3) The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
The original Texas Chainsaw Massacre is probably the only movie that can match Last House on the Left for its presentation of violent death as a fundamentally organic process. We’re used to horror films where the killers play with their victims, stalking them in a sadistic game of cat and mouse. So in one early scene where a teenager wanders into Leatherface’s house, we’re expecting to spend five minutes watching him get chased around before some kind of elaborate death. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre refuses to play these games. Some ten seconds after the teen enters the house, Leatherface charges into the room and poleaxes him with a hammer. This is shocking enough, but what comes next is worse: first the camera lingers on the victim as his limbs twitch frantically, then without waiting for his corpse to go still, Leatherface drags him into the next room for butchering. Now, I’ve got no idea what it actually looks like when someone kills a person with a hammer. Still, this somehow feels more like what would really happen, and that’s not a particularly good feeling.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, for all that its unpleasantness, is mercifully rape-free (a real hazzard when you subject yourself to this school of horror film). So why do I rank this film higher on the disturbing list than Last House On The Left? Well, by and large, bad movies are less upsetting than good ones. And while there’s not much to the plot, and the acting is amateurish, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is an absolute triumph of production design. Every set and prop is carefully calculated to increase the atmosphere of scuzzy dread.
See what I mean? I’ve never actually seen any of the Saw movies, and I hear they’re pretty awful. But the posters for that franchise are probably the most effective commercial art to be released in the past five years. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre feels like the Saw posters look:
Again, it’s not a good feeling… but there’s something compelling there that demands to be recognized.