Review: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) 
Director: Tobe Hooper     
Writers: Tobe Hooper, Kim Henkel   
Stars: Marilyn Burns, Edwin Neal, Jim Siedow, Gunnar Hansen

Cliff’s Notes: Narrator: "The film which you are about to see is an account of the tragedy which befell a group of five youths, in particular Sally Hardesty and her invalid brother, Franklin. It is all the more tragic in that they were young. But, had they lived very, very long lives, they could not have expected nor would they have wished to see as much of the mad and macabre as they were to see that day. For them an idyllic summer afternoon drive became a nightmare. The events of that day were to lead to..." First lines of the film spoken by Emmy Award-Winning actor John Larroquette

Lecture: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (TCM) is, without a doubt, one of the best horror films ever made. Technically speaking, the composition and direction of this flick is nearly perfect. Each of the early strokes beautifully crafts the image of a carefree summer drive. The documentary-like first act is tempered with only a vague air of threat, as if this is the beginning of a cosmically bad day. Our group of friends is sketched with the broadest of strokes, but the quality actors bring it up a level. The meeting with this hitchhiker, the exploring of the family home, and the walks through the Texas countryside each build to a single explosion of violence.

And from that moment on, TCM is like watching a nightmare. Danger is always no more than a few feet away. The reality of the film seems to collapse in upon itself, keeping the viewer trapped in a holocaust of violence and degradation. There is no reprieve, no release from the horrors that surround the characters. As it builds, TCM becomes a horror powerhouse. And then the dinner scene starts.

Filmed over 26 straight hours in the Texas heat, the dinner scene is pure anarchy. It is a decent into madness driven by violence, some of it real, and rage. It’s like watching the end of the world. That’s not a complaint. This is a horror movie lover’s dream. This scene, as well as the third act, are so emotionally draining that, by the time the film has let up, any of the film;s last images – characters run over by trucks, escaping into madness, or pure unadulterated rage- are apt metaphors for the viewer’s mental state.

Acting: Marilyn Burns, who sadly just passed, R.I.P., is fantastic in this flick. I’m not sure how much counseling she had afterwards, but the terror she puts out on screen is incredible. The rest of the disposable teens hold their own and read as real people, which makes the docu-feel of the flick hit harder.

Special props go to the chainsaw family. Edwin Neal and Jim Siedow are fantastic as the crazies. Siedow especially brings a moral schizophrenia to the film. He is both drawn to the violence that his family is dishing out, but also somehow terrified of the possible results. Hansen also brings a powerhouse performance. Without a single word, he commands the screen like a champ.

Directing: Tobe Hooper underplays most of his choices. TCM, at least for the first half or so, reads almost like a documentary. The angles are simple, the pace effortless, and the tension slowly rising. Hooper pays strict attention to Hitchcock’s bomb under the table theory. We know this is going to end horribly, so the lead up is laced with tension. Halfway through, Hooper opens the floodgates. There are crazy dolly shots, wild angles, and extreme close-ups galore. Every movement of the camera, every shot of not seeing something terrible build the film to a level of terror that has rarely been seen.

Script: Despite being rewritten extensively during the production, the script is a perfect microcosm of the movie. It’s distressing, technically solid, and matches the horror happening on screen. Grade A!

Effects: The film itself is nearly bloodless. While other, lesser films would have collapsed under this stress, it actually makes TCM more unsettling. By seeing less, the viewer’s brain makes up for what they think they’re seeing. And what they think they’re seeing is horrible. Also, special note for the production design of the Chainsaw house. You want “arm” chairs? Awesome bone sculptures? Distinct and terrifying masks? You get it all and more!

Highlights: Um… the whole thing? Actually, the one thing that I have found, after multiple viewings, is the humor of the piece. I know, it doesn’t sound like this is a funny flick, but TCM is masterful in its use of dark humor.

Lowlights: I really can’t complain about the film itself. The only thing I can mention is that the making of the film was incredibly, legendarily difficult. The horror stories from the TCM set are well known and universally painful. Not only was Marilyn Burns actually cut and beaten, several of the cast complained of the difficult conditions. Edwin Neal compared the filming to his time is Vietnam and Gunnar Hansen’s thoughts on filming are well documented in the excellent Chainsaw Confidential. (BTW, pick up Chainsaw Confidential. It’s a great look at the creation of this film.) I’m all for suffering for art, but this was a little ridiculous.

