Whether you loved or hated (or anything in-between) Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, it is widely acknowledged to be a seminal work in the history of slasher movies generally, and specifically of cannibal films. Total Film made it number one of the fifty greatest horror movies of all time (Psycho was number 6!) and Richard Zoglin of Timesaid that it set “a new standard for slasher films”. Ben Woodard called it “unambiguously the greatest horror film ever made.” That makes creating a sequel (or actually a prequel) all the more fraught!
Chainsaw was based partly on the real-life (real-death?) exploits of Ed Gein, the “Butcher of Plainfield”, who decorated his house with all sorts of furniture made of human bones and skin, but Gein had dug most of them up from graveyards. The man-monster from TCSM was Leatherface who wore a mask (well before the rest of us) and even made it himself (far more sustainable than the rest of us). It was, however, made of human skin, which you can’t get readily even on Etsy, and he sourced his raw materials from those travelling through his little corner of Texas, cutting them up with a large and noisy chainsaw, often bashing them on the head with a mallet first, as the more primitive slaughterhouses used to do to the cattle in their yards.
But why did he do that? We get some hints in the movie from his brother, the Hitchhiker, who makes it clear that the family had been “in meat” and worked in the local slaughterhouses, which had closed as industry fled the “fly-over” states. But a lot of people lost their jobs in the seventies, and most of them did not go out and buy chainsaws with murderous intent. So how did Leatherface get started? And whose idea was it to eat the victims?
Such questions have clearly been on the mind of TCSM fan Steve Merlo, who recently sat down for an interview with Bloody Disgusting about his intended feature film THE SAWYER MASSACRE, intended as a prequel to the 1974 classic.
The film has been crowdfunded through Indegogo (now closed unfortunately) but should have raised enough to see it released in about August 2022.
Here’s the plot from the Director:
While recovering from the loss of someone close, Jimmy’s friends bring him to the Texas countryside to escape city life. In need of supplies for their cabin, they head to a gas station where they are directed to an isolated farmhouse. The property is not as it seems. They find themselves hunted by the cannibalistic psychopath known as Leatherface.
Clearly, it follows the formula that was also seen in The Hills Have Eyes, Wrong Turn, The Farm and loads of other slasher movies where humans are on the table instead of sitting around it. But, as Merlo says,
“It is our intent not to copy what the original did, but use it as influence in a stylistic way. Our film will have more blood and kills, but will still be very subtle in its delivery.”
The film is due for release in 2022, the date that appears in IMDB. The film also has a Facebook, Twitter and Instagram page if you wish to follow its progress.
A Sydney woman who cut her 57-year-old mother’s head off with kitchen knives in July 2019 was found guilty of manslaughter in the NSW Supreme Court, after pleading not guilty to murder due to mental impairment. The court was told that Jessica Camilleri – who had a history of refusing to take psychiatric medications – had only stopped the attack when her mother’s head fell off and her eyeballs came out of their sockets.
A judge said Camilleri had practised “grave and mutilating depravity”, had squeezed and prodded her mother’s eyeball after removing it, and engaged in “acts of decapitation and cannibalism”.
Camilleri was sentenced, in March 2021, to serve 21 years and 7 months in prison, but may be eligible for parole when she’s 41, in 2035.
Mother and daughter had been at home in the mother’s St Clair house where they had dined on Red Rooster (chicken) before Jessica demanded a second delivery from the food outlet, then turned on Rita, who had threatened to have her daughter taken into mental health care. Jessica dragged her mother into the kitchen by the hair and attacked her with steak knives, beheading her and removing her tongue, eyeballs and nose.
The week-long trial saw graphic police evidence, crime scene bodycam video and a police interview with Ms Camilleri, her face still coated with her mother’s blood and her hands bagged.
Senior Constable Jodie Bennett, who examined the living room and a bedroom in the Camilleri house, found blood-soaked hair, human tissue, pools of vomit, overlapping blood-soaked footprints, plus a Crocodile Dundee figurine, the head of which had been detached.
The court heard Ms Camilleri was obsessed with figurines and violent horror movies featuring decapitation such as Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Detective Sergeant Brett Griffin, who examined the crime scene between 12.42am and 7am on Sunday July 21, told the court that out on the footpath in front of the neighbour’s house he found Rita Camilleri’s mutilated head.
“I saw an area of apparent bloodstaining and human tissue,” he said. “A short distance away I saw a human head with numerous injuries including a severed nose, removed eyes and numerous groupings of apparent lacerations and incised stab wounds.”
