It’s Halloween season! This is the season in which everyone loves to gather around, dress up in costumes, trick-or-treat, and watch some classic Halloween movies—Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Halloweentown (because that is a classic), to name a few. But, I would argue that there is one movie that should, and must, be on everyone’s list, especially for horror movie fans: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
When I say The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, I’m not talking about that awful 2013 remake starring R&B artist Trey Songz. No, I’m talking about the 1974 original directed by Tobe Hooper. Set, as the title implies, in Texas, the movie follows a group of five young adults who, while visiting an old family home, run into a family of murderous cannibals. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre has many of the tropes that we’ve come to expect from horror movies. There’s a group of attractive young people who go somewhere they have no business being, and get killed off one by one. There’s the final girl who manages to survive all of the mayhem. The tropes are very present. But this movie was one of the first to include these tropes and arguably inspired many of the horror films that came after it.
One of the best things about The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is it’s atmosphere. A lot of recent horror movies fail to be scary because they don’t feel real. There’s never a moment in them where it feels like you’re not watching a movie. In The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, the whole movie feels like you’re watching someone’s creepy home footage that you really shouldn’t be watching, and that adds to the realism. There’s also the acting. Tobe Hooper put his actors through hell during the filming of that movie, having them work on revolting sets in the splintering Texas heat to the point of exhaustion, rendering performances that are equally fantastic and horrifying. It feels like these kids are real kids being brutally murdered and that makes the movie incredibly frightening to watch.
But what’s a horror movie without a great villain? Halloween has Michael Myers, Friday the 13th has Jason and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre has a whole family. Later movies in the franchise have focused on chainsaw-wielding Leatherface as the main villain, and while he is certainly the most brandable, he’s only one of four evils. There’s Leatherface’s brother, the hitchhiker, who is the first one we meet in a scene that is so unnerving it gives me chills whenever I watch it. There’s their father, the cook, who seems to be the brains of the family operation. And then there’s the grotesque grandfather, who looks so old he seems to be dead at first. Together, this family makes up some of the most terrifying villains in horror movie history. The famous dinner scene between them and the final girl they’re torturing is actually difficult to watch, as it is so prolonged it almost feels like the family is torturing you as well.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, like many great horror movies, has gone on to become a franchise with many sequels, prequels, remakes, and reboots. But, none of them compare to the frights of the original. The original is a brilliantly horrifying film that seeps into your skin and keeps you up at night, anxiously listening for the buzz of a chainsaw in the distance. It manages to be scary while offering some pretty interesting commentary about society, if you pay close attention. So, this halloween season, go ahead and watch amazing movies like The Shining, Halloween, and yes, Halloweentown (and all it’s sequels). But, I urge you to add the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre to your must-watch horror list—if, and only if, you’re ready to be scared.