Monday, April 15, 2019

Review: 'The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Its Terrifying Times'


Because of  the way it was made—actors maintaining a near constant state of hysteria in the punishing Texas heat while surrounded by rotting carcasses or literally torturing each other—The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is a fascinating film to study. However, Joseph Lanza’s new book The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Its Terrifying Times is not really about the harrowing ordeal of making the film; it is about the harrowing times that birthed it. Lanza builds a sordid, extremely cynical snapshot of America circa 1973 and beyond, connecting the dots from various historical touchstones to their equivalents in Tobe Hooper’s horror milestone. The factual elements range from the undeniably relevant (the rise of serial killers and the decline of hitchhiking) to the less obvious (solar flares, Alice Cooper, Gestalt therapy, Deep Throat).

Lanza sometimes provides evidence that these historical elements had a conscious influence on Hooper and co-screenwriter Kim Henkel, but not always, as is the case with extended looks at the Nixon presidency and the Zodiac killer. Consequently, Leatherface fanatics who really just want to know about their favorite film may find much of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Its Terrifying Times frustrating. Those without specific expectations will find it a spellbinding, though brief, history of some of the worst aspects of America somewhat filtered through one of the most trying horror films ever made and consistently filtered through Lanza’s withering world view. Certainly the kinds of strong-stomached horror fans who adore The Texas Chain Saw Massacre shouldn’t be disappointed with a book that often graphically describes true-life horrors that are infinitely more disturbing and repellant than anything Hooper and Henkel imagined. You’ve been warned.

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