Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Horror Class: Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Yesterday we delved into the weird world of 70s horror with the classic Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Some of the students were familiar with the remake and had thoughtful comments about the ways the two differed. The film purports to be based on a "true story" although it's only very loosely inspired by Wisconsin's own Ed Gein, with whom some of the students were familiar.

We read Linda Williams' essay "When the Woman Looks" which links the female gaze to the monstrous, which (among other things) led to an interesting discussion about the "dinner table" scene where the all-male "family" sits Sally down opposite the patriarch of the family, almost as if she were filling in the position of "mother". Though tied to the [literal! ewww!] arms of the chair, she's also given a plate of food (though who'd eat in that house...). We're given another opportunity to empathize with the "monster" Leatherface when his father berates him and the camera's extreme close-up of Sally's sweaty, terrified face make her grotesque, particularly when we get right up to her eyeball. Fascinating stuff!

Today is Jaws, the film that gave us the summer blockbuster and the increasingly maudlin career of Steven Spielberg (oh, yes, I am exaggerating... a little). Miss Wendy, I assume you'll be watching at home: weird thing, but we always seem to always find Jaws playing at the same time even when we're a long way apart.

13 comments:

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

It's hard to believe it's been so many years since those films have been released because I am able to still remember parts of them so vividly. Maybe that's why I don't go to horror films much anymore!

Jane Kennedy Sutton
http://janekennedysutton.blogspot.com/

K. A. Laity said...

One of the fascinating things about this film is how much bloodier it seems in memory that it is in actuality, the "hook" scene in particular.

Todd Mason said...

Haven't loved TEXAS CM, in any of its iterations, but yes it is remarkable how many people choose to remember it as Much more blatantly gruesome than it is.

Remarkable also how much Ed Gein has haunted our culture, beginning of course with Robert Bloch, who put the circumstances of the early reports of discovery of Gein's murders and trophies together with an unflattering portait of the prototypical film geek of his time, a fellow named Calvin Thomas Beck (who published a few books and an influential geek magazine named CASTLE OF FRANKENSTEIN), to offer the world Norman Bates and PSYCHO.

Exaggerating? "Increasingly maudlin" is too kind in its second word, and perhaps misleading in its first...after revisiting DUEL, which I liked upon first viewing (when it was new and I was a kid), and finding it clumsy, I'm hard-pressed to say much good about him, though JAWS might well be the least maudlin film he's managed to cough up (vs. such insufferable things as CLOSE ENCOUNTERS and SCHINDLER'S LIST).

Glad it's remained fun.

K. A. Laity said...

Gein is a fascinating character, but I wonder if the timing more than anything was a big factor. More television coverage than any previous grisly murderer? Or am I imagining it? I didn't know Beck was part of the character that Bloch created.

Yeah, I often want to club Spielberg with a big candy cane just to show him what it's like. I couldn't restrain myself from commenting at the 'making faces scene' in Jaws, "Oh here comes our Spielberg moment."

At least in this film, it is just a moment. I haven't seen Duel in ages, but we did adore it when we first saw it when I was a kid.

Todd Mason said...

Beck not only was the physical model for Bloch's Norman Bates--fan-sized (corpulent) and otherwise SIMPSON comic-book store guy--but also had a similarly poisonous relation with his live-in disabled mother. Tony Perkins looks rather unlike the novel's Bates.

Todd Mason said...

Late '50s was a good time for a convergence of tv, radio, tabloids, true-crime magazines, men's sweat magazines, and legit newspsper and magazine coverage. Bloch notes that when he started the novel, all was known was that some victims seemed to have had some taxidermy performed upon them, and Gein wasn't named.

Spielberg's first major showcase, the NIGHT GALLERY pilot center segment, was a typically flashy and inept job from him. But remember, as a profile noted once in its title, He Dreams For A Living.

K. A. Laity said...

Todd, as usual you're a font of information. I didn't know that -- I just assumed Comic Book Guy was based on that one guy that is in almost all comic book shops -- or used to be. Comics shops are getting better.

I suspected that I was maybe overstating the tv reach at Gein's time. Surely the tabloids had more exploitative photos that the mainstream news? I can imagine some Murrow-esque newscaster doing so, but I can see the Enquirer doing it.

Enid Wilson said...

Love Jaws. I was quite young when I watched it and I was really scared, had to cover my eyes from time to time.

I always wonder if horror actors would feel scared when they shoot the movies?

Alexis Grant said...

Can you believe I've never seen either?!

K. A. Laity said...

Jaws is a very well-crafted with few missteps along the way. I appreciate it more and more all the time. Of course the only thing better was All That Jaws, the musical that combined Jaws and All That Jazz, the bio of choreographer Bob Fosse. Great fun -- narrated by the buoy you see in the opening sequence of the film.

Cranky Yankee said...

Calvin Thomas Beck?

Sounds like Cat Piss Man...

http://web.archive.org/web/20010214233928/www.savantmag.com/16/retail16.html

Isabel Roman said...

Just last Wednesday I had a discussion with a horror move fan about whether or not TCM was based on a true story or not. I did some quick research and came to the conclusion it wasn't, just said to be (like Lady Hawke) to ake it more appealing.

I now need to look up Ed Guin. Eww, but cool.

Karen Brees said...

I don't swim. Ever. And it would take a Texas chainsaw to get me to dip my toes into any calm, Atlantic waters.