Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Tobe Hooper, 1974



Genre: Slasher Film
Plot: A group of teenagers are in Texas on their way to their ancestral farmhouse. They encounter a hitchhiker along the way. They wander upon the property of this family of people, who were laid off from the nearby slaughterhouse. Slaughtering being their way of life, remains and the family enters the sausage business, which well is much more sinister as the kids find out. One by one, the are killed off by this deranged, chainsaw wielding maniac, Leatherface. Gruesome, and an iconic slasher film of the 70’s, this film is the one that I have chosen to prove/disprove elements of Carol J Clover’s article.

Scene: Opening Scene/ Character Introduction

Analysis: The film opens with the shot of a dead animal, presumably possum, on the road, which according to me denotes that, the film is clearly about death, which is also blatantly mentioned in the title. Also an interesting element is that, as the starting credits are rolling, there is a dialogue in the background which sounds like news over the radio, which gives the film a very realistic everyday setting. Also the false document technique, which in the start says that the film is based on true events, is unsettling to the viewer, as it sort of makes you wonder, as to whether you, sitting in your seat watching the movie are safe, or is there someone out there, who kills people with chainsaws and who might get you.

Clearly on the basis of the setting one can say that the film is set in the 70’s on account of the car, which is a van, hippie like in nature, and the interests of the character,Pam, is in the zodiac and occult.

Now Franklin in the start of the film is shown to be the one who is physically handicapped, and he emerges out of the car on the ramps, as though it were a baby emerging from a womb, but in this case the baby is born defective so therefore will it be able to survive in the bad world outside. As it is when the truck goes by, Franklin’s wheelchair stumbles down the hill along with him, and he gets bruised. So sort of until now, one gets the impression that Franklin might be the one to die first.

About Sally, who becomes our final girl. Carol Clover spoke about how the final girl is distinguishable from the rest. I agree with a few points of her argument but not everything. Sally does seem to be distinct from the rest, in the sense that at the graveyard she is the one who goes to talk to the Sheriff and find out about her grand father’s grave, and she seems practical even in her explanation to Franklin.

But Carol J Clover, says that the final girl is sexually repressed or inactive. This is do not agree with as in this film at least Sally, has a boyfriend, Jerry, and the reason she goes towards the house is for Jerry, which therefore means that there is much more to the character of a final girl than just being sexually inactive.

Scene: Hitchhiker Scene

Analysis: In this scene the hitchhiker is an immediate autonomous, internal threat, for the following reasons. He looks slightly off his rocker, and is covered in dried blood, and blood is something that should remain outside, not on the clothes of a person. But as usual, a rational reason is given for the blood, saying that he was in the slaughterhouse. Here again begins a strange ambiguity, Franklin who is the one in the wheelchair, is as fascinated by the process of killing the cattle, as the hitchhiker and he sort of admires the killing of cattle, which is sort of not normal, for a person, I mean after all, I agree that we like to eat hamburgers, but we wouldn’t want to know what happened to the cattle!

Also we have again an inside out situation, when the hitchhiker cuts his palm, the blood gushes out, and the blood that was supposed to remain inside, came outside, which sort of was like, a precursor, to what would happen later on in the film, that what is supposed to remain inside, comes outside, throught the use of the chainsaw and other weapons by Leatherface.

The odd thing is that Franklin was in admiration about the fact that the hitchhiker cut his hand, and which is strange, and sort of gets you to wonder as to whether it would be because of Franklin’s sadistic tendencies, curiosities that the rest would have to die.

Another interesting fact, is the hitchhiker, is very childlike in his actions, to an extent seems dyslexic which instantly starts registering as a threat, because it sort of follows the pretext of a slasher killer, but even then in one’s mind there is that lingering doubt, that he could not be the killer as he was too skinny, and how would he pick up a chainsaw. So therefore, the characteristics of the killer in slasher films may be there in other characters of the film as well, which may lead us on a wild goose chase, and sort of gets us looking the other way in the film.

Also while the whole context of the crazy hitchhiker is in the film, also outside the film world, I think the movie, is sort of conveying a message, that hey, don’t just pick up any random dude from the road! Keep Driving!

Scene: Discovery of Sawyers Home and Death of Pam and Kirk

Analysis: Sexual transgressors are the one’s who die first. So said Carol J Clover’s article. And in this film it is true. Kirk and Pam attempt to spend some romantic time at the pond, but the pond is missing, and then they trespass on to the property of the Sawyer’s(as I shall be calling them, based on their name in Texas Chainsaw Massacre II(1986)). Already two mistakes. That would mean that two must die.

