The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: Today’s World
By: Brian Robert Oliver – May 05, 2020
In 1974 the world was introduced to one of the most disturbing, iconic, and influential horror films of all time: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Its release came a year after the horrors of the Vietnam War, and judging from the success of the equally iconic The Exorcist a year prior, the baby boomer generation was ready to face its growing fear of the cultural shifts within the country. To the newly initiated, this film may seem extremely dated, and a bit crudely made, but when it came out it was insanely realistic in its depiction of violence, and so influential it spawned an entirely new genre of horror films. But, can a new generation of people appreciate and experience that same confusion and shock by its use of direct cinema technique and natural, visceral violence the way they did in 1974? Generally speaking, probably not.
Direct cinema, or cinema verité, is a style no longer exclusively associated with documentary films, and is commonly used in nearly every genre so not only are we used to seeing it, in all likelihood won’t even realize it’s being used. In regards to the shock of seeing such realistic violence and the human body treated no better than slaughtered cattle, it’s certainly no match for the slasher films of the late 80’s, and doesn’t even register when compared to the French Extremism of the late 90’s and early 2000’s. However, as far as serving as a metaphor for cultural shifts and disenfranchisement, very few horror films to have come out since then can better define the cultural divides of today.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre Victims
Sally, Franklin, Jerry, Pam, and Kirk are a direct representation, or exact mold, of every type of socially respected human of the “free love” generation. This film is the horror we see through their eyes. But what do they see? They see a place where people dig up and desecrate the dead. They see people who are living in the past and happily feasting upon it. They see a crazed lunatic that finds pleasure in inflicting pain and the blood that comes with it. They see a giant man-baby that is not quite human but wears a human skin mask, and ruthlessly dismembers real humans by the buzzing blade of his chainsaw. In basic terms, this group of modern day early 20 something’s are disgusted tourists in a town of butchers and are punished as intruders.
Leatherface and his Family
The givers of punishment, and where the horror lies, is a family of all male psychopathic cannibals. Now, TCM was released near the end of the second wave of feminism in America, chaotically disrupting the model of the patriarchy, which at the time was the unquestioned core of the American family. So, a family containing only men, and the power structure within it was considered a type of perversion by the new cultural movement.
At the heart of TCM is the title’s reference; Leatherface. Leatherface possesses the raw, male strength that is favored by the Judeo-Christian model. However, his mind is feeble and psychotic like a non-verbal 3 year old with ADD, which is the embodiment of how the new cultural movement sees the former. To further this horrific view of yesterday’s man, Leatherface wears a mask made from human skin crudely stitched together with string. A mask represents something that is hidden, so what we are being told is that this model of man is no man at all, but a powerful, blood thirsty toddler masquerading as a man, butchering everything in his way.
Speaking of butchers, not only is this small Texas town town full of them, so is Leatherface and his family. We know from the first act, according the Hitchhiker (Leatherface’s brother), that a lot of the butchers in town were put out of work by new technology forming new ways of slaughtering cows. It is evident that it was their (psycho family’s) grandfather who was left behind and it forced them to find new animals to slaughter in the old way. Cannibalism, as depicted by the cannibal exploitation films of the early 80’s, is most likely a metaphor for an isolated group of people that are consumed by their past, creating a cycle of stagnation. The same can be said for TCM, the major difference being this family gets true pleasure out of killing and eating other humans.
Civil Rights and Feminism
The second wave of feminism, as well as the civil rights movement of the 60’s and 70’s did not destroy the patriarchal family, nor did it strip power from the archetypal white male god, but has instead chipped away at it over time. Many of the boomer generation went on to settle into the conventions of Judeo-Christian values as soon as they had kids and bought things, no longer looking back in complete disgust, but rather with compassion and perhaps a little nostalgia. Now, we find ourselves in a country that looks different from generations of past, and the unrest that began bubbling since the inception of the nation has only intensified with increasing focus.
What TCM Means in Today’s World
It’s been nearly half a century since The Texas Chainsaw Massacre began tormenting its audience. It’s clear that most of the issues brought about by TCM are still just as relevant today as they were in 1974. The Me Too movement and Black Lives Matter movement have both dealt serious blows to the power structure in the U.S., and as history has indicated, will continue to do so. The changes demanded by revolutionaries are about fairness to all, not just the few.
However, in this fight, there are always those who are left behind by the driving force of technology, creating ghost towns of once thriving communities. In their virtual wake, do they not become dehumanized for their beliefs and conventions that stand in direct contrast to a newer generation? If the new embodiment of humanity is a non-binary being fighting for the equality of all, then is it not a hypocrisy to demonize a sector of humanity fighting for things to go back to the times when they themselves were thriving? The battle being fought is an existential one, and to some, but not all, the people struggling to get by in a world that has forgotten about them will be viewed as a family of male psychopaths, feeding on the meat of the past. The view is that what becomes of their inherent cannibalism is a physically threatening, developmentally disabled child wearing the shriveled mask of a man coming to saw you in half like cattle.
While it is unlikely to shock a new generation of horror fans, it is clear that TCM is still an extremely consequential film. Its violent themes are proving to be timeless, and says just as much as about today’s culture than it did when it came out nearly fifty years ago.