Past and Present: Looking at ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’

Leatherface in 'Texas Chainsaw Massacre' 2003
Leatherface in ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ 2003

Remember way back when, when I was terrified of seeing the original Texas Chainsaw Massacrebecause I’d barely survived the remake? Michael Sheridan, Tail Slate’s very own creator, wasn’t going to let me off that easy. He insisted I watch both films, then compare and contrast and oh, yea, live to tell the tale.

Well, I finally got the balls (not literally) to see the original. I swear, though I can’t remember who it was, that someone told me 1974’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a classic. When I think of classics, I think of Psycho or Hitchcock’s The Birds. These are movies that, though made back in the day (in other words before I was born), still manage to scare the living bejeezus out of me.

Go ahead, correct me if I’m wrong, but after watching the 1974 film, I can’t help but wonder if it was a comedy. Come on, you never know? Maybe everyone was really supposed to laugh it off. Pleasedon’t tell me anyone was ever scared of this film! I certainly wasn’t and I can’t make it through Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street without having a nightmare of my own.

Unlike the fast-paced remake, the original tends to meander geared to an audience that wasn’t yet battling the throes of ADD. As the original meandered, I found my attention waning. The original spends a good part of the film focusing on the van ride. The riders — who we never learn much about — make pit stops that don’t have anything to do with the story at hand. In other words, it wanders aimlessly for too long.

Leatherface in 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre' 1974
Leatherface in ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ 1974

I prepped myself for the hitchhiker scene in the original with some deep breathing. The female hitchhiker in the remake scared me so much it had me shaking throughout the entire film. The 1974 male hitchhiker mostly disgusted me. We’re supposed to be horrified by his unseemliness and general weirdness. He doesn’t blow his brains out of the back of the van (unfortunately) because as it turns out, he’s really in on everything. This hitchhiker returns at the end to help his brothers torture this version’s sunny-haired heroine.

Using the word heroine to describe Sally in the original is a stretch. Unlike 2003’s Erin, Sally (Marilyn Burns) has not discovered women’s lib and the ability to whip out a can of whoop ass. Not nearly as physically fit as Jessica Biel’s Erin in the film, Marilyn Burns spends a good part of the movie stumbling and annoying the hell out of me. Although she’s got the decidedly more powerful set of lungs, she runs like… I don’t want to say “a girl” because that doesn’t even cover it. She flails her arms as if she’s trying to escape a giant arachnid’s cobweb for the duration of the entire movie!

Jessica Biel in 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre' 2003
Jessica Biel in ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ 2003

Oh, by the way, I can’t help but discuss the wardrobe. So many comments have been made about Jessica Biel’s tiny, tummy bearing tank in the remake. I’m not a big fan of Jessica Biel or her abs. I was glad when she disappeared from 7th Heaven and I haven’t watched her career closely, nor have I cared to. In the remake, she might as well be wearing a turtleneck sweater compared to the girlies in the original.

No, I did not need close-ups of short shorts and backless tops or the puckered nips of a braless Sally.

All in all, as a heroine, Sally is embarrassing. We don’t sympathize with her or any of the characters because the film isn’t layered enough to allow for us to get to know them. In the remake, we’re devastated when Leatherface discovers a diamond ring on the body of Erin’s boyfriend. Erin never quite gets the proposal she was hoping to land. Sally and her band of hippies are just bland, increasingly infuriating crybabies. Franklin, Sally’s wheelchair-bound brother, is equal parts mentally unsound and childish. I voted him as the first to be killed off but alas, I didn’t get my wish.

Leatherface’s entrance in the remake is carefully staged. Before he enters on the scene, the cast of characters meet the crazy hitchhiker, the even crazier sheriff and the landscape gets seedier, grittier and still more terrifying. In the original, there’s none of this careful pacing. When Leatherface finally shows up, it seems random and mostly, hilarious. His first victim flails (what’s with all the flailing?) once or twice and then we’re rid of them both.

Leatherface circa 1974 isn’t very scary. He’s ungainly and I’m pretty sure this baby-voiced fiend prefers to dance with his chainsaw more than he likes to kill anyone with it. In both films, he’s really just the muscle. Someone’s always pulling the strings. In the original, it’s a trio of trippy brothers and in the 2003 version it’s an even more warped town.

Now, the trippy brothers are actually a bit scarier than Leatherface but I’d love to get them into a room with the remake’s sheriff. One of the brothers swats Sally with a (oooh, frightening) broom at one point in the film. I don’t think they’d get away with that with the remake’s sheriff. I think they’d pee in their pants first.

Possibly the scariest thing in the original is Grandpa. Part mass murderer, part vampire, old-as-death Grandpa dallies in being an immobile totem pole to the three brothers who like to suck Sally’s blood for dinner. What the…! At the very least, Grandpa made me wrinkle my nose.

Alright, maybe he wasn’t so scary after all. He was sort of a laugh riot. I think I respected him most of all because he didn’t have to do any of that flailing or running.

'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre' 1974
‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ 1974

Ah, the running. The running is a very important part of any chase scene. The chase scenes in the original are downright side-splitting. The victim is always about a foot ahead of the killer making you wonder how the heck the killer never catches up. Maybe none of them had New York Sports Club memberships? Definitely something they should look into.

Oh, the disappointment, the utter boredom.

1974’s campy Texas Chainsaw Massacre made me sympathize with Leatherface when it should have been forcing me to experience some spine tingling chills. What’s a girl to do? Well, for one, I’m going to reconsider trash talking the remakes of good ole classics before taking a look at both sides of the story. I’d expect that you’ll do the same.

With the proliferation of remakes these days, we took a look at how one recent remake — Texas Chainsaw Massace — compared directly to its predecessor. And according to our writer, wonders if the original was actually a horror, or a comedy.

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