The Casablanca Chainsaw Massacre: Dealing With Underwhelming Greatness
There comes a point in every movie fan’s life when he or she finally sits down to see one of the icons. You know; the movies that have been referenced and parodied in tribute for ages. These are the most daunting films to see, because the expectations are unrealistic. Worse: what if you don’t actually “get” the movie? How does one reconcile being unimpressed by a movie the rest of the world has certified as a masterpiece of cinema?
Two years ago, I checked out Casablanca from the public library on DVD. I was amazed at how familiar the film was to me, despite never having previously seen so much as a clip from it. The dialog is part of our lexicon, from “Here’s looking at you, kid” to the erroneously mis-quoted, “Play it again, Sam” (the actual line is, “Play it, Sam”). The final scene at the airport had been originally introduced to me in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze, when Michaelangelo quotes Bogey’s lines to April O’Neil.
I won’t lie; I went into the film just hoping I could find a reason to understand why it’s been held in such high regard. I didn’t expect to fall in love with it myself. I didn’t think I could be charmed by something that had long been spoiled for me through the numerous films and television scenes that paid homage to it. I went out and bought the Two-Disc Special Edition DVD within a couple of days of watching the movie. I devoured every bonus feature, and watched the film with both commentary tracks (one by Roger Ebert, the other by Rudy Belmar). I’ve seen the movie probably half a dozen times in the last two years, and it keeps feeling fresh each time.
Last night, for a horror challenge in which I’m participating, I finally saw The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. I knew from the title what to expect: a killer running amok in Texas with a chain saw. No surprises there, you know? And I’ve seen Summer School numerous times over the years, and was acquainted with the devotion of the film’s fan base—and key parts of the film—through that comedy. I’ve seen Leatherface T-shirts and action figures galore. When the film was over, I realized that I was actually a lot less familiar with its content than I had been going into Casablanca…and yet, I just don’t “get” The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
Perhaps it’s because the film is 36 years old and I’ve seen far more graphically violent films. Perhaps it’s because I’m a behind-the-scenes junkie and even while watching a movie, I’m thinking about how a given shot was achieved, or how an effect was staged. I just felt like the film had all the complexity of an episode of Scooby-Doo. I found it obvious; there was really nothing to bother predicting. It was just a matter of going through the motions of uniting victims with the killer. In fact, they may as well not have bothered naming the characters; they could have referred to one another as “Victim Number One” or “Victim Number Three” for all the difference it would have made.
I know that, ultimately, my complaints about Massacre could easily be levied against Casablanca. We know from the first time Rick says he’s content to stay out of conflicts that he’ll be the hero in the end. We know without even seeing the flashbacks in Paris that Ilsa left Rick heartbroken. All these things that make Casablanca so endearing are just as predictable as the key elements of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
What I’ve found is that when you “get” a Casablanca, there’s very little to say other than, “I agree with all the people who have ever said anything good about this movie.” When you’re left cold by a Texas Chain Saw Massacre, though, you invite the entire world to tell you what you’re missing. I’ve been told in the last day that I would have been overwhelmed if I’d seen it in the theaters in 1974; that I expected it to be full of gore and it really isn’t that kind of film; that I need to see it again without thinking of its reputation now that I know what it actually is. And I’m sure on some level, all this is good advice…but why has no one told me I wasn’t critical enough in my evaluation of Casablanca?
This post is part of our User Showcase series. You can find Travis as minlshaw on Flickchart. If you’re interested to submit your own story or article describing your thoughts about movies and Flickchart, read our original post for how to become a guest writer here on the Flickchart Blog.