Here’s a movie I felt a little apprehensive to review. It’s my favorite horror film of all time, it was up on the list, so I decided to write about it anyway, but really, what could I say that hasn’t been said already? There are books, internet sites, PhD studies, it’s been remade and had a prequel to a remake, it’s been banned and passed. It’s one of the most notorious, yet at the same time, one of the most respected and most beloved horror films of all time. All I can do is give it my own two cents.
I first saw it when I was a wee lad of 13, when I was first starting to get into horror that wasn’t in black and white and didn’t involve funny one-liners with knife-gloves. Along with the Evil Dead, this was one of the first ‘true’ horror films I ever saw, and it left it’s mark in all the right places. The story is minimal: Five friends go to visit their childhood home in the middle of bum-fuck-nowhere, Texas. On the way they meet a scary hitchhiker: a harbinger of what’s to come. Soon, one by one is slaughtered by the masked monster known as Leatherface, until only the attractive Sally (Marilyn Burns) is left standing. But the worst is yet to come.
As I said, this movie left a huge impression on me when I first saw it. Part of the impact came from the realism. To me it didn’t feel like your typical scary movies from when I was a teenager, which was stuff like the Scream franchise. Nope, there was nothing slick about this: it looked like a snuff film. Hell, it smelled like a snuff film, like these kids were meant to be put through murder and the guy was recording it all. The performances of the ‘crazy family’ sure added to that. While Leatherface is very frightening, and Ed Neal is very hilarious in a macabre way, it was always Jim Siedow, The Cook, who always got to me. His delivery goes from feeling pity for the young girl, to abusing Leatherface and the Hitchhiker, and laughing hilariously at the torture Sally is being put through. He still freaks me out!
Another contributing factor was it’s production design. The Family’s farmhouse, with it’s thrones of skeletons, animal skins as wallpapers, and just the rotting atmosphere in general was unsettling as hell. The music helped too, it didn’t sound like a traditional music score, it seemed more like people banging on some metal. It was very different and very disturbing. And for a movie of it’s reputation, this movie isn’t very bloody at all. Sure, you see the violence, but you don’t see the gore. But this is what adds to the realism of the film: if you had seen a hook go through a chest, you would stop believing it, you’d only see a special effect and start getting involved from a creative standpoint. Not that this is a bad thing in general, but it would have hurt this film in particular. This is a perfect movie, I’ve seen it twenty-three times and I’m still not sick of it. It’s my favorite horror movie.