Of all the classic slashers, I think Leatherface gets the rawest deal. If you think about the slasher pantheon, the big three come to mind: Freddy, Jason, and Michael and then you throw in Leatherface as an afterthought like, “Oh yeah, that dude with the chainsaw.” Maybe I shouldn’t speak for everyone. Maybe I should only speak for myself. That is how I think of The Texas Chainsaw franchise. It’s never been really big on my radar and I think the reason for this has something to do with the fact that Leatherface and I never really had a great introduction. What I mean to say is that every time I tried to watch one the Chainsaw movies, something was off or went wrong. Now though, I think I might be warming up to our southern chainsaw maniac.
Between The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Me – A History
The first time I tried to watch The Texas Chainsaw Massacre I was maybe 14 or 15. I already had an affinity for Freddy Kruger and Michael Meyers at this point and though I had heard of the Chainsaw franchise, I didn’t really know that much about it. I knew there was a guy in a mask (cool! like Michael and Jason) and I knew he didn’t say much (awesome! like Michael and Jason) so already I was intrigued. I was down to watch it.
The problem is that this was before all the streaming services and video on demand. If I wanted to watch something, I had to rent it from Blockbuster (R.I.P to the real one) or I had to wait until a cable network who would no doubt edit out all the blood, gore, and profanity showed it. Well, renting it was out of the question as I was under 18 and it was rated R so I had to wait for the purified scraps of some tv channel. I got lucky one day when FUSE (is FUSE still a thing?) decided to air it.
The First Time Was Not a Charm
When I saw that TCM was playing I was so excited to watch it that I didn’t care that I missed the first half of it. I came in on the part where Sally’s brother gets a chainsaw to the chest. Alright! Straight to the action. I stuck around for the obligatory chase scene through the woods and capture of our final girl, but then things got weird.
Whenever someone brings up The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, I immediately think of one scene in particular—the dinner scene. It’s the scene that turned me completely off from the entire franchise. In it, Sally has been captured by Leatherface, his maniac brother, and their uncle. They also drag down what seems like the corpse of their grandfather to the dinner table to sit with them. This is where my description is going to get a little jumbled because I’m not sure how to accurately describe what happens and why it’s so off-putting.
Sally, Girl. You In Danger.
The rest of the scene is basically just Sally screaming her head off while Leatherface and his psycho hitchhiker brother mock and laugh at her. They start screaming along with her. Not only that, but the camera circles around the dinner table to Sally, to Leatherface, to his psycho brother, to the uncle, to dead grandpa, to Sally, to Leatherface, to his brother, to deranged uncle, to not-so-dead grandpa, to Sally, to Leatherface, to brother, to uncle, to—is he alive (?!?!?), to Sally, to Leatherface, to—
The scene seems to go on forever. Plus, there is a close up of Sally’s eye frantically searching for—what? Help? A way out? Yes, those things too, but I think she’s also taking in her vomit-inducing surroundings. Furniture made out of human remains, a dinner table with sausages made out of her friends. It’s enough to drive anyone insane. It does drive Sally insane. And the first time I watched it, I felt like I was being driven insane too.
I turned it off.
It was the first time I couldn’t get through a horror movie. At the time though, I didn’t think of it as me being scared. I knew fear and this wasn’t that. It wasn’t that creepy feeling that something was going to lunge out of the darkness and attack me. I was put-off and slightly disgusted. I felt dizzy. Eventually, I chalked it up to the scene, and thus the movie, being bad. I concluded that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre wasn’t for me.
A few years later, I tried the remake.
I won’t bore you with the details of that watching experience but just know that whatever I felt for the original, it wasn’t hatred. But I did hate that remake. I once again concluded that the Chainsaw franchise just wasn’t up my alley.
But that dinner scene stayed with me.
A New Fear?
Starting The Black Girl’s Guide to Horror has forced me to ponder a lot of questions that the average horror movie fan might not think of. Questions like: what exactly is horror? If a horror movie doesn’t scare me does that make it bad? What is the goal of a horror movie? Who gets to decide if a horror movie is good or bad? What is fear? Are there different types of fear and what are they?
Over the weekend, I re-watched the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It was something I had been meaning to do for a while but never got around to. I think that secretly, I was trying to avoid that dinner table scene. But I watched it. And this time around, I noticed something. The feeling in that dinner table scene—that feeling is laced throughout the entire movie. It is a feeling of disgust and unease.
The fear itself is visceral, not the creeping fear of having a boogeyman in your closet or falling asleep to meet a dream demon. Instead, it’s that pit of your stomach dread about a deranged hitchhiker and the grossness of blood. It’s the physical feeling of being driven insane. But it is something more than that too. It’s something that, much like that dinner scene, I’m not sure I have the words to describe yet. Whatever it is though, it works.
Final Thoughts on a Horror Classic
Now, I’m not saying that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is my new favorite franchise. No, no, that is and will forever be the Halloween series (though Freddy Krueger is technically my favorite slasher) but I do have a newfound appreciation for the different kind of fear that Chainsaw elicits. It’s a fear that I haven’t explored yet. A fear that I’m still figuring out. It’s a fear that’s taken me 13 years to even realize exists, and though I’m not sure I even like this kind of fear, I’m eager to learn more.
Where to Watch
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is currently streaming on Shudder.
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