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Horror films have long been criticised as immoral, inspiring all manner of antisocial behaviour in their impressionable audiences. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre in particular was singled out as a bad influence: Banned by the British censors in the 70s, several of its sequels were caught up in the ‘video nasties’ panic of the subsequent decade. Yet surely this was unfair. For The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was actually a public information film in many respects; warning viewers of the hazards of picking up hitchhikers, while highlighting the issue of rural unemployment. In particular, the film led the way in stressing the perils of being careless with power tools.
So, to celebrate the release of the newest, nastiest entry into the Massacre family, Texas Chainsaw, we’ve thrown together a brief list of the most memorable moments of power tool misuse in cinema history: The trail of electric and petrol-driven destruction that leads us to Texas today if you will. It’s kind of like the Oscars, only if the Academy gave out awards for the most irresponsible use of industrial and home machinery. While we’d be the first to admit that this is a quirky line-up, we can only assure you that this list truly comes from the heart. There’s a fair amount of kidney, liver and headcheese in there too mind…
Fight with Sledgehammers (1902)
Kickin’ it old school…
While a sledgehammer might not technically be a power tool, it was the closest our great-great-grandparents could lay their hands on, featuring in this now – sadly lost –pioneering British short in which two blacksmiths settle their differences in dramatic style. Incidentally, there are actually more people sledgehammered than chainsawed in the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre…
Dark of the Sun (1969)
The first cut is the deepest…
An early example of the graphically violent, gritty action films that came to dominate the thriller genre in the 70s, Dark of the Sun is a saga of dodgy diamonds and double-crossing in deepest, war-torn Congo. It’s also probably the first example of chainsaw misuse on film, in one of several scenes that helped earn Dark of the Sun widespread condemnation as gratuitously brutal, as a retired Nazi attacks our hero with a power tool.
The Wizard of Gore (1970)
In devastating colour…
Perhaps the best film by B-movie pioneer Herschell Gordon Lewis, who introduced explicit splatter into cheap horror with Blood Feast in 1963. The Wizard of Gore features Lewis’s trademark blend of graphic gore and disarming incompetence in this tale of a magician whose grisly tricks include sawing a woman in half with a chainsaw, likely the first chainsaw killing in horror cinema.
I Drink Your Blood (1970)
Satan was an acidhead…
One of a number of exploitation movies inspired by the Manson murders of 1969, there’s plenty to savour in this pungent slice of grindhouse cheese, featuring a gang of devil-worshipping hippies, infected with rabies by an iffy meat pie. Look out for the two innocuous-seeming flower children who give a kindly old lady an early lesson in how not to use an electric carving knife…
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
You like head cheese?…
A movie that changed the face of a genre – banned, celebrated, analysed, adored, and reviled – the idea for The Texas Chain Saw Massacre came to Tobe Hooper while he was in the hardware section of a busy store. The moment when Leatherface first cranks up his chainsaw is the moment the traditional horror film enters the machine age, that high-pitched roar, the sound of the birth pangs of post-industrial Gothic.
Driller killer cougar…
Made by the UK’s unsung hero of 70s exploitation cinema, Pete Walker, and starring his greatest leading lady, Sheila Keith, who plays a cannibal granny who makes memorable use of a Black and Decker in order to satisfy her killer munchies. Even by Walker’s grim standards, Frightmare’s a bleak, nasty little flick, a gruesome satire of the conservative celebration of traditional family values.
City of the Living Dead (1980)
Cranial trauma Italian style…
The first of the notorious ‘Gates of Hell’ trilogy by Italy’s master of surreal splatter Lucio Fulci, City of the Living Dead features several examples of his trademark nauseating excess, such as one poor actress literally chucking her guts up. It’s the scene where the village idiot is given an impromptu lobotomy with an industrial drill that most excited the gorehounds and outraged the censors.
