Live by Night
The key question behind Live by Night isn’t so much “Why did they bother?” as “What went wrong?”
Now here’s a grisly little item. “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” is as violent and gruesome and blood-soaked as the title promises -- a real Grand Guignol of a movie. It’s also without any apparent purpose, unless the creation of disgust and fright is a purpose. And yet in its own way, the movie is some kind of weird, off-the-wall achievement. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to make a movie like this, and yet it’s well-made, well-acted, and all too effective.
The movie’s based on factual material, according to the narration that opens it. For all I know, that’s true, although I can’t recall having heard of these particular crimes, and the distributor provides no documentation. Not that it matters. A true crime movie like Richard Brooks’ “In Cold Blood,” which studies the personalities and compulsions of two killers, dealt directly with documented material and was all the more effective for that. But “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” could have been made up from whole cloth without any apparent difference. No motivation, no background, no speculation on causes is evident anywhere in the film. It’s simply an exercise in terror.
It takes place in an isolated area of Texas, which five young people (one of them in a wheelchair) are driving through in their camper van. They pick up a weirdo hitchhiker who carries his charms and magic potions around his neck and who giggles insanely while he cuts himself on the hand and then slices at the paraplegic. They get rid of him, so they think.
But then they take a side trip to a haunted-looking old house, which some of them had been raised in. The two girls laugh as they clamber through the litter on the floor, but one of the guys notices some strange totems and charms which should give him warning. They don’t. He and his girlfriend set off for the old swimming hole, find it dried up, and then see a farmhouse nearby. The guy goes to ask about borrowing some gasoline and disappears inside.