Contrary to its legend, Tobe Hooper’s 1974 classic The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is a My Little Pony tea party by the Caligulan standards of current horror cinema — the only chainsaw death is rendered Psycho-style through suggestive camera placement and edits. But you’ll never hear anyone saying they feel cheated after a pulverizing trip through Hooper’s charnel house.
Its effectiveness lies in one word: authenticity. Enacted by a no-name cast whose onscreen misery and animosity weren’t faked — the biggest stars involved are blacklist-defying broadcaster John Henry Faulk and opening narrator John Larroquette — the original seems cheap and lawless enough to be capable of ... anything.
And that’s just the first of many virtues that should be studied by anyone aspiring to make serious horror movies. Hooper and screenwriter Kim Henkel reject all the conventional reasons people are punished in horror films: The victims’ fate is just that — fate, all the more terrifying for being absolutely random. And Hooper avoids the genre’s visual clichés, leading up to his unforgettably sick dinner-party setpiece. The Michael Bay-produced remake only proved how poor a substitute contemporary “artsploitation” is for the once proud drive-in circuit, where directors like Hooper could get away with challenging viewers’ smug moralism and a consumer culture that turns people into meat.
The last time The Belcourt showed this, the memorably beat-to-hell print was grindhouse gold. This Friday and Saturday at midnight, the theater serves up the opposite experience — a pristine digital restoration. (Considering how central the movie’s grubbiness is to its unnerving impact, that'll just have to do.) As a special treat, John Dugan, the actor underneath Grandpa's hideous makeup, will be on hand both nights at 11:30 p.m. for signings and a Q&A. Leave the hammers at home.