Review: Dark Star (1974) (Carpenter’s Supernova!)

Someday this tape will be played and then they’ll feel sorry.

I’ve been having something of a John Carpenter binge lately, watching both Assault on Precinct 13 and The Fog (both of which I’ve never watched before!) I decided to take a look at Carpenter’s first film, Dark Star. Oddly, I was introduced to Dark Star during my first year of philosophy at university. The lecturer used to show us clips of science fiction films to explain certain philosophical concepts. He showed us the conclusion of Dark Star, where a man and a sentient bomb are talking about the meaning of life. It was only years later that I watched the whole film. While a rough piece of work, it’s still a great science fiction comedy. Continue reading

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Review: ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ (1974) (A True Horror Classic?)

texas chainsaw 1974

“It’s all the more tragic in that they were very young”

I’ve reviewed the remake of ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ on my blog (click here for my review), so to balance the scales of quality I thought I’d review the original. The remake was so terrible, and reviewing it. I felt sorry for myself for watching it. The original gave me all I wanted in a horror film: it’s rough, nasty, and leaves a lot to the imagination! The remake was interchangeable with any other silly horror remake that pollutes the cinema screen. Obviously, at the time, the original Chainsaw Massacre didn’t have any competition; yet today, it still stand out as a horrific experience.

The beginning scroll gives us a little taste of what to come: it promises the ‘mad and macabre.’ Is it based on a true story? That notion in itself causes a little queasiness. Then it begins for real: snapshots of fingers, corpses, coupled with gut-wrenching noises. The origin of the noise is left to the imagation: the first full-on visual is a decaying body, with another decaying head placed in its arms. Similar to the original ‘Night of the Living Dead,’ we receive most of the back story from the radio. Corpses have been disinterred, mutilated, and stolen. It does not bode well for the group of teenagers we are shortly introduced to…

Anyone for dinner?
Anyone for dinner?

“Saturn’s a bad influence”

The teenagers even disregard the knowledge of the Zodiac. And there are omens of the slaughter to come: the invalid, Franklin, talking about the slaughter of cows, the psychotic hitchhiker who shows them pictures of slaughtered cows and cuts himself. One very appropriate statement comes from Pam: “There are moments when we cannot believe that what is happening is really true. Pinch yourself and you may find out that it is.” This is a premonition, a prediction, and advice for what’s to follow…

The eventual murders are unglamorous, quick, and static. There’s no longing look at a throat being slit, or a teenager’s guts being pulled out. Leatherface simply strikes his first victim with a hammer (twice): we see this murder from far away. The camera doesn’t zoom in to see the brains being bashed in. What’s more horrific is the parallel exploration of the house by Helen; she sees furniture adorned with polished bones: a carpet of plucked feathers and broken bones. She is the victim of the infamous ‘meat hook’ murder scene, strung up as she watches her boyfriend being sawn to pieces. Again, the ‘meat’ of the scene is left to our imagination.

You… you damn fool! You ruined the door!

More than anything, it’s the non-murder scenes that sticks in the viewer’s mind: Leatherface licking his lips whilst chasing the ‘last girl’ (of course, the last teenager left is the sweet, innocent girl), close-up of Sally screaming (the closing of her pupils the main focus), ‘Grandpa’ sucking on Sally’s blood…the most visually grotesque scene is Leatherface dropping the chain saw on his own leg: the skin splits, the blood flows free. This sticks in the mind because it’s unlike anything else in the film. At the end, we are left with both ‘good’ (Sally) and evil (Leatherface) triumphing, something that one rarely sees nowadays. Sally escapes and Leatherface simply revels in the sunrise, swinging his chain saw around. This is freedom for him. He isn’t defeated, rather invigorated by the one who got away. Sally will be marked forever by this terrible night. For Leatherface, she’s just another victim.

GLORIOUS!
GLORIOUS!

It’s the ambiguous ending that stands out; the horror survives another days. And what will stay with you, the viewer, is haunting images of broken bones, the images of a panic-stricken Sally screaming for her life, and that scene of a revelling Leatherface. There’s no penises cut off, no Achilles ’ heel being sliced, no impromptu brain surgery being performed. What remains is the feeling of terror permeating through the film, rather than grotesque scenes meant to make the viewer squirm, rather than be frightened. It may look rough, grainy, and filmed on an ancient camera, but that adds to the feeling of uneasiness. The modern, boring, overly gruesome horror directors of today could learn a lot from this classic…

VERDICT: 9/10. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the original, is a true horror classic. It embodies everything that causes a horror to be horrific. It’s what you don’t see that terrifies you the most. The film may look rough and ready, but that is part of its enduring legacy.

 

Is ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ (1974) a true horror classic? Leave your thoughts/comments below!