Bravo’s epic show on the hundred scariest movie moments made me glad I have cable. A scene from “Jaws” made the top of the list, which wasn’t something I agreed with, but different strokes for different folks. My scariest movie moment came from none other than “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” (I shouldn’t need to say it, but I will. I will only be discussing the original film. The remake has no place in history.)
The moment that freaked me out the most in that film (and I believe it was the scene that made the Bravo special) was when Leatherface appeared in the doorway and brought the hammer down on Kirk’s head. Then, after hitting his victim one more time, he drags him into the room and slams that steel door shut with an authoritative bang. My mind went into overdrive then as I knew that whatever was about to happen would be pretty far from good.
Everything leading up to that scene was perfect. From Kirk finding the tooth on the porch to the sounds of the pig squealing in the room he was approaching. It sets the mood so well that it should be studied in film schools.
And that’s why I love that film.
My fascination with the movie began in elementary school. I was reading an article about it in a movie magazine, and it was reported that people were running out of the theatre in fear, some even vomiting at what they saw on the screen (kind of like a showing of “Snow Dogs”). I loved horror movies, and any movie that could do that had to be good.
When our local theatre showed it, I begged my dad to take me. He refused, telling me that he saw a trailer for it where little kids got cut up with a chainsaw. That never happens in the movie, but I now understand why he lied to me. (Not that I forgive him for it.) If I couldn’t see it in the theatre, my only other choice was renting it.
The video store we went to didn’t have the movie, despite me asking about it on every visit, but it did have “Terror in the Aisles,” which features clips from various horror movies … including my Holy Grail. When those scenes (I think there were two) from the horror classic came up on the screen, I was terrified. The movie looked nothing like the horror movies I was used to. It looked dirty. It looked real. The people weren’t anyone I recognized, and the chainsaw wielding maniac looked nothing like I expected. He looked … human. He wore a skin mask, but he still looked like he could be your neighbor. I remember my heart racing. I remember thinking, “Maybe I shouldn’t see this film.” And for a while, I didn’t want to.
As time progressed, however, I forgot my fear. I became even more obsessed with seeing the film. I did all the research on the movie I could at my school’s miserable library and tried to visualize what happened on the screen. I tried to analyze what made it so scary … all without seeing the damn thing. That obstacle was removed, though, when my mom bought me the video.
I remember being thrilled and sick to my stomach as I worked up the nerve to watch it. I put the tape into the top of our VCR (yes, they used to be top loaders) and waited. The voiceover came on. The burning sun. The corpse art. The hitchhiker.
F**k. I had never been so scared of a movie in my life … and haven’t been to this day.
By the time the film was over, there was no doubt in my mind about the power of film and fear. Both could move mountains. I also knew from that day on that films like “Halloween,” as much as I liked it, would never be able to scare me. “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” could be real. People like those creepsters do roam the Earth. They are f****d up, and they kill. Zombies aren’t real. Unstoppable killing machines who are easily thwarted by virgin teens aren’t real. Vampires and werewolves aren’t real. Leatherface, though, could be real. (And kind of was.)
I’ve found that people who like horror movies are divided into two camps. There are those who like the pretty, safe Hollywood movies where hot looking actors fighting stupid monsters and win. And then there are those who like their horror to be as frightening as possible. They don’t care about name actors or safe conclusions. They want to be scared. I fall into the second camp, and I look at the first camp as nothing more than cowards and weekend warriors. They are sheep who think they are wolves. I don’t respect them for that and never will, but I do understand them. Not everyone can go the distance. Not everyone wants to try. For me, “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” was the distance.
No movie has ever quite lived up to Tobe Hooper’s classic. I think it’s one of a handful of perfect films out there — one that does exactly what it sets out to do. It’s so effective that it still carries a stigma in an age where you can watch executions on the Internet. It still scares people, and it even scares people who are too scared to see it. Hell, it earns respect by that aspect alone.
Hopefully there’s a thirteen-year-old boy or girl out there reading this, some kid who loves horror but has always been to afraid to see the film. Kid, if you ever get up the nerve to do it, savor the flavor because the rush you’ll get is a pretty rare thing in film. In fact, watching the film for the first time is a lot like losing your virginity, and as far as horror films are concerned, there’s no better partner to do it with.
Just make sure you’re near a shower. You’re gonna need it afterward.
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