Time, they say, heals all wounds – especially those suffered in the name of art and more than likely inflicted with a chainsaw! That’s the buzz we had this week when we noticed that the upcoming Sydney Film Festival had programmed a special screening of a restored print of Tobe Hooper’s 1974 horror classic, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Appropriately the screening will take place at Sydney’s only surviving drive-in, the Skyline at Blacktown, and will mark 40 years of controversy in the way this much maligned masterpiece has been dealt with, both by censors and critics alike. Whilst the movie is still unnerving and disturbing, watching it today, it’s hard to believe it was originally banned by the Australian censor way back in 1975.
Despite the evocative title, the film is surprisingly low on any gratuitous violence, gore or splatter and relies more on what you don’t see to send shivers up your spine. Nevertheless the Australian censor at the time deemed it far too shocking for local audiences and banned it unconditionally. In the ensuing years several attempts were made by distributors to have the ban overturned, including ‘slashing’ over six minutes of footage from the original print.
Finally in January 1984 Filmways successfully appealed the ban and achieved an R-rating for the film, which soon hit the big screens and drive-ins around the country. Whilst a predominantly young audience flocked to see the film, most of the established film critics dismissed it as a low-budget, B-grade shocker, made for a paltry $140,000 with a cast of no-name actors.
A sequel starring Dennis Hopper surfaced in 1986 and somewhat surprisingly was also banned by Australian censors. This was followed by a remake directed by Marcus Nispel in 2003 and whilst both movies were relatively successful, their run-of-the-mill mediocrity only enhanced the reputation of the original. Times change and tastes change and eventually Tobe Hooper’s brilliant slice of gothic Americana achieved the critical accolades that it always deserved.
Shortly after the Australian ban was lifted Sydney’s Mandolin cinema, a popular indie arthouse/grindhouse of the ‘80s and ‘90s, ran a special screening of Texas Chainsaw Massacre. As the cinema lights darkened, the burly Dr William McCoy, a local radio personality and art band singer burst from the side of screen exit. Dressed as the rampaging Leatherface and wielding a wildly buzzing chainsaw he tore around the theatre, narrowly missing the heads of a packed and now highly shocked audience. As he disappeared stage right, the eerie stench of kerosene lingered throughout the theatre as stunned cinemagoers reacted in almost total silence.
It’s a stunt the Sydney Film Festival could well consider for their Blacktown drive-in screening but given the current OH&S, public liability, and “could that be a terrorist?” paranoia, it’s unlikely they will repeat the episode. Nevertheless their screening is a fitting recognition for a true cinema classic and a smack in the face for those rather silly arbiters of public morality who chose to ban it in the first place.
THE HIT LIST: Bugdens Bookshop, at the top of William Street in Kings Cross has long been a favourite of second-hand book and record hunters. It was always notable for its quirky window displays highlighting current events, politics, and the passing of literary greats. The bookshop, which recently changed hands and is now known as Grand Days, has continued the Bugdens tradition with an outstanding window installation to mark the new ownership. The work of artist Justine Muller, it’s a most interesting take on the Abbott Government, complete with articulate underwear, and is well worth a peek if you are in the area.