The two films I most feared seeing in class were Last House On the Left and especially The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I’m (slightly) ashamed to admit that I liked Last House quite a bit and now love TCM. I'm relieved that I’ve finally seen it—so it no longer marinates in my imagination-- and I have wanted to chain-see it ever since!
SALLY THROUGH THE (LOOKING) GLASS
Sally Hardesty, more than earns the cinematic title of "last girl" in Tobe Hooper's first chainsaw film by out-screaming and out-running a nightmare named Leatherface, and his cannibal family.
Their chase scene occupies the last 3rd of the film and is bracketed by 2 dramatic jumps where Sally crashes through the plate glass panes of closed windows. First she jumps from the attic of the slaughterhouse family’s home, which, with bizarre, and circular dream logic, drops her even more deeply into the looking-glass inverted household where Sally will endure a “grisly parody of the Mad Tea Party” (The Idea of Apocalypse in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Christopher Sharrett, p.258). The dinner party is excruciating so she crashes through the window once more where she escapes-- picked up, appropriately, by a passing pickup truck.
Into the rabbit hole...
As her boyfriend and other companions are being butchered, Sally and her whining, wheelchair-bound brother, Franklin share a quiet scene. Sally admits to feeling tired—she doesn’t say of Franklin directly but her prior interactions with her brother on the trip, especially when she leaves him alone downstairs at their grandparents house, suggests that she is burdened by his dependence. The film moves into the nightfall of it’s last third, the scenes demarked by rack-focused, circular images of the moon, headlights, and distance houselights. You feel for both of the siblings. As it darkens, they get worried and like children yell from the edge of a circle of light into the darkness encroaching on the scene for: "JER-RY, JER-RY"! Hooper and DP Daniel Pearl are inventive; producing beautiful images in the dark using logical but evocative sources to light the scenes and action. They stand near the car with headlights on (yet they don’t have the keys?!) and they fight over the flashlight. Of course this same flashlight illuminates the stalking Leatherface just horribly enough when he falls upon Franklin with his chainsaw as Sally struggles to push her brother's wheelchair through the brambles. Franklin’s dependence and fear of being left alone in the prior scene is affecting—he can’t help himself. If Franklin, with his attraction to knives, to gore and to death, had not left town or if he hadn't had Sally for a sister, perhaps he would have grown up into a Leatherface (and would kill the whole family if freed from his chair.)
There was something bracing and comic that comes from the chasing, the screaming and the chain-sawing of the movie reminiscent of Keystone cops and other slapstick. It is nightmarish but unlike in dreams, Sally is able to run (a lot!) rather than experiencing heaviness or paralysis.
Burdened with a heavy chainsaw spouting a diaphanous trail of smoke, LF pursues Sally stodgily but doggedly in a roundelay of choreographed movement racing through the reeds and branches of the path between the 2 houses. It’s beautiful, fairy-tale and dream imagery. Sally runs into perspective where the scale is really odd and Leatherface appears even larger in the foreground. She seems to disappear through a small hole in the branches as if jumping into the rabbit hole. The scenes are lit solely by head-,moon-, flash- and other fairy lights.
In TCM’s spaces there seems to be no outside world. While not entirely anarchistic (there seems to be some methods to the madness) there is no intrusion nor invocation of the Law (except once when Sally fruitlessly tries to threaten, plead and finally makes a sexual appeal for which she is comically mocked). The slaughterhouse family appears to be the only residents of the place and they do their own thing--killing everyone who comes through the area and stops by the screen door, Welcome!! (Hitchhiker sometimes sneaks out of their environment to make those graveyard cadaver sculptures.)
See Sally run! Run Sally, Run!
Towards the end of the film Sally is fighting for her life—she’s surviving wildly, instinctually and desperately, throwing herself though the windows which like the screen door that each victim approaches, acts as layers between narrative, real, and dream spaces. Each time Sally busts through a window she lands in another space. They are the same spaces we’ve seen previously but as in a dream—they are familiar but appear and/or feel changed.
So, when the characters attempt to pursue Sally beyond the narrative space of the crazy house into the outside world, they are foiled. In her second leap she crosses the space between night and daylight, inside and outside. There is suddenly the imposition of the outside world with the driver and truck. Hitchhiker gets run down by the vehicle and when the driver sees Leatherface coming and he doesn’t ask any questions he just runs too!
