[pullquote cite=”” type=”left, right”][amazon text=Amazon&template=carousel&chan=That Film Guy&asin=B002QW2ODQ][/pullquote] The term ‘video nasty’ became common place in the UK in the early 1980s. Commentators like Mary Whitehouse pushed for certain films to be banned from distribution due to obscenity or extreme violence. Films that were released in the cinema were given certificates by The British Board of Film Censorship, however at the time there were no restrictions on the release of video cassettes. This lead to a huge public outcry (with campaigns lead by The Daily Mail) and in 1984 The Video Recordings Act was passed which banned a certain list of films from distribution. One of the higher profile films associated with this movement was Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Such was the perceived horrific content of the film that it wasn’t officially released for home viewing until 1999. For anyone growing up the 1980s, who was aware of the video nasty list, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was the crown jewel of films to see. People who had seen it talked of how terrifying it was and that they had trouble sleeping after they’d seen it. For anyone who thought they were winning the moral crusade against horror films, has been proved wrong in time as horror films are now more popular than ever, with even more gore and violence. Had they not fought so hard for censorship, then there never would’ve been the level of buzz, hype and free marketing for the films and most would’ve passed unnoticed in cultural terms instead of now being hailed as cult classics.
It seems unfair in reflection to group The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in with films like Cannibal Terror, Flesh for Frankenstein and Gestapo’s Last Orgy as it is a fair superior technical masterpiece than these films could ever hope to be. Following a group of teenagers and their trip to visit the place they grew up, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre shows how a visit to an old house in the area becomes a nightmare when Leatherface (Gunnar Nielson) begins attacking them on behalf of his crazed family.
The plot of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is simple, but so effective at creating levels of fear and tension that from the outset it is never comfortable viewing. The sundown setting and dusty dirt paths help to reinforce the isolation that the characters feel, and Leatherface himself is an unstoppable force of nature throughout, madly waving his chainsaw around and being utterly terrifying in the process. This is not an evil character, he is just a cypher for rage and aggression in human form.
It is incredible to think that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre with the title and such a plot would not be gory, but there is almost no gore at all in the whole film. Hooper relies instead on implied violence and a continuous feeling of threat and paranoia. It is a masterpiece of film-making, which is reinforced by the fact that when it came to a cinema release, The British Board of Film Censorship couldn’t actually find anything to cut from it, because nothing broke any rules of conduct. Such was the psychological effect of the film, that it was still banned outright and fans had to wait until 26 years later to actually see it in the UK.
Throughout the film, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre keeps reiterating how the story is based in reality, with grisly reports on the radio about murders in the local area and it is this ‘based on a true story’ idea that made it all the more terrifying. Add to that Leatherface, who is as recognisable in horror films as Freddy Krueger, Jason and Michael Myers and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one of the most influential, creatively unique and technically brilliant films of all time.