The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
The thing with The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is that it is really not very explicit at all. Like Halloween and Psycho, much of the violence is suggested so expertly that your mind fills in the blanks. For a young gorehound this was too much work and I hadn't had the experience watching (good) horror films that I do now, and it was impossible for me to appreciate just how good this movie is.
I have seen The Texas Chain Saw Massacre now half a dozen times, and it gets better with each viewing- more suspenseful and tense, more beautiful.
Concerned by news of corpse mutilations in Texas, Sally, her brother Franklin, and their friends decide to check out their grandfather's grave to make sure he is still there and intact. Along the way they pick up a disturbed hitchhiker, setting into motion the events of the rest of the film.
What makes this movie work is, unlike the slashers of the 80s and 90s, Sally, Franklin, and the others are generally likable kids. The movie starts off slowly and is mostly the kids driving around and chatting. They're good kids and their reason for getting together is innocent and noble. Franklin is often cited as an unlikeable character, and while he does whine a lot I found him to come across as a sympathetic and even charming character. He seems genuinely interested in communicating with the bizarre hitchhiker for example, when most characters in horror slashers would act dismissive and insulting.
The pacing is impeccable. Starting off slow, once the murderous and infantile Leatherface shows up the movie hits breakneck speed and doesn't slow down until the end. The introduction of Leatherface in particular is an amazing and shocking scene. In fact, Sally's attempt to escape from the family of cannibals is so frantic that it almost feels like a single 40 minute take, broken up only when she is knocked out- only for her to wake up in an even worse situation and renew her escape.
Special mention must be made of the house much of the last act takes place in. Its rooms are filled with bizarre sculptures made of human and chicken bones, its floors covered in feathers and grime. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is a particularly (surprisingly?) beautifully photographed horror film.
There is also a surprising amount of character development when it comes to the cannibal family. At first they are presented as an actual family, but later in the movie you realize they are more a clan than anything. They stick together more out of necessity than anything and it is clear that they don't really much care about each other though they try to maintain the semblance of a family. The "father" is a very interesting character, who, contrary to his "sons" claims to get no pleasure from killing, but at the same time cannot help but smile as the others torment Sally.
While the empty and meaningless slashers that were influenced by this landmark film could be fun, they missed what made The Texas Chain Saw Massacre work- likable characters and villains with (some) depth. This movie has become a Halloween tradition for me, and I am eagerly awaiting this year's viewing.