One of the biggest and most famous films to be banned in the UK ever, Tobe Hooper’s seminal 1974 classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre did not gain a full uncut release until 1999. Which is a great thing, because this is quite simply one of the greatest horror films ever made.
For anyone who does not know the plot, it is the story of five teens travelling through Texas who run into a family of vicious, cannibalistic psychopaths, one of who is known as Leatherface and dispatches his victims with a chainsaw. Admittedly, the plot sounds basic and like the film will be a blood soaked mess of entrails and limbs flying everywhere. What you get is something else entirely.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is not bloody. Aside from a couple of small moments where some gore is seen, but it is so minor. The reason that the film works is because of how it uses its tone to create fear. The whole film has a real oppressive sense of surrealism throughout. Nothing seems quite right at any point and there is no time when it lets up in any way.
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Loosely based on the true story of serial killer Ed Gein, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is an absolute masterpiece. It is terrifying, grimy and proof that gore does not make a film scary. It is about tone and setting. Having seen the movie when it was first shown on UK television back in 2000, I was blown away by what I was seeing and I still am. It is a film that even after more than 40 years has lost none of its power. It is raw, visceral and relentless. Quite simply, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one of the best, if not the best horror films ever made.
This is an interesting one. The film was initially put forward for a rating from the BBFC back in 1975, with BBFC Secretary Stephen Murphy regarding it as a good movie. But, according to the BBFC website, Murphy ” felt strongly that the level of terrorisation, particularly towards the end of the film, and the film’s focus on ‘abnormal psychology’ was unsuitable for a BBFC X certificate to be issued. The distributor reacted to this advice by making some minor reductions in the final scenes of terrorisation, formally submitting a slightly truncated version on 12 March 1975.”
This was rejected as well. The issue was what could the distributors do. “It was noted at the time that the film relied for its effect upon creating an atmosphere of madness, threat and impeding violence, whilst shying away from showing much in the way of explicit detail. This made it very difficult for the BBFC to cut the film into what might be regarded as an acceptable version since there were few moments of explicit violence that could be removed. Even if these elements were cut, it did nothing to alter the disturbing ‘tone’ of the film.”
Then, they tried again. ” During the late 70s, Ferman was asked to look at the film on at least two separate occasions, to see whether any cuts could be made to render the film acceptable for national release. However, despite looking carefully again at the two most sadistic scenes – the killing of Pam and the attempted killing of Sally – Ferman was forced to agree with his predecessor that this was not a case where cutting the worst moments made a significant enough difference to the film.” Famously, Ferman described the film as the “pornography of terror”.
That was it, until 1999 when it was resubmitted and granted an uncut release. I do see the idea of there being very little to cut. As said, the film does not rely on graphic violence. But I thoroughly disagree with the statement “pornography of terror”. That seems to indicate that audiences are meant to enjoy the terror the victims go through. That is not the case. Unlike some more fun slasher films, the horror is real throughout.
Basically, I do not think the film is ban-worthy and I am so glad that it is now available. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one of the most important horror films ever made.