The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

Director: Tobe Hooper

Running Time: 83 Minutes

Certification: 18

Starring: Marilyn Burns, Allen Danziger, Paul A. Partain, William Vail, Teri McMinn, Edwin Neal, Jim Siedow, Gunnar Hansen, John Dugan

It's astounding how times change. Once notorious in the UK for being refused a classification by the BBFC, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is now available to purchase on a boutique physical media release gorgeously assembled by Second Sight. Regardless of how many times you've seen Tobe Hooper's genre defining masterpiece, it's worth reliving the nightmare again for this luscious package.

Opening this film are the distinctive vocals of John Laroquette, whose narration of the opening text hints at the horrors which unfolded on August 18th, 1973. Things then transition to the sounds of digging over pitch-black scenes, while momentary flashes show a decaying figure while an unnerving whining is heard. These brief horrors glimpsed in the night are then brought into the daylight for all to see, as the sweltering heat shows rotting body parts tied to a monument. While the camera slowly unveils this grisly display, a news-reader can be heard recounting the horrific occurrences over the radio. It's an unsettling opening which appropriately sets the mood, yet is merely the first stop on this unforgettable journey.

Five friends travel in a van through rural Texas, including Sally Hardesty (Marilyn Burns) and her wheelchair bound brother, Franklin (Paul A. Partain). They pick up a hitchhiker who makes a horrific first impression by gleefully cutting his hand with Franklin's knife, leaving the group uncomfortably wondering what he'll do next. Once the hitchhiker is finally kicked out, what could be seen as a creepy diversion in this journey is instead a harbinger of horrors to come.

While most of the group are focused on getting gas and leaving this location, Franklin mulls over what happened. His friends may focus more on astrology and trying to enjoy themselves, yet they ignore clear warning signs while Franklin is more aware of potential danger. There's a clear distance between the wheelchair-bound passenger and his friends, as evidenced when he's forced to miserably wander around the ground-floor of an abandoned house while the others cheerfully explore upstairs. As a result, the carefree actions lead to horrific fates for  all involved.

An unsettling sense of dread looms over the character's actions before anything happens, and then Gunnar Hansen appears as the mass-murdering specter of death. Leatherface's first appearance is a masterclass in editing and scoring, making a sequence which finishes quickly feel like a terrifying ordeal lasting a lifetime. As it ends before viewers can process the horror they've just witnessed, the exceptional score reverberates in ways that can be felt in the bones.

That one sequence is a phenomenal example of how exceptionally so many elements work together, heightening the situation to nightmarish degrees. While the title may set audiences expectations to a gruesome bloodbath, the emotional scars linger for viewers as the use of a meat hook and the eponymous chainsaw imply more than is shown. Then there's the unsettling set-design, as these interior decorating skills burn into the memory while the score screams "danger".

Central to it all is Leatherface, the unsettling creature adorned in masks made of his victim's skinned faces. Contrasting the frightening visage is an emotional center, as the people intruding on his family home becomes overwhelming to this hulking figure. While the character cannot verbalize his emotions, Hansen magnificently conveys how the iconic murderer feels he's in the middle of his own home-invasion horror film.

As the other members of Leatherface's family make themselves known, their hierarchy becomes apparent as dynamics emerge between the group. It leads to an unforgettable dinner scene, where screams of terror drown beneath villainous mockery in a sequence which captures the increasing intensity that never lets up. Key to these unfolding horrors is Marilyn Burns, magnificently capturing Sally's terror throughout this unending ordeal. As she tries escaping danger through numerous windows to potential refuge, the specter of horrors endured is never far behind her. The effect left is evident by the end, as her hysterical laughter while blood-soaked conveys the scars left upon her.

Alongside the chilling slaughter, Hooper and Kim Henkel's screenplay has quite a bit on its mind. An early scene passing a slaughterhouse brings up the barbaric methods used to kill cattle, something which had become modernized to streamline the process while also putting many people out of work. The financial difficulties are further mentioned in a comment from the store-owning old man, as the cost of electricity is enough to drive somebody out of business. It's a thoughtful aspect to this grimy film that will make viewers desire a shower once the credits roll, and will fry one's nerves whether its their first or thirty-first viewing.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is now available on 4K UHD and Blu-Ray from Second Sight