Final Thoughts: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is an excellent film. It routinely ends up on just about everyone’s top horror film list. The awards are well deserved. There is no film that matches the intensity and destruction that this movie lets loose upon the viewer.

- J.W. Brewer

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Review: I Saw the Devil (2010)

I Saw the Devil (2010)

Director: Kim Jee-woon

Amid snowfall in Korea, a man breaks into a car and brutally murders a young lady while her fiancée helplessly listens on the phone. Unfortunately for the killer, that man, (played stoically by Byung-hun Lee) just happens to be a secret agent with a complicated understanding of revenge.

Kim quickly tracks down the killer, an unassuming bus driver, Kyung, (Min-Sik Choi) who is perhaps the devil himself (a detail that gains momentum throughout). From here, it’s quickly revealed that his fiancée was only one of many such victims. Kim and Kyung battle and the villain is taken down. It’s epic. It’s satisfying and there is a lot more of it. That’s because instead of capturing Kyung, our hero plants a tracking device on him and releases him. You see, for our hero, revenge will take place only when the villain feels what our hero has. This film, "Akmareul boatda" aka I Saw the Devil, quickly becomes torture porn in reverse. That is, this is a film about a hero constantly torturing the villain and honestly, it’s a lot of fun to watch.

At nearly two and a half hours, you may think this concept of “catch and release” would get tiring and it certainly would, but the plot continues to thicken. One anothers’ back-stories accumulate and ultimately play into a visceral cascade where, one might believe, our hero can truly not recover.  However, this is a film that doesn’t stop being inventive. That’s right, this is actually a film that starts out strong and only gets stronger.

I Saw the Devil might lag for some and while there is limited dialogue there’s also subtitles. That said, the photography of this film is alone breathtaking, as each composition is a conscious and artistic choice, and while a horror film, director, Kim Jee-woon knows just how much gore to show in order to get one to be able to empathize with our hero. The score is appropriate. The acting is flawless, and the philosophical overtones all compliment this baroque masterpiece, which emphasizes what’s missing in so many horror films on the mass market today. If you still haven’t seen this film, and you prefer substance over pulp, then I would suggest planning on watching this without interruption and savoring every moment. It’s really that good.

- Nick Bain

Review: Blue Velvet (1986)

Blue Velvet (1986)
Director: David Lynch
Writer: David Lynch (screenplay)
Stars: Isabella Rossellini, Kyle MacLachlan, Dennis Hopper

I remember when I first saw David Lynch’s 1986 surreal classic, Blue Velvet. I got home after hanging out with friends and noticed I recorded it in my DVR. Without knowing much about it, I hit the play button and found myself equally wowed and disturbed by Lynch’s haunting masterpiece.

What makes Blue Velvet a horror film? Good question! It’s the idea that a candy-colored, peaceful, little town has hidden secrets. The film tells the tale of Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle Maclachlan), a college student called home to care for his comatose father. While strolling through a field, Jeffrey finds a severed ear covered in ants and takes it to the police.

It’s at the police station where Jeffrey overhears a detective (George Dickerson) discuss the case and takes it upon himself to investigate. Jeffrey finds himself in one hell of a nightmarish ride involving a femme fatale lounge singer (Isabella Rossellini) and a deranged gangster named Frank Booth. Boy, you’ll think Jeffrey regrets picking up that ear in the field.

Blue Velvet is a masterful Neo-Noir film that has a lot to say. In the opening scene, we get beautiful and semi-satirical shots of Lumberton (the film’s setting). Everything is nice and peaceful, but then we see a glimpse underneath the soil, of large insects crawling creepily, implying this isn’t an ordinary town. Perhaps it’s also saying that no town is ordinary. The first half of Blue Velvet is entirely buildup. Through hallway shots and POV shots through closets, we know we’re about to see something that will shock us. 

- Austin Maggs


Tobe Hooper's Terrifying Legacy: Exploring the Best Horror Movies from the Mastermind

Tobe Hooper's Terrifying Legacy: Exploring the Best Horror Movies from the Mastermind

Tobe Hooper, a visionary filmmaker and a true master of horror, has left an indelible mark on the genre with his unique storytelling and innovative approach to filmmaking. Born on January 25, 1943, in Austin, Texas, Hooper's contribution to the world of horror has been both iconic and influential. This article delves into some of Tobe Hooper's best horror movies, showcasing his ability to instill fear and captivate audiences with his distinctive style.