As we saw in the gas station scene, and in the swimming hole area, Pam is wearing a sort of backless top, with small red shorts, which makes her vulnerable and penetrable to say the least.

Now the place. The terrible place. Kirk enters the home, and he see’s the skins of animals on the walls, then on hearing a pig squeal he rushes towards it, only to be maimed on the head with a mallet by Leatherface. In the shot we can see the viciousness of the beating and yet, when Leatherface pulls the door shut, it is completely steel, and antiseptic in nature, which is completely different from the way he kills her.

When Pam goes to look for Kirk, she encounters the room filled with bones, and the horror is the fact, that the bones that are supposed to be inside are now outside, and also the animal skins all over the walls are unsettling.

But the funny thing is that from the outside, the house looks like any other house, and looks as Freud would call it heimesch. Instead I feel that it is the ancestral home of Franklin that seems more apt as a setting for a film titled Texas Chainsaw Massacre. But I think the reason the home was made that way was to prod at horror films in earlier decades, where the places would be on a hill, desolate, dark, creepy crawlies and dark contrasts characterized the homes of evil, while in this case, this was just an abandoned mansion. Nothing unheimlich about it.

Now the killing scenes. Clover has spoken about how the female’s death is given much more importance that the male’s. In this scene, we see Leatherface, lifting up Pam and grabbing her by the waist, as he drags her down into the cellar, and puts her on a hook, penetrating her in a way. The way he held her as it is seemed sexual, in the sense that it seemed that he might rape her, but nothing of that sort happens. It is as though one was led on to believe until this point that she might get raped then killed, but then the movie just flips it around and kills her, sort of like saying ‘Ha! You don’t know what I know!’.

Also when Leatherface powers up the chainsaw, he holds it at his midsection, which sort of makes it seem like an extension of his penis, and he used this extension to kill, ‘castrate’, Kirk, though one only sees the chainsaw and not Kirk’s dismembered head.

Scene: Sally’s Escape

Analysis: Though initially I thought that I would analyze only two scenes I decided on analyzing four scenes in as much detail I could manage, and basically get the point across. This scene is important and this scene clearly speaks about the features of the final girl in slasher film.

Leatherface is clearly an external threat, which is psychological in nature. But what is interesting is that, there is a gender ambiguity in Leatherface, as in he is scary, but at the same time he is scared. He is scared of his elder brother, and he is scared off all these humans who have suddenly come into his home, and invaded his space. There are no women in the family, except for the dead grandmother, and sort of Leatherface assumes a feminine, maternal role in the family.

Sally manages to escape from the clutches of the hitchhiker, and jumps out through a window, to a supposed safety. But the hitchhiker and Leatherface chase her. She runs trying to escape them, and manages to get the hitchhiker in the way of a truck, thus crushing him.

But somehow in my mind, Sally does not really suit the final girl characteristics. Sure she was more practical than the rest, but she really did not seem manly as she never really injured Leatherface, she just kept escaping him. Even in the end, it is only by sheer chance that she manages to enter the pick up truck before Leatherface’s chainsaw comes down.

Her hysterical laughter at the end, sort of makes you wonder, has this incident made her as crazy as Leatherface, so now the threat is no more Leatherface, it’s Sally herself. And in the film, I did find in the earlier portions incidences which showed Sally’s levelheadedness and agility, but in the end, there was nothing, it’s like she was reduced to a damsel in distress status, and the male aid, first in the form of the cattle truck driver and then in the form of the pick up driver came to her aid.

One thing which I noticed in the film was an interesting racial element. The truck was called Black Maria, and within was clearly a driver of African-American descent, and as he exits the truck her grabs a wench. The same wench he hurls at Leatherface, causing him to drop the chainsaw and cut his leg. I feel this element is sort of a poke at that look, the African-American’s may be cattle truck drivers, but they are resourceful, and far more sensible than the whites, who are going about killing people and running about with chainsaws.

I watched the film once before reading Clover’s article and once after and in many scenes I was able to identify with what Clover had written but there were scenes like this last one, in which I read Clover’s final girl analysis and there wasn’t much of a resemblance to the film, but the same article is quite relevant to the final girl in films like Halloween. But that would mean that the Final Girl character analysis is film specific, so it’s not that the final girl must possess all of the characteristics as mentioned by Clover, but she may possess some or one of them.

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