My Favorite Scary Movie: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

Last Updated on August 2, 2021

For the month of October, staff will be gearing you up for the Halloween season with My Favorite Scary Movie, where we will share our favorite scary flicks, be it gory horror, supernatural thriller or bloody slasher flicks, lending the personal touch for each film and why it stands as one of our all-time favorite spooky flicks of the season.


What’s it about? On the surface, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE is about a quintet of unsuspecting teenagers who inadvertently encroach on the property of a grave-robbing, cannibalistic family of psychopathic hillbillies in East Texas. One family member, Leatherface, is a squealing, cross-dressing, chainsaw-wielding maniac! Subtextually, the movie explores Vietnam War anxieties, the price of oil, the cruel treatment of animals, and the eroding fabric of the American family unit.

Who’s in it? Zero movie stars, which is why the movie feels so authentic. Marilyn Burns stars as the Final Girl Sally Hardesty. The movie also features Gunnar Hansen as Leatherface, Edwin Neal as the Hitchhiker, Jim Seidow as their f*cked-up father, as well as an assortment of listless victims that include Allen Danizger as Jerry, Paul Partain as Franklin, Wiliam Vail as Kirk, and Teri McMinn as Pam. Oh, and who can forget John Duggan as the moldering old moribund Grandfather? 

Who made it? Directed by Tobe Hooper (EATEN ALIVE, THE FUNHOUSE, POLTERGEIST) from a screenplay he co-wrote with his longtime script collaborator Jim Henkle (EATEN ALIVE, THE UNSEEN). It was Hooper second feature following the 1969 release of EGGSHELLS.

Why it’s my favorite scary movie: As a ten-year Arrow in the Head contributor, my love of horror movies far and wide is no secret. I grew up watching many horror films with my older sister, eight years my senior, who introduced me to a whole lot of f*cked up movies way before I was of an appropriate age to do so. And I love her for it. As such, I became quite calloused and desensitized to horror movies at an early age. And while I was no doubt scared silly early and often as a kid while watching wide variety of horror flicks, at no time did I ever forget to remind myself that it’s all make believe. Pretend. It’s just a movie. This internal calming effect is one we all used as a kid, right? Don’t worry, it’s not real. Repeat it over in your head if you have to, it’s only a movie!

Well, the first time I saw THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, I was 11 years old. And you know what? It’s the first time while watching a horror flick that I could not convince myself, at any point during or after, that any of it was at all fake or phony. I truly believed that I wasn’t watching a cast of amateur actors, I felt like I was watching a homemade snuff film. Something in me was telling me that I was watching something I shouldn’t be, or ever allowed to be, something taboo at best, illegal at worst. The raw, unvarnished authenticity of Hooper’s pitch-perfect direction – the lurid putrescence, the sordid scratchiness, the febrile, sweat-sodden milieu of the sweltering East Texas summertime – lend the movie a certain veracity one cannot fake.

And frankly, it feels real because much of it is real. Marylin Burns incurred a number of onset injuries while filming (from tree branches, a knife cut, broom-battery and falling to the ground), scenes that made it into the final cut. As such, you really get the sense while watching the film that Hooper didn’t cast actors, but somehow found real life psychopaths to play the various parts of the Leatherface clan. You really get a sense that these aren't merely amateur actors reciting lines and having a good time playing make believe, hell no, these must be real-life psychopaths – living, breathing, sweating, bleeding – while being entrenched soul-deep into a horrifically insane scenario. Shite’s intense!

No bones about it, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE will always be my all time favorite horror flick. Not only is it a frightening five-prong sensory assault of unparalleled measures – sight, sound, scent, taste and touch – I've never seen a flick's subject matter so aptly reflected in its direction. Really. It's a master-class in more-is-less filmmaking…pure ingenuity as a result of resourceful constraint. The way the film was shot on a shoestring budget of roughly $140,000, the dustily humid enclosures and sweaty unkempt milieu – the claustrophobic trappings inside the dingy ramshackle Leatherface abode – the gritty, grimy, grainy docu-style aesthetic – all of these aspects combine to slam you in a specific place and time that feels all too real. All too terrifying. All too inescapable. And to that end, just take a look at the poster's tagline, which reads: "What Happened is True. Now the Motion Picture that's Just as Real." What an accurate assessment.  Just as Hooper's deft direction lends a verisimilitude to the onscreen subject matter, it's doubly impressive in its respectful realism toward events that actually occurred under the heinous blade of real-life serial murderer Ed Gein.

