Today is my birthday. What would I love more than anything to celebrate 44 years on this planet? World peace? Sure. An end to poverty? That would be on my wishlist. The soundtrack for William Friedkin’s 1980 masterpiece ‘Cruising’ remastered from the original master tapes? HELL YEAH!!!
And that’s whats happening. The brilliant company Waxwork Records is releasing the ‘Cruising’ soundtrack after sourcing master tapes, liaising with Mr Friedkin and giving the release the love and respect it truly deserves (something we’ve come to expect from Waxwork). And it’s here and it’s queer. Apparently this project has taken the company 4 years to complete.
This release comes at a time when Arrow Video (who are thankfully one of the best Blu ray labels) are due to release the film on Blu ray later this year.
Mark my words- 2019 will be the year that ‘Cruising’ is finally fully reappraised as the classic film that it really is (something that some of us have known since we first saw the film) and will be viewed as a cinematic gem that deserves to be in a lineage of other classic films such as The French Connection, The Exorcist and Sorcerer.
The soundtrack drops this Friday. My essay on ‘Cruising’ is here.
This news is the best birthday present I could have wished for.
A movie directed by a young Francis (Ford) Coppola and produced by Roger Corman.
A genius plot-
One night, while out rowing in the middle of a lake, John Haloran, and his young wife Louise, argue about his rich mother’s will. Louise is upset that everything is currently designated to go to charity in the name of a mysterious “Kathleen.” John tells Louise that, if he dies before his mother, Louise will be entitled to none of the inheritance. He promptly drops dead from a massive heart attack. Thinking quickly, the scheming Louise throws his fresh corpse over the side of the boat, where he comes to rest at the bottom of the lake. Her plan is to pretend that he is still alive to ingratiate her way into the will. She types up a letter to Lady Haloran, inviting herself to the family’s Irish castle while her husband is “away on business.”
But then after this something happens that changes the course of the whole film (I’m not going to ruin the film for potential viewers). This was a brave move a la Psycho and Night of the Living Dead.
And it works brilliantly. In fact, everything about this film works amazingly. It’s a great film with a great premise, gorgeous cinematography, uniformedly good performances from a cast of unknowns and direction that deftly straddles both drive-in cinema and the Nouvelle Vague. This is part Homicidal (this was made to cash-in on it’s success) and part Carnival of Souls but whilst retaining it’s own identity. Theres a strong Giallo feel to proceedings- the gloved killer with an ax, the sinister doll symbolism.
The location used deserves a mention. A spawling castle in Ireland with a scene that takes place in a Dublin bar make this film even more special. It feels like part film, part time capsule. The costume design of the film is also something to behold- classic men’s suits (think Sean Connery as Bond and Michael Caine in The Italian Job), chic women’s miniskirts and the best bleached blonde 60’s haircuts seen in any film of the period.
On 8th November 2013 John Waters performed his one-man show at Liverpool Philharmonic and was on top form. I attended this show and had a whale of a time. There was a signing session after the show and the line to get stuff signed was HUGE.
But not many people knew that there was to be a very special event the next day. Mr Waters was to teach the Film Studies class at John Moores University. There would be a screening of one of his favourite films, Boom! and then he would talk about it. This event was private and not open to the public- but I managed to blag tickets.
As soon as I saw Waters walk in I thought I was dreaming- I was sharing the same oxygen as The Filth Elder.
We then watched the movie Boom! And I can see why it’s one of Waters’ favourites. It’s fucking insane. Midget guards, Noel Coward and some of the best lines of dialogue in any film (An example- Liz Taylor’s character at one point says to no one in particular- ‘Hot sun, cool breeze, white horse on the sea, and a big shot of vitamin B in me!’)
After the film Waters spoke about the making of the film, why he likes it and how it has influenced his own work. He then opened up the discussion to us so that we could all talk about it.
