Here we are, the single scariest movie I've ever seen, because who says the scares have to end when Halloween does?
You probably know at least the gist of how this one goes:
A group of friends out in the Texas desert to visit an old family home find themselves preyed upon by a family of cannibals who like wearing people's skin and building furniture out of their bones, most notably the very large, masked bacon-bringer of the family, dubbed "Leatherface."
It's the same basic story you've heard re-told a million times since. So how does it top this list? It’s not thanks to special treatment for being a trailblazer. This list is for the scariest movies, no handicaps given for other forms of credit deserved.
Why it's terrifying:
This one's an oft-imitated gold standard for good reason.
Like more than one movie on this list, Texas Chainsaw is as scary as it is thanks to -- there’s no better way to say it -- a striking absence of style in the best possible places and ways.
When there's a masked serial killer on the scene, it's usually a safe bet that there'll be either over-the-top, elaborate bloodlettings, or artfully restrained cuts to black and acts shown in shadow and silhouette. Both of these work in their own ways for their own particular effects, but they also draw attention to the fact that the audience is watching a movie.
Leatherface is done in neither style. For his first onscreen kill, our unlucky character is tentatively exploring the cannibal house looking for help, and Leatherface walks out and kills him with a sledgehammer.
As simple as that sentence. No looking away, no gallons of improbably colored blood oozing down the screen, not even a music sting, it just happens.
It's like he's handling livestock, which of course, to him, he is. That's how unconcerned and methodical he is, and everything else about how he's presented mirrors his attitude.
The same can be said of our hero, Sally.
Later final girl survivors usually either have their inexperience and vulnerability emphasized, to make what happens to them and what they have to do to survive more horrifying, or their toughness and coolness emphasized in much-needed response to the many badly handled examples of the former category.
Again, both styles can work in their own ways when well done.
When she makes an escape out a second story window, she's not being cool and flashy. She just wants to live.
And when she trips and falls, it’s not because she’s helpless, it’s because she’s badly injured. You know, from jumping out a second story window, among other things.
There's no time wasted on hinting that "This is what a girl who survives is like, don't you want to be her?"
We skip straight to "Oh dear god, aren't you glad you're not her?"
She's an avatar of pure, everyman/everywoman relatability, and that works in this case, because the horrors she faces need no more specific commentary than that. Nonstop screaming and jumping out of a second story window to escape pretty much covers it.
The variety of villainy in Texas Chainsaw isn't limited to Leatherface's dispassion. His brother has more than enough sadism and flat out weirdness for both of them.
But it's that same simplicity in how it's all shown that keeps pushing it to that truly horrifying level. The dinner table scene between the captive Sally and the whole cannibal family is one of the simplest, meanest, and in my opinion scariest scenes in all of horror.
There's no standard pacing to it, no montage effects to show the passage of time, the scene just drags on and on to an uncomfortable, madness-inducing degree.
By movie's end, there's the feeling of having been through an ordeal, which is exactly what we're meant to have shared with its characters.
Try it if you dare. Seriously, this is a movie that warrants that line.
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