Horror Marginalia: “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” & Who Deserves the Horror

One of the things I admire about Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) is its refusal to explain much of the film’s horrors.

We don’t get any backstory for why the Family is batshit crazy. We don’t get an explanation for why Leatherface is wearing the faces and skins of other people (and, for that matter, we don’t get any explanation for why those faces change throughout the film). We don’t get any explanation for the decrepit grandfather who’s basically a corpse. We get very little justification for what’s going on.

The film also avoids justifying why the teenagers in the van are the recipients of the horror. They’re just the owners of some really dumb luck, they show up in the wrong place at the wrong time, and they pay for it at the end of sledgehammers and chainsaws.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre doesn’t decide for itself (and for its audience) why the horrors in it exist and are deserved. The horrors here aren’t the result of sins that slasher films fetishize: they’re just in the world, waiting for someone to turn over the rock and expose them to the light.

It’s one of the most important features of the film. No one deserves the horror. Not the teenagers. Not the insane family. The horror just is. It will do what it does.

And it will go on.

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