By Jerome Reuter
In the past 48 hours, there have been several tributes to Icelandic born actor Gunnar Hansen. If you’re aware of whom that is, shame on you. For myself, as well as so many others we will always remember him. More specifically, we’ll remember him for traumatizing us with his performance as chainsaw wielding serial killer Leatherface. If Dawn Of The Dead is the Citizen Kane of action horror, than The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is the Stagecoach of the slasher genre.
Aside from that comparison, I consider it one of the cornerstones of American horror. The other films in that category would be Psycho, Night Of The Living Dead, and The Night Of The Hunter. (Ironically, British directors made two of those.)
Since its release in 1974, this film has become a household word. Weather you’re a fan of horror or not, the title of this film has been uttered in your presence, perhaps more than once. So why does this film continue to endure? Why has it achieved the recognition, and acclaim it now possesses?
Much like films such as Last House On The Left, this is a product released at the tail end of the Vietnam conflict. In my opinion, that time period served as the largest game changer for the genre. Images of violence and social unrest were beamed across television sets all over America. The scenarios played out on a nightly basis, and a whole new generation grew desensitized to violence. Never before had the generation gap been widened like this. This film really does an impeccable job of commenting on that. You have a cross section of teenagers, perfect examples of youth culture at the time, coming to violent and horrific ends. Many of the images played out by Tobe Hooper’s camera have been often duplicated, but never truly equaled. You’ll even see the infamous dinner table scene referenced in Belgium horror film Calvaire.
One thing any serial killer buff will tell you–is the influence from the real life story of Ed Gein. From Leatherfaces’ mask, to the furniture made of bones, so much was lifted from this real life tale. His exploits were a huge influence on Psycho, and even Clive Barker has stated on numerous occasions, he finds his story one of the most compelling in the annals of crime. Which brings me to the setting for this film. Set far away from the safety of suburbia, within the rural blight of the Deep South. The theme of xenophobia is very present, and the ‘us vs. them’ mentality. Gein himself lived isolated in the rural blight of the Midwest, so it reflects his story perfectly. After all, the truth is stranger than fiction. Some of the best horror isn’t thought up by a screenwriter, but lifted from the reality we live in.
In recent years, remakes have been attempted. However, nothing will ever come close to the original. Much like other films from this time period, it’s exactly that—a product of its time. Gunnar Hansen brought this film to life, and is one of the many reasons it continues to horrify us—even after all these years.