Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

Before we race ahead with this story, let us pause for a moment and consider the most amusing tale about this movie I can think of:

Tobe Hooper, the writer and director, thought it would be PG-rated. Which is why he left out a lot of the blood, nudity and swear words.

Here’s a tip to all you folks making PG-rated movies. Leave out the hammer blows to the head.

You’re welcome.

Like all classic tales of terror, this movie starts with a really, really, really long word crawl that is also read to us in voice-over, just in case we don’t feel like reading.

It goes:

“The film which you are about to see is an account of the tragedy which befell a group of five youths, in particular Sally Hardesty and her invalid brother, Franklin. It is all the more tragic in that they were young. But, had they lived very, very long lives, they could not have expected nor would they have wished to see as much of the mad and macabre as they were to see that day. For them an idyllic summer afternoon drive became a nightmare.

“The events of that day were to lead to the discovery of one of the most bizarre crimes in the annals of American history. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.”

Keeping in mind that this led to the discovery of this “bizarre crime,” why are there three sequels? Shouldn’t the discovery of the bizarre crime pretty much been the end of the story?

Never mind. We must keep going. We’re barely a minute into this series.

Ah. We’ve got a date: August 18, 1973.

(Oh, and by the by – do four deaths really make for a massacre? More of a minicre.)

And now, a black screen. And the sounds of digging. Or smashing. Could be pretty much anything, really.

Camera flashes. Which illuminate somewhat rotted body parts.

Then it’s day, and we’re looking at a dead body in the day time, while the radio news explains that it’s a grizzly work of art. A decomposing body wired to a large monument.

Apparently, there’s been a lot of grave-robbing. A lot of it.

We watch the corpse sit there for a while and we listen to the radio. Why? Because it’s cheap, folks. This is what low-budget filmmaking is all about.

Up next. Credits! The title of the movie, the people in the movie, the people who made the movie. You’ve gotta pad that running time somehow.

And then? The sun. And a dead armadillo on the highway. And a van driving down the highway.

The van stops, and a dude gets out. He takes two long boards out of the van, and sets them up so that another dude in a wheelchair can get out of the van. This must be Franklin.

Dude who can walk gives Franklin an empty can, and Franklin pees into it.

A semi drives by, Franklin freaks, and his chair goes rolling down a hill with him in it. A girl calls to him from the van.

He hits the bottom of the hill, falls out of his chair, and rolls for a minute.

Later, everyone is back in the van, and they are driving along again. Since it’s the 1970s, no one is wearing seat belts. Even more surprising, no one mentions that Franklin now smells like he’s been covered in his own pee.

The girl who is not Sally tries to explain to everyone a bunch of stuff about the Zodiac, and Saturn, but the gang is pretty much laughing her off.

They stop at a cemetery and the sheriff, who just happens to be there, takes Sally to look at her grandfather’s grave. She wants to see if it’s been dug up.

Franklin stays in the van, watching a drunk guy babble.

Then they’re driving again, and Sally tells Franklin that it doesn’t look like grandpa got dug up to her.

Everyone suddenly goes, “Ew!” and they all try to plug their nose. Something smells bad. Franklin points to a building in the distance. It’s the old slaughterhouse. He goes on to explain that this is where grandpa used to take his cattle. He explains that they hit the cows in the head with sledgehammers to kill them. And also, sometimes they had to hit the cows twice to do the job.

This gets cross-cut with lots of shots of cows.

Franklin concludes by telling everyone that these days they use a special air-gun to kill the cows. He then relaxes by taking out a knife and cleaning his nails. While in a moving vehicle.

Something terrible will happen to Franklin, and it will be his fault.

The crew spots a hitchhiker and decides, after a little talk, to pick him up.

Turns out the hitchhiker is a freaky, freaky dude who used to work at the slaughterhouse. He’s under the impression that the air-gun is a bad thing. He’s a fan of the sledgehammer.

He also took pictures of a few of his cow kills, which he passes around. While doing this, he tells everyone that nothing on the cow is wasted, and explains the concept of head cheese. Which is just icky.

