The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Tobe Hooper’s 1974 rural slasher, is the scariest movie I’ve ever seen. I’ve had visceral responses to movies before—I fainted during the amputation scene in 127 Hours—but what I felt watching the group of teens try to escape from Leatherface, the overgrown and unwell monster played by Gunnar Hansen, stands out as something different. Moments of actual danger in my life have been thankfully few, meaning I don’t have much to compare this to, but I think I experienced the fight-or-flight response the first time Leatherface appeared on screen.
As I recall, there’s a lot of build up. The flashbulb-lit grave robbing. The empty road. The hitchhiker the teens pick up who turns violent with a straight razor. There’s the arrival at the house full of bones and bird feathers. It’s daytime when the first murder occurs, and it was late in the afternoon when I watched The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. My memory may have bent to the will of the movie, but I remember that it got dark in real life almost in sync with the sun setting on the television.
But that was later. When Leatherface shows up, it’s bright. Meaning you can see everything. Horror movies are almost entirely about what you see and when you see it; how clear it is and how long it lasts. Appropriately, when I first saw him, the inside of my head went stupid and spastic. Everything was a single looping phrase: I don’t want to watch this. I don’t want to watch this. I don’t want to watch this. I don’t want to watch this. I wanted to get up and turn off the TV but I couldn’t move—the images were too powerful. I’d never felt anything like it. It wasn’t like watching, say, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, something I saw years later. In one scene, Henry and his partner sexually assault and kill a family in their home. That made me feel physically ill, like I’d ingested something toxic; I thought about turning it off, but there was no urgency. I didn’t feel afraid or like I was in actual danger, like I did during The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, as silly as that may sound.
I’ve never seen the movie again. I don’t want to. Not because I’m nervous about feeling that way again. It’s the opposite. I’m afraid it won’t affect me as much, and that scares me way more.—Ross Scarano