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Sign Of The Times

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In the mid 1980’s and the “Hey Ronnie Regan, I’m black and I’m pagan, I’m gay and I’m left and I’m free. I’m an un-fundamentalist, environmentalist. Don’t bother me” era, there were a slew of pro-America films brought out disguised as macho, “action flicks.” The most prominent of these being the Delta Force films starring Chuck Norris. I can’t recall the actual number of sequels. I think there were 12, the most successful being Delta Force: Journey Into The Roundhouse. Anyway, they were blatantly jingoistic in their gung-ho stories of Norris’s Major Scott McCoy and his elite band of marines that defeat Lebanese, Afghan and other foreign ne’er do wells. All in the name of Reagan’s America and their never ending conquest to be the ultimate power. This is also relevant in Stallone’s Rambo III. The one where John J. Rambo single-handedly defeats the whole of Afghanistan armed with a sweaty vest a headband and loads of fire power.

In Sly’s defence he was contracted for another film of Rambo and defeating fictional terrorists in real life countries was a popular choice. God bless ya Ronnie. And as a result, whether intentional or not, films do reflect the culture into which they are released, as does music, art and literature. But film has a particular relevance as sometimes they can be used as a director or writer’s vehicle for digging at whatever grinds their gears. For example, Born on The Fourth Of July is a harsh but realistic story of how shabbily Vietnam vets were treated on their return from duty. And more recently, The Social Network showed the creation of Facebook. And the subsequent damage that site did to the creators, but this was also an allegory of the way social networking has decreased our fondness for physical contact and actual human interaction.

In the 1970’s, cinema was hit with a slew of “grindhouse” flicks and films that ousted the boundaries of what was considered “good taste”. Most notably, Last House On The Left, Wes Craven’s masterful film which dealt with the abuse, rape and subsequent death of two teenage girls. As Craven himself has said, “The Vietnam War was going on, and the most powerful footage we saw was in actual documentary films of the war. In Last House, we set out to show violence the way we thought it really was and to show the dark underbelly of the Hollywood genre film. We consciously took all the B-movie conventions and stood them on their heads.”

Another one of these horror films that for me sums up the feelings of anger, frustration and sadness of a nation during and after the Vietnam War is The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Tobe Hooper’s 1974 flick. This film caused a furore on its release and was universally panned on its release and as a result was banned in several countries. But it went on to gross €30 million at the domestic box office. It can also be credited with the start of the “slasher” genre’s use of power tools as murder weapons, and portraying the main killer as a faceless hulking figure of pure evil. But what made it culturally relevant?

The Vietnam War was raging and the faceless killer Leatherface could be viewed as any high ranking army or government official presiding over the slaughter of thousands upon thousands of young men in Cambodia and Vietnam. Think about it for a minute, we never see the man behind the mask but over the course of an hour and a half he is responsible for ending the lives of six teenagers. Not too much of a stretch. And then there is the small matter of Leatherface’s “family”. They are all drooling, moronic cannibals with about one brain between six. For years Americans have strode to perfect the dream and have the “perfect family.” A bunch of drooling idiots could be more apt in certain circumstances.

The shoot itself is a tale of squeezing an already lifeless calf. The restrained budget meant that Hooper shot the film in just under four weeks, often working 16 hours a day. In the summer. In Texas. Gunner Hansen, who plays Leatherface, remembers nearly actually going crazy due to the long hours and having to wear the same costume for the entire month as budget would not stretch to second one. He said that by the end of the shoot his costume was so tarred in fake blood that it virtually “stood up by itself.”

Rewatching Chainsaw with these new ideas and thoughts, it begged me to ask the question. Leatherface is the one brandishing a working chainsaw but in reality is he the real villain here?


Written by thepanch

May 1, 2012 at 9:22 pm

Posted in Thoughts, Uncategorized

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