The JOE-DOWN Reviews ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’

This is an installment for a series on this blog where Joe Brown, Sports Editor for the Red Wing Republican Eagle, and I have a back-and-forth review of a movie. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, I picked “Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”

The info:

The Movie: “Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)”

Starring: Marilyn Burns, Edwin Neal, Allen Danziger

Director: Tobe Hooper

Plot Summary: (From IMDB) Two siblings visit their grandfather’s grave in Texas along with three of their friends and are attacked by a family of cannibalistic psychopaths.

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 88 percent

Our take:

Froemming: Last week, Brown and I ventured into the dark psyche of a single mother whose psychological scars manifested into what Brown called “hipster Abe Lincoln.” This week, for Halloween Month, I am going back to the meat and potatoes (and everything Brown hates) of the horror genre: Jump scares and psycho killers.

I picked “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” a film that teaches us the dangers of blatantly ignoring other people’s property rights by just barging into their homes unannounced. But before we get to that, Brown, what are your first thoughts on this horror classic?

Brown: So, I knew some of the basic lore going into this movie. Leatherface, cannibal family, bloody girl gets away in the ending (Spoiler. Not sorry).

But, I had never seen the original, which is weird because I remember seeing some, if not all, of the 2003 remake. I remember R. Lee Ermey in that one being one of the bad guys and being frustrated he didn’t call someone Gomer Pyle.

And honestly, movies like this, with a rustic, abandoned home in the middle of the country, always freak me out. It makes me think of family trips to Kansas where a supposed creepy family lived and had eerie things happen there.

But, this isn’t the Kansas Chainsaw Massacre, so my fears subside.

Now, I’ll get the van fueled up while you get us moving along, Froemming.

Froemming: The movie begins with Scooby and the gang driving in the Mystery Machine searching for cases to solve a bunch of dirty hippies wasting their time in the middle of nowhere Texas, high on those marijuanas cigarettes. Just prior to this though, we get a narration of what is to come by…John Larroquette from “Night Court.”

I had no idea until the end credits.

Brown: OK, we shouldn’t gloss over this. This movie begins with a bit of texts that says the movie is based on true events that happened in Texas.

… Well, they didn’t actually happen. But, imagine being some dopey teen in the ‘70s with your Boston T-shirt going into the theater and thinking what you are about to watch for the next 83 minutes is based on a true story. That would be terrifying.

This trope would be used successfully later in “Fargo,” then beaten to the ground by horror movies like “The Blair Witch Project” and every “Paranormal Activity” movie ever.

Froemming: I watched this as a little kid, and I remember being (REDACTED) frightened that this might have actually happened. This was before everybody had access to Google to debunk stuff.

Also, this is based very loosely on Wisconsin native Ed Gein, who made furniture out of people’s bones! #FunFact

Now, after this narration, we get some grainy images and media reports of grave robbers in Texas and an image of a corpse on top of a grave stone, which would look awesome on a heavy metal album cover.

Now, our hippie friends are going to the gravesite of one of their relatives, making sure their family member’s remains hasn’t been messed with. Which, sure, it gives these idiots an excuse to drive around in the backwoods of Texas. They also want to visit their old family house, which is now abandoned and ripe for squatters.

Brown: And who are our hippie characters? Why, let’s introduce our unlikable cast of cows to the slaughter characters.

  • Kirk, our dead ringer for Fred from “Scooby-Doo.”
  • Pam, Kirk’s main squeeze and our resident hippie weirdo who is way into astrology. Jupiter’s alignment tells me she’s an idiot.
  • Jerry, our dead ringer for “South Park” co-creator Matt Stone. He’s our driver and probably our least developed/explained character.
  • Franklin, the paraplegic who knows way too much about slaughterhouses and also rolls down a hill while taking a pee because his friends are terrible people that won’t take him to a truck stop to handle his business.
  • Sally, Franklin’s sister with bell-bottoms so baggy, she unintentionally created JNCO jeans.

Froemming: Two notes I had. One, I thought Jerry looked like Ray Manzarek from The Doors. Two, I know it’s wrong, but I laughed when Franklin rolled down the hill, his pee flying all over him. I’m only human.

Brown: Oh, don’t worry. This may be the first movie I’ve seen where the paraplegic is not a sympathetic character.

Froemming: Now, after checking out the graveyard, the hippies pick up a hitchhiker who is a little bit off. And I will be honest, you pick up a hitchhiker who looks like a lost member of the Manson Family, you just have to expect he will cut you with a straight razor and burn your photo in a strange ritualistic act. That’s just common knowledge.

