The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a ferociously effective film with a power to disturb that remains undiluted after thirty six years circulating in the social consciousness of humanity. It is tempting to view the film as an exceptional and isolated event, certainly there is no other American horror film of the 1970’s to match its all pervasive atmosphere of charnel house terror. However, in retrospect Chainsaw was clearly a part of a strain of American cinema in the 1970’s that explored the dichotomy between the urbanity of city or suburban life and the simpler climes of the countryside. These clashes between modernity and rural existence were witnessed in varying degrees of success in Deliverance (1972), The Last House on the Left (1972), Badlands (1973), and one of my personal favourites Race with the Devil (1975). In his book Nightmare Movies Kim Newman terms these films ‘Rural horrors’, and their rich thematic territory explores issues of environment and ecology, the nightmarish inversion of American landscape and pioneer spirit, alienated and disenfranchised populations, and the sour decaying underbelly of ’American dream’ capitalist endeavour. They are also united by a belief in the backwardness of rural communities, with intimations of in breeding and aberrant behaviour or rituals adding a layer of hysteria to the horror. Of all of these films perhaps it is Chainsaw which succeeds best in creating the requisite tone and atmosphere to match these thematic concerns, and quite rightly emerged as one of the most radical horror films ever produced in America.
© Shaun Anderson 2010