Horror fans often times disagree about what they find frightening. I’d like to ask though, is there anyone out there who is not mortified by TOBE HOOPER’s THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE? I mean, I know I’m old school so you have to fill me in kids, is it possible to watch that movie and not be freaked? To me it’s pretty much the cinematic definition of the word horror. I can understand someone not enjoying it, it can be a shrieky headache, and I can understand someone not finding it absolutely convincing or perhaps a tad too comical, but it is unquestionably horrifying, no? Come on, a lady is shoved on to a meat hook for Christ’s sake.
Cannibals, chainsaws, rotting corpses, a lampshade made out of human skin… what’s not to be disturbed by? Still, even with all of those obvious sources of terror flopping around there is something within the film that fills me with an even more intense feeling of dread. I can handle the physical pain and humiliation on display. It’s the uncanny elements that unbalance me; the ominous horoscopes, the solar flares, the feeling that the universe is collapsing in on our travelers. Again, I am old school. What’s it like to see this movie when your childhood did not take place in the seventies? Are such people free from the full intensity of CHAINSAW‘s morbid grip?
The thing that scares the hell out of me in T.C.M. is not the ogre known as Leatherface but the fact that it is a journey backwards to a place that is now dead. Sally Hardesty (MARILYN BURNS) and her wheelchair bound brother Franklin (PAUL A. PARTAIN) are essentially guiding their friends on a tour of their lost, corroded youth. Before they are ever aware of the vicious madness of Leatherface and company, they explore the once livable now dilapidated home of their grandparents. Sally laughs off the fact that she once slept in the crumbling shell but from where the pouty Franklin sits, his chair unable to course the terrain, her squeals of delight sound like (and foreshadow) squeals of anguish. It’s almost as if they have stumbled into some kind of Langolier-chewed history that’s disintegrating beneath them. They truly can’t go home again…there are spiders living there now.
Which brings me to the moment that inexplicably sticks out for me in the film. Sally and Franklin’s pal Kirk (WILLIAM VAIL) wanders ahead of the group and enters a room. In an upper corner near the ceiling, he finds a nest of seething and scattering daddy long leg spiders. Trust me here, I’m not one to be squeamish about spiders (they’re adorable), but there’s something about this bit that gets under my skin. It’s almost like an animated scribble, a growing negative space or a thousand cracks forming and the scratching, clattery sound applied over top of the visual is so other worldly sinister and so wildly exaggerated that it chills me to the bone. I’m sure that in the real world a psycho with a chainsaw is more upsetting than a nest of spiders, but in the real world a nest of spiders is polite enough not to act like a LOVECRAFTian tear in the universe.
Maybe I see too much in that mass of spiders or maybe it’s the potential absence of anything being there at all that riles me. Do they simply remind me of the daddy long legs I used to encounter on my back porch when I was little (and by encounter I mean rip the legs off of)? Leatherface is ultimately human and no matter what his efforts he’ll end up eventually just like his grandfather, barely able to lift a hammer. I guess to me those spiders say that time itself is the bigger monster carving through Texas and that it’s a monster that no one can outrun.