Brown: Everything is a bit off around here. Go back to the graveyard, there is a man in the sweltering heat getting beer drunk, to the point of being unable to stand, outside of a graveyard. I mean, how? It’s almost 100 degrees. You’re sweating that beer off before you’re getting any buzz. It was probably heat stroke.

So, my family lived in San Antonio for a couple years when I was a toddler. This moment here, I was glad we moved to Minnesota when I was 3.

Froemming: The hitchhiker says he worked at the slaughterhouse, which I buy. This man looks like a meth addict, so a slaughterhouse job would perfectly hide his meth burns and scratches under all that blood.

Everyone in this van doesn’t seem too worried about this weirdo, which I blame their pot use for.

Brown: They’re sitting on the opposite side of the van of him, bunched up together. Pretty sure this weirdo explaining what head cheese is killed their buzz.

Froemming: The weirdo takes a liking to Franklin’s knife, which he uses to cut his own hand with. Kids, don’t do meth.

He then shows them his straight-razor, and takes a photo of Franklin, which he then demands money for. When spurned from being paid, he burns the photos in what I assume was where he stashed his drugs: Tin foil and animal bones. Then he cuts Franklin for the hell of it.

Again, kids, do not do meth.

Brown: Look, I know I’m overthinking this, but they go overboard with showing how weird this hitchhiker is.

He’s got a massive birthmark and seems jittery. Creepy.

He keeps photos of dead cows in a slaughterhouse and explains how much better it is to bash a cow’s brains in with a sledgehammer than it is to use the prod from “No Country for Old Men” that helped put him out of a job. Very creepy.

Slicing your hand with a knife for no reason other than creepy? You’re trying a little too hard, movie.

Froemming: Don’t expect nuance from a film called “Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”

Brown: Like I said: Overthinking it. I like that it showed his creepiness instead of talking about it. But you can show a tad too much.

And then, after Franklin gets his arm sliced, Pam has to chime in about Franklin’s horoscope. I’m OK with whatever will happen to her. Horoscopes are vague nonsense for people who can’t accept that life is just random.

Froemming: Look, what happens to these hippies later on was simply their comeuppance over the 1960s. Should have gone to Vietnam.

The hitchhiker is tossed from the van, but he marks it with his blood because we have to know this guy is unhinged.

The gang then arrives at a gas station, because they were too stoned earlier to fill up the tank. Unfortunately for them, they arrive at a station that doesn’t have any gas, but has plenty of barbeque.

Brown: Also, it has a guy who stares at the sun like he’s Donald Trump during an eclipse. I wanted to know that guy’s story because this is the only time we see him. He also washes the van but forgets to clean off the blood smear, which looks conspicuously like the Prince symbol.

Froemming: Well, he might be the barbeque later on.

They tell the gas station owner they plan on visiting their old childhood home, which he warns they probably shouldn’t because people in Texas don’t like people snooping through their homes.

I truly believe the message of this movie is Leatherface is simply standing his ground from home invaders.

They venture to the old house, and because they are terrible friends, nobody helps Franklin get into the house. I wrote down “these are terrible people” at that point. I mean, dude can’t walk up stairs guys…

Brown: Terrible people or terrible actors? Both are applicable here.

I don’t get the fascination of visiting an abandoned family house for more than a few minutes. I know they’re stuck with no gas, but seriously.

Well, there’s nothing better to do aside from staring at rotten wallpaper, so Kirk and Pam decide they want to take a dip in the ol’ swimmin’ hole… that no longer has water. But there’s a house in the distance and it sounds like machines are running, so they go over to see if there’s any fuel they can put into the Mystery Machine.

And folks, here is why we have a flight-or-fight response.

When you walk onto someone’s porch and you see a loose molar, you don’t give it to your girlfriend. FLIGHT!

When you see from the front door a room with a ton of dead animal heads, you don’t walk into the house uninvited. FLIGHT!

And you DON’T WALK INTO SAID ANIMAL HEAD ROOM WHERE A MAN WEARING ANOTHER PERSON’S FACE CAN COLDCOCK YOU WITH A HAMMER! FLIGHT!

AND, WHEN YOU LOOK FOR YOUR BOYFRIEND AND YOU STUMBLE INTO A ROOM WITH BONE FURNITURE AND LOOSE FEATHERS EVERYWHERE, YOU DON’T STAY! FLIGHT!

