Tag Archives: a time before Halloween

The one where Hud doesn’t like the film everyone else does

the texas chain saw massacre 1974


2.5 Stars  1974/18/80m

“Who will survive and what will be left of them?”

Director/Writer: Tobe Hooper / Writer: Kim Henkel / Cast: Marilyn Burns, Allen Danziger, Paul A. Partain, Teri McMinn, William Vail, Gunnar Hansen, Him Siedow, Edwin Neil.

Body Count: 5

Laughter Lines: “My family’s always been in meat.”

I just don’t like it, okay?

The idea of what The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was permeated playground chatter and jokes about extreme violence for much of the 1980s, as it was pretty much a banned property, one that sounded like it would be the most grisly and gory thing ever to be known to man – and it’s all true!!! I remember a late-night film review show covering it shortly before it got its late-90s release, where they debated what, if any, contribution it made to film.

The local cinema in my college town screened it as a one off late some weeknight and pretty much all of the horror geeks from my film course turned up. Expecting little more than an early slasher film with tsunamis of gore, instead we got what my friend described to me as the credits rolled: “The most fucked up thing I’ve ever seen.”

texas chain saw massacre 1974

For all its ‘based on true events’ proclamation, no group of teens were systematically dispatched by a power-tool wielding killer. With little desire to experience the film for a third time, my memory of the precise ins-and-outs is unreliable, but a camper van full of young people picks up a deranged hitchhiker, who cuts wheelchair-bound Franklin’s arm with a razor, and is summarily kicked out.

The group reach their destination – Franklin and his sister Sally’s childhood home – and explore for a bit while they wait for the gas station to receive a delivery so they can fill up and go. One couple breaks off to go look for a swimming hole, end up at a house where they decide to enquire about gas, and get themselves bopped on the head with a sledgehammer and hung on a meathook respectively. While there’s nary an ounce of blood in this double murder scene, it’s fucking shocking. Forty-plus years of slasher movies have numbed us to such shocks, with musical cues or fragmented photography preparing us.

As became the usual sequence of events, the next guy goes to look for the missing ones and also ends up dead, leaving just Sally and Franklin. She ends up pushing his chair across unwelcoming terrain, that allows a fatal attack from our looney toon Leatherface, who uses his chainsaw to disembowel Franklin, then chase Sally for what seems like forever.

texas chain saw massacre 1974

She is eventually captured and held captive by the deranged family, in a house full of decaying bones, while the sons attempt to get their almost mummified grandfather to club her on the head so they can cannibalize her remains. She eventually frees herself and escapes, chased down by the overbearing rusty buzz of the chainsaw all the way.

This is horror incarnate: A brutal, unrelenting experience, an assault on almost all of the senses that, even at a scant 80 minutes, leaves you drained. But was this the intention? I can’t help but take the film as a bit of a fluke. Pieced together on a miniscule budget of $140k, it’s clunky and amateur looking, and if someone told you it was a snuff film, I don’t see why you wouldn’t believe them.

texas chain saw massacre 1974 sally

Why don’t I like it? The main attraction to slasher films for me has always been someone coded as ‘weak’ rising up against their aggressor. While Sally certainly goes through the grinder up until her escape, there’s not a whole lot of vengeance on her part – she survives by the skin of her teeth and there’s no real feeling of victory for her.

I also don’t like to feel depressed by horror, which is why I generally avoid zombie movies, so I have little motivation to see it again. If we were making a musical analogy, I’d say I like rock music but with a discernible melody, rather than just noise, which is how I view The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. I’ve honestly no real opinion on whether it’s the most important horror film in history, or an exploitative piece of crap that wouldn’t have a fraction of its notoriety if it the title didn’t contain the terms ‘chainsaw’ and ‘massacre’. I just don’t ever want to see it again.

texas chain saw massacre 1974 leatherface gunnar hansen

Blurbs-of-interest: Hooper later directed the first sequel, plus The Funhouse, and the remake of the Toolbox Murders; Marilyn Burns made a cameo appearance in Texas Chainsaw 3D; Gunnar Hansen was in Harpoon: The Reykjavik Whale Watching Massacre; Jim Seidow returned for the first sequel.

