Much has been written about this iconic and influential film by Tobe Hooper. The thing that fascinates me is this is one of the few films that was shot completely in chronological order. That’s NEVER done in Hollywood due to budgeting considerations and location shooting schedules and actor schedules. Hooper’s film is disturbing on many levels, from the crazy hitchhiker to Leatherface…it’s all pretty scary stuff.
How Hooper accomplishes this is set up from the very beginning and is the link I’d like to make for this film. Hooper uses Verisimilitude to establish that the vents in his film are TRUE. Audiences have always been fascinated by true crime stories. It’s a genre all its own and a very popular one. From Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood published in 1966, America got its first real taste of a gruesome series of murders in a home invasion that made absolutely no sense. The victims had no offended the killers, they were simply home at the wrong time. That shocked readers immensely. TCM works on the same basis of shocking by showing there are just some crazy people in the world who do crazy, disturbing things. I will never forget the first time I saw Leatherface hammer Kirk in the head, drag his body inside and then slam that sliding metal door. Just chilling.
Hooper begins his film with a rolling description warning that these events are true. It’s reinforced by a voice over narration of the writing. It’s a very authoritative voice. Then we are shown flashes of images, giving a sense of a crime scene investigation photographer. This is followed by a radio news report voice over that talks about events in the news, most recently a series of grave robberies. Verisimilitude is the appearance of something true or real. This simple news report is our third clue at the very beginning of the film that links these events in our minds as true events. The news report is not sensationalized. It’s very matter-of-factly done and continues reports of other tragic events around the country.
Lots of writers use verisimilitude to give their fictional narratives that extra sense of authenticity to their readership. Michael Shaara does it by using maps at the beginning of chapters in his Pulitzer Prize winning book The Killer Angels. It’s a narrative trick and Hooper uses it well giving viewers a foreboding sense that what they are seeing is actually happening as they are watching it. The movie posters even got in on the trick by declaring “…it happened!”
Just as a side note...was anybody else happy when Franklin bit it?