In the 80s with new horror films like The Evil Dead pushing the boundaries of the genre, television companies thought that older horror films ceased to be scary and so could be shown during the daytime. And so I saw Nosferatu which was made in 1922 one Bank Holiday morning. It couldn’t possibly frighten me, right?
It scared the shit out of me. And watching it again now it still freaks me out. An unauthorised adaptation of Dracula (the estate of Bram Stoker sued and wanted all copies of Nosferatu destroyed. Luckily this didn’t happen) this is beautifully shot and directed. In fact I could look at any frame from this movie and drool. This is an early example that a horror film didn’t have to be some kind of example of low culture but could actually be art.
Max Shreck’s Nosferatu is pitch perfect and the very embodiment of evil. This film stays in your head long after its finished with certain images being so striking and horrifying that they become seered into your psyche.
A class are transported to an island and its then disclosed that they have to kill each other with the last person left standing the winner.
Brutal (as you’d expect) but also witty, humane and strangely poignant in places. This film is brilliantly acted, directed with style and is beautiful to look. Murder and deception has never looked so good. In fact the ‘killing for sport’ theme reminded me of one of my favourite films, Turkey Shoot.
And thats all I’m going to say. To say anything more would ruin the film completely. See it.
Whats noticable about this film is the incest subplot involving the effeminate manchild character called Michael played by Peter Bark. I didn’t know about this when I first watched the film. Its now seered into my mind for better or worse. This film is for titmunchers of all persuasions.
3 out of 5
This is the movie that made me into a major fan of horror and cult cinema in general. I saw this when I was 11 years old on its release onto video. Since then I watched it numerous times and know it off by heart.
With a film so ingrained into my psyche it would have very easy to watch it again for this review and miss out details and nuances that I would tend to subconsciously gloss over. Such is the tendency on watching a film so many times. I have therefore made a real effort to watch this again with fresh eyes and ears and imagine seeing it for the first time. Here goes.
One thing that strikes me is Wes Craven’s subversion of the horror genre. Like Halloween, this film is presented as a teen movie. Tina talking to Nancy about the dream she had the night before is punctuated by Rod talking about waking up with a hard on. The teen girls talk is penetrated (pun not intended) by a horny teen male’s talk of sex. But then Craven subverts the 80s teen genre with the brutality of the following events just like Romero subverted the horror drive in sub-genre with the brutality and pessimism within Night of the Living Dead. ANOES reads like a knowingly atypical 80s teen movie up until Tina’s quite extraordinarily violent demise.
The scene of Glen playing the airplane sound effect tape also plays like a scene from an 80s teen movie. Again, Tina’s death shows that this is no ordinary 80s horror movie depicting teens. Instead it stands out as an intelligent horror film that is just as violent as the most shocking video nasty Mary Whitehouse was trying to ban.
Not only is Tina’s death too graphic for an average 80s horror movie, its also too innovative. Tina literally climbs the walls and ends up on the ceiling. If Lionel Ritchie wants to dance on the ceiling then Wes Craven wants to portray a more realist depiction of the 80s- a bloodied victim being lifted skyward and killed on the ceiling.
Tina’s death also subverts horror film conventions like Psycho and Night of the Living Dead did. The female character we presume to be the female lead is dispatched of early on in the film just like Marion Crane was in the shower and Barbara was made incapacitated via her catatonic state.
Thus it is left to Nancy Thompson to become the film’s heroine. She fulfils all of the classic attributes for being a Final Girl. Where as Tina has been shown to have just had sex with Rod, Nancy is shown as chaste by rejecting her boyfriend Glen’s invitation for a game of hide the salami.
There are several incidents and signs that make Nancy realise the truth about the dream world, whatever happens in it and how elements from this world can be brought into the real world. The burn on her arm during the classroom dream, the single feather she sees floating out of her bedroom window, the cuts on her arm and the appearance of Freddy’s hat she retrieves in the dream clinic are all used for Nancy to gain knowledge which leads to Nancy eventually applying this logic to bring Freddy out of her dream so that he can be defeated. This demonstrates another Final Girl attribute- shes smart.
