Caught up with this one, which I'd never seen before, at a late night screening at a local arthouse theater. And I'm just going to tell you from the outset that this is probably the most intense experience I've ever had in a theater. The film sounds like it couldn't be any kind of masterpiece and decades of cheap, stupid ripoffs have made one skeptical of a movie in which people are murdered with power tools.
But this thing is a frigging masterpiece. Hooper's direction is intense, strange and disorienting; the performances are full on brilliant; the soundtrack is dissonant, discordant and extremely discomfitting. The film as a whole is, and if you truly love great film, you'll get this, one of the most unpleasant experiences I've ever had. The film is stripped down, nihilistic, unrelentingly grim and shocking. It'll probably surprise you how little gore there actually is, but what's implied and the mood created by the complete work is nothing short of devestatingly disturbing.
The first twenty minutes or so are a slow build of dread; then when the film busts loose, with that first, incredibly shocking kill, it never lets go - the remaining hour is a harrowing, non-stop nightmare, surreal and uncomfortable. Hooper has the sense to let some of the more extreme scenes go on far longer than you wish they would; a chase scene through a forest seems that it's never going to end, the victim's screams becoming more and more horrible as the scene progresses. A later dinner scene is one of the most endlessly horrifying I've ever seen.
Marilyn Burns really delivers as the "final girl," probably the best I've ever seen actually; her performance is mindblowingly raw toward the end. A word for Paul Partain as Burns' disabled brother; the film has the courage to make him an incredibly dark, cruel character. And Gunnar Hansen, despite spending the entire film behind a mask, gives a fantastic physical performance. Watch that first kill and you'll know what I mean; the way he lurches into frame and moves convulsively, jerkily, from that first hammer swing to that chilling door slam. It's just a phenomenal performance.
Going in, I was hoping this would be good. I've seen some horror flicks from this period (and later) that just revel in their meanness to the detriment of the film. The cruelty becomes banal and uninteresting. I was hoping this would at least be better than that. I was hoping it would be good. It turned out to be great. I walked out of the film with my nerves still firing. What an amazing film. I went home immediately and replaced one of the films on my "Top Ten of the Year So Far" list with it. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre on my top ten of the year list. Who saw that coming? Great film. Highly recommended. **** stars.