But wait! There’s more! The hitchhiker calmly takes Franklin’s fingernail-cleaning knife from Franklin, touches his finger to the blade, and then cuts his own palm. After which he calmly hand the knife back to Franklin.

Then he stares at his bleeding hand and giggles.

Next he pulls a straight-razor out of his boot and shows it to everyone, explaining that he, too, has a knife.

Everyone is all, “Don’t spook the crazy guy. Don’t do it.”

The hitchhiker puts his knife away, and then pulls a camera from around his neck. He looks for a subject, then snaps a picture of Franklin. Apparently, it’s some kind of instant camera, since the hitchhiker pulls a picture out of the back of the camera.

The hitchhiker tells the gang that they should drop him off at his house, since it’s nearby. He figures they could stay for dinner. He says his brother makes a really great head cheese.

Everyone explains to him as politely as possible that the really, really need to drop him off.

The hitchhiker lets the picture finish processing, and then hands it to Franklin. Franklin says the picture didn’t turn out too good.

The hitchhiker says they can pay him now. Two dollars. Which, with inflation, is roughly the cost of our national deficit today.

Franklin gives the picture back to the hitchhiker at the behest of one of his van-mates.

The hitchhiker sets the picture on top of some tinfoil, puts some kind of burning element on it, and sets fire to it.

Then, the hitchhiker takes his razor out of his boot and cuts Franklin’s arm.

Right about now, everyone starts to panic. I’d say it’s too little, too late.

The driver stops the van, and the hitchhiker is half thrown out, and half jumps out. It’s hard to tell. Not sure if that’s bad direction or it it’s really supposed to be vague.

As the van starts moving again, the hitchhiker kicks the van and sticks his tongue out at Franklin.

Someone in the van says that’s the last hitchhiker he ever picks up. Yeah.

Not-Sally goes back to reading her astrology book. It seems that Sally’s information is, a) ruled by Saturn, which I guess is bad, and b) the thing reads “There are moments that we cannot believe that what is happening is really true. Pinch yourself and you may find out that it is.”

Through all this, Sally patches up Franklin’s cut.

The gang pulls up to a gas station, and the girls hop out. One dude gets up off a stool and washes their windshield, and another guy, who I guess is a pump jockey, comes out. The boys tell him to fill ‘er up, and he says he doesn’t have any gas, and probably won’t have any until “late this afternoon,” maybe not even until the next morning.

Franklin asks the pump jockey where the old Franklin place is.

Pump Jockey says that the guys don’t want to go “messing around” on someone else’s property, and Franklin explains that his dad owns it. The Jockey then says that the boys should stick around for a while, the gas truck should be by soon.


He also says he’s got some “good barbecue.”

The girls try to get a Coke out of the Coke machine.

One not-Franklin turns to the other not-Franklin and says, “Hey, we should ask if there’s another gas station nearby.” The not-Franklin with glasses says he’ll go ask Jockey about that.

Franklin and not-Franklin sit in the van. First Franklin cleans his nails with his knife some more. Then he pokes part of the interior of the van with his knife, which displeases not-Franklin. Then Franklin shows where some of the hitchhiker’s blood is on the knife.

Franklin wonders what the deal is with the guy who cut himself. How did the guy just, you know, cut himself? And also, did Franklin do something to make the guy mad?

The not-Franklin with glasses comes out of the gas station. He bought a tiny little sack of barbecue.

Everyone gets in the van, and Franklin says, roughly, “Hey we’re going to grandpa’s!” He also says that they can go swimming there, if they want to.

The van pulls out. We watch it drive away. Sally uses Franklin’s knife to open her soda. Franklin asks if “that guy” was trying to scare them by “blowing up” his picture.

Not-Franklin says that if they run out of gas, Franklin is towing them back to the gas station.

We get a super-long shot of the van parking next to the old abandoned house. Then we get another nice long shot while everyone gets out of the van.