In her judgement, Justice Helen Wilson SC said:
“I’m satisfied the offender knocked her mother to the floor and then dragged her by her hair into the kitchen… The focus of the onslaught was upon her mother’s head and face, with over 100 individual blows landed, many on Mrs Camilleri’s right cheek. Mrs Camilleri was conscious and trying to defend herself for long enough to have sustained over 90 defensive injuries and a knife wound to a vein in her neck.”
Camilleri had previously been diagnosed with a range of conditions, including an intellectual disability, an autism disorder and ADHD. However, she didn’t like to take her medication and Mrs Camilleri had no recourse when she failed to do so, the trial heard.
A four-year-old, known as Child A, whom Jessica referred to as “the little bastard”, was in the house at the time and tried to jump on her to stop the attack. She fought off and wounded the child.
A forensic psychiatrist, Professor David Greenberg, told the NSW Supreme Court last year that in addition to her mild intellectual disability and autism spectrum disorder, Ms Camilleri suffers from a rage disorder that causes her to lose control and “explode like a bomb” when provoked or triggered by stressors.
Justice Wilson said Camilleri fully understood the wrongful nature of her actions and had squeezed one of her mother’s eyeballs after the decapitation. “The removal of Mrs Camilleri’s eyes does not appear to have been an act of deep and uncontrolled rage, rather, at this stage, the offender was indulging a sort of macabre curiosity sparked by her obsessive viewing of horror movies.”
Asked how Ms Camilleri’s decision to remove her mother’s eyeballs sits with the intermittent explosive disorder diagnosis, Professor Greenberg replied:
“it could also be more consistent with her autism spectrum disorder, her fascination for horror movies and body parts, decapitation, cannibalism, in her interest in these horror movies that she collected and views all the time.”
Camilleri later told a forensic psychiatrist she bit off her mother’s nose and that she got the idea to cut off her head from horror movies. She had a fixation on horror films, and owned eight copies of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and five of Jeepers Creepers, the court was told. The Crown Prosecutor added “A feature of these movies was killing people violently and dismembering their bodies”. Cannibalism featured prominently in both films.
After the attack, Camilleri dropped her mother’s head in the street and called the police emergency number, telling them that:
“I was just so caught up in the anger I kept stabbing and stabbing her and I took off her head. I ran to my neighbour and I had my mum’s head in my hand and I was taking it as evidence to show that in the struggle, I didn’t know what I was doing so I cut her head off. I chopped her head off with a knife.”
Camilleri told police when they arrived: “My mum’s head is on the concrete over there. Can you bring someone back to life if they don’t have a head? There’s nothing you can do, she’s a goner? They can’t restart her heart? ‘Cos I know doctors can do miracles they can’t resew her head?”
Police officer: “That’s a bit of a stretch.”
Her older sister Kristi Torrisi Rita’s testified at the trial about her sister’s troubled childhood and how, once in desperation, her mother had paid a medium $2,500 to get “the demon out of Jessica”. She said the mum was “killed and butchered like she was nothing, all because of a fit of rage”.
The case raises a lot of definitional issues. The judge stated that Camilleri had engaged in “acts of decapitation and cannibalism” yet none of the news stories mention any swallowing of human flesh (although biting off a nose might count). But cannibalism is a slippery concept, hard to define. We assume the cannibal to be the person who eats the flesh or organs of other humans. However, Robert Myers, who wrote a careful study of the allegations of Carib cannibalism, pointed out that this is too narrow:
“There is an absence of a clear definition of cannibalism, a practice encompassing an extremely broad and sometimes ambiguous range of behaviours. Cannibalism can include drinking water-diluted ashes of a cremated relative, licking blood off a sword in warfare, masticating and subsequently vomiting a snippet of flesh, celebrating Christian communion, or gnawing on entire barbecued limbs as De Bry depicts Caribs doing.“
Then we have Camilleri’s sister accusing her of butchering their mother “like she was nothing”. Butchery is a term used in warfare for massacres, but most commonly it is a business term. A butcher used to be someone who killed farmed animals and sold their parts, but now it usually involves no killing, which is done elsewhere behind high walls, and is a retail profession – selling bits of the dead animals to customers. The animals are not “nothing” in butchery but the raw material, valuable commodities to be sold, their ‘nothingness’ restricted to the moral value of which they are deprived by the logic of capitalism. Butchery, in other words, is normally done for profit. But the lessons we draw from its ubiquity in our societies can be taken to heart in many different ways.
“For as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other. Indeed, he who sows the seed of murder and pain cannot reap joy and love.” – Pythagoras c. 500BC (attributed by Ovid)
Next month we’ll take a look at the ever-evolving Armie Hammer story. Spoiler: he’s not a cannibal, he’s a very naughty boy! You can read more “cannibalism news” at this link.