  1. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974):

Tobe Hooper's breakout film, "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre," is often hailed as one of the most influential horror movies of all time. Released in 1974, this low-budget masterpiece redefined the slasher genre, introducing audiences to Leatherface, a chainsaw-wielding killer, and his deranged family. The film's gritty, documentary-style approach and relentless tension make it a timeless classic that continues to terrify and inspire filmmakers to this day.

  1. Poltergeist (1982):

In collaboration with Steven Spielberg, Tobe Hooper directed the supernatural horror film "Poltergeist." Released in 1982, the movie revolves around a suburban family whose home is invaded by malevolent spirits. While Spielberg's influence is evident in the film's heartwarming family dynamics, Hooper's touch brings a darker and more intense edge to the supernatural occurrences. "Poltergeist" remains a benchmark in haunted house cinema, blending scares with emotional depth.

  1. Salem's Lot (1979):

Based on Stephen King's novel of the same name, "Salem's Lot" is a two-part television miniseries that showcases Tobe Hooper's talent for adapting written material into gripping visual narratives. The story revolves around a writer who returns to his hometown, only to discover that a vampire is turning its residents into the undead. Hooper's atmospheric direction and skillful pacing make "Salem's Lot" a standout entry in the vampire horror subgenre.

  1. Eaten Alive (1976):

Following the success of "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre," Hooper continued to explore the theme of madness in the swamps of Texas with "Eaten Alive." This exploitation horror film features a deranged hotel owner who feeds his guests to a giant crocodile. While not as widely celebrated as some of Hooper's other works, "Eaten Alive" is notable for its unrelenting tension and unsettling atmosphere, showcasing the director's ability to create horror in diverse settings.

  1. The Funhouse (1981):

"The Funhouse" sees Hooper venturing into the realm of carnival horror. This slasher film follows a group of teenagers who decide to spend the night in a carnival funhouse, only to encounter a deformed killer. With its blend of suspense, carnival aesthetics, and gruesome kills, "The Funhouse" stands out as an underrated gem in Tobe Hooper's filmography, showcasing his versatility within the horror genre.

Tobe Hooper's legacy as a master of horror endures through his groundbreaking contributions to the genre. From the gritty terror of "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre" to the supernatural chills of "Poltergeist," Hooper's films continue to terrify and inspire new generations of horror enthusiasts. His unique vision, storytelling prowess, and ability to tap into primal fears have solidified his place as a true maestro of horror cinema. Tobe Hooper's impact on the genre is undeniable, and his best horror movies remain essential viewing for anyone seeking a spine-chilling cinematic experience.

Review: Elevator (2011)

Elevator (2011)
Director: Stig Svendsen

Elevator is the story of nine strangers trapped inside an elevator. They are all going to a party for an announcement of the retirement of the CEO, who happens to be on the elevator. It is revealed that one of them has a bomb strapped to her. She is seeking revenge against the CEO. Then she dies. Most of the film is about the characters trying to figure out how to get off the elevator before the bomb goes off.

This could have been an interesting interplay between characters from different socioeconomic backgrounds. Instead, it's an uninteresting, flat story about people stuck in an elevator. In contrast to a film like Devil, (2010, directed by John Erick Dowdle) which is a great suspense story set inside an elevator, this film fails to capitalize on its claustrophobic setting. An interesting cast of characters portrayed by some good actors, never get the chance to break out of stereotypical roles. There is the racist comedian, the rich old white man, and the nice overweight guy.

The storyline of the bomber could have been explored to create more suspense. However, once we learn the bomber's identity, the film loses its momentum. It then turns to gore and blood for shock value. You don't care about any of the people stuck in the elevator, with the exception of the one who is pregnant. You don't feel any sense of doom or urgency with the ticking clock. What could have been a study in themes such as corporate greed, racism, and infidelity, instead fails to be anything more than a boring retread of other movies you've seen before.

There is one reference in the film to Lifeboat (1944, Directed by Alfred Hitchcock). That film also had a group of strangers trapped in a small space with one of them harboring a dark secret. Written by John Steinbeck, it's a great example of a psychological thriller that takes place in one location. See that instead.