Everyone notices that the hitchhiker left a mark on the side of the van, I’m guessing in his own blood. Franklin wonders if that guy is going to come back and find them. And also, where did his knife go?

Inside the house, Sally tells everyone that she got to stay there when she was eight, right after her grandmother died.

The house, by the by, is super-decrepit. So the girls and not-Franklins wander around and have a gay old time basically going, “Whoa, this old house sure is old. And beat-up, too!”

Outside, Franklin has a really, really, really hard time getting in, because the house is falling apart, and he’s in a wheelchair. So we get a whole long sequence of him trying to wheel himself in, pretty much in real time. Then he talks to the ceiling, making fun of the girls giggling, and blowing raspberries.

So you feel kind of torn, because you kind of want to feel sorry for him, and you kind of want to punch him in the throat.

This whole sequence takes, I swear, almost four minutes.

Finally, not-Sally and one of the not-Franklins (no glasses) come down and say they want to go swimming, so Franklin tells them there used to be a trail between two old sheds. That I guess are somewhere on the property.

The Happy Couple go bounding off.

Franklin finds something on the ground. I have no idea what it is. It looks like a little pillow that’s been cut open, with bird feathers sticking out of it. At the top of the doorway, there’s a little figure made out of bones.

Franklin calls up to Sally.

So, what? The bad guys just figured, well, let’s put some freaky stuff in this other house we don’t own just in case the people who own it drop by one day. That’ll freak them out, maybe, to no real end?

The Happy Couple scamper down the trail. They find the place where the swimmin’ hole is supposed to be, only it’s dried up. They see another house, though, and the Guy decides they should totally go there and give the people who live there some money for gas. Or maybe his guitar in trade.

The Girl thinks this is a stupid plan. I’m going to side with her.

They walk by a tree with a bunch of junk attached to it. Like a watch with a nail through it.

When they reach an area near the house, they find what looks like a bunch of camouflage netting. They look under it, and there are a bunch of cars hidden there.

They keep walking, towards what sounds like a really loud motor running. The motor has a barrel on it. No idea what’s going on there.

They walk on towards the house. Guy knocks on the door. No one answers. He kicks something on the porch. It’s a tooth.

He shows it to Girl. Girl wants to leave.

But no. Guy decides to open the door, and yell inside the house.

Girl goes to sit on the swing on the lawn.

Guy walks in, calling to see if anyone is home. There’s a doorway in front of him that leads to a hallway. There are maybe two dozen skulls hanging from that wall.

Guy decides to walk in anyway, because he hears what sounds like a pig squealing. And because he is astonishingly stupid.

He walks right up to the door. A guy with a mask over his face steps into the doorway. This is, of course, the famous Leatherface. Leatherface clocks Guy on the head with a hammer. Guy falls down, in some kind of seizure. So Leatherface clocks him on the head again.

Then Leatherface drags him through the doorway, and slides a large metal door shut.

Outside, the girl, who is called Pam, finally starts using the dead guy’s name: Kirk.

Glad they finally gave us a handle for the guy, now that he’s just so much lunch meat.

Now it’s her turn to walk up to the house. Calling Kirk’s name, over and over. She, too, opts to walk into the house uninvited. She sees the large metal door, so she doesn’t go that way. She turns into another room, trips, and ends up on the floor, surrounded by chickens in cages, bones, feathers, and entire couch decorated with human bones, and…

You know what? Just a whole bunch of human bones, in various configurations and piles. Instead of running away, like, right now, and going to her friends, and calling the cops, or anything really, she sits around long enough to get a nice, long look.

She starts making gagging noises, and screaming for Kirk, and then she finally runs.

The metal door opens. Leatherface steps out. She runs. He runs after her. She gets out the front door. He comes out right after her, grabs her, and hauls her bodily into in the house and into another room.

He hangs her on a meathook, while she screams and screams and screams.

Leatherface picks up a chainsaw and fires it up. Pam keeps on screaming. The camera alerts us to the fact that there’s a large metal washtub under Pam.

