Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Playing with Tropes: the Texas Chain Saw Massacre

What in Sam Hill do you think you’re doing at this here vampire genre blog?” I can almost hear you say it, but just bear with me here. This film clearly needs no introduction. Dating back to 1974 and directed by Tobe Hooper, it introduced one of the modern horror icons in the character of Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen, Apocalypse & the Beauty Queen) but this does play with a vampiric trope and mentions vampires as well.

That shouldn’t surprise us too much as Tobe Hooper would go on to direct Salem’s Lot and Lifeforce. For those who haven’t seen the film; after a narrated (John Larroquette, the Librarians and the Eternal Question) intertitle, talking of the events we are about to watch, we discover that a cemetery in Texas as been desecrated, corpses disinterred and a bizarre totem created out of some of the remains.

totem of the dead
It is to the cemetery that Sally (Marilyn Burns) and her wheelchair bound brother Franklin (Paul A. Partain) are heading with a group of their friends. After the cemetery (their grandfather’s grave is intact) they continue and I want to look at Hooper’s original script for a moment. In it there is commentary by Jerry (Allen Danziger) that “Your grandfather’s a vampire” and then “He’s the king vampire. He doesn’t have to do anything. The other vampires bring him blood.” This is in response to the grave being intact and was cut out of the film. At this point they pass a slaughterhouse and have to wind the windows up.

we picked up Dracula
They then pick up a hitchhiker (Edwin Neal) and Franklin says “I think we picked up Dracula” and when the hitchhiker says that his brother and grandfather (John Dugan) worked at the slaughterhouse Franklin adds “a whole family of Draculas”. Now this is interesting as an example of Dracula becoming a collective noun for a type of vampire and, of course, it is a passing mention. As the hitchhiker is part of the family of cannibals the kids are going to run into, it is also a foreshadowing that ties the family and vampires together. Interestingly, as their property is the neighbouring one to Sally and Franklin’s grandfather’s abandoned house the cut part of the script would seem to tie the two families together.

Sally at dinner
Cutting forward, however, and Sally is being pursued by Leatherface and runs upstairs into a room where the Grandfather and Grandmother (presumably) are. They both look to be corpses and I thought as much when I first saw the film. The script says he is “a tiny, very old and shrivelled man. He is motionless, his eyes shut. He is so small that his legs dangle above the floor like a childs (sic) though his are slack and lifeless.” The script, after Sally begs for help, goes on to say “he is like the dead”. So, later, when Sally is captured and they are to have dinner and Leatherface and the hitchhiker carry grandpa down it seems, on first viewing, that they are bringing a corpse to the dinner table.

Grandfather suckles
However, he is not dead. They cut Sally’s finger and put it into the man’s mouth and he suckles the blood – almost as though the blood revives him. The script tells us, “Leatherface must open the slack tooth-less mouth himself and insert the finger. Once the finger is in his mouth the grandfather begins to suckle like an infant his arms and legs suddenly have life and begin to squirm. He buts Sallys (sic) finger with his hands as if it were a reluctant breast.” There very much is a life through blood aspect here, with the old man looking (and for all intents and purpose being) dead until he drinks blood, the mention of a breast makes this definitely a feeding. This is the primary vampire trope the film plays with.

a horror icon
So, there you have it. A vampiric trope (and mention of vampires) in the Texas Chain Saw Massacre as well as a further mention in script that was cut from the final film. I’ll also mention that we see a dead armadillo at the beginning of the film, on the highway. The armadillo, of course, became associated with vampires when Tod Browning added the wee critter into Dracula, probably not a connection here but worth observing. The imdb page is here.

On DVD @ Amazon US

On DVD @ Amazon UK

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