There is a sequence that shows where Nancy may have got her Final Girl attributes from- her mother. When Nancy is almost killed in the bathtub, Marge deftly picks the bathroom door lock. Maybe this resourcefulness has been passed down from Marge to Nancy. Later in the film Marge confirms Nancy’s Final Girl status by saying ‘You face things, thats your nature. Thats your gift. But sometimes you have to turn away.’ This also predicts the end of the film.
Nancy’s proactive qualities are also shown by her taking sleeping pills and drinking copious amounts of coffee. She doesn’t want to succumb to sleep and potential death until shes hatched a plan and had a crack at defeating Freddy.
This plan also shows Nancy’s Final Girl attributes- and her boyfriend’s ineptitude. Nancy asks Glen to stay awake and stand guard over her. She wants to go into her dream, grab Freddy and bring him into the conscious world. He fails, falls asleep and Nancy is left to battle Freddy alone. The fact that she isn’t killed shows her strength and the fact that she can do this alone. Its also a subversion of horror film cliches. Rather than having a guy defeat the killer, Nancy will do it herself.
There is another example of Nancy’s resourcefulness being highlighted at the expense of inept male characters. Nancy brings Freddy into the real world and as he stumbles into each of the traps she has laid she calls out for help to the cop watching her house. Its only after her repeated screaming for help and saying ‘Get my Dad, you asshole!’ that he says ‘I’d better get the Lieutenant…’ Men are seen as impotent, inactive and ineffective.
The scene which precedes it in which Nancy lays the traps in her house for when she brings Freddy out of the dream sphere. This has to be one of the most empowering scenes in horror history. Craven loves his booby traps with them being an ingredient of both Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes. But they have never felt so satisfying as in Nightmare. This is true Girl Power rather than the fake manufactured kind peddled by The Spice Girls in the 90s.
The scene in which she shows the peak of her Final Girl qualities is the penultimate scene with Nancy showing Freddy that she feels no fear towards him anymore and turns her back on him- the ultimate act of power and defiance. She literally takes away his power and becomes all powerful herself.
Freddy Krueger’s cruelty manifests itself throughout the film. This man was a child molester and murderer ‘the most loathsome of creatures’ as Craven said and the seriousness of this isn’t passed over. Freddy likes to inflict harm to himself to disgust and repulse his victims. Hence he slices off two of his fingers when pursuing Tina and slices himself open during Nancy’s school dream. Both of these acts are done whilst smiling sadistically. Freddy seems to revel in the Grand Guignol act he can transform his body into.
There are also signifiers towards the sexual and violating nature of Freddy’s crimes- the scene where he says ‘Come to Freddy’ to Nancy and then flicks out his tongue vulgarly is repulsive in the extreme. Also the scene involves Freddy’s tongue coming out of the telephone receiver demonstrates another violation. The most obvious example of Freddy’s sexual intent of his crimes is when Nancy is in the bath. Freddy’s glove appears from in-between her legs. This scene depicts Nancy as victim in the most vulnerable of situations in the same way that Hitchcock did with Marion Crane in the shower.
And yet these aren’t the only examples of Freddy’s need to violate and invade. He wants to intrude into the different spheres of his victims lives- their homes, schools, even their bedrooms. And yet his biggest violation is the sphere of their sleeping lives. By violating this sphere he can affect their conscious non-sleeping spheres also.
Craven seems to be critiquing Reagan era America within the film. The neighbourhood is shot to look idyllic on the surface- gleaming white houses with no trace of any dysfunction at all. Advertising at this time was saturated with these kind of images.
However, Craven is ironically sending up the images seen so frequently in the adverts of the day. Scratch beneath the surface of the characters living in these houses and theres parents hiding a secret and the lynching of a child murderer after several of their children had been murdered by him. Maybe this influenced David Lynch and his portrayal of small town life in Blue Velvet.
The ultimate signifier that things aren’t quite right in this idyllic town is that whenever the neighbourhood is shown in this Norman Rockwell way, the angelic little girls are shown to be actually jumping rope to a rhyme about Freddy. This is a crack in the shiny veneer of the manufactured lie.