Kirk is on a nearby table. Leatherface takes the chainsaw and starts carving Kirk up while Pam hangs in the air, screaming.

And now, it’s back to the rest of the gang. Not-Franklin is telling Franklin “He’s gonna get you Franklin. He’s coming to get ya.” In reference to the symbol that’s still on the van, even though Franklin was charged with wiping it off.

Franklin keeps on babbling about the symbol. Sally says to not worry about it. Not-Franklin, who finally gets the name Jerry, keeps on verbally torturing Franklin about the hitchhiker.

Franklin asks Sally about his knife, as he finally remembers that he gave it to her. Sally goes into the van to look for it.

Jerry says he’s going to go look for Pam and Kirk. Franklin tells Jerry to go between the sheds and he’ll find them. I imagine he doesn’t realize he’s basically telling Jerry to step into the light.

Sally wants to go with Jerry, because she’s well aware just how little fun it is to hang out with Franklin, but Jerry figures it would be better if he went by himself. Not that he gives a reason.

So we get to watch Sally look around for the knife for about a second. Of course, she doesn’t check the front seat, which is where she was sitting. Try harder, Sally.

Franklin asks if Sally is mad at him. Sally says no. Franklin says he knows she is.

Jerry heads off, calling to Kirk.

Back at the van, Franklin and Sally talk about Saturn. And the hitchhiker. Again.

Jerry keeps on walking, yelling for Kirk from time to time. But not Pam.

Jerry finds the house o’ death, and goes to the front door. He keeps yelling into the house, asking if anyone is there. He sees an article of clothing hanging over the porch railing.

So what does he do? He goes in the house. Through the door ‘o doom. He hears a rattling in the ice chest. He opens it. There’s Pam. She looks unwell. Half-dead, you might say.

Jerry opens the ice chest. Pam is there. She pops up, all freaky-like. Jerry steps back. Leatherface runs into the room and hits Jerry in the head with a hammer. Then he stuffs Pam back in the ice chest and closes it.

All this activity has caused a mental taxation on Leatherface, so he runs to the back window and looks outside, trying to see just how many people are out there, if he’s going to need to purchase yet another freezer, etc.

He doesn’t see anyone, so he sits down and ponders just where he went wrong in life. Or maybe not. Tough to get into a guy’s head when he’s got a mask on his face.

Night falls. You can tell because of the really long establishing shot of the moon.

Franklin sits in front of the van. Sally has van lights on, and she’s hitting the horn.

She gives up and comes out, and Franklin says they must be lost. Franklin and Sally debate what to do. Franklin thinks they should go back to the gas station and get help.

Sally wants the flashlight, because she wants to go looking for everyone. Franklin doesn’t want to give it to her. He goes to honk the horn, and realizes that one of the missing people has the keys. He starts getting panicky.

Sally tries to take the flashlight from him. They tussle. Franklin says he’ll go with Sally, but he wants to hold onto the flashlight.

She says she can’t push him down the hill.

Sally says she’ll go without the flashlight, and Franklin says he’ll follow along, despite his chair problem.

How do things end up? With Sally trying to push Franklin, while Franklin tries to help wheel himself. They keep yelling names.

Eventually, they spot a light, and hey, there’s the sound of that motor running again. This is like watching cockroaches walking towards a roach motel.

They walk towards the light. In every sense of the word. My apologies for having to use that joke twice now. Franklin says he hears something, and tells Sally to stop.

Leartherface comes out of the shadows, and applies his chainsaw to Franklin’s torso.

Sally screams, and then realizes that screaming is not as effective as running.

Leatherface finishes chopping into Franklin, and then goes after Sally. They run, and run, and run. Leatherface stops, from time to time, to hack up something with his chainsaw.

Eventually Sally reaches Leatherface’s house. She tries the back porch door, which won’t open. Then she goes to the front, and goes in, locking the door behind her. She calls for help. She goes upstairs, to a back room, and finds the withered husks of two very old people. Grandma and Grandpa, I guess.

