A Comparison of the Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Halloween, Two Movies in the Horror Genre

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The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Halloween were two low-budget films that had a lasting impact on the horror genre. Given their low budgets these movies were commercial successes, leading to the development and creation of the slasher subgenre of horror. With a budget of under $100 thousand, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre grossed almost $31 million in the United States, with another $14 million in rentals The movie was filmed in 31 days in the hot Texas summer and focuses on a group of friends who stumble across a family of cannibals. The film had mixed reviews, “reviled by mainstream critics ” However, “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre became a critical cause celebre among cineastes,“ ultimately winning multiple awards while igniting controversy over the use of violence and gore in movies.

Halloween was a similar success; grossing $47 million in the United States on a budget of $300 thousand (lMDB), Similar to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre Halloween was filmed in four weeks and centers around a group of friends being stalked by a faceless killert Halloween has had its own controversies, with some critics claiming the movie was misogynistic. They argued that its use of POV during Michael Myers’s murder of his sister in the prologue may “encourage viewers to identify with the murderer rather than the victim, and did so in starkly gendered terms”. Due to the cultural context of the 19705, the Texas Chain Saw Massacre introduced new characteristics in the horror genre that were later reworked and perfected by Halloween, ultimately becoming the standard for the slasher subgenre which would become popular in the 1980s.

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Examples of these characteristics include a sense of realism in the villain and settings, a shift in the use of sexuality, and a new style of filming and editing that created a unique type of psychological horror. There are certain plot trends that were introduced by The Texas Chain Saw Massacre or Halloween that would come to embody the slasher subgenre. The killer is a faceless white male plaguing a group of teens, the “final girl” being one of sexual purity, settings that would seem familiar to the average American. All of which were born out of the 19705 social climates. One major difference between these two films and the Slashers that would follow, is the amount of blood and gore. There is little on-screen blood and gore in these two films, yet that does not take away from how disturbing these films are Instead, the directors force your imagination to do all the work; “despite the bloody events they tell of, these films derive their horror above all from the nerve-jangling cat-and mouse game between the psychopathic murderer and his victim and from allusions that continue to develop in the audience’s minds.”

The first major characteristic that was introduced in these films was the level of realism in the setting, killers and victims. These movies were made in such a way to convince the audience that they had taken place, or could potentially take place with the audience as the victims The Texas Chain Saw Massacre went as far as telling audiences that the film was based on a true story. The opening of the movie continues to add to the depth of the film being based on true events, The film starts with scrolling text and a narrator claiming the events of this movie are depictions of one of America’s most bizarre crimes. Then we are given an exact date that these supposed events took place, Right from the opening, the film is telling the audience that on August 18, 1973, the horrific events they are about to witness happened on a farm in Texas, And if these events could happen on a farm in Texas, could they also happen on a farm right down the road?

While Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen) may have scarred rural families into believing the family on a neighboring farm might be cannibals, Michael Myers (Tony Moran) attacked middle class suburban America, Like in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre we are given an exact date of when these events took place. But something has changed; the viewers are no longer in the middle of nowhere in Texas, they are in a suburban town that looks eerily similar to that of the audiences‘ own community. In the prologue we live out Michael Myers slaying his sister with a butcher knife, Once Myers has killed his sister we get the only glimpse of his face in the whole film, He looks like the average white American boy. This adds to the realism of the film and leads the audience to believe this could happen to them Could the neighbors son be a psychopath that is on the brink of going on a killing spree, is our own son or younger brother?

So why are movies now beginning to shift from classic movie monsters and supernatural events to something realistic for the audience? It is because of the social climate of the 19705; “Indirectly responsible for, but just as important to, the rise of graphic violence in the 1960s was the changing social climate in America, According to Philip French, ‘Violence on the screen tendsmto take its character and form from the mood of the time and place in which it is made’” During the 19705 Americans were constantly being bombarded with horrific images from Vietnam, the Kent State shootings, the Munich Massacre, the oil crisis, the Watergate scandal, and so on. Americans were beginning to accept that things of horror were a fact of life now, making the idea of a guy stalking teens and murdering them more believable than it may had been a decade earlier. The things to fear were no longer fictional monsters but our fellow humans.

