Cast: Marilyn Burns, Paul A. Partain, Edwin Neal, Jim Siedow, Gunnar Hansen, Teri McMinn
SUMMARY: In Texas, a grave-robbing incident is reported on the TV and radio news. While some corpses were taken whole, others are only missing pieces. People begin to show up at the cemetery to check on the graves of their loved ones, including Sally Hardesty (Marilyn Burns) and her brother Franklin (Paul A. Partain), whose grandfather is buried in the cemetery. To keep them company on the journey, the siblings bring along friends Jerry, Kirk and Pam (Teri McMinn) in their large van (Franklin is in a wheelchair, so the back seats have been removed to accommodate him). After assuring themselves that their grandfather’s grave is undisturbed, the two start the trip back, but soon pick up a hitchhiker (Edwin Neal) on the side of the road, near a slaughterhouse. The man immediately sets off alarm bells with his strange behavior and talk of working in the slaughterhouse (as did his brother and father), but when he takes Franklin’s pocketknife and slashes his own hand, the friends really start to panic. The hitchhiker then takes a picture of his cut hand; when the friends decline to purchase the picture, he pulls out tin foil and some powder and sets the Polaroid on fire right in the van. Then, he takes out a straight razor and slashes Franklin’s arm. Finally, Jerry stops the van and the others force the hitchhiker out of the car. A short time later, the van is running low on gas, so the group stops at a small station. Franklin knows that his family has an old property nearby, and wants to visit it: when the gas station owner (Jim Siedow) tells them that the station is out of gas until the next day, the rest of the group reluctantly agrees to spend the night at the house. The house is decrepit, and after briefly exploring, couple Kirk and Pam decide to go to a nearby swimming hole. The hole is dried up, but the pair do see a house in the distance; after walking there, they find a running generator in the yard. Kirk wants to go up and ask for gas, but Pam is reluctant to do this, so she waits in the yard while Kirk approaches. When nobody answers the door after repeated knocks, Kirk goes inside and heads toward a strange door. A man, wearing a mask made of sewn-together human skin — Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen) — suddenly attacks him with a hammer, then drags him into the room. After a few minutes, Pam comes inside in search of Kirk, and finds a room filled with human bones. She begins screaming and tries to run outside, but is grabbed by Leatherface and hung on a meat hook as he uses a chain saw to carve up Kirk.
Back at the Hardesty house, Jerry decides to go looking for the missing couple. He also finds the house with the generator (and sees their blanket there), and goes inside searching for them. He makes it into the room behind the strange door, and finds a still-alive Pam in a freezer, before being attacked and killed by Leatherface. When Jerry also fails to return, Sally gets nervous, and wants to go out looking for him. Franklin is hesitant to allow this, as it is now completely dark and they do not have the keys to the van. Ultimately, the siblings go out searching together, and find the generator house. Before they can get to it, Leatherface appears in the darkness and kills Franklin with his chain saw. He then turns on Sally, who runs into the house looking for help. Instead, she finds the evidence of his crimes, including the remains of several bodies and items made of human skin. Leatherface chases her through the house with the chain saw, until she jumps out of a window. She runs through the woods (followed by Leatherface) until she finally comes upon the gas station the group stopped at earlier. She takes refuge inside, with the owner, who agrees to take her to safety. However, he proceeds to tie her up and gag her, then puts her in the truck and drives back to the generator house. As he arrives, the hitchhiker also appears, and Sally learns that the gas station owner is the father of the hitchhiker and Leatherface, and that all three are involved in the grisly crimes (the hitchhiker is also responsible for the grave robbings). During dinner, the men bring down “Grandpa”, whom Sally previously saw but believed to be a corpse. Sally’s finger is cut, and Grandpa sucks blood from it; sometime later, the men decide that Grandpa, the best killer from the old slaughterhouse, should get to kill Sally. The hitchhiker forces her over a basin, but Grandpa is to weak to hold the hammer intended to kill Sally. The hitchhiker finally reaches for the hammer, and Sally seizes the opportunity to run. Both the hitchhiker and Leatherface go after her; the hitchhiker catches her, but is killed when he is hit by an oncoming semi. The truck then stops and Sally jumps inside, but Leatherface comes after them with his chain saw. Sally and the driver make a run for it, and when Leatherface comes around a corner the driver hits him with a pipe wrench, stunning him momentarily. Sally flags down a passing pickup and jumps into the back, driving away just as Leatherface runs up to the truck.
MY TAKE: I did not know that it was possible for one person to scream so much. I can confidently say that in 84 minutes, Marilyn Burns (Sally) screamed more than I have in my entire life. This actually dulled the scary factor for me, as I got so sick of hearing her screaming that I just wanted things to end, one way or the other. Had I been more able to focus on what was going on, I might have been more freaked out. I could tell that this movie also drew inspiration from the real-life story of Ed Gein, like both Psycho and The Silence of the Lambs. However, for my money, this wasn’t as scary as either of these. The killers in this movie were real people, not spirits or anything, but there isn’t any backstory or explanation of what they do or why. Personally, I really wanted to know what Leatherface really looked like, and about what made everybody in the family so crazy. My bet is that eating human flesh made them all nuttier than a fruitcake. Like most classic horror movies, the characters make a lot of mistakes in this film, so I have decided to make a short list of tips, in case you ever find yourself in that situation.
- Listen to the skeptical/afraid friend who doesn’t want to visit or explore the creepy house. They’re usually right.
- Don’t enter the basement (or other sinister-looking room). Nothing good EVER happens in there.
- Stick together; do not take the same actions as the person who disappeared or was killed before you.
- When running through the woods in the dark, look where you’re going.
- When on said run, do not scream, as it clues your attacker in on where you are. Use the energy to think.
- Grab a weapon to beat off the crazies before you go exploring, or try to escape.
- Finally, DON’T PICK UP HITCHHIKERS. Most movie hitchhikers are nuts.
Seriously, if horror movie characters could follow these simple rules, there would be a lot more of them alive right now.
RATING: Needed more backstory; constant screaming grew really annoying.