Leatherface, who I guess forgot his keys, uses his chainsaw to carve up the front door in a really disorganized fashion. In real time, he could probably be inside in maybe ten seconds, but no. He drags it out.

Kind of a drama queen, really.

As Sally heads back towards the stairs, Leatherface finally steps in the front door.

Sally runs back up the stairs, and jumps out the second-story window. She tries to get up, but she’s really slow about it.

Leatherface heads down the stairs.

Sally runs away from the house, screaming.

Leatherface chases after her.

At one point, Sally runs into a branch and falls down. Leatherface catches up to her. Sally regains her feet and runs again. Leatherface just keeps on chasing her.

Now, granted, I can see where they’re trying to keep the tension going, but there’s a slight flaw in their plan. They had five victims, and four of them are dead. So Sally is going to have to survive for a while if this movie is going to push past the hour mark.

Kind of kills the tension, eh? Now it’s just people running. They may as well toss the theme from “Chariot’s of Fire” onto the soundtrack for however long they’re going to drag this out, because they are, quite frankly, out of victims.

Eventually, Sally makes it to the gas station, even though Leatherface has been within arm’s length for the last 30 seconds or so.

She tries a couple of doors, and finally bursts into the gas station, where the Pump Jockey closes the door behind her, and then helps her to a sitting position.

He’s all, “Whoa!” and she’s all, “He killed…” and a lot of breathing.

Jockey says there’s no one outside now, and asks her what happened. She asks him to call the police, and he says there’s no phone, and that they’ll have to drive to the next town. He goes to get the truck. He leaves the door open.

Oddly, she doesn’t scream out, “TAKE A GUN,” or any other useful advice.

She sits. And sits. And sits. And looks at the cooking barbecue. On the radio, it’s all grave-robbing, all the time.

Finally, the truck pulls up. Jockey steps out of the truck, and produces a sack.

She’s all, “Wha?” and he’s all, “Don’t worry,” and she picks up a knife. He says, “Nobody’s gonna hurt ya,” but clearly he wants to put her in a sack, which is never good.

He drops the sack, and picks up a broom. He knocks the knife out of her hand, and then starts whacking her with the broom, over and over and over again.

Ah. “The Texas Broom Massacre.” Seeing as how they still have 20 minutes to go, I guess I wouldn’t be surprised if the rest of the movie wasn’t his slow attempt to kill her using the business end of an old whisk broom.

I can see the posters now: “They swept their grisly murders under the rug.”

The broom handle breaks. He knocks her to the floor and knocks her out with the broken handle. He ties her hands with some rope, and sticks a rag in her mouth.

Next, he stuffs the upper half of her body into the sack, and slides her into the cab of his truck.

Sooo… why go through all that? Why not just have her get into the truck and drive to the location where the evil happens? By the time she thinks to run, it’ll be too late.

As he gets ready to drive away, he stops to turn off the lights at the gas station. He tells Sally that the cost of electricity it enough to drive a man out of business.

Jockey drives while Sally whimpers. From time to time he pokes her with the broom handle.

Finally, after about six years of driving and whacking and crazy talk, Jockey spots something. It’s the hitchhiker. He’s walking along with a sack and a dead possum.

Jockey gets out of the truck and starts whaling on the hitchhiker with the broom stick. He also yells at him, telling him that he needs to stay out of the graveyard. Hitchhiker says that no one saw him.

Jockey gets back in the truck and drives to the house. Hitchhiker jumps on the back so he doesn’t have to walk.

They get to the house, and Jockey and Hitchhiker pull Sally out of the van, and sort of carry her into the house.

Jockey is mad about what Leatherface did to the front door. So he goes and hits Leatherface, who is now dressed in women’s clothing, a bunch of times.

Hitchhiker, meanwhile, drops Sally in a chair and ties her down.

Jockey stops hitting Leatherface long enough to ask if any of the kids got away. Since they didn’t, Jockey stops hitting him. Then he remembers that Leatherface messed up the door, and goes on another whaling spree.

