Though it’s very much a product of its time, the original version of this story still has a unique and unusual feel to it, far more nuanced and oddly artful than its sensationalistic title would suggest. Sequels, prequels and reboots have all tried to take its premise in different directions, but none of them have managed to conjure up the particular sense of dread and utterly disturbing tone that elevates it above its more trashy elements. Like its fellow hugely influential horror films Psycho and The Silence of the Lambs, it took elements of the grisly real-life serial killer story of Ed Gein and spun them off into a more conventional direction, taking the “teens on a road trip take a wrong turn” staple and using it to mount an eerily effective slide into psychological terror. What’s perhaps most interesting about it, given the legion of imitators it spawned, is how little it has in common with any of them – it actually shows very little violence at all (almost all of it is suggested or inferred with carefully mounted shots and effective sound effects), and with its erratic pace and glacial passage of time it sometimes drifts over into arthouse territory.

It was also something of a miracle of low-budget filmmaking success, in many ways the Blair Witch Project of its day (for some reason the horror genre lends itself quite often to the phenomenon of movies made for almost nothing becoming massively profitable worldwide). The budget was almost nonexistent, the cast were all total unknowns (which does admittedly lead to some awkward screen presence), and it launched the career of director and co-writer Tobe Hooper (who would go on to helm plenty more horror films to varying degrees of success, including Poltergeist). All this was despite its somewhat lukewarm critical reception initially, and efforts by various countries to ban it outright for its “violence”, some of them successfully. This seems odd in retrospect – again, there is very little actual violence in the film at all, certainly not much more than its peers at the time, what’s disturbing about it is the tone and atmosphere rather than any actual gore. It seems more likely that the censors back then were swayed by its word-of-mouth reputation, and of course that vivid, imagination-tugging title.

Trashy title, but really much more nuanced than it might suggest8
One of the best examples of the effectiveness of tone and atmosphere in the horror genre9
The lack of budget and professional actors is somewhat noticeable at times5
Compensating for both those drawbacks with unusual artistic choices8
Actually not that violent at all, despite its reputation8
Bechdel Test Passes
  • Features more than one named female character
Bechdel Test Failures
  • They never speak directly to each other
8Overall Score

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.