate horoscope I’ve ever heard.
The group swings by a gas station run by an older man (Jim Siedow), who is just a wee bit off. There’s no gas, of course, but they buy some barbecue and leave. They end up going to the old abandoned house, and Franklin and his wheelchair are stranded downstairs as the group explores. Franklin may be annoying, but these guys are very inconsiderate. Then, Pam and Kirk decide they want to go swimming, and remember Franklin mentioning a watering hole nearby. They find it – and it’s completely dry. The couple hear a noise – a generator – coming from another nearby house, so they go investigate in search of gasoline. Kirk finds a random tooth lying around, and scares Pam with it. She gets pissed and goes to sit on the lawn swing. No one seems to be home, so Kirk just goes on in, I mean, don’t we all?! He notices a huge red wall covered in animal skulls, and just as he enters, he is confronted by Leatherface, and promptly bashed in the head with a sledgehammer.
Pam, outside and still pissed, calls for Kirk to hurry up, with no response. So, of course, she enters the house as well. She trips and falls into a room covered in animal and people parts – bones, fur, skulls, you name it. Even a chicken in a much-too-small bird house. She tries to run and is confronted by Leatherface, who grabs her as she just makes it out the door. I thought the shot of her flip-flop falling off was pretty neat. He carries her into the house, where she is impaled on a meat hook. Screaming, crying, and in shock, she sees Kirk’s dead body as Leatherface begins cutting into it with a chainsaw. You actually can’t see anything – once again, it’s all implied camera work. Back at the van, Sally, Franklin, and Jerry are ready to leave, but can’t find their friends. So Jerry takes off in search of them, and ends up being killed in the same house after finding a very cold but still alive Pam in a freezer. By now, it’s dark, and Sally and Franklin are quite concerned. They call Jerry’s name about 800 times, but to no avail. Sally wants to go look for him with the flashlight but Franklin insists on coming with, though his wheelchair doesn’t make anything easy. It’s pretty funny, and sort of annoying, that anytime Franklin calls his sister’s name, it comes out Sah-LLLEEEEEE!
As they make their way through the brush, Franklin hears a noise and they stop. Suddenly, Leatherface appears, and proceeds to kill Franklin with his chainsaw. Sally screams, panics, and takes off running. She winds up at the same old house, and makes her way upstairs, with Leatherface not too far behind. For a big dude, he can really book it. She comes across two seemingly dead, rotting, nasty looking individuals sitting in chairs in the attic. She screams again, runs downstairs, where, by now, Leatherface has cut the front door all to hell and chases her back up the stairs. She leaps out the window, falling hard to the ground below.
Sally runs screaming back to the gas station, where the old man pretends to comfort her. He makes light of her situation, and leaves momentarily. He comes back with a gunny sack and some rope, and begins to choke her and tie her up. She fights him the whole way, but he beats her unconscious with a broom. Okay, that part is just a bit too funny. The man drives back to the house, when he meets the hitchhiker on the road. The old man needs help carrying Sally inside, and is not amused when he finds what happened to the front door. The particularly hilarious one-liner that no one could ever forget to this day -“Look what your brother did to the door!!!!” That’s just too perfect. They get Sally inside, and tie her up to a chair.
In one of the more cringe-worthy scenes, the hitchhiker goes to get Grandpa from upstairs, the pale dead-looking guy from earlier. He proceeds to cut Sally’s finger, and let Grandpa suckle it, as he holds a knife to her throat. Her eyes tell the whole story, and she eventually passes out from terror and shock. She wakes up, still tied, except this time, they’re all eating dinner, Leatherface included. She begins screaming and crying hysterically, as they look at and mock her pain and suffering. This part is actually probably the worst part of the movie because it is so intense, and Sally has got the ultimate scream. I would’ve assumed she would have lost her voice by now. They get the brilliant idea to kill her, but decide to let Grandpa have the honor instead. They had him a mallet to hit her with, but he hasn’t the strength to do it, though he does get a shot or two in. In all the mayhem and arguing amongst the Family, Sally escapes, and breaks through the window. She runs out to the road, with the hitchhiker hot on her trail, cutting and slashing her as she runs. She’s now covered in blood, and flags down a trucker. He pulls over, but not before running over the hitchhiker’s nasty ass. Leatherface follows close behind, as the truck driver helps Sally up into the truck. Leatherface is coming, so they hop out the other side and run down the road.
The trucker tosses a wrench at Leatherface, hitting him in the head. This causes him to fall, and his own chainsaw cuts his thigh open. I guess the other trucker just takes off running down the road, because Sally flags down a guy in a pick-up, and climbs in the bed. Leatherface is still after her, swinging his chainsaw violently. As they get further down the road, Leatherface becomes furious, and begins to swing the chainsaw wildly, and Sally laughs hysterically. It seems to be some kind of shock release, as she is both laughing and crying, her eyes still wide with terror as the screen fades and the credits roll.
This is, of course, a classic film, not only in horror, but in general. I can see how it was very disturbing back in the day, but it’s really not that horrific. The idea of cannibals and strange people who wear the faces of other people is definitely creepy, but what is most terrifying is in our own mind, not actually shown on the screen. There are several amazing scenes, including the entire hitchhiker part, the odd music, Sally’s incessant screaming and descent into madness, including several amazing shots of her face and eyes up close. The acting is pretty good, considering the time period and the source material, and Gunnar Hansen’s Leatherface is definitely fantastic. I like that this one is more action than story, as the opposite is true of the remake. I do love them both, and feel they complement each other extremely well. I could always do without all the mention of the animal slaughter, but it really does add to the brutal atmosphere of the movie. We can even feel the sweltering summer heat. I enjoyed the dynamic of the ‘family’, particularly when the hitchhiker constantly refers to the old man as “just a cook”. I found it curious that despite having the word ‘chainsaw’ in the title, only one person is actually killed in that fashion. It also proves, much like Friday the 13th Part 2, that everyone, even handicapped individuals, are fair game for murder. People were beginning to take horror seriously in the 1970s, and certainly pulled no punches.