Book Review: What If The Texas Chain Saw Massacre Was Really About the Horrors of Modern American Society?

Putting the Austin-made seminal slasher back into context

What If <i>The Texas Chain Saw Massacre</i> Was Really About the Horrors of Modern American Society?

To paraphrase George Santayana, those who cannot remember the past may well be condemned to a chain saw coiffure, sans flesh. Or worse. Joseph Lanza's excellent and exhaustively researched book gives a bare-bones account of the actual creation of Tobe Hooper and Kim Henkel's grueling, gruesome masterwork, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. The real – ahem – meat here is the bloody brilliant granular contextualization of the global zeitgeist that informed the making of the movie. Innocent – if privileged – hippie utopianism encounters the Other and extends a hand, only to have it eaten away. Class war, anyone? Charlie Manson, the Zodiac Killer, your daily zodiac, the SLA and Patty Hearst, Fortean flotsam and Jim Morrison's "killer on the road" jetsam collided amidst an atmosphere of psychological and weather-related oppressiveness that, taken together like so much bad acid, birthed a cinematic and cultural icon.

Lanza's prose is clear and dynamic, knitting those and further threads of darkness into a skein of flayed skin and paranoid psyches that prevailed and assailed long before the 24/7, nonstop news feed nightmare of the here and now. Less a history of Hooper and Henkel's hellish horror show than an utterly fascinating sociological study of those first twitches of the Great American death nerve, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Its Terrifying Times deserves a place in the horror academic canon beside Gunnar Hansen's autobiographical Chain Saw Confidential: How We Made the World's Most Notorious Horror Movie and Carol J. Clover's Men, Women, and Chain Saws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film. Highly recommended.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Its Terrifying Times: A Cultural History

by Joseph Lanza
Skyhorse Publishing, 304 pp., $16.99
Publication date: May 21

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