Movie still from 1974's "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre."

"There are moments when we cannot believe that what is happening is really true,” the shapely Pam (Teri McMinn) reads from an astrology handbook.  “Pinch yourself … and you may find out that it is.”

 

An ominous passage from a library guide might send shivers down the spine for a nanosecond. But little does Pam, or her friends, know that this particular quote makes for a fitting foreshadowing of the events they'll soon experience. They believe they’re going to have a fun, sun-soaked summer drive that leads to Sally’s (Marilyn Burns) grandfather’s now-crumbling farmhouse. Not part on the plan, though, is the terror the neighboring home will inflict on them. 

 

Belonging to the Sawyers, a family of cannibalistic serial killers, you can guess the direction in which The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is headed. But unexpected is how unnervingly twisted it is in its depravity — it is compiled of the things nightmares are made of.  Here is one of the finest horror movies ever made.

 

Much of its events are based on the real-life murders of Ed Gein, a mentally disturbed creep so prolific that his life and crimes inspired the cinematic renderings of Norman Bates and Buffalo Bill; here, he is paralleled by the antagonistic family that assaults our senses in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, who decorate their homes with human bones, the skins of animals, and the remnants of innocent souls.  Never are their backgrounds, their motives, explained — they are all the more terrifying because their appearance is so unexpected and yet so probable.  No one suspects that a family of cannibals might call a harmless looking farmhouse home, but what do you know? The Sawyers do, and they live much too far in rural Texas for suspicions to be raised.

 

As the film progresses, all the friends end up disappearing in this house of horrors, their fates too grisly and disturbing to mention on the page.  Except for final girl Sally, blonde and sweet, who, after discovering what happened to her gaggle of pals, is forced to endure a bizarre night of psychological — some physical — torment. 

 

And yet, bloodshed is mostly kept offscreen.  Because it is so sweaty and so evil, we might later remember that it was a gory experience.  Not so.  Like Rosemary’s BabyThe Texas Chain Saw Massacre sticks in the memory so long because it is at once terrifying and ever-reliant on the idea of not showing us enough.  Trickily, our mind fills in the blanks more than we would like it to.  

 

In the years since its original release, it has grown in its acclaim, and has prospered as a defining horror classic.  But it wasn't considered such for years; most looked at it as if it were a gruesome exploitation film simply made with noticeable skill.  Perhaps it still remains to be a gruesome exploitation film made with noticeable skill — Hooper’s direction is magnificently unhinged — but it is also very well acted, more scintillating than it has any right to be.  

 

Consider the infamous scene during which Sally is tied down and forced to have “dinner” with the Sawyers.  Is that not one of the most simultaneously funny, uncomfortable, and frightening scenes ever found in a horror film? I think it is. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is only 83 minutes long, but its ability to genuinely scare makes it feel much longer.  Like Sally’s experience in the Sawyer home, minutes pass by intensely, and slowly.  It’s unforgettable.  A

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre October 29, 2015