The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
The Scene: Sally’s dinner with the Sawyer Clan.
Why I Love This Scene: Insane. Madcap. Macabre. These words just scratch the surface at how to describe this scene and the movie as a whole. Possibly my favorite horror movie of all time, this movie took all the typical conventions of what a horror movie was and turned it on its ear. I saw this movie at a relatively young age, maybe 11 or 12, and immediately fell in love with how terrifying it is. I can only imagine what audiences in 1974 must’ve felt when they saw this masterpiece of horror cinema. The sound design alone gives me the willies. The echo effect of the camera flash in the opening scene of the film is enough to unnerve you. Mix that effect with the sounds of digging in earth and the terror creeps over you. In fact there really is no musical score at all and that’s partially why it works so well. I can’t stand musical scores in horror movies. Save for a few handful great ones like Psycho, The Exorcist and Halloween, most horror films rely way too heavily on music and awful sound effects in an attempt to heighten the scares. 9 times out of 10 they fail. Musical scores should be like salt when cooking—just a dash here and there. Compare the scene when Pam stumbles into the Sawyer’s living room with the minimal score and the blood-curling chicken noises to any supposed scary scene in say, last year’s The Conjuring. No contest.
The maverick filmmaking style of Tobe Hooper really delivered a creepy and sustainable horror classic that is still unmatched, in my opinion, to this day. It was part thriller and part monster movie and ushered in the era of the slasher and was decades ahead of torture porn like the Hostel and Saw series.
Yesterday I heard that the film’s star, Marilyn Burns, who played sole survivor Sally, passed away on Tuesday. She didn’t have much a film career outside the Hooper/Chainsaw films but her portrayal of Sally and her torment should’ve garnered her an Oscar nomination. Here, I’m including the pivotal nerve-racking dinner scene where the psychotic and sadistic Leatherface and his kin torment poor Sally, all the while laughing at her as she screams in vain to escape this nightmare. I was always impressed at such a wicked scene and how it was filmed. Just the close-up of her pain-stricken eye with the dilated pupil of fear is more expressive in such a dreadful manner that you can’t help feel actual sympathy for Sally to get out of that house! It’s very hard to find another horror movie that gives you such a feeling.