Froemming: Look, you break into someone’s house in Texas, you should know there is a good chance a man with a mask made of human skin will #StandHisGround and chop you up with a chainsaw. These people are breaking into his home. They’re hippies. Manson just happened a few years before. I don’t agree with what he did, but I get it.

Now, this is where I want to add some info about the film. The director wanted to get this film a PG rating, so there is actually very little graphic violence. The result is that we, the viewers, come up with the gruesome violence in our own imaginations, which is way worse than actually seeing it.

Brown: And I’m OK with that. I think it does enhance the movie. Instead of seeing blood pour from Kirk’s head after the hammer strike, him twitching afterwards strikes a lot more fear into me than gore. Same with when Pam gets hoisted onto a meathook and Kirk is getting carved up with a chainsaw.

Froemming: Also, Leatherface’s reveal here is one of the best jump-scares in movie history.

You know it is coming, but it is still very jarring. If anything, I think age has made this movie more creepy. The gritty film quality and the low budget and implied violence make it so much better than most horror movies.

Brown: I can appreciate that the Leatherface jump-scare didn’t have some shrill sound effect that jumbles your senses. They let his appearance and the visuals in general speak for itself instead of having the sound department give me a heart attack. The absence of sound will irritate me later when we get to another Leatherface jump scare.

So with two friends missing and the sun setting, Jerry decides to investigate while Franklin and Sally bicker outside the van.

So, like the two friends before him, Jerry just barges into a stranger’s house like an (REDACTED) after he sees their beach blanket draped on the porch and heads into the slaughterhouse. He hears a knocking in the freezer and finds Pam gasping for air, on the verge of death. And in short order, Jerry meets his grisly demise thanks to Leatherface, who proceeds to stuff Pam back in the freezer.

After this, we see a frustrated Leatherface storm toward the window and have a moment of contemplation. This, this made me laugh. Leatherface seemed exhausted. He had a big day of gruesome killing. That takes a lot out of a guy that wears other people’s faces.

Froemming: It’s not like he was hunting these people down. They kept breaking into his home. He was just protecting himself and his property.

We then get Sally and Franklin bickering. Sally wants to go and find her friends. Look, Brown, if you and I were on a road trip and our friends kept vanishing and never returning, don’t expect me to go looking for you. I’m driving the hell out of there.

So these two head off into the Texas darkness in search of their pals. And this is where Leatherface’s legal argument goes out the door as he cuts down poor Franklin in his wheelchair. They were not in your home, man. You have crossed the line, legally.

Brown: This is the kill that bugged me. It’s a jump scare, because you don’t see Leatherface until Franklin shines a light on him, and he gets diced up via chainsaw like a pineapple in “Fruit Ninja.”

The dude uses a (REDACTED) CHAINSAW. It is the least subtle tool/weapon in man’s repotraire. And he snuck up on you?! How? You can’t make the case to me that Leatherface just-so-happened to turn the chainsaw on right as the flashlight got to him. You have to rev up a chainsaw. That thing was not electric!

Now that I think about it, using an electric chainsaw would have made this movie the best dark comedy ever. Leatherface is the most gruesome killer in Texas… as long as you’re in a 25-foot radius of the nearest outlet.

Froemming: For a fat guy, Leatherface is pretty good at running and not losing his breath, because he chases Sally to his house, up some stairs and back outside after she flies through a window on the top floor. The man is spry.

Brown: OK, this chase bugged the hell out of me, too.

They are in the thick of the woods and Sally is having to maneuver through several patches of thickets in the pitch dark. How the hell is she not getting stuck in all this? You can’t see (REDACTED)! She is bound to get her long hair stuck in there and become easy picking for Leatherface. And because she either has night vision or a bat’s sonar, she gets through that relatively unscathed.

I AM OVERTHINKING A MOVIE CALLED “TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE.”

In the midst of the chase, we also get a “Psycho”-like moment of what appears to be a rotting couple on the top floor. We’ll find out later that only one of them is rotting. And while I found a lot of this movie incredibly stupid, the creepy imagery is pretty damn good.

Froemming: Sally is in search of some safety. She is being chased by a man with a chainsaw, and she runs all the way back to that gas station that didn’t have any gas. The owner brings her in, and says the phone isn’t working. This guy runs the most useless service station in America.

