The best scene from the original “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” is when Leatherface takes a break

It happened in 1974, 1986, 1990, 1995, 2003, 2006, 2013 and in 2017. Now, 48 years later, it’s happening again. This week marks the first of Chainsaw Massacre, director David Blue Garcia’s modern take on Leatherface and another sequel to the 1974 original. Nine movies in this franchise, it’s worth wondering why. What about the original The Texas Chainsaw Massacre who continues to haunt our nightmares? Looking at the original, it wasn’t just about this killer’s prowess with chainsaws or his propensity for wearing faces made of human flesh. No, what has always made Leatherface both iconic and disturbing is his surprisingly relatable inner life. All of this horror is due to a quiet and often overlooked scene.

It’s interesting that Leatherface inspired the slasher genre because a giant madman isn’t the character that haunts Hooper’s 1974 classic. excessive to a home invasion. In the original’s first half, Leatherface never went looking for that film’s group of young adults. Instead, they almost always came to him. Kirk (William Vail) broke into his house looking for gasoline and was hit in the head with a hammer. Pam (Teri McMinn) followed soon after as she searched for Kirk. This decision led her to hang on a meat hook. And when Jerry (Allen Danziger) went in search of his lost friends, he met the same fate.

Each of these encounters started with Leatherface on the right. Of course, the second he started swinging hammers and chainsaws, he became the bad guy. But breaking into people’s homes is also a disturbing crime. For this reason, the large, intimidating monster at the center of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre never really felt like a freak. As the story progressed, little details emerged about the figure that would carve out the slasher genre. For example, Leatherface is revealed to be trapped in an abusive household with a father, brother, and grandfather who thinks it’s okay to murder people and turn them into barbecues. Since he’s in the middle of nowhere, it’s safe to assume that Leatherface probably hasn’t encountered many other people. His screams and moans imply that he may have a mental or developmental disability. Hansen reportedly even visited special schools to prepare for the role. So when this complicated and abused man found himself home alone with a herd of strangers who kept breaking in, he of course overreacted.

Photo: Everett Collection

In one of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the film actually depicted the emotional toll of this near-constant home invasion. After killing Kirk and Pam, Leatherface takes a moment for himself. Panting and moaning, he drags himself to a corner of the house and sits down. You can actually see him alternate between panicking and trying to pull himself together with each jerky breath. It’s a panic attack that makes sense. Leatherface has no idea how his father (Jim Siedow) reacted to all those corpses. From the way he usually acts, there’s a good chance his dad will hurt him for letting someone into his house. But as he panics about what will happen to him, these intruders keep coming. For a brief moment, we see the film from Leatherface’s perspective, and it’s clear he absolutely can’t win.

It goes without saying that killing people is wrong. Leatherface is unmistakably the villain of the original Chainsaw Massacre. But what always made him appealing was that he was a villain you could relate to, at least for a while. If strangers kept breaking into your house, you might not kill anyone, but you would be terrified. The motivation for Leatherface’s first reign of terror has never been explicitly stated, but it has manifested itself in disarming glimpses of empathy. It’s interesting that this is the detail that the slasher genre consistently lacks.

At its core, Leatherface has always been a tragic figure. He is a man surrounded by abuse and poverty, the latter owning the technological advances that have made his family’s slaughterhouse jobs obsolete. He hasn’t been able to get the kind of social care he needs. It’s this tension between understanding why this family is like this and the abject revulsion that has always made The Texas Chainsaw Massacre so effective. We don’t want to have any sympathy for our villains, especially not when they’re disturbed like those of TCM. Still, it’s nearly impossible to walk away from this 1974 film without being at least a little on Leatherface’s side. Yes, the cannibal family is to blame for these on-screen horrors, but so is American society. It’s a lesson the latest installment in this franchise would do well to bear in mind.

Chainsaw Massacre (2022) premieres on Netflix on Friday, February 18.

Where to stream The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

look Chainsaw Massacre on Netflix

Elizabeth J. Harless