We then talked about film in general and specifically his films. It was amazing. We could ask him anything. I’d be here all day if I tried to recall all of the anecdotes but I’ll tell you one. Waters was asked about the song he wrote for Serial Mom that L7 (called ‘Camel Lips’ in the film) called Strait Jacket. He said that he still received sizeable royalties from PRS because he wrote the song. He then said that if that was the case imagine what it must be like to be Madonna and the royalties she must receive!
This was such an amazing event and I felt so privileged to be there.
A man (called David Mann) is travelling to meet an appiontment but is stalked, driven insane (pun not intended) and almost killed by a driver in a huge battered old truck.
This movie is amazing. Firstly, it was directed by Steven Spielberg for TV which makes the fruits of his labour even more staggering. So much innovation, imagination and art was poured into this project whereas many directors of TV movies would have treated them as a low art form and a way of making an easy quick buck.
This is like Jaws on the road. Instead of a shark persuing the hapless prey theres a truck. The amount of ingenuity that Spielberg used to film in the sea years later he here uses when filming speeding vehicles on desert highways. The cinematography is flawless and could serve as a tourist film for California if the events depicted weren’t so frightening.
The way that I read the film was that the truck is a test to Mann’s manhood. Up until the encounter with the truck Mann hears on the radio a discussion regarding modern gender roles and how men in general are now emasculated and subserviant to women. One caller says that his trick when dealing with his wife is to ‘play meek’. There is also a phone call with Mann to his wife in which he apologises as the previous night they had been a party at which a man had been a bit too ‘hands on’ with her. Mann had done nothing and this had caused his wife to argue with him and question his masculinity. There is also a conversation with a garage owner. ‘You’re the boss!’ says the garage owner to whch Mann replies ‘Not in my house I’m not!’
The truck in this film is a test to this masculinity. The modern man (or Mann) who has had his baser instincts of being a hunter/gatherer eroded by the modern world is going to be pushed to the limit. Thus certain events happen during the film- the truck won’t let Mann pass when its travelling too slow. The one time he motions for Mann to pass it is to make him run into oncoming traffic in the other lane. There are also moments in the film where Mann thinks hes gotten rid of the truck only to find it hiding in wait further on in his journey. The truck driver wants to control, manipulate and wear Mann down. Will Mann play meek and accept this or fight back?
There is an amazing sequence in which Mann retires to a roadside cafe as a respite to the onslaught from the truck. When he comes back out from the bathroom hes just used he sees to his horror that the murderous truck is parked in front of the cafe. The driver must be in the cafeteria as Mann and so his paranoia goes off the scale! This sequence is amazing- are the other patrons really looking around at Mann or is he just imagining it? Can he eliminate the patrons and single out the truck driver who is trying to kill him? This is one of the tense, nervous and nerve wrecking sequences I’ve ever seen in a film.
The film even feels like a live action horror version of a Roadrunner cartoon during one scene. When the truck starts pushing Mann’s car into a level crossing which is closed and with a train travelling through it the sheer surreality of the whole situation can be seen. This scene was added to the TV movie to make it into a full length film to be released in cinemas in Europe.
The ending of the film involves Mann defeating his adversary but by sacrificing his own car. Mann jams his briefcase full of paperwork onto the cars accelerator so that it keeps on running. The truck crashes into the car but on doing so both run off the edge of a cliff. The dinosaur roar that is heard when the truck is falling and crashing into the rocks down below was later used by Spielberg in Jaws to accompany the death of the shark.
Spielberg seems to be implying that when man (Mann) strips away all of the trappings of modern life (symbolised by his car, his briefcase that is indicative of his job) then he possesses what man has always possessed- ingeuinity, intelligence and a strong survival instinct. No amount of watering down of these qualities by modern societal forces can erode this.
This film is amazing as are so many of Spielberg’s TV movies- and indeed his movies made for the cinema. This has been released on Blu ray thankfully. Now if only Steven would oversee the release of the brilliant Something Evil then I would be truly happy.
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.