And we start seeing things are odd. Like, why is a man cooking barbeque at this hour that kinda looks human? Well, it turns out the guy is part of the chaos that is Leatherface and he — somewhat hilariously — forces her into a burlap sack and hits her with a broom.

Brown: That’s the point when I was like, “OK, this movie is (REDACTING) with me.” A broom stick, OK, I can buy whacking someone good and knocking them out with that. But this guy uses the brush end and incapacitates Sally? Does he have some mystical power I’m unaware of? Is she allergic?

Now, with that said, the corresponding scene where a tied-up and sacked Sally is stuck in the bottom of the man’s truck and he’s poking her with a stick, that was more off-putting to me than a monster man with a chainsaw. It’s the idea of something feeling realistic over something that’s so over the top, I suppose. Plus, he has giant Gary Busey teeth and that’s always a cause for concern.

Froemming: As he pulls up to his house, we see the hitchhiker again. And he is also beaten with the broom, which made me laugh. The father doesn’t want the kid causing trouble, but come on, your other kid runs around with people’s skin sewn into a mask on his face. I am sure the neighbors hate this family.

And now we come to what is probably the worst dinner party ever.

Brown: Dunno if we can say that yet. We haven’t reviewed “My Dinner With Andre.”

Now that we’ve come full circle with everything, Sally is screaming bloody murder while tied to a chair with our gas station owner, the hitchhiker, Leatherface and Grandpa, who appears dead but is a barely-functioning, dried-up octogenarian who makes for one of the most unsettling parts of the movie when he sucks blood off Sally’s finger for sustenance.

And it makes for the weirdest nuclear family ever, considering that Leatherface is dressed up like a woman. I didn’t realize that when I had seen clips previously of this movie.

Froemming: This was when I wondered if John Waters directed this movie.

Brown: Thankfully, there was no dog poop on set.

Because I want nuance and motivation in my movies, this dinner scene was infuriating. There’s no explanation of how the family came to be like this or any motivation at all. It’s 10 minutes of “Let’s be crazy while the director does EXTREME CLOSE UPS of Sally while she screams.”

Sally makes for a good scream queen. But it got grating very, very quickly.

Froemming: I kind of like not knowing why they were the way they were. There is something more terrifying in chaos. They are psychos who butcher and eat people with no remorse.

And after some family squabbling, the hitchhiker decides Grandpa should be the one to slaughter Sally, given Leatherface had a full day of murdering her family and peers. So they grab the ol’ blood bucket and hammer for Grandpa.

And…he is just too old now. The family tries to help him swing the hammer, and once or twice they manage to conk Sally on the noggin, but she is able to break from her ropes and run through ANOTHER WINDOW!

Brown: Oh, she loves jumping through windows about as much as Dewey Cox likes ripping sinks from the wall in “Walk Hard.” It’s almost comical.

So, the last chase is on in the twilight of the Texas summer. And I mentioned this in last week’s review of “The Babadook,” but there’s something about scares in the daytime that add an extra eeriness to the situation that I do enjoy.

It would help the cannibals’ cause if the hitchhiker or Leatherface had ever paid attention in a gym class to running form because they could have caught Sally awfully quickly if they didn’t run like cartoon characters.

Froemming: I was wondering why the hitchhiker wasn’t grabbing her, until I realized he was stabbing her back like a child playing with his food. That creeped me out a little.

Brown: Fair enough. I didn’t catch that on this viewing.

Froemming: And imagine you’re a semi truck driver. It is morning. It is Texas. Your drinking your coffee when a woman covered in blood runs in the middle of the road, with a man with a chainsaw chasing her. You get out to help, your truck gets damaged and she jumps in the back of another truck, leaving you alone with this creepy dude with a skin mask on.

I felt bad for that trucker.

Brown: I don’t get why Sally and the trucker got out of the damn semi. All Leatherface did was put some cuts in the door. That’s not going to stop you from driving away. Not like he slashed the tires or anything.

Alas, we have our lone survivor that has enough blood loss that surely she passed out in the bed of that truck after laughing as she escaped this nightmare.

And all Leatherface can do is what I assume is the dance of the chainsaw, which is (again, I assume) tradition among cannibals.

With that, let’s go to recommendations. I’m hungry for barbecue.

WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?

Froemming: Absolutely. This is one of the best horror films ever.

Brown: I’m gonna say no. I like quite a few things in this movie, especially visually, but I can’t get over how dumb this movie is. I understand the enormous praise this movie gets, but it’s not for me.

Here is what’s coming up for the next Joe-Down: