Let’s Talk About Texas

I’m not sure why I never saw The Texas Chainsaw Massacre until a few weeks ago. Maybe because it’s one of those movies everybody talks up too much. Maybe because I lived in Texas twice without much to show for it except a car with a leaky moon roof that I had to glue shut. Maybe because The Rothko Chapel doesn’t make up for the so-called beaches that have no sand and an occasional cow meandering over the knoll.

Livestock. It’s what’s for dinner.

The food chain is what Texas Chainsaw Massacre is all about. Where you fall on the food chain and if you’ll ever get up again. The horror comes from humans being treated like livestock. Viewed today, it’s a vegan satire of American culinary habits. Mm, barbecue. It’s an accidental exposition of the feminist theories that parallel the exploitation of animal bodies with the exploitation of female bodies.

At its heart, it’s a movie about family. The physical violence that the viewer witnesses is pretty lightweight compared to your average zombie flick. It’s not really the brutality of the action that gets you. It’s the brutality of the ideas.

So I loved it. It was amazing. It was insane. And if you think the premise that you can run out of gas driving across Texas is stretching it a bit, I’m here to tell you it’s true. I’ve been this close to finding myself stranded under those stars so big and bright. Luckily, I didn’t meet any cannibals. At least not any hungry ones.

Southern family values like respect for your elders and obedience to authority give a nice solid framework for the madness of TCM. You know, the kind of thing they teach you in church. Then there’s the family lore and reverence for the patriarch’s skill – Daddy was the best! Madness is truly achieved in sequences that provoke simultaneous anxiety, laughter, and pity. You’re really rooting for the final girl, even while you cannot refrain from laughing at the broad comedy. I like that mix of conflicting emotions and pushing any idea of good taste over the edge. How delightfully uncomfortable.

I also admired the operatic escalation. As if someone on the set said, Wait, is this too much? and someone else said, That’s exactly why we have to do it! Yes, there’s all the tropes, but you have to remember that this movie was made before the tropes. This is where tropes come from.

Finally, I can’t say enough about the chainsaw dance at the end. WTF? It is such an odd, poignant moment. I guess I don’t know what to say. It’s an image that sticks with me, kind of like the memory of eating in restaurants in Texas with taxidermy animal parts all over the walls, glass eyes watching while we enjoy a family size slab of delicious barbecue.

Published by: Joe

Joe Koch writes literary horror and surrealist trash. A Shirley Jackson Award finalist, Joe is the author of The Wingspan of Severed Hands, The Couvade, and Convulsive. Their short fiction appears in publications such as Vastarien, Southwest Review, Pseudopod, and Children of the New Flesh. He’s been a flash fiction judge for Cemetery Gates Media as well as co-editing the art horror anthology Stories of the Eye from Weirdpunk Books. Find Joe (he/they) online at horrorsong.blog and on Twitter @horrorsong.

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