Tobe Hooper’s slasher classic, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, premiered in 1974 and the horror genre has never been the same. The grotesque story about a group of unfortunate teens stumbling across a farmhouse of horrors immediately sparked praise and outrage from audiences and critics. Now, author Joseph Lanza peels back the celluloid cover and delves into the tumultuous early ‘70s, exploring the political and social climate that ultimately led to one of the most influential horror movies ever made.
Some might look at this book in hopes of discovering more behind the scenes details. While Lanza offers up some interesting tidbits from the film, his primary concern is with placing Hooper’s film in a historical and cultural context. The film itself is infamous for shocking audiences with its graphic violence and gore— and yet, as Lanza effectively suggests, the film is about much more than a chain saw wielding madman.
A slew of serial killers. Political chaos in the days after Watergate. An oil crisis. A changing urban legend landscape. These were the real horrors and tensions 1974 audiences were living with that, whether intentional or not, influenced the film.
Lanza spends most of his time bouncing from many of these points, offering up cultural explanations and how they tie back to the original film, with special emphasis on President Nixon’s downfall and various serial killers of the time. Some of these feel more thought out than others, particularly a section discussing the national movement to curb hitchhiking. Even if others feel like a bit of a stretch, it’s hard to argue with Lanza’s well-constructed logic.
Part of this is because of his meticulous research. Sourced with a wide array of endnotes, each chapter is packed to the brim with quotes and stories— so much so that occasionally sections diverge so far from the film Lanza has to drag everything back into focus. It’s sometimes frenetic, but even this is effective. After all, this short period of time was culturally frantic, and the reading experience simply matches that.
For a behind the scenes look at the film, there might be better options. However, for a look at the culture from which the movie evolved, Lanza provides a compelling read.
Title: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre: The Film That Terrified a Rattled Nation
Author: Joseph Lanza
Publication Date: May 21, 2019
Classification: Entertainment, Nonfiction
Note: I received a free ARC of this book through NetGalley.