Film of the Week: Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a masterpiece film that’s representative of a shift and change in horror films. First and foremost, from the outset the film is marketed as a story concerning “real” events. The invitation that what spectators are viewing really happened further increase the sense of fear that already stems from an actor-spectator sense of identification. What truly makes Texas Chainsaw Massacre a masterpiece, however, is in its mis-en-scene. Hooper utilizes the backdrop of rural Texas in order to create a soundtrack where music otherwise wouldn’t exist and so the film’s soundtrack takes on the form of animals clucking, machines at work, and various other background noises that all work together to create a certain atmosphere, one of a strange foreboding encroachment into the unknown.

It’s not just Hooper’s use of sound but also editing which creates a dialect and conversation between his images; the technique used here is an old one of cinema and goes back to the theories practiced by Eisenstein in Battleship Potemkin. The deaths in Texas Chainsaw Massacre are slow to come—not that, that is an issue—because Hooper is interested in once again creating an atmosphere and one scene in particular, showcases Hooper’s favoring of editing to create atmosphere over delivering a horror film that’s more interested in body count: Pam (Terri McMinn) (unknowingly) enters Leatherface’s (Gunnar Hansen) home, in search for her boyfriend, Kirk (William Vail).

Rather than have Leatherface immediately kill Pam, Hooper slowly builds the scene. Pam first spends time calling at the door reluctantly, worried that Kirk is playing a prank on her. When she enters the home, she accidentally stumbles—literally—into a room furnished with human bones. Amidst a pile of bones herself, Pam can only look up in horror and confusion; Hooper, here, utilizes a close-zoom in between Pam and the room around her. The camera slowly pans around, giving the audience view of an eerily disturbing image of a chicken, before the scene’s most grand moment: an outward pan revealing a human shaped couch. The fear and suspense of this scene rely partly on the audience being complicit in the secret. The audience is aware that Leatherface lies in just the next room and that every second Pam spends in the house, is another brutal second the audience has to endure of expecting her eventual demise

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