Texas Chain Saw Massacre illustrates the constant assault of violence that 1970s Americans were subjected to. After the opening narration of text the viewer begins to hear a new radio broadcast detailing a case of grave robbery, which we will come to know is our antagonists of the movie, But as that story ends the news station moves on to other stories as the opening credits role; story after story of violence and death. However these are stories that Americans would not find uncommon: a storage unit exploded, there is a disease in California, a building collapse, a man killed himself because his TV wasn’t working. Subconsciously we are being led to believe that our cannibal family of grave robbers is as common as every other story you hear on the news. Another reference to one of the many 19705 crises is when you make the comparison of the film to the oil crisis.

When the group of teens stop at the gas station to get gas to leave the area they are told that the station is out of gas. As a result our young teens are stranded until gas arrives, ultimately leading to their deaths. These two films are shot and edited in a way that makes the viewer uncomfortable psychologically instead of through the exploitation of blood and gore, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was filmed on 16mm film and then blown up to 35mm for theatrical release This added to the grainy, raw look increasing the connection to the feel of documentary footage The violence was raw, brutal and in your face; Pam (Teri McMinn) being shoved onto the meat hook, Edwin Neal’s character being run over by the truck, Kirk (William Vail) being bashed in the head with a mallet and continues to violently spasm. Leather-face and Michael Myers both attack from the shadows, but Leatherface attacks from your front, meaning his shocking face will be the last thing you see when you die. Kirk, Jerry (Allen Danziger) and Franklin (Paul Patrtain) all die this way; Leatherface pops up out or nowhere and delivers the killing blow.

But the most disturbing scenes of the movie are those of the two female victims, When Pam is picked up and placed on the meat hook the audience is never shown any visuals of the hook going in or of her back with the hook inserted. Our minds are left to imagine the grotesque imagery. The hardest scene of the film to watch isn‘t a killing, instead it is the long and purposely drawn out chase scene of our “final girl”, Sally (Marilyn Burns). The viewers are subjected to five minutes of Sally running in the dark woods from Leatherface, the whole time screaming and flailing around. it is just an unbearable scene to watch and we are relieved when she finally escapes into the arms of Leatherface’s brother. Michael Myers brings a different type of fear than Leatherface brought. While Leatherface was brute force and strength and would chase his victims with a chainsaw Michael Myers seems more methodical and attacks from the shadows. Michael Myers stalks his victims and then attacks, when they have their backed, turned compared to the frontal assault by Leatherface.

For most of the movie we do not see Myers, we see his shoulder or we see someone sitting in a car; Myers is just out of sight, watching us This adds to the feeling of paranoia that this film could happen to you, the feeling that Michael Myers could be right behind you at any moment ready to kill. This is strengthened by his methods of killing women. Myers male victims of the film are killed in much the same way as Leatherface’s victims; Myers pops out of the shadows and kills his male victims head out The women; however, are killed from behind and each of the three women that Myers kills is done in a way that is uncomfortable for the audience. Myers first female victim, his sister Judith (Sandy Johnson), is killed in POV forcing the audience to identify with six-year-old murdering Myers. Myers second female victim, Annie (Nancy Kyes) has her throat slit after Myers pops up from the backseat of her car.

We see no blood and gore with the throat slash, instead what makes this scene so disturbing is the extended choking ofAnnie before she is killed. As we will see in a later scene, Myers is strong enough to life a man off his feet with one hand without any strain; yet he sits there and chokes Annie for a prolonged period. It gives the sense that Myers is playing with his victims. We see this again with the death of Lynda (PJ Soles) Comically, Myers walks into the room where Lynda is with a blanket over his head and Lynda’s boyfriend‘s glasses on. He waits until Lynda turns her back and then again he strangles his victim, this time with a phone cord. Robin Wood claims that horror films deal with American repression and oppression, especially of female sexuality; “the particularly severe repression of female sexuality/creativity, the attribution to the female of passivity, and her preparation for her subordinate, dependent role in our culture…the denial to women of drives culturally associated with masculinity: activeness, aggression, self-assertion“. We can especially see the repression of female sexuality in Halloween The Females that are being sexualized in the film: Judith, Annie, and Lynda are all killed by Myers.

