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The long shadow of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre looms over the horror genre

fFifteen years ago, I sat with about 20 of the world’s most prolific serial killers, responsible for hundreds of stabbings, beheadings, and other unspeakable murders – and was absolutely delighted. A gathering of horror film directors including Wes Craven, Eli Roth, Larry Cohen, Don Coscarelli and Robert Rodriguez, this event, half-jokingly dubbed the “Master of the Horror Dinner,” was dizzyingly merry. Just as comedians are personally more serious than expected, horror artists are generally very funny.

The one time I remember the mood turned celebratory as the discussion switched to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). With its director Tobe Hooper shyly nibbling on his lettuce, everyone took turns recounting how they first saw this unlikely masterpiece. They spoke in vivid, reverential detail, as if remembering a religious epiphany.

None of the classic horror films of its time are more revered among genre filmmakers. still chainsaw was stubbornly difficult to imitate compared to her peers Night of the Living Dead and Halloween, which spawned entire genres. You can see the influence of chainsawhowever, in a spate of recent films, including Ti West’s xan exciting new indie from A24 that captures the sleazy delights of 1970s horror with slick modern sophistication.

The special strengths of chainsaw have rarely been replicated because they are often misunderstood. Despite its unsubtle title, this is a formally exquisite art film, packed with delightfully nightmarish imagery that is as poetic as it is crazy. The film is less gory than its reputation. While it’s just as intense as its title, its violence is staged with deception absent in the sequels and remakes.

Another misperception, internalized even by seasoned and admiring critics, concerns his most famous character, Leatherface. in one diversity Throwback Last year, Owen Gleiberman drew the ire of horror fans when he called Halloween a “copy” of chainsaw, then he defended his stance in an essay in which he found the signature of both films in the killer’s mask. “It expresses his identity,” he writes of Leatherface, “and his identity is that he has no identity.”

Gleiberman stood with me on solid ground Halloween, whose killer is a psychology-less abstraction who kills without motivation, but Leatherface is more than just a boogeyman. While he is introduced as committing some of the most amazing murders in film history, the majestically insane final act of chainsaw changes our perspective of him from a hulking hunter to a stammering henchman. Without resorting to a lengthy backstory, the film portrays Leatherface as a monster and a victim pushed into his dirty work by his cannibalistic family. He gets closer to the misunderstood being Frankenstein than a mean slasher villain.



At a time when scary movies had a much smaller reputation, pornography was taken seriously. That is the cultural background of “X” – but also partly its theme

The feat of chainsaw is to empathize with his scariest character without detracting from the bewildering, teeth-chattering horror. Few films do that.

The best films in the spirit of chainsaw realize that the source of their deepest insanity is family dynamics. Rob Zombie’s Gnarly Firefly Trilogy (House of 1000 Corpses, The denials of the devils, 3 From Hell) and the original and remake of The hills have eyes (both great) capture the relatable angst of a dysfunctional family taken to a Grand Guignol extreme.

west x focuses on a confrontation with a troubled rural family in 1970s Texas, an elderly couple who come across as sinister and hostile before their vulnerabilities are exposed and they too become poignant. The relationship of the film with chainsaw is most evident in its stunning visual vocabulary: the ominous vast blue sky, a flash cut sequence, a long view of a screen door from inside a creaking house. There’s the fear evoked by rusty tools and wrinkled skin – and even an echo of the scene where Leatherface does a balletic twist.

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His sitting ducks are shooting a low-budget porn film inspired by success Debbie does Dallas. It helps to know that chainsaw was made by a shady New York company, Bryanston Distributing, which had blushed at the success of the famous sex film deepthroat. The line between horror and porn was fluid in the 1970s. They shared some of the same artists, audience members and dirty theater. At a time when scary movies had a much smaller reputation, pornography was taken seriously. This is the cultural backdrop of x but also partly its subject, and the film keeps looking for the interface between sex and violence. In a poignant sequence, West juxtaposes a scene of staged seduction with a scene of real menace, underscoring the resonant tension.

Despite its unsubtle title, Chain Saw is a formally exquisite art film

(Legendary/Netflix)

Whereas Texas chainsaw it was about economic displacement (new technology cost Leatherface and his family their jobs at the slaughterhouse), x is about sexual repression, how the old inevitably gives way to the young. The resentment this inspires is the fuel of horror that the victims don’t see coming. They’re too busy getting famous by making a movie. The young, idealistic director of the sex movie just wants to make a “good dirty movie,” but tensions rise when his girlfriend tries to join the cast. He refuses, insincerely saying he can’t change the script. She counters that the audience is less interested in the plot than in the sex, and asks, “Why don’t you give people what they pay for?”

Even if West identifies with the director, he doesn’t give him the better argument.

After making a number of elegant, slow-burning scary films such as The innkeepers and The Devil’s House, which garnered critical acclaim if not blockbuster earnings, West has now made a film full of flamboyant, gory murders and salacious sex scenes. You could say he’s finally giving the horror crowd what they pay for. But rather than compromising its aesthetic, indulging in the genre’s traditional crap actually loosens and expands on that aesthetic. His films have long paid homage to the insane bloodbaths of the grindhouse era. But this is his first that feels like one.

Horror has always been about suppressed pleasures. Like comedy, it thrives on the shock of the unexpected. chainsaw is a sleazy exploitation flick done with such skill that it turns into fine art. x arrives in a different context, an era of so-called elevated horror and the kind of seriousness that should make every bloodhound nervous. So West reversed the trick. He made an A24 production with the spirit of a B movie.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/features/texas-chainsaw-massacre-horror-films-x-b2042205.html The long shadow of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre looms over the horror genre

JOE HERNANDEZ

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