Philosophy of The Chainsaw Swanson: Why ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ Is The Greatest Vietnam War Film Ever Made

“What is your favorite Vietnam War film?” a good friend of mine asked me today.

I took a moment and thought about it and had answered, “The original Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” My friend looked at me as if I were from Mars. I explained, “Yeah, that’s a great Vietnam film in my books. I mean sure it does not show any scenes of war on camera but to me, it has always been a marvellous gem that hid its agenda. Maybe I am odd and have a distorted way of looking at films, but I assumed everyone looked at TCM as a Vietnam War film?” I was wrong.

Both films share the common color schemes (browns/faded greens/bronzes) in the frame to show the exact same for of dehumanization through both psychological and psychical torture.

Think about the common elements that make not just a war film, but a “Vietnam War” film. A Vietnam War film will always feature the themes of utter dehumanisation (Private Pyle in Full Metal Jacket, Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now), also the showing of insanity through out the film, where morality has soon become a myth and all that’s left is pain, suffering, and insanity (Marlon Brando’s Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now, Robert De Niro in The Deer Hunter, Tom Berenger in Platoon, and hell even Lt. Dan in Forrest Gump). Which to me verifies my theory that The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is a Vietnam War film, as the loose and warp of morality, the ideology of place/theatre where all that left is pure pain, suffering and ultimately insanity, is the DNA of the world The Texas Chainsaw Massacre creates.

Both films share the common sepia colour schemes in the frame to show the exact same form of sympathy to the antagonists of both films, its remarkable that the film matches cinematically the same emotion of remorse, fear and submerging into the void of insanity both our villains call home.

Still not sold? Well ask this…

In The Texas Chain Saw Massacre you have a group of young, trendy, hip, and attractive young city kids who get in their friends camper van during the blazing hot summer of ’73 to pick up a inheritance from one of the gang. The inheritance is a grand estate, a house left to them in a will of a long lost distant relative. Now why would a bunch of hip city kids, leave the realms of their metropolis, during the hottest summer on record, to drive nearly 1,500 miles to the middle of nowhere for what reason? A house in the middle of batshit nowhere? Or, are they running from something?

The answer is yes, they are running like mad from something far more terrifying than a horror film could ever shock you with. This was the time of the Vietnam draft. Two of the males could have easily been drafted and think about it, they are running. They are not only running and driving, but they are hiding in the middle of nowhere, where no one could ever find them… an abandoned house in the middle of Texas.

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Colin Farrell in Tigerland (2000)

Did you ever ask why Franklin was always such a moaning little bitch? You ever think he was born into to that wheelchair or is the wheelchair a recently adaption to Franklin’s life? It was obvious he was new to being disabled, he did not demonstrate adaptation to his physical disability, but whined and relied heavily on others to wheel him. It was not uncommon for men to break their legs during the draft so their Vietnam service would be voided — as referenced in Joel Schumacher’s 2000 war film Tigerland.

The great irony of the film is to escape the victimization of the Vietnam era, they fall victim and are ultimately punished by the ‘nuclear family’ that is Leatherface’s cannibalistic clan, who obtain the residency that the young teens are trying to overtake. Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chain Saw Massacre now offers not only a satirical and ironic metaphor to his masterwork, but also a Marxist philosophy to the film.

So, acknowledging that it’s a Marxist film, what is the philosophy within it and what questions does the movie pose?

Philosopher Naomi Merritt concluded that the philosophy of TCM is that of a Batiaillean approach to the film, with its cannibalistic/capitalistic meanings. In a sense that “Home, Sweet, Home” is the slaughterhouse, and the consumer, ironically becomes consumed. To me however, the Marxist messages within the story would ask, “The kids break into a lower classes property, disrespect the lower class’ home, and fall victim to the uprising of the lower class and their self-defense… is it cannibalistic murder, or is an extreme form of self-defense directed at those breaking and entering?” Another philosophic point of the film may be, “Just because Leatherface is unconventional and bizarre in appearance, why do we assume he is evil? And is he evil, or is he just scared?”

Just look at the visual referencing between the films. Yes, very far apart in production, but a ‘genre’ has similar techniques, and purely through cinematography, the referencing of the Vietnam genre is quite similar here, the color palette that pretty much all of the great Vietnam films owe a debt to Daniel Pearl’s raw 16mm, first used in 1974 in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is the Tchaikovsky’s swan song of horror cinema. Even at the end, when Leatherface loses his victim, out of rage he swings his saw in the sunset like he was conducting the conclusion of an orchestra which has just reached that almost Euphoric/Orgasmic crescendo. ‘Good’ has prevailed in the end, ‘evil’ has lost. With that failure, Leatherface’s orchestra hits those climatic notes, instead of high hats or cymbals; we hear the savage carnal unsatisfied buzz of Leatherface’s saw. Then the curtains draw… the end. The most important masterwork in the history of horror–and also a great Vietnam film.