Welcome, dear readers, to Substream’s 31 Days of Halloween. While every holiday captures the hearts and minds of the Substream staff, Halloween holds an especially important place in our hearts. Now that we’ve entered the month of October, it’s time for us to share our love for this holiday with you.
Every single day in October, our collection of spooky staff writers and ghoulish guest contributors will walk you through a horror or Halloween-themed movie they adore. The goal is to both celebrate the titans and icons of the season while also introducing you to new films and scares to fill your autumn nights. Lock your doors, check under your bed, and settle in as you join Substream for our 31 Days of Halloween.
Day 28: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
If you went to make a list of the most influential horror movies, you’d probably list films like Psyscho, Nosferatu, Frankenstein, The Exorcist, and Halloween. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre would have to be somewhere on there.
It’s one of the most profitable horror films, being made for less than $140,000 ($700,000 adjusted for inflation) and went on to gross $30 million at the domestic box office ($150.8 million). The movie was made with mainly unknown actors from central Texas and they were often working long hours for seven days a week to keep the cost of the film low. While the director Tobe Hooper worked hard to keep the amount of on-screen gore to a minimum, the film was still given an R rating — and when you watch it, you can easily see why.
In 2019, the premise of the movie is pretty simple: young adults go to an old home and are greeted by a force they don’t expect. But, at the time in 1974, it also established some new elements that would blow up in the horror genre: every day work tools being used as murder weapons and the killer being a big, faceless figure with no real personality. For 1974, it was also an incredibly violent movie, with the deaths of Pam and Kirk drawing particularly attention. There was only so much that could be shown on screen for i’s budget, but the death of Pam getting thrown on a meat hook was widely looked at as one of the more brutal on-screen female deaths for a widely-released horror film.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre also fell into some of the ever-so-popular horror tropes of men getting (relatively) quick deaths, while the women in these films are not so lucky. The aforementioned death of Pam was prolonged, and while Sally survives, she only does so after extensive physical and mental torture. But, it’s worth noting at the same time, there is not an over-abundant amount of on-screen violence — which it was able to do through creative use of camerawork and leaving the audience to confront their own views and obsession with violence.
That sort of idea has lead The Texas Chain Saw Massacre to being credited as one of the first horror movies to not just show an endless killing of victims or having some sort of underlying commentary on sex. Instead, some view the film as one that promotes a vegetarian lifestyle. Yes, you’ve read that right, and even director Tobe Hooper has said this to be the case. This is a film that follows a family who slaughters and kill humans for meat, and it’s even set up to be like this from the very beginning of the film. At one point, Franklin is talking to all of the friends about how animals are slaughtered for food, describing the multiple bashes to the head it takes to kill the animal, which draws a response of “Well, that’s horrible. People shouldn’t kill animals for food”–oh, if only they knew at that time what they were stepping into.
One of my other favorite themes that has been analyzed in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was that the film serves as an example of the damage that capitalism does to the every day American. This is a family that once ran a successful slaughterhouse (of animals), and then due to the technological advances, they fall victim to industrial capitalism. So if you’re a supporter of capitalism, this film is basically telling you that you’re condoning a murderous family. It’s just how the world works, I don’t make the rules.
Suffice to say that even if you want to take out all of the themes of the film that have been analyzed over and over, this original version of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is a must-watch. It’s well paced and well directed, with plenty of scares and creepy, disturbing moments to go around. If you’re interested, of course there’s a plethora of sequels and remakes–most of which are more violent and gory thanks to plenty of technological advance, so if that’s your thing, dive on in.