How to make a slasher: take a group of young and pretty people, travelling and (gasp) sleeping together and therefore sinning against Gud and the Hays Code. There’s usually a gas station run by a creepy dude whose advice it might be wise to ignore (but they never do). Then there’s a freaky villain or group of villains: outsiders, possibly mutant, and always psychopathic killers. The killers slaughter all the pretty people, using sudden montage cuts and loud music, except (usually) one, known as a “last girl” who will scream a lot but ultimately survive, and probably wreak revenge.
In that sense, Wrong Turn is a fairly formulaic slasher movie and, like The Hills Have Eyes, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and many others, it went on to generate a slew of sequels and prequels, many of which were treated less than generously by the critics and fans. There are six so far, and 2021 promises a reboot which will no doubt be widely called number 7, so you’d have to say that this indicates a successful franchise, even if a reboot won’t add anything very new to the formula.
Slashers don’t always eat their victims, which is essential if their stories are to grace this blog, but Wrong Turn does not let us down in that area. These movies, what are sometimes called hillbilly horror, depict a clash of cultures, and attempt to show both sides through the eyes of the other. For the hillbillies, the effete city slickers are weak, spoiled and elitist, their wealth and privilege giving them an infuriating sense of entitlement. To the pretty city kids, lost in an alien land (in this case West Virginia), the locals in the flyover backwoods are inbred, amoral subhumans.
Three cannibalistic inbred mountain men are the antagonists, and their names are Three Finger, Saw Tooth and One Eye, names presumably earned by their current physical state rather than bestowed at birth. The film’s opening sequence shows examples of genetic mutants, with implications that this is due to inbreeding (although there are no females in the clan). This lot are so degenerate that they do not even speak, except for some Paleolithic grunting. And these guys definitely follow the paleo diet. Their enormous strength and ability to shrug off apparently mortal wounds may come from their diet of flesh, but seems more likely to be an unexpected benefit of their genetic reinforcement.
Not much information is given (until Wrong Turn 4, which I suppose we’ll get to sometime), as to how they got that way, or as Clarice said to Hannibal Lecter “what happened to you”. In this one, behaviourism really doesn’t matter – these are quintessential bad guys, monsters, inhumans, existing only to frighten, to kill (and eat) and then to get their comeuppance, with of course an unexpected survivor to point toward (yawn) the inevitable sequel.
There are six beautiful people, two couples, who quickly come to sticky ends, and their friend Jessie (Eliza Dushku) whom they had invited to a getaway after her messy relationship breakup. She is the only one not currently living in sin (although one of the other couples are planning their wedding as they are slaughtered) so she seems destined by the morality of slashers to be the “last girl”. They are lost on a dirt road with a flat tyre, caused by the mutants laying barbed wire across the road, when the square-jawed hero Chris (Desmond Harrington) crashes into their car, taking a wrong turn to get to a business appointment which we all know is going to seem pretty irrelevant. Four of them head off into the woods looking for a phone (they have mobile phones, but hey, it’s out in the middle of nowhere – no cell towers?) The couple who stay with the cars are slaughtered almost immediately. Now there’s a turnaround, Chris show himself to be a leader, he is going to be last boy! The intersection of the two groups, heroes and mutants, comes when the lost city folks find the house of the mutants, and have to hide under the furniture, where they have to watch the killers chop up their friends for dinner.
This is extreme slasher binary conflict: human vs inhuman, normal vs freak, civilised vs wild, prey vs predator. We follow Jessie and Chris as they watch their friends die and flee into the woods, and we barely see the ghastly faces of the antagonists, until toward the climax.
Most victims in slashers are despatched quickly, but the last girl is traditionally captured, tied up in what looks like a rape scene but usually isn’t, because the bad guys are interested in gustatory rather than sexual carnality.
Jessie is tied to a bed, about to be slaughtered – no particular reason why she has not been killed instantly like the others, but we need time for a rescue. The freaks are predators, but Chris and Jessie are warriors. Like The Hills Have Eyes, the victims have to adopt the savagery of the killers to survive, and there is plenty of gore and explosions if that’s your thang. Unlike THHE, where the victims arguably become the savages, Chris and Jessie look to have grown through their ordeal, so that’s a novel approach.
Wrong Turn earned a measly 40% on Rotten Tomatoes, with one critic writing,
“the gore is so ridiculously overdone and the script so lame, that it undermines all sense of suspense.”
But I didn’t think so. The cast is great, the plot is fast moving and certainly never dull, and the suspense is well done. There is no reason given for the murders, except that humans are their preferred quarry. But that is the question that cannibalism, as a concept, poses in every film – why eat humans? Because they’re made of meat?