- Peter Browne

Open Water (2003): A Tense Dive into Isolation and Survival

Open Water (2003): A Tense Dive into Isolation and Survival

"Open Water," released in 2003, directed and written by Chris Kentis, is a gripping and unconventional thriller that explores the harrowing ordeal of a couple stranded in the vastness of the open ocean. Inspired by true events, the film takes viewers on a tense and claustrophobic journey as it delves into the psychological and physical challenges faced by its protagonists. In this article, we will examine the key elements that make "Open Water" a unique and compelling cinematic experience.

The movie revolves around Susan (Blanchard Ryan) and Daniel (Daniel Travis), a couple on a tropical vacation who find themselves left behind by their scuba diving group in the middle of the ocean. The tension mounts as they realize their predicament and struggle to survive while surrounded by miles of open water. The film is based on the real-life disappearance of a couple during a scuba diving expedition in the Caribbean.

One of the most notable aspects of "Open Water" is its minimalist approach to filmmaking. The movie was shot on a shoestring budget, using handheld cameras and a cast of only two actors. This stripped-down style enhances the sense of realism, making the audience feel as if they are right there with the characters, experiencing the isolation and vulnerability firsthand. The absence of elaborate special effects and extravagant sets adds to the film's authenticity, creating a raw and immersive atmosphere.

"Open Water" succeeds in capturing the fear and helplessness of being stranded at sea. The actors, Blanchard Ryan and Daniel Travis, deliver convincing performances that reflect the emotional and physical toll of their characters' predicament. The film's realism is heightened by the decision to shoot in actual open water rather than in a controlled environment, showcasing the unpredictable nature of the ocean and adding an extra layer of authenticity to the narrative.

As Susan and Daniel grapple with the harsh realities of their situation, the film explores the psychological strain that isolation and impending danger can inflict on individuals. The vastness of the ocean becomes both a stunning backdrop and a formidable antagonist, intensifying the characters' feelings of abandonment and hopelessness. The sound design, incorporating the constant lapping of water and distant sounds of marine life, enhances the suspense, making every moment fraught with tension.

"Open Water" draws inspiration from real-life events and taps into a primal fear of the unknown and the vastness of the open sea. The film's success lies in its ability to engage viewers emotionally, as they share in the characters' struggle for survival. While it may not be a traditional blockbuster, "Open Water" carved its niche as an unconventional and effective thriller that leaves a lasting impression on its audience.

"Open Water" stands as a testament to the power of minimalist filmmaking in crafting a suspenseful and emotionally resonant experience. By immersing viewers in the stark reality of isolation and survival, the film explores the fragility of human existence in the face of nature's unforgiving forces. Nearly two decades after its release, "Open Water" remains a chilling reminder of the vulnerability inherent in the human condition, making it a noteworthy addition to the thriller genre.

Review: Monkey Shines (1988)

Monkey Shines (1988)
Director: George A. Romero
Writers: Michael Stewart (novel), George A. Romero (screenplay)
Stars: Jason Beghe, John Pankow, Kate McNeil

George A. Romero will always and forever be, to many, the master and originator of zombie horror. Monkey Shines, however, does not fall under this category. The “odd guy out," if you will.  I had not seen it until last Monday and it was not at all what I was expecting, out of Romero or in general. This was not necessarily a bad thing. I will keep this review short and sweet this time around.

Monkey Shines is about a quadriplegic man named Allan, who becomes paired up with a trained monkey named Ella. What he does not know, is that Ella was also part of an experiment which allowed her to tap into his deepest feelings of rage, which she carried out for him.

This film was an interesting one because it reminded me a bit of Re-Animator and how the bulk of the movie was slow paced and then just wallops your sensory organs with the last half hour or so. For the most part, it seemed to me to be a basically-sci-fi, not-really-horror movie. It was mainly about this cute little monkey who progressed in intelligence through an experiment. She then started to become slightly naughtier with the storyline, which all in all was pretty tame. There was not a whole lot of gore or horror really, which was actually a nice break, although unexpected and in this case, a little disappointing. My mind wasn’t totally blown by this film, and it didn’t exactly feel like a Romero film ought to. Yes, it was not meant to be just like one of his zombie flicks, but it felt a little too disconnected from his directing style. It is possible though that I’m a bit tainted after familiarizing myself with a gorier video library. If you are looking for and expecting something more in the vein of a psychological, science fiction flick, I would say give it a shot. It’s definitely nothing I will back-shelve, and it was worth taking a look at what else a familiar film director could do.

- Jasmine Casimir

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