Jockey tells Hitchhiker to go upstairs and get Grandpa. Then he tells Sally to, “Take it easy,” and that they’ll fix her some supper in a few minutes.

Sally is, of course, freaking out. A lot. And screaming. As best she can through the dirty rag still tied in her mouth.

Hitchhiker and Leatherface bring Grandpa, who still looks pretty danged corpse-like, down the stairs and into the dining room.

Just so y’all know who up in here, we’ve got: Sally, tied to the chair. And Leatherface, and the Hitchhiker, and Grandpa, and Jockey, who keeps walking in and out of the room. I guess he’s making dinner.

Sally’s arm is untied, and Leatherface holds out her hand, cuts her finger, and gives the bleeding digit to Grandpa, who sucks on it like it’s a baby bottle.

Time passes. Shot of the house. Shot of the moon.

Back in the house. Sally is unconscious. She wakes up. There’s a plate of food in front of her. She screams.

So do all the other residents of the house.

Jockey tells them all to shut up. They do. Except Sally. She starts pleading for her life. She seems to think that Jockey can keep Hitchhiker and Leatherface from killing her.

Hitchhiker taunts Jockey, and says he’s “just a cook.” Jockey cops to it, and says he doesn’t enjoy killing. He can, he just doesn’t enjoy it.

So Sally alternates for a while between screaming and pleading, and Jockey and Hitchhiker alternate between just kind of sitting and taunting her. Also, freaky sounds play on the soundtrack.

Also-also, there are close-up shots of Sally’s eyes.

Jockey finally gets sick of all the screaming and says that Hitchhiker and Leatherface need to just kill her and get it over with.

Hitchhiker decides to “let Grandpa have some fun.” So they stick a hammer in his hand and try to guide his withered limbs through the process of killing Sally with a blow to the head.

Apparently, in his heyday, Grandpa was “The Best” at killing with a hammer.

In order to accomplish this killing, they have to untie Sally from the chair and have her kneel on the floor with her head over a large washtub.

And did I mention that Grandpa drops the hammer quite a few times before he finally hits Sally?

Through it all, Grandpa manages to land one blow. And Sally manages to get free of the Hitchhiker’s grasp. So she runs down the hall and jumps out yet another window.

She lands on the driveway, and stumbles away from the house.

Eventually, the Hitchhiker gives chase. Then Leatherface. Still dressed in his dinner-eating suit. Carrying a chainsaw.

Sally keeps on running, with the Hitchhiker just behind her. He finally grabs her when she reaches the road.

But wait. There’s a semi coming!

Sally gets out of the way. The hitchhiker does not, and he gets run down. A lot.

The driver, a large black man with an afro who has the words “Black Maria” written on his truck, pulls over and hops out.

Sally runs towards him. Leatherface is right behind. The driver rightfully figures out that being somewhere else, right now, is a GOOD IDEA.

He gets back into his truck, and helps a screaming, bloody Sally into the truck’s cab.

He slams the door. Leatherface tries to cut through the door, but the saw just can’t do it.

Sally and the driver hop out the door on the other side, and run away. The driver pauses to grab a large wrench.

You know, I’m torn. I want to taunt the guy for not just driving away, as fast as possible, but I recognize the trouble of trying to get an 18-wheeler up to speed. So I’m going to let it go.

Sally and the driver run. Leatherface chases them. The driver turns around and hits Leatherface in the face with the wrench. Leatherface falls. His saw cuts into his leg.

Leatherface gets up. The driver and Sally keep on running. Leatherface chases them.

A truck with an open bed drives by. The driver spins the truck out. Sally hops in the back. The driver keeps right on running.

The driver tries to start the truck, which has stalled. It won’t start. It won’t start… it WILL start!

The truck driver peels out, as Leatherface tries to follow on foot.

Sally sits in the bed of the truck, screaming and flipping out and kind of laughing.

Leatherface does a ballet-ish chainsaw dance.

No idea what happens to the truck driver. The next town is a long, long, long way away.

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