In a way it functions as archeology does. One has to use his intelligence to make sense of the signs and artifacts left by others to better understand his present. It seems like a long road – this path from caves to nuclear power – but that is nothing but an illusion. Mentality and society of the cave didn’t go anywhere. It’s just hiding better under the layers of cultural heritage.
Anyhow, I’m rambling because The Texas Chainsaw Massacre gives me plenty of causes to ramble. I was decades overdue in watching this cult classic though I passionately love horror movies. Sometimes it just happens like that. You never get around to actually do what you have been planning for a long time. After seeing “TTMC” for a first time, 40 years after it has been released, it’s like visiting an unknown brother of your best friends, the guy that you know everything about but still have to meet him and actually get to know him. There were countless reflections of “TTMC” throughout the decades – it happens when you make a genre landmark – and great many of them are actually “better” than the original. Or more watchable, at least from the modern, somewhat spoiled perspective. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” still manages to deliver meaningful things. Even though you know what’s going to happen and how it’s gonna end from the moment of the opening shot.
Something in me stirs and I could write pages and pages of text though I really don’t have time right now. Tomorrow is my 30th birthday and I still have to find a way how to deal with that. I’ll try the quick sketch. Maybe I’ll come back to this text some other time. Anyhow, while I was watching this last night one of the things that caught my attention was a powerful image of an American outback. All those years of incessant exploitation of outbacks and rednecks and many things rural didn’t manage to subdue it. It still delivers a chill and a sense of foreboding. I never really gave that any attention, but tonight I started to wonder how that trope functions outside my “comfort zone”.
Now, I’m a city boy – and every director out there, every script writer is a city boy (even if they are from the countryside, if you have an urge to write, go to university, or an urge to hold a camera in your hand you’re a city boy, there’s no arguing that). I understand the imagery. The subdued contempt of the “civilized ones” towards hillbillies, country weirdoes, and similar Steinbeckian heroes. To us, rural America (don’t get stuck on US, this stays true for any country in the world) presents an unknown, uncharted waters, alien land, dark underbelly of the post-industrial civilization. However you call it, it’s basically the same thing. We use it for symbolic purposes. Whether it reflects Vietnam-era US, whether it reflects Freudian Id, whether it reflects sexual transgressions – and it always reflects something – it never is “just a countryside” (at least, it isn’t in any horror movies of note) – we tend to picture it in images and rituals opposed to ones present in cities and “culturalised landscapes” (sure, there are movies that deal with urban horror, but that’s the different sort of thing). The family in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is the distorted image of an ideal family of sitcoms, ordinary, everyday tools are used for senseless destruction, destruction itself doesn’t have an agenda (there’s no reason behind it) etc. So, how does this imagery functions when it’s filtered through the eyes of a country-boy? I have no way of knowing that but somehow I think it can’t be the same. Does rural means the same thing to me and to my cousin that remained on a farm? And if my cousin were to direct something like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre would it be the same movie? Would the meaning change and which elements would he choose to omit from the final edit?
These are important question, even 40 years after the initial release. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre spawned tons of followers and almost all of them functioned on that dichotomy. These images are still vivid and still meaningful as they were in 1973. (you can go outside the horror, think of Deliverance). Though it’s true that horror thrives on repetition, on rearranging the dark and hidden elements of our identities (individual and collective) to fascinate, warn, exploit and entertain, one has to ask himself why does he still believes in imagery of these movies.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre has gotten old and it cannot function as an “entertainment” or “spectacle” anymore. New generation flicks do that with more passion, more violence, more aggression and more of everything. So when we watch it today we’re bound to see it in a more simplistic way. Spectacle parts entertain us in a sort of ha-ha way reserved for camp. In exchange, we’re focused on a framework which has been “hidden” to original viewers, made visible in decades that followed. Granted, what we get is much more interesting than what has been and much more depressing in a way. It’s like divining future from the artifacts of the past. Much like archaeology. And just like archaeology it destroy the myths, it breaks the illusion and alienates you from a collective euphoria of today. Once you watch an old horror movies you can never watch a new one with a same mind. I’m not sure whether it’s good or bad or something else entirely.
Director: Tobe Hooper
Producer: Kim Henkel, Tobe Hooper, Jay Parsley, Richard Saenz
Screenplay: Kim Henkel, Tobe Hooper
Story: Kim Henkel, Tobe Hooper
Starring: Marilyn Burns, Paul A. Partain, Edwin Neal, Jim Siedow, Gunnar Hansen, Teri McMinn
Music: Wayne Bell, Tobe Hooper
Cinematography: Daniel Pearl
Editing: Larry Carroll, Sallye Richardson