Oh boy! The original!!!
Those were the words flowing through my brain as I popped this classic slasher flick into the machine to watch it. And then…it started.
Talk about a letdown. While there were good points and I will definitely address those, I have to get my criticisms out of the way.
Basically, we have five teenagers (so morons, because frankly, teens are always morons in horror films, it’s like a rule), two couples and a wheelchair bound brother of one of the girls…so three men, two women. There’s Sally (Marilyn Burns) and her guy Jerry (Allen Danziger), Sally’s brother Franklin (Paul A. Partain) who is in a wheelchair, and their friends Kirk (William Vail) and Pam (Teri McMinn).
After hearing news of grave robbing in the cemetery where their Grandfather is buried, Sally and Franklin enlist their friends to go with them on a trek to check on their loved one’s grave. They are all taking the road trip in a van, in the summer, with no air conditioning. Plus, they pick up this crazy hitchhiker (I don’t know why they picked this guy up. Even though hitching was still fairly common in the 70s this guy would have been a flashing neon sign for “DO NOT STOP” …but again, morons). Anyways, this dude is talking about working at a slaughterhouse and cuts himself on the hand with Franklin’s pocketknife and really all kinds of just out there stuff. So, they kick him out of the van. After they stop and check the gravesite, they make their way to a creepy gas station out in the middle of nowhere…where they have BBQ…but no gas. (Hmmm… and nobody questions this at all? Nope. They just pack up some BBQ and head out.)
They move on to this old house that belongs to the family. This place is in tatters. It hasn’t been tended to for decades. Now, remember they’ve got this poor guy in a wheelchair, out in the boonies and they go to this extremely old house and leave this poor fella on the ground floor, outside even, while they all go upstairs and goof around. So, Franklin is left alone, just sitting there in his wheelchair until Kirk and Pam come down and ask where the swimming hole is and head off. Franklin is alone…again. (By now in the movie, we have been fairly well introduced to these characters and our buddy Franklin here, well, frankly he’s a crybaby. He’s way too sensitive and gets all worked up over nothing all the time. Pam and Kirk just want to have sex and Sally and Jerry well, they seem fairly normal…fairly.)
So now our five teens have all split off. We get to follow Kirk and Pam. (Oh yay.) We see them struggle down this ravine of sorts and apparently get to the pond or whatever but, we never see the water. At all.
Then they hear a sound, like a loud lawnmower. Of course, they go investigate, believing someone lives close by and they can maybe obtain some gasoline THAT way.
They come upon a house and find the noise, it’s a generator. They go to the door and knock. Nobody answers. Kirk puts his towel (or blanket, this piece of material is huge) on the railing of the front porch and proceeds to venture into the house. (Now, how rude is that? These teens just randomly walk into a house out in the middle of no man’s land. Is that their house? No. I mean, come on. Aren’t you just asking to get murdered if you do that? I mean, just a little bit, perhaps?)
While Kirk explores the front entryway, which looks like something out of House of 1000 Corpses meets an archeological dig storage facility, Pam makes herself comfortable on a swing outside in the yard.
This is where we meet Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen) and truly one of the moments I was ultimately waiting for. He pops out and grabs Kirk and hits him over the head...hard. Then Pam, who gets tired of waiting for Kirk, goes looking inside the house for him. Leatherface grabs her too. She gets hung up on a meat hook like a side of beef. Both die.
Then, back at our creepy family home, Jerry decides to go look for their now dead friends. He finds the same house and hears noises inside through the front door plus, he sees Kirk’s towel/blanket on the railing. And, in classic “don’t do it” horror film fashion, he goes inside to investigate. (For the love of all that is good and holy, please people, stop investigating!) Leatherface kills him too.
Then Sally and Franklin go on an absolutely ridiculous and unbelievable trek (I’m not buying this at all.) through the woods, down that ravine and all the way up to this murder house. (Really??? Have you seen Marilyn Burns? What about this guy that plays Franklin??? He’s like twice her size! And wheelchairs are NOT light, okay. There’s absolutely no way in hell, or on Earth, they made it all that way with HER pushing HIM in a WHEELCHAIR. There. I said it.) And, in doing this, Franklin dies as well.