Scariest Part: As one of the most genuinely frightening horror flicks of all time, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE has no shortage of scary moments. One could easily point to the first time Pam stumbles into the foully festooned Letherface manse, decorated with human skin-pelts and lampshades, caged livestock, fetid animal bones, freshly excised limbs, skeletal remains, etc. One could easily cite the first time we see Leatherface and forcefully clubs Kurt in the brain before ominously sliding the door shut with a humming drone sound. One could easily call out the scene in which Leatherface hangs Pam on a meathook and left to bleed out to death while writing and screaming in pain.

But unh-unh. For me, it’s all about the deleterious dinnertime denouement! Seriously, no matter how many times I've seen this sucker, and believe you me I peep the film biannually, by the time ferociously fevered family rolls out old grandpa for a celebratory feeding…his desiccated flesh melted over his decaying bones, his feeble extremities quivering as he tries to hold and swing a hammer at poor Sally's dome. Then suddenly, the infantile pig-in-shit elation he shows on his face, thumbs-a-twirling, while he sucks the blood from Sally's freshly opened vein? No matter how often, how prepared I am, by the time all this unfolds in the final reel…I never fail to feel exhausted and spun-out from such a marauding, almost hallucinatory battering.  And then of course, I scurry to the shower!

You could have dinner with us… my brother makes good head cheese! You like head cheese?” Yeah, even before we see Leatherface’s baleful butchery, we’re already holding back vomit at the sight and speech of the Hitchhiker. What’s interesting is how Franklin admits to liking headcheese, in a way identifying with the homicidal hitcher.

Why, my old grandpa was the best killer there was at the slaughterhouse. Why, it never took more than one lick they say. Why, he did 60 cattle in five minutes once. They say he could have done more if the hook and pull gang could have gotten the beeves out of the way faster.” This speech in conjunction with Sally having a hammer tosses at her head by the decrepitly moribund grandpa, is one of the most unsettling scenes in the entire movie.

Moments later, the Hitchhiker hysterically boasts: “Hey Grandpa, we’re gonna let you have this one! Hit that bitch!”

Gore and Nudity: For as infamous as TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE has remained over the past four decades, people forget that it's almost an entirely bloodless film. The movie is far more disturbing in its gritty atmosphere and piercing power of suggestion than it is in its graphic depiction of violence. To that end, the gnarly meat-hook scene, in which the burly, squealing Leatherface lifts poor Pammy up like a ragdoll and casually hangs her, by her exposed back-flesh, onto a sharp metal hook to dry out like a piece of fresh jerky…yeah, that's a gold-medal winner! Just like the shower scene in PYSHCO, what your own minds fills in is far more unnerving than what's actually shown. Masterful!

As for the nudity, there isn’t much, but we do get one of the all time best booty shots ever committed to celluloid. I'm talking about a long, slow, low-angle tracking-shot following the plumped apple-ass of Pam (Teri McMinn) crammed into a pair of low-cut, skintight Daisy Dukes. Of course, the poor gal meets her murderous maker mere moments later!

Sequels, Spinoffs or Follow-Ups: Unfortunately, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE continues to be a cash-cow for what seem like annual ersatz remakes, sequels, rehashes and reboots. Outside of Hooper wisely satirizing his original in THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 in 1986, every iteration since the original has fallen insultingly flat when compared to the 1974 original. In 1990, Jeff Burr directed LEATHERFACE: TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE III. Then in 1994, Kim Henkel directed THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: A NEW GENERATION, starring McConaughey and Zellwegger.

A remake of the original was released in 2003, starring Jessica Biel; a prequel then came out in 2006, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: THE BEGINNING, starring Jordana Brewster. In the past decade, we’ve been given increasingly poor results in TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D, starring Alexandra Daddario, and most recently, we saw the insipid origin story of LEATHERFACE, starring Stephen Dorff. Point being, even with many chances and far greater resources to try to recapture the magic of the original, not a single version comes close to holding a candle what Tobe Hooper perfected in 1974!

Scare-O-Meter Score: If, by the time the aforementioned dinner scene takes place, you aren’t noticeably quaking in your boots or tamping your brow ever few seconds, well, congratulations, you are not human. Indeed, the terror quotient in THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE only multiplies as the movie unspools. Because the horror feels so real, so authentic, so clearly unmanufactured, the level of terror in TCM reaches an all time high. For a movie so dedicated to viewer discomfort, I feel uncomfortable giving the flick’s Scare-Score anything less than a perfect 10/10. THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE is an inimitable masterpiece!


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About the Author

5374 Articles Published

Jake Dee is one of JoBlo’s most valued script writers, having written extensive, deep dives as a writer on WTF Happened to this Movie and it’s spin-off, WTF Really Happened to This Movie. In addition to video scripts, Jake has written news articles, movie reviews, book reviews, script reviews, set visits, Top 10 Lists (The Horror Ten Spot), Feature Articles The Test of Time and The Black Sheep, and more.