When it came out in 1974, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was one of the most violent movies ever made -- so violent it was actually banned in several countries -- but that's not what makes it so great. In fact, by today's CG-enhanced standards, it pretty tame. A long shot of a dude getting hit by a hammer? Psh. Please. Watching Texas today, the violence seems more like something you just have to suffer through as a consequence of the main attraction, the reason that, in spite of its dated camp, Texas is still a great flick after all these years: the atmosphere.
An atmosphere, it's pretty certain, that will be completely ruined by 3D.
The real beauty of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was its ability to capitalize on a fear that America had only recently realized it had a couple of years earlier with the release of Deliverance -- the fear of hillbillies, those weirdos cut off from society's normal conventions that prey on unsuspecting city folk who stumble into their domain and can't get out (Wes Craven would put his own spin on this distinctly '70s fear a few years later in The Hills Have Eyes, another flick about mutant hillbilly cannibals in a remote area). Basically, Texas just focused in on that menace and amplified it like it was frying an insect with a magnifying glass.
Shot on a shoestring budget by a brand-new director, Texas at least in part achieved its goal by way of its limitations -- namely, a really low budget. To save money on the rental equipment he was using, for example, director Tobe Hooper had his cast work 10- to 12-hour days seven days a week, and they wore their costumes over and over without washing them, because he couldn't afford to replace them if their color washed out -- actress Marilyn Burns said afterward that her costume was "virtually solid" with blood by the last day of filming. The location (in Texas) was hot. It was humid. The house it was filmed in had little ventilation, and it had decomposing animal carcasses as props.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Given that scenario, in at least some respects, the crew and cast of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre were not only making a movie, they were immersed in it. The result: A persistent atmosphere of exhaustion and tension -- the discomfort is palpable, rife with sweat, dirt and rot. More than anything else, Hooper understood that, while the violence was a necessary conclusion to the proceedings, it was not the most important part -- the important part was not the fear, the important part was the disgust. And in that way, the movie still manages to be, after almost forty years of technological advances in special effects, as visceral a spectacle as anything out there.
Hollywood has never understood that about horror movies -- that it's not about the violence, it's about what precedes it. And that is why there is nothing good that could possibly come from a 3D adaptation of the movie, which Lionsgate hired John Luessenhop to direct today. John Luessenhop, by the way, is the dude who directed Takers, the least entertaining black-ensemble action movie of, shit, we're going to say at least the last five years. But hey -- it'll be cool to see that chainsaw all coming right at you, right?
Yeah, in a stupid Magic Eye kind of way, sort of, but no matter when it comes, it'll feel like a dick pulled out too soon -- it's just totally going to ruin the mood.