I love The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. I first saw it as a teenager and was immediately blown away. It was so different than any other horror film I’d seen up until that point. I’d been raised on slick, accessible franchises like Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street, but The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was gritty, sweaty, caked in blood. It was unpredictable, unrefined, and dangerous. From that point on, it became my favorite horror film. It still is. Honestly? It will forever be.
I’d estimate I’ve seen the movie in the high double digits, if not at least 100 times. Yet despite my voluminous viewings, I still discover new things (which speaks of the brilliance of the movie). This past weekend, I caught a big screen showing of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre at a nearby revival theater. As I sat there marinating in the 5 beers I’d consumed an hour earlier (hey, I was running late and had to pound ’em—had to!), watching the film unfold in a way I’d never seen it before—on a 50-foot wide screen—things started occurring to me. I started making mental notes of things I’d never really drawn connections between in my many repeated earlier viewings. Some are blatant, others not as much so. For what it’s worth, these all just occurred to me for the first time ever about 24 hours ago and I haven’t had the time to fully explore their concepts. But let’s go through them, anyway.
This one is pretty speculative and abstract but still got me thinking. During their sweaty van ride to the old Hardesty farmhouse, Pam busts out her trusty copy of A to Z Horoscope Maker and Delineator. She begins reading:
…When malefic planets are in retrograde — and Saturn is malefic — their maleficies are increased.
After they’re attacked by the hitchhiker (more on that in a sec) she reads co-traveler Franklin his horoscope, which is equally ominous. At first viewing, this is the extent of any sort of reference to planets/horoscopes. Other than a device used for foreshadowing, it seems to serve no purpose. But then I started noticing repeated shots of the moon throughout the film. Sure, that’s an old horror standby, but it shows up 3 times in this movie. And then I remembered the opening credits:
The entire opening credits are set over what appears to be the sun, bubbling and bursting with solar flares. Red, volatile, surrounded by space. So here we have yet another reference to space and planets (I know the sun is a star, I’m not some saphead. Stay with me.)
After they kick the hitchhiker out of their van, he smears some sort of symbol on the door in his blood. For years this has bugged me; pointless imagery to invoke fear or secret insignia with deeper meaning? I Googled the symbol for Saturn (for the heck of it) and this is what I found. They don’t necessarily look similar to me, but I’ll let you be the judge:
Okay, that one may have been reaching but I’m pretty confident about this next one.
In a very memorable scene, the group of weary travelers decides to pick up a hitchhiker because they’re afraid he’ll “melt in the heat”. Wheelchair-bound Franklin is immediately suspicious (“He looks like Dracula!”) but the hitchhiker takes a shine to Franklin. He admires Franklin’s pocketknife and reveals he, too, carries a blade—a rusty straight razor. In a flurry, the hitcher slices open his own hand with Franklin’s pocketknife and gives it back to him; he takes Franklin’s picture and tries to sell it to him; finally, he takes his own straight razor, slices open Franklin’s arm, and then burns the photo before being kicked out of the van. Then he smears the symbol on the van while running alongside it, blowing raspberries into the air like some deflating balloon.
Soon the group stops at a gas station, but there’s no gas, so they mainly just freshen up and buy some eats. While left alone in the van, Kirk notices Franklin gouging holes in the van interior with his pocketknife. “Franklin, what are you doing, you maniac?”, asks Kirk. “Oh, I don’t know, I just started doing that…” replies the dazed Franklin. Before he puts his knife away, Franklin notices the hitchhiker’s dried blood on it.
The group finally reaches the old farmhouse, and everyone runs upstairs leaving Franklin in his wheelchair downstairs. And how does Franklin react to being left out of the group? He starts blowing raspberries into the air.
When the hitchhiker used Franklin’s blade to slice open his palm—and then sliced opened Franklin’s arm with his own straight razor—was there a “transference of energy”? Is this why Franklin started to display these strange behaviors?
I suppose this one is the most obvious, but I never really thought about it until now. When the group stops at the gas station, Jerry goes inside and comes out with a bag of BBQ. No one partakes except poor Franklin, who nurses a ‘sausage’ like he was chewing on a toothpick. When I saw this up on the big screen, it dawned on me: oh yeah, Franklin is eating human flesh. Later on in the film when Sally Hardesty is running from Leatherface, she finds solace in the gas station. While hiding, she eyes the meat spinning and marinating on the spits in the back of the store. There is a long drawn out take, focusing on the meat (which looks inconspicuous enough) and Sally’s reaction to it. There is a hint that something isn’t right. But before any big deal is made about it, Sally finds herself in harm’s way once again.
Lastly, throughout the finale of the extremely unsettling and intense first act, wherein the loony hitchhiker slashes and stabs in the cab of the van, one can’t help but notice an incredibly upbeat, toe-tapping old-timey acoustic tune which almost overwhelms as the background noise. Most of the film is occupied by horrific soundscapes that were created by Tobe Hooper and Wayne Bell, but this scene has always stuck out in my mind. I looked it up, and the song is called “Fool for a Blonde“, by Roger Bartlett. Apparently, Tobe Hooper said that he picked this song for that particular sequence because he imagined “the Hitchhiker being a fool for Sally.” This is strange since the hitchhiker never even acknowledges Sally or vice versa. Regardless, the song is a wonderfully out of place tune, at odds with the imagery we see before us. But what I realized this weekend was how much it reminded me of several scenes from Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left. After a few particularly brutal scenes in the movie, contrasting incidental music (composed by lead star David Hess) pops up. The Last House on the Left was released just two years before The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and I can’t help but wonder if this artistic choice from the former was a direct influence on the latter.
Well, those are just some random thoughts I had. Like I said: I love The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and I love discovering new things about it, especially things I’d never really thought too much about before. Take ’em or leave ’em, those’re my two cents. Oh, and one final takeaway from my latest viewing: I realized how much Allen “Jerry” Danziger looked like a young Larry King.