I am not particularly qualified to make assertions about The Greatest Horror Movie Of All Time. I haven’t really seen enough of them, due to an aversion to them developed in my younger years, which wasn’t really about horror movies themselves but about the mouthbreathing dipshits who insisted to my face that Friday the 13th Part 4 was better than, say, The Untouchables. Younger me developed the impression that all horror movies were as stupid and pointless as the brain-dead franchise sequels all my junior high and high school classmates venerated. Fortunately time, (sort of) maturity, and a gradual exposure to actual good horror movies has made me realize that the horror genre is a fine one indeed.
But, still, I’m not qualified to proclaim any one horror picture the greatest. However, my friend James Comtois—who is—said to me earlier this evening, “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is the greatest horror movie of all time,” and threw the DVD on, because I’d never seen it before. Holy tapdancing Jesus that’s a good fuckin’ movie. It’s the reason I’m still awake at 3:30 in the morning and so jittery I’m blogging instead of (futilely) attempting to sleep. I don’t scare easy at the movies, and when I do it’s usually something that doesn’t earn me too many Tough Guy Demerits, like Alien, or While You Were Sleeping. Holy fuck, though, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is fucking scary. Here’s why (tread softly lest ye trip over a spoiler or forty):
1) It could, conceivably, happen.
It’s not like it’s just another Monday when a vanload of hippies and an annoying tard in a wheelchair randomly stumble upon a bunch of inbred psychos who turn cannibal after the local abattoir closes. But it’s a lot more likely than, say, getting eaten by zombies (who do not, despite the best attempts of mass media, really exist). And show me someone who doesn’t shit themselves when some giant masked motherfucker comes lumbering at you with a chainsaw, and I’ll show you the poor schmuck he just cut in half.
2) “Basically, fuck Texas.”
James said that, I didn’t. But by repeating it I am kind of endorsing it. I know some Texans, and I like them (some of my best friends, etc. etc.), but they did leave. Clearly, this documentary about the ways of rural Texas folk is the reason why. The treatment of hippies—quickly and efficiently, with chainsaws—is sensible, but director Tobe Hooper points out, with a couple well-composed low-angle shots, that some hippie chicks have nice asses and don’t wear bras, and should be thus accorded some more politeness. Despite this, the Texans hang them on hooks, feed their blood to wizened, deformed old relatives, and, unforgivably, threaten them with the discipline of the chainsaw. Tut, tut, Texas.
3) Being a really good movie helps.
Hooper keeps things moving, doesn’t lard down the story with any stupid bullshit about the killers’ motivation, realizes that having the above-mentioned giant masked motherfucker chasing people with a chainsaw is scary enough that he doesn’t need to waste precious screen time delving into the inner lives of the hippie protagonists, employs elegantly simple cinematic technique to tell his story (he only starts showing off toward the end, but even all those fucked-up close-ups of the Final Girl’s eyes serve to emphasize the horrors she’s seen and aren’t just empty flash), and subtly (all the more impressive in a horror movie, subtlety) foreshadows the ultimate resolution. And he manages to do all that without the cinematic equivalent of run-on sentences like that last doozy. Also, as efficiently shot and creepy as everything up to and including the point when the fuckface in the wheelchair gets chainsawed and his sister is the only one left alive, the last half-hour of her trying to avoid the same fate is fucking intense. Her face when she finally gets on the pickup truck at the end, covered in blood, her terrified scream melting into maniacal laughter, is exactly how the audience feels.
(4) As per the first point, not having any money was an asset.
Not having any money forces you to use what you have, rather than dreaming up something that sounded cool when you were high but then you realize, fuck, I just spent $300 million and ended up with a video game about anorexic Smurfs fighting Halliburton. (Too soon?) Hooper makes great use of his limited resources, telling a horror story about the evils human beings are capable of, no creatures, no supernatural bullshit, just straight up crazy people. The most expensive thing in the whole movie was probably the gas it took to keep the chainsaw on for that entire 15 minute chase through the woods.
So, maybe I don’t have the horror movie stripes to say one movie is the best one ever or anything. But if you say The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is the best, I’ll nod in agreement and tell you, “Yeah, that was a good fuckin’ movie.”