Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Chapter Five: Texas-Sized Terror (or...“ in a mess a trouble.”)

Today is dedicated to one of my favorite Texans...Catie Rhodes. If you have not read her stuff, I suggest popping over to her Amazon Author's Page and grabbing her Peri Jean series. The second full length is coming soon, so get started now! (See, I even provided you with the inks...just click and check her out, I'll still be here when you get back.)
As Jaws raked it in at the box office, a separate movement was afoot in the genre. A character known as Leatherface had been introduced months earlier in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. This behemoth was not some scientifically created construct or experiment gone awry. Instead, he was merely the mentally stunted offspring of a group of Texas inbreds with a very nasty hobby.

The definition of a monster, according to The American Heritage dictionary (2001, p. 549) is “1. A creature having a strange or frightening appearance... 4. One who inspires horror or disgust.” Technically, Leatherface can be categorized as such.  However, in the horror genre, I must interject a personal set of additional qualifiers:  it must be otherworldly or inhuman.  Having never been accused of political correctness, I found something very unsavory about the portrayal of Leatherface.

A human being can certainly act monstrous.  He or she can also act like a dog, a penguin, or an idiot.  Mankind’s ability to commit atrocities can never be called into question.  Still, in horror, a monster is not the person behind you in line for a latte.  Certainly it is not a mentally handicapped individual, nor is it somebody born with disfiguring birth defects.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre must be acknowledged as one of the catalysts that began the transformation of the genre known as “horror” to that of “slasher”.  Whereas in horror, the evils of mankind were represented by terrible monsters and denizens of the grave, the slasher reduced the equation to its simplest form: man is the new monster.

It is not difficult to see Leatherface as a monstrosity.  Hanging a young woman from a meat-hook as she kicked, screamed, and pleaded is certainly disquieting.  However, “he” is not a monster.  Leatherface is a mentally disturbed man conditioned by a family of sociopaths.  Despite his actions, at his core he is indisputably human.  If you reside in the camp that considers the horror genre to be about monsters, then The Texas Chainsaw Massacre cannot truly be considered horror. 

If I were to apply the term “monster” to Leatherface, then that would not bode well for James Espy.  James was a junior high school classmate of mine with the misfortune of being mentally handicapped.  In addition, he was somewhat freakish in stature with a head that seemed twice as large as it should be even on his gigantic frame.  Based on appearance alone, James could be considered a “monster.”  It was well documented that James lacked the capacity to discern between “right” and “wrong”.  Horror is supposed to scare.  The viewer should fear the monster.  I was not afraid of James Espy.  Likewise, I was not afraid of Leatherface, and, I dare say, neither were audiences.  There is a difference between fear and disgust or revulsion.

Still, the genie could not be put back in the bottle and what constituted horror was about to undergo a shift.  While a few stalwart creatures lurked in the cinematic shadows, proper monsters were being brushed aside.  Horror was now becoming all about the body count...and nothing has proved more adept at killing than mankind.


  1. Ithink what is needed is a new monster. Vampires zombies and werewolves seem to have, present mastery excluded! The "scene" needs something . Would love your thoughts on Cabin in the Woods

    1. I thoroughly enjoyed Cabin in the Woods. And I was glad they did not give it a miracle "happy Ending". When all those doors opened, that was so fun! I enjoyed trying to identify all the "Big Ickies" as they made their screen appearances.

  2. Thanks for the mention!

    The Texas Chainsaw Massacre still scares me. I watched it about a year ago after not having seen it for at least a decade. It was the surreal quality of the cinematography and the weird soundtrack that really had my skin prickling. I actually winced even though I'd seen the movie before.

    Leatherface (and the whole family) bothered me because of their depravity. They also bothered me because they seemed within the realm of possibility.

    Many years ago, I was walking alongside a country road. This truckload of rednecks passed me. A few minutes later, they drove by again. The third time I heard them coming, I ran in the woods and hid. They never got out of their truck, but they stopped in the road where they'd last seen me. The realization of how vulnerable I was and the idea that nobody would hear me scream if they found me was terrifying. I think maybe I take that into my viewing of horror and it heightens the experience.

    However, I do respect the idea that horror needs an inhuman monster. The Pumpkinhead--though it could have been done better--is one of those monster movies that has stuck with me over the years. We watched Swamp Devil during the Halloween season, and it was a fairly creepy idea. Another one I re-watched recently was The Fog (with Adrienne Barbeau). They were all good solid horror, but what really struck me and interested me about them all was the history that went into the monsters.

    I'm not trying to refute your theories or the way you classify horror at all. I am just trying to figure out what scares me, what I enjoy watching, what scares me, and why. In horror, I look more for something that makes me wince and something within the realm of possibility than I do monsters. I want something that will stick with me and keep bothering for days--even years--to come. (Head on a stick from Wolf Creek.)

    Stuff I could see happening is what terrifies me. That sort of stuff is what keeps me looking over my shoulder when I'm wandering lost and lonely roads. It makes appearances in my nightmares. It captures my imagination, I guess. After watching The Strangers, I got more scared than I've been in a long time just standing in my front yard in the middle of the night. Maybe part of my fear came from the memory of hiding from those rednecks all those years ago.

    Sorry to make such a long comment and sorry to ramble. :-)

    1. Love long comments. So...have you seen "Funny Games"? It is a remake of a German (I think) horror film. It has one moment of sheer genius that I won't spoil, but give that a peek...and invite a wealthy friend over if you have one.

    2. I've not seen Funny Games, and the reason is I read somewhere they had a scene of animal cruelty. I wasn't sure I could get past that. I know, odd right? I can look at all sorts of things but not animal cruelty--even fictional. Wimpy, wimpy. But I may buck up and try Funny Games someday.

      By the way, on the remake, I've read the remake is a scene for scene remake. So, apparently, if you'd seen one version, you've basically seen the other.

    3. There is. You don't see the is an off screen yelp, but, is disturbing. Still, I do recommend the movie for a good chill. It definitely crosses a few lines. Underrated film in my opinion.