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October 14, 1987 - Image 7

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The Michigan Daily, 1987-10-14

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ARTS

The Michigan Daily

Wednesday, October 14, 1987

Page 7

Leatherface

By Scott Collins
Tobe Hooper's film The Texas
Chainsaw Massacre has now, 13
years after its first run, become
something of an in-joke among film
buffs. Exhibitors (and television
programmers and video stores) have
pigeonholed it as "cult movie,"
which presumably means that it has
attracted a small, loyal audience
despite general underestimation. It's
conceivable that the same viewers
are going to see this film again and
again, just as the same cliques return
to see the other similarly notorious
independent efforts of the 1970s: The
Rocky Horror Picture Show, Harold
and Maude, and Eraserhead. These
films all share the same ironic fate:
they're in danger of becoming trite
and worn because they exist outside
the mainstream cinema.
Hooper's film, at least, deserves a
far better reception than this. If it is
a joke, as so many detractors and
admirers insist, than it is one that
laughs back at its critics; it's so
good that it rises above the simple-
minded scorn it receives. What leads
so many to dismiss the film, I
think, is its strong sense of humor,
which seems awkward at best and
repulsive at worst.
We can expect that humor will
have some trouble coexisting with a

plotline that involves a group of
chainsaw-toting cannibals who
fricassee a group of young travellers.
After seeing the film three times,
though, I know that the humor
exists intentionally. At first I
thought the film was merely dated,
but 1974 was not, after all, that very
long ago. Hooper used the humor, I
think, both for the shocking
ambivalence that it produces in the
audience and the attitudes that it
suggests about violence. Television,
in particular its coverage of
Vietnam, has made violence so banal
and trivial that it's become a sick
joke. Hooper's very graphic
depicitions of murder (bodies thrust
upon meathooks, corpses
dismembered with chainsaws) and
twisted humor play their own jokes
on the viewer: you think this is so
sick, yet you watch bloody cop
shows (and maybe even condone
bloody wars) and don't even wince.
The subtle humor often invades
stealthily. Just as in George
Romero's Night of the Living Dead,
the low-budget technique serves two
purposes. On one hand, it lends the
film the silly, off-hand quality that
its groupies find so endearing. But
on a more masterful level, the
crudeness underscores the creepiness
of the moral vision - we are far
away from the comforts of the
modern world, in a place where
standards don't apply, a place where
marred film and marred people exist.
The apparent sloppiness underscores
the characters' (and the viewers')
isolation.
Sometimes, of course, the effects
are more deliberately created, as
when Leatherface, the most
recognizable symbol of the movie,

trikes
pursues the sole survivor of the
group of young people. At one point
in the chase, Hooper's camera
captures the zigzag of the pursued
young woman with a low angle long
shot from the ground up. It's a
terribly tense moment, but the effect
of the scene summons up memories
of silent film comedy.
In my favorite scene, the survivor
awakens to find herself bound at the
dinner table, where this most
gruesome family, headed by the
patriarchal figure of a pickled
grandfather, is presumably serving
up the remains of her dead friends.
When she screams, the family
members mock her by mimicking
her terrified cries and expressions and
howling like beasts. They're
triviali ing this person's worst
nightmare., she has surely received an
invitation to her own beheading, and
this family of laid-off slaughterhouse
employees act, and react, as if this is
a birthday party. Once again, Hooper
uses humor to force us to reexamine
our perspectives on violence.

again
Even if both violence and humor
nauseate you, and especially so in
tandem, I think you should see The
Texas Chainsaw Massacre this
weekend to witness what virtuoso
sensory manipulation is really like.
Hooper has such a stranglehold grip
on his viewer's awareness (on a
number of levels, as I hope I've
pointed out) that this is, without a
doubt, a deeply unsettling film, even
to the last frame: a shot of
Leatherface, chainsaw in hand,
manically revolving on the highway
against the background of the rising
sun. Chainsaw Massacre seizes the
visual, the aural, and even the
olfactory. Perhaps the highest
compliment I can pay this film is
that every time I see it I get a little
whiff of what death must smell like.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
will be shown at Natural Science
Auditorium.this Saturday at 9 p.m
on a double feature ticket with
NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD.
Whew.

H u s k e r e d
Guitarist/singer Bob Mould of Husker Du, played a ferocious set with the
band to a packed crowd at the Nectarine Ballroom Monday night as part of
their brief American mini-tour.
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