Sally is now running for her life and makes her way back to the weirdo gas station (which honestly seemed like a heck of a drive, so I don’t know how far she ran but, it’s a ways.) There, the creepy old man that is the owner, and the same man that offered BBQ, reveals that he is part of this murderous plot and puts her in his truck to take her back to death central. On the way, they pick up our friendly freaky hitchhiker and find out that he too is in with the killing crew.
Back at the house, they end up strapping Sally to a chair and a whole family of sorts is there. We have the gas station owner, the hitchhiker, Leatherface and a mostly dead Grandpa who apparently, with no explanation, feeds on blood but yet, can’t function.
The station owner is, I guess, the leader and yells at Leatherface, who cowers like a frightened child (hardly the killer type it seems). The hitchhiker and Leatherface do the killing and Grandpa, well, I guess he’s retired.
Sally eventually breaks free because these fools give a hammer to the dead guy (Grandpa) and try to let him bash her over the head but, because he is practically dead, he has no grip and keeps dropping the hammer, thus, she squirms free and flees like a cockroach when the lights come on.
Now, the chase is on. And it’s a bad one. Leatherface and the hitchhiker are running, VERY SLOWLY, after Sally, who seems to be running at an equal or lesser rate of speed. She breaks through the brush and timber to find herself on the highway. A truck smacks the hitchhiker and flattens him. Leatherface is now on her tail. But, not for long. Another trucker comes by, stops and comes to her aid. He gets chased by Leatherface and while he doesn’t die, we never see him again. This is also the scene where Leatherface saws his own leg…which was really short but, really cool. Sally jumps into the bed of yet another truck and he drives off, taking her to freedom.
Okay, so yes, I put some of my “two cents” in there as I told the story. The rest of it is this…
I understand that this was the 70s. I understand that slasher films were still really kind of in their infancy. I also understand the idea of trying to create terror without blood and gore. However, I have seen plenty (and I do mean PLENTY) of movies from the 70s and I know there were good actors available at the time. Truly, Gunnar Hansen was the best actor and he didn’t even talk!! We don’t even see his face!! I also expected the Leatherface mask to be so much more…so much scarier. This character was inspired by Ed Gein, a serial killer of infamous proportions, and it doesn’t really convey that much, at all.
Leatherface is also supposed to be a cold-hearted murdering psycho and yet, he cowers when some old man yells at??? He even whimpers people…whimpers. How am I supposed to be terrified by someone who misuses power tools and whimpers? I just can’t.
And the whole Grandpa thing…doesn’t fit. How is he still alive? Why is he still alive? IF he’s alive, why can he not function at all on his own?
Plus, whatever happened to our hero trucker??? But for him, Sally would be dead. And yet, he's in the wind.
I expected more out of the kills, although the hanging Pam on a meat hook was pretty good.
I will say that I really liked the way they did the intro for this movie. It’s a narrator reading what’s scrolling on the screen but, he’s got a great voice for it.
With all the hoopla that has gone on over the decades about this being a “Frightening classic” that will “truly horrify” and “terrorize”, I was expecting a lot more, even for the era.
The screams are pretty good and Marilyn Burns has a great wide-eyed scared look but, she’s not the best actress at all. (She also played Linda Kasabian, the Charles Manson whistle blower, in Helter Skelter. She was better in that and it was only two years later that that movie was made.)
The best parts of this movie would have to be the dinner scene with the psycho family and the end of the chase scene where Sally ends up on the highway.
I am planning to watch the remake. I have hope that it will be better. At least scarier.
Again, I do understand that this movie changed horror films and paved the way for future horror artists and directors. I am not knocking that at all. I am purely looking at it from a true horror, scare and entertainment value. And so, while I get that this is a pioneer movie in the genre, it’s just not good enough to me for me to watch again.