White powder wipe out…
Chainsaws soon became standard issue for any filmmaker wanting to up the ante in the nastiness stakes. So it was that when Brian de Palma decided to update the gangster film to reflect the increasing brutality of organised crime, he cast Al Pacino at his most unhinged in the lead, while Oliver Stone wrote a power tool torture scene into the script which still makes audiences squirm thirty years on.
Maximum Overdrive (1986)
Mayhem on autopilot…
Stephen King’s first – and to-date only – stint in the director’s chair, even by the author’s own estimation, this tale of machines running amuck is a mess, King later confessing that he was ‘coked out of my mind’ during the shoot. But surely no film that features an AC/DC soundtrack, an ATM calling a customer (King himself) an ‘asshole’, and Emilio Estevez being menaced by a malevolent electric carving knife can be all bad.
Evil Dead II (1987)
Who’s laughing now…
While some purists prefer its less comical predecessor, the second Evil Dead film not only puts its chainsaw centre-stage, but in the hands – or more accurately instead of the hand – of its indomitable wisecracking hero Ash. This surely inspired games designers to make chainsaws the melee weapon of choice for computer game protagonists, from the influential FPS Doom onwards.
Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers (1988)
They charge an arm and a leg…
While hardly Citizen Kane, Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers does have a few things going for it, not least a robed Gunnar Hansen – the original Leatherface – presiding over disrobed scream queen Linnea Quigley, gamely performing the Virgin Dance of the Double Chainsaws. By this point, Brit censors had become so paranoid, even the word ‘chainsaw’ was taboo, and the film was released in the UK as Hollywood Hookers, with a silhouette of a chainsaw overlaid on the title.
NYC exploitation king Frank Henenlotter gives his version of Mary Shelley’s classic 1818 novel Frankenstein, bringing it up-to-date with buckets of sex, drugs and general sleaze. It makes our list courtesy of the opening scene, where an unfortunate incident with a lawnmower he’s customised obliges our hero, bumbling mad scientist Jeffrey Franken, to literally try and rebuild his girlfriend from spare parts.
Kicking ass for the Lord…
An early film from Kiwi director Peter Jackson, before he wussed out and starting making movies about pixies and wizards, Braindead treats its audience to a delirious explosion of rat-monkeys, disintegrating relatives, and kickboxing priests. Highlights include a notably messy confrontation between a rotary lawnmower and a roomful of zombies.
American Psycho (2000)
Die yuppie scum…
Patrick Bateman, everyone’s favourite upwardly mobile psychopath, murders people in a wide variety of fashions to a selection of toe-tapping AOR. Notable power tool employment includes the stylish despatch of a hooker using a dropped chainsaw, and menacing his secretary with a nail gun (Patrick later confesses to having successfully killed an ex with the same device).
Switchblade Romance (2003)
Gender-bending Gallic gore…
Known elsewhere as High Tension, this was among the most successful of the ‘new French extremist’ thrillers, where horror collides with art-house cinema to satisfyingly messy effect, even if plausibility is often an early casualty. Confirming the sub-genre’s reputation for violent excess, the enigmatic killer in Switchblade Romance includes a concrete saw in their repertoire.
Caution, floor slippery when wet…
While many agree that Hostel represented a cinematic landmark of sorts, whether that was a good thing remains more controversial, earning itself the ambivalent (and inaccurate) ‘torture porn’ tag. Certainly, Hostel pioneered new levels of graphic onscreen sadism, including a nod to Texas Chainsaw, in the shape of a blackly comical power tool mishap.
Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil (2010)
You want a killer hillbilly?…
It’s a sign a film has become iconic when it becomes a target for affectionate, intelligent satire (Scary Movie 3 need not apply), and Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil does a beautiful job of sending up The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and its numerous offspring. The scene, where Tucker inadvertently terrifies the college kids after sawing into a bees-nest – slyly parodying Leatherface’s famous chainsaw-brandishing swagger – is pure gold.
Lionsgate UK releases Texas Chainsaw on DVD, Blu-ray, 3D Blu-ray and download on 27th May 2013.