The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, 1974 Directed by Tobe Hooper. Marilyn Burns, Teri McMinn, Paul A. Partain , Gunnar Hansen, Joe Siedow.

It has been said of this unassuming exploitation shocker that it captures the syntax and structure of the nightmare more perfectly than any other movie. This is a true statement. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a movie that justifies itself with this vision. 

There are cerebral interpretations of Chainsaw, rendering it as a portrait of the disintegration of the American family or as a rabid vegetarian tract, but the film resists these attempts to graft a meaning onto it in the same way as the most primal nightmares resist the symbolic deconstructions of Freudian dream analysis. It is what it is, an externalized vision of our worst fears. The other elements, from the deranged funhouse image of American family life to the vegetarian mumblings to the conflict between youth and middle-class, are not the point. They are in service to the impact of the movie, not vice versa. This is as single-minded a horror movie as anyone is ever likely to make. 

Things start out bad for our group of young people. Pam (Teri McMinn) is into astrology: at the begining of the movie, she notes that Saturn is in retrograde. Saturn is an evil planet and retrogradation makes its influence stronger than normal. All over the incessant radio chatter that plays throughout the first half of the movie are intimations of a world spinning well and truly into chaos. The grotesque desecration of a graveyard at the beginning of the film, with its centerpiece--a tableaux of a mummified corpse lashed to a tombstone, more dire warning than memento mori, like a signpost pointing the way to hell--hints in unsubtle, unmistakable terms that these are the end times and that the rapture, with its open graves, has left us behind with the dead and the dying. We have not been called to God. Things are falling apart, the center cannot hold. This is reinforced by the drunk at the graveyard later in the film, lolling on the grass and staring, upside down, at the camera with the light of madness one would see in the eyes of medieval flagellants. "I see things, sometimes," he says, followed by insane laughter. 

From this beginning, the film serves up horror after horror, drenched in a hideous Texas sunshine that renders the world as some existential dreamscape. When the film draws its first blood, Kirk hit on the head suddenly with a mallet, followed by Leatherface slamming the metal door behind himself, unease is replaced with outright horror. Pam gets it on a meat hook, but is still alive to watch Leatherface carve up Kirk and is still twitching when Jerry finds her in the freezer. Jerry gets the sledge. Franklin gets a chainsaw in the gut. Then Sally is on her own. A more modern version of the movie would have Sally drawing on resources of cleverness and determination to escape the Sawyers, but that doesn't happen here. She escapes by luck, is recaptured and placed in front of Grampaw to brain with a mallet, escapes again by luck, and at the end of the movie is reduced to a shrieking, insane grotesque. The film closes with Leatherface dancing with his chainsaw against the rising sun. This is all staged with a remarkable restraint that makes it all somehow worse--gore we could laugh at and the filmmakers know it. The method of attack here reduces the audience to a state akin to the dreaming of children, chased through the night by a boogeyman who is always close behind. It never lets up. This is the horror film to end all horror films. A masterpiece.