The one female who does not partake in sexual conduct, Laurie (Jamie Curtis), is the one to survive, This has become a standard of the slasher subgenre and can be viewed as social commentary on the female sexual liberation that was strengthening in the period through conservative lenses Male victims in Halloween are not free from sexual repression; “killing those who seek or engage in unauthorized sex amounts to a generic imperative of the slasher film affecting males as well as femalesw the numbers are not equal, and the scenes not equally charged; but the fact remains that in most slasher films after 1978, men and boys who go after “wrong” sex also die”. These two movies force the males in the audience to disengage from the usual identification with the male lead, In The Texas Chain Saw Massacre we are unable to identify with the main male figure of the movie.

Leatherface, because he puts on a wig, makeup, and the skinned faces of his female victims; ultimately making him a woman. It is hard for males to relate to Sally as well; because for the entire movie she is sexualized, On multiple occasions during the first half of the movie when we are shown Sally or Pam it is from a low angle shot so that our viewpoint is focused on the two females’ buttocks. And throughout the whole movie. Sally isn’t wearing a bra. A male audience cannot identify to a character that they are being led into being sexually attracted to, but a male audience cannot identify with a faceless male figure dressing in drag either. With The Texas Chain Saw Massacre there isn’t really anyone in the movie for a male audience to identify with. However, in Halloween the male audience is able to more easily identify with female final girl, as well as being forced to identify with the killer. The prologue POV killing scene forces us to live through the killing as Myers, thus compelling us to identify with Myers.

Unlike in the The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, the final girl is not sexualized. “She is the girl scout, the bookwormmLaurie (Halloween) is teased because of her fears about dating”. However, the other females in the film are sexualized through nudity, semi-nudity, and sexually active and they pay the price for it at the hands of Myers Since Laurie is never sexualized a male audience is more easily able to identify with her character and in her plight against Myerst Wood wrote that when discussing how society deals with things that goes against the “ideal“ consensus ideology then society “must deal with in one of two ways: either by rejecting and if possible annihilating it, or rendering it safe and assimilating it, converting it as far as possible into a replica of itself”. If you think about Halloween when considering this statement I would argue that Michael Myers is a sort of enforcer of socially accepted morals, leading to a battle between conservative morals and progressive ideas about female sexuality.

If that is the case then the film is saying that the only way to survive is by conforming to traditional moral standards of sexual and drug abstinence. This renewal of traditional values can be seen as strengthening as films shifted to the 805 who had a common theme of 50s nostalgia. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre has its own battle between conservatism and progressivism. Again it is those who embody conservatism that are attacking and killing the new youth progressives, The Sawyer family are conservatives, holding an to an old way of life The teenage friends are progressives; braless, astrology-loving, sexually liberated youth. When these two groups meet the conservatives try to destroy the progressives for their own survival, Unlike with Halloween, who seems to in some ways support conservative ideals, the earlier Texas Chain Saw Massacre seems to side with the liberals. The Sawyers represent the degradation of American traditional values, It is hard to support the conservative viewpoint when those conservatives are a family of psychotic cannibals The Texas Chain Saw Massacre can also be argued to be commenting on consumer culture in America.

Because of modern consumer culture destroying modern values, the Sawyer family has lost their jobs as cattle killers and have resulted to cannibalism for survival. There are multiple occurrences where the teens have become products that the Sawyer family consumes Both Kirk and Jerry are killed by being hit over the head with a mallet, the same method that the Sawyer family killed cows. Another example is when Pam is hung on the meat hook in similar fashion to cow meat, Born out of the 19705 cultural climate, these two films were a major turning point for the horror genre, The killer stalking and killing teenagers who engage in sexual and drug activity would again be revisited repeatedly throughout the 19805 with such films as the Friday the 13′” and Nightmare on Elm Street films The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Halloween developed these standard trends and set the framework that other movies tried to model, some successfully, many not so much.

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A Comparison of the Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Halloween, Two Movies in the Horror Genre. (2023, Apr 17). Retrieved from


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