Another way in which Craven is showing the rancid underbelly of Reagan America is through his depiction of the law in the film. Policemen are shown to be either inept and pathetic, sometimes dangerously so. Rod Lane dies in police custody and is of Hispanic descent. This painfully mirrors news stories then and now as this is still a pertinent issue. This is portrayed in the film as the loaded look Rod’s father exchanges with Nancy’s cop father during his son’s funeral when the priest says that ‘He who lies by the sword must die by the sword’.
The example of the policeman who is supposed to standing guard over Nancy outside her house as she brings Freddy into the real world also shows that the police are inefficient and this can result in lives being lost. Institutions valuable to American society under Reagan aren’t functioning properly.
There is also another valuable insight into American society at the time of the film’s production. When Tina is killed in her bed, Rod sees no killer just Tina being killed by an invisible force. This is eerily like a filmic representation of AIDS, the invisible killer that is killing thousands of people in their beds. With hindsight this is telling of the mentality of the Reagan led era- it was decades before Reagan even acknowledged AIDS as a disease that needed to be combatted even when people close to the Reagans such as actor Rock Hudson was dying of the disease.
The fact that the film depicts a female character as resourceful, strong and assertive as Nancy also goes against the female gender role the Reagan era wanted women to aspire to. It wanted women to be wives, mothers and homemakers. They should have no aspirations or ambitions let alone possess or demonstrate any redeeming qualities.
Watching this film again was a treat. I loved the film as a child and my opinion hasn’t changed. The film is multi-layered, insightful and above all a kickass horror film experience.
Heather Langenkamp’s amazing portrayal of Nancy heads a brilliant cast. The photography is stunning as is Charles Bernstein’s menacing synth score. Only the rushed and lacklustre ending marrs the film.
This rightly deserves to be seen as a horror classic.
A young schoolteacher trues to escape small town Australia and reach Sydney…but gets waylayed in the darkest possible way.
This is an amazing examination of small town madness, the unspoken madness of such a life and the brutality and destruction undertaken by men.
Its also an amazing portrayal of cabin fever being caused by nothing but huge open spaces.
The film features another insane petformamce by Donald Pleasance who is in top form. If this doesn’t act of enough of a recommendation then I don’t know what will.
The kangaroo hunting scenes are strangely beautiful just like the rest of the film. The outback has rarely looked so gorgeous on film. However, what goes on there means that this is far from a 70s tourist board film.
The rediscovery of this film and its subsequent restoration restores my faith in humanity. This film is too important and brilliant to be left unseen and decaying in a basement somewhere. This movie would make a great double bill with Nic Roeg’s Walkabout.
I first saw this classic when I was a late teen and studying for my A-levels in college in 1994. My friend taped this for me on the same tape as Last House on the Left. With it being copied from a copy the picture and audio were crappy but somehow this added to the experience of watching a film that at that time was banned in the UK.
Watching the film for the first time was a confusing experience. I knew that it was a powerful film regarding the horror aspect of the movie but I wasn’t expecting the humour that the film contained. It truly is gallows humour but its there loud and clear. ‘Look what your brother did to the door!’ barks the old man. ‘Get back in that kitchen!’ he then barks to Leatherface in a bizarre twist on the maternal role of the extended family.
I also wasn’t prepared for the surreal content I was seeing. The end dinner scene with Sally tied down to an armchair that literally had arms. The frantic shots of her eyes and indeed the veins in her eyes along with the buzzcut music that made up part of the soundtrack.
It took me a while for my brain to process and comprehend these components. I then came to grips with the films intention- these elements were like an E.C. Comics publication. If The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was one of those comics then there would be a lurid illustration of a terrified Sally on the front cover strapped down to the chair during the dinner scene with face shots of the ghoulish cast of The Old Man, The Hitchhiker and Leatherface buried in a side panel.
Indeed, Tobe Hooper has acknowledged the influence of E.C. Comics on the film’s vision. ‘I started reading [EC comics] when I was about seven,’ he told Cinefantastique in 1977, ‘I loved them … Since I started reading these comics when I was young and impressionable, their overall feeling stayed with me. I’d say they were the single most important influence on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’.