‘Based on True Events’ is, for Once …True!

the town that dreaded sundown 1976THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN

3 Stars  1976/18/87m

“In 1946 this man killed five people… Today he still lurks the streets of Texarkana, Arkansas.”

Director: Charles B. Pierce / Writer: Earl E. Smith / Cast: Ben Johnson, Andrew Prine, Robert Aquino, Dawn Wells, Jim Citty, Charles B. Pierce, Jimmy Clem, Cindy Butler, Steve Lyons, Christine Ellsworth, Mike Hackworth, Bud Davis.

Body Count: 5

Laughter Lines: “This man is definitely a sadist.”

There’s a fair whack of horror movies that claim they’re based on true events, whether that be Psycho and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre borrowing from the crimes of Ed Gein, Wolf Creek incorporating elements of a 90s serial killer case, or every other ghost story being a retelling of the story, few of us actually buy into these claims with much faith. Well, I hope we don’t anyway.

The Town That Dreaded Sundown serves as an anomaly to this rule, being presented as more of a drama-documentary telling the tale of the Texarkana Moonlight Murders, a season of attacks that plagued the town, notably built on both sides of the Texas/Arkansas state line, leading to much jurisdiction entanglement when the case was investigated in the mid-1940s. The tagline might be a stretch though, doubt the guy hung around and just LOL’d at the town for another thirty years.

Filmed before the likes of Friday the 13th and Halloween popularised the stalking of sexy teens looking for some space away from adult supervision to hook up, it’s a plausible theory that slasher films themselves owe something to these crimes, rather than the usual counter accusations: A sack-masked loon, not looking dissimilar to Jason’s first outing, preys chiefly on young folks parking.

town that dreaded sundown trombone 1976

Yeah, most of the victims are shot Zodiac-style, but there’s a truly unique scene in which a prom-goer is bound to a tree while the killer stabs them with a knife duct-taped to the end of a trombone, through which he practices his scales, knifing the poor girl as he goes.

Most of the film, however, revolves around the concerns of the police forces and their attempts to track the killer. Some obscure comedy inserts from an inept patrolman – played by director, Pierce – tank the tension, and the Robert Stack-style narration is weird in a post-millennial world, but this makes for an interesting sort-of-slasher movie, even if you just see it the once.

Check out its 2014 sequel-cum-homage for a revival of death-by-brass.

Blurb-of-interest: Ben Johnson was later in Terror Train.

Didn’t we have a lovely day the day we went to Snape Island?

tower of evil 1972 aka horror of snape island


2.5 Stars  1972/18/90m

“They came, they saw, they died!”

A.k.a. Horror on Snape IslandBeyond the Fog

Director: Jim O’Connolly / Writer: Heorge Baxt / Cast: Bryant Haliday, Jill Haworth, Mark Edwards, Jack Watson, Anna Palk, Derek Fowlds, Dennis Price, Anthony Valentine, Gary Hamilton, George Coulouris, Candace Glendenning.

Body Count: 9

This way ahead of its time British chiller bears more than just a passing similarity to the later and greater Hell Night.

When a hysterical naked young woman stabs a sailor dead on fog-surrounded Snape Island, she is brought back to the mainland with an old relic that is of interest to the academics, who stage a trip there to learn more, while the girl is quizzed about the gory murders of her three American friends. Seven folks take a short vacation there only to have it crashed by a shadowy killer who, it turns out, is the son of the stabbed sailor, driven crazy by the loss of his wife.

Very slow moving, which can test your patience, but things kick into gear in the second half and there’s even a formidable final girl sequence.

Blurb-of-interest: Jack Watson was in Pete Walker’s Schizo four years later.