The Saw is Family: An Essay
It actually upsets me when Leatherface is thrown into a lineup with Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger, and Jason Vorhees. They are legendary serial killers, don’t get me wrong, and their franchises are stunning, paving the way for these names to live in infamy. But out of all of these classic killers, Leatherface holds a special place in my heart.
He is a unique kind of killer that is set apart from the rest, shocking audiences around the nation in the seventies, and leaving new horror fans in awe today. Tobe Hooper is the man behind the film that went down in horror movie history and changed the lives of slasher aficionados forever.
Regretfully, I have only seen the seventies version very recently, within the last two years or so. Before I sat down to watch it, borrowed from a friend whose life goal is to fill my head with only the best horror films, I had only seen the lack-luster 2003 version with Jessica Biel. That one, although a remake, started a fire in me. I then understood the mixture of fear and desire the sound of the chainsaw stirred up in people, and my growing love for the cannibalizing monster that we all know as Gunnar Hansen.
Leatherface may be the biggest of the bunch, the tallest interpretation of him being portrayed by an actor standing a staggering 6 feet 6 inches. Although he isn’t a child molester, a hockey-mask wearing zombie, or evil incarnate, he is something all the more frightening: realistic.
Leatherface can be found if you drive down a dirt road in the dirty plains of Texas and end up going too far. You may have even seen his family running the local gas station and BBQ in the middle of bumfuck West Virginia, the food they’re selling obviously not from any farm animal. You can purchase the same killing device that Leatherface uses at any local or chain hardware store across America. He is everywhere you’re afraid to go at night, and everyone so unsettling you’re afraid to give them a second look on the street.
If you’re not convinced, ask yourself if anyone was even afraid of a chainsaw before the seventies. Most likely no one was and merely felt indifferent for the power tool. After the film, if someone even mentioned the word chainsaw, or if one was heard in the distance, it brought about fear. No one would ever think of a chainsaw as “innocent” again. It changed everything.
The other thing about that film that threw the viewers for a loop is the opening: “The film you are about to see is an account of the tragedy that befell a group of five youths…” All the way up until the very end of the film, viewers were left scratching their heads, asking in hushed tones if this was based on a true story, if this massacre was real (not to be confused with the Ed Gein murders) and why they hadn’t heard about it. It sent a chill down every viewers spine, those who were thinking about a cross country road trip, or visiting family down in Texas immediately placed those ideas on the mental back burner.
Anyway, back to the point of how it changed me as a horror lover and writer. The first time I sat down to watch, I was on the edge of my seat until the screen went black and white with the credits roll. I cracked my knuckles nervously, waiting and waiting for the glorious moment when I would finally see him.
And then it happened…and glorious it was.
It’s that big movie moment that no one will forget. The image of Leatherface slamming open that metal door, his hulking figure filling out the frame, his fury emphasized by the blood red wall and animal skulls hanging behind him. And then he runs. No, not walks slowly like the rest of them. He fucking runs. He is as quick as he is huge and he runs, leading the audience to view another shocking scene that starts off the manic insanity that is TCM. Leatherface running at the girl, exiting the house, grabbing her as if she’s a frail ragdoll, and pulling her back inside of the house, only to hang her from a meat hook dangling from the ceiling.
There have been several remakes, prequels, sequels, and my favorite, as I have written previously, is The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning because of its raw brutality and the mere fact that R Lee Ermey is in it. This prequel wouldn’t exist without the original. And my love affair for Leatherface wouldn’t have begun without it.
To wrap this up, because I have a problem with being long-winded, TCM isn’t simply a horror movie; it is one of the greatest horror films of its time. No, not just horror film, but film in general. Everything from the performances of the actors portraying the victims and the crazy Sawyers alike, to the filmography creating that disgusting, dreary look and feel, to starting a new era in horror and changing a culture forever.