The film’s beginning is a well paced introduction to the film’s upcoming events. With hindsight, whilst the build up to the first kill is well paced and crammed full of significant events you realise that this reletively gentle when compared with whats to come. The full horror of the ‘Saturn in Retrograde’ will be discovered at full pelt soon enough. The asking for directions to the old house resplendent with the old drunk/seer sat in a tyre on the ground, the encounter with the garage owner and the humour of the car window screen washer, picking up the hitchhiker and the first interaction with a member of the family, the rundown old Hardesty house with the spiders in the corner of one of the rooms, the old creek that has dried up long ago…most horror films would love these kind of events, visions and plot elements. The audience is already engaged and fascinated.
But then The Texas Chain Saw Massacre isn’t any horror film. With the character of Kirk entering the cannibal’s house a shocking chain reaction of carnage, insanity and psychosis begins. These elements are turned up to 11 and don’t drop down again for the rest of the film’s duration. This film has murder on its mind and will do everything to satisfy this need.
This movie is a physical, mental and emotional assault on the senses not just for the characters but also for the audience. The teens learn this on entering the cannibal’s house. But its not just the teens who have their senses assaulted. So does Leatherface. Hes just as confused, scared and freaked out by these strangers invading his home. But its the teens who are truly powerless and suffer the most. The dinner scene in which Leatherface starts pawing Sally’s hair but then invades her personal space by sticking his made-up dead skin mask into her face is intrusive, disgusting and violating. Tobe Hooper knows this and so turns this into a POV shot so that the audience gets to fully comprehend what the lead character is enduring at this time.
At this point Sally starts gnarling, growling and crying as something emotionally primeval is brought to the surface. Its here that I’d like to celebrate the Marilyn Burns’ performance. Every time I watch this film her acting leaves me breathless. This feat has to be seen to be believed (like the film itself) as she portrays disbelief, terror, resilience and ultimately insanity. I realise that these are just words and do nothing to fully encapsulate this performance. How good is her portrayal of someone steered towards madness? Compare the end of this movie in which the bloodied, bruised and battered Sally is now being safely driven away in the back of a pickup truck to Dana Kimmell’s attempt at trying to portray insanity at the end of Friday the 13th Part 3. One is masterful, the other is half hearted and utterly unconvincing. The bad emphasises the brilliant.
In fact, whilst most horror movies dream of one great performance that goes the extra mile, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre has at least five. Burns’ performance is one. The performances of the actors portraying Leatherface, The Hitchhiker, The Old Man and Grandpa all pull out the stops and are batshit crazy and brilliant for it.
Another major reason why I love this film is because no backstory or explanation is given for the family or the events depicted herein. There are clues- the gruesome sculptures made of bones and body parts in the family home (taken from the real life case of serial killer Ed Gein on which the film is loosely based) suggest previous victims, conquests and adventures. The talk of family members being employed by the
local slaughterhouse and being the best at their job also suggests part of the family’s history (and their possible unemployment- the Hitchiker says that the airgun used to kill the animals ”is no good. It puts people out of jobs…”). The Old Man has a garage business as ‘he takes no pleasure in killin’ ” as is later disclosed in the later dinner scene. But there is no clear history given for the family or the events that the film depicts. This lends a massive sense of mystery to the film and gets the audience something to think about long after the film has ended. Explanation would kill this film as it would kill nearly all of the great examples of any genre. I just wish the filmmakers who inflict remakes on the world would take heed of this fact.
On closing this review I’d just like to speak about the availability of this film on home media. I watched the film for this review on Dark Sky’s 4K blu ray. I’ve never seen the film look or sound so brilliant. I never expected this film to get such a loving restoration treatment- but it has and for that I’m eternally grateful. This film certainly deserves it. This release is a far cry from the first time I saw the film on a grainy fifth generation VHS copy.
If you’re a horror fan and haven’t seen this then you can’t call yourself a true fan of the genre. If you’re a fan of film in general the same applies. Let this film get under your skin (pun not intended). Your life will be better for it.