In this disordered world when Sally goes through the glass the second time she is really running out of the tale—as in a lucid dream. Sally escapes from the movie in the pickup truck as Leatherface, free (?) on the border of the outside world (is there a world outside for Leatherface?), in his Fred Astaire shirt and tie and with his curly hair wig, dances around with his chainsaw. Leatherface dances because he can’t follow Sally any further just as (curly-haired) Franklin, trapped in his wheelchair, couldn’t follow her into their childhood home. I found Sally’s triumphant escape combined with Leatherface’s dance wonderful and invigorating, a fairy tale ending.
Or maybe, it’s really a sort of musical…
While I appreciate the reading of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre as a metaphor for apocalypse (and there are so many apocalyptic strains—especially the sinister and violent radio reports that run throughout) the film doesn’t strike me as soley dark and hopeless.
The lesson of the film, for me, is this:
If you see someone running after you with a chainsaw, run and run and run until you get away. Persevere and hopefully, you’ll survive!
Who doesn't love The Fury? Well apparently some of my Horror classmates...
We were talking about the film before watching Carrie (1976) last night.
I've always really enjoyed The Fury and can watch poor John Cassavetes head blowing up (or off) over and over despite my distaste (I thought) for gore. The moment seems metaphorical of JC's relationship to Hollywood. What a fabulous set piece--crazy, operatic--I even like John Williams here! The snow white carpeting, the mod lamp falling in slo mo, the multiple camera angles, the repeated explosion, the flying head and the musical crescendo punctuated with cymbal crashes! A Big Finish! Io Sono Amore should take a lesson in courage (and in humor) from DePalma.
Here's my interpretation of the scene:
John Cassavetes in The Fury (2008), mixed media collage, Ina D. Archer
Funny thing--when I typed "f" in the header for Fear the auto-function wrote "family". A perfect introduction to this link to my Horror blog that I set up for my New School summer class, To Die For: The American Horror Film 1968-1970. In horror films snooping around in strange places can have dire consequences and in my case, I made the unfortunate decision to WRITE THE BLOG IN (AN)OTHER PLATFORM! Ohh, the horror of trying to format the layout or change the size of the typeface! AHHH,the stabbing pain in my eyes as I tried to quickly design a HEADER! Imagine my screams as I had to Rip away all of the content and then...SOMEHOW LOST IT!!
So, here is the bloody, skeletal corpse of my blog which you will notice has no text! I will fill the posts back in asap. Fact is, I've been neglecting all of my blogging--that's where the family plot comes in perhaps and it has been a rough year. Perfect time for a horror film class which helps to sort out some demons--and you can sit in the dark...with strangers!
Fear of Fear (not the film by my own RWF--which is one of my absolute favorites!) but the Roosevelt kind of fear. I'm taking the class in part to overcome my fear of the the fear that may result from my watching the horror genre. Many of the films we have seen in class are films that I grew up with in the 70's and was not allowed to view. They were forbidden to me, for my own mental safety I suppose but I would hear of them, hear them described, see them advertised and overhear of the extreme reactions (in the cases of The Exorcist and The Amityville Horror) of totally freaked-out audiences. I was almost crippled with the fear of how scared I would be by these movies. My imagination just filled, filled, filled in the rest...
The clip below (which is the masthead for my H-blog) scared the BEJESUS outta me! When we returned to New York from Panama we moved into an apartment in the ever terrifying Yonkers. I saw this show open on our tiny black & white TV (I've got a good Wizard of Oz tale about the tv) while sitting on the couch with the family and some friends one Saturday evening and started screaming like TCM's Sally!
For years(?) I afraid to be in the proximity of the tv or to change channels near the hours of what, 8pm? lest my eyes fall upon this gruesome site/sight!
Happy Birthday, Muhammad Ali! Always a hero in our family, one of the few times I've seen my brothers verklempt was when we had the chance to meet Ali at the Jesse OwensInternational Amateur Athlete Awards Dinner. No need to describe his charm, skills and principles, he's always done that quite entertainingly himself!
Our chic and charming family friend, Tuskeegee Airmen and black media visionary, Percy Sutton has passed.
He had a way with words and was quite prescient and entertaining in this little clip that reminds me of business trips with dad (aka: vacations!) and life amidst black executives/politicians in the 1970s.