by Tyler Dennis
- The Texas Chain Massare. Dir. Hooper, Tobe.
WE WATCHED THE ORIGINAL AND WERE TOO SCARED to sleep. Roaches hastened up the shadowy walls, and we counted them to get our minds off that repugnant movie. But still, we heard apparitions and hulking assassins that weren’t there. My aunt Brittany is four years my senior. Back then, at thirteen, she was freckled, oddly-shaped. Her hair was a messy, driftwood crown.
We liked to scare each other and ourselves watching Vincent Price films on Turner Classic Movies. We would’ve postered her pink, flower stenciled walls with Lon Cheney and Boris Karloff if we could’ve. Me and my aunt snuck off to the cemetery on late nights to visit Old Man McCurdy, whose grave—we agreed—was the oldest we’d seen at the boneyard. Hearing ambiguous sounds, we’d run home and get back, praising God (between labored breaths) for everything from our secondhand clothes to the boogers up our noses.
In the movie, the barbeque at the gas station is people. We vowed to be vegetarians for the rest of our lives. Every time I so much as bit into a Slim Jim, I swore I was tasting a dead relative’s hamstring. I’d spit out the half-chewed morsel like it was a foul curse word.
I don’t know if either of us truly believed. At least I didn’t. I just wanted to share something with her. Bonds, even those between blood relatives, are often as breakable and transparent as cobwebs. If she seemed scared by something, I wanted to be scared too. Baby fever scared. So scared that she could laugh at my fears and feel better about her own. I wanted her to remember me, her fragile little nephew, with tenderness.
Brittany was fourteen when we grew distant.
I saw her once through blinds with a boyfriend. Her room was so close to my childhood, but its door was closed to me by then. We’d stenciled those flowers on her wall. When we painted the walls pink, the paint smell had driven roaches out of hiding.
She sat on his lap in her panties, and I almost cried for reasons I couldn’t explain. Brittany had outgrown me and our world of meat hooks, cannibalism and gore-covered horror vixens.
She’d stopped letting me brush her hair. We stopped memorizing Hitchcock dialogue or reenacting the bathub scene from Diabolique in our bathing suits. She cut off her split ends and covered her freckles with powder.
2) Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3, Dir. Burr, Jeff.
Unlike Brittany, my uncle Chris never grew up. He’s only a year older than his sister (five years my senior), but it took him having kids to stop being one himself. Girls seem to collect the flint, the piss, and patience necessary for adulthood twice as fast as any reckless boy.
Brittany had liked to scare me, but Chris was malicious about it. And there was no way you could scare him back. He’d bare his teeth, flex his formidable muscle, and blow milk bubbles through his teeth.
“Run!” he’d warn. “Run…before I’m…turned!”
This was his reenactment of a werewolf transformation. I saw the new hair growth on his arms and face as evidence and ran as instructed.
Mamaw threatened to whip Chris for me, but he just laughed at any leather strap or hickory branch. Whippings didn’t scare him. Chris was fearless, cocky…you know, the one who is usually killed first in a slasher movie.
He taunted me with pictures of Leatherface, even bought a VHS copy of Leatherface: Texas Chain Massacre 3 from a resale shop. On the box, a neon-tinted Leatherface wields a chainsaw with the words: “The Saw is Family” engraved on the guide bar. Those were words Chris growled when he’d sneak up behind me. I woke up next to that box, saw it, and scrambled out of my bed as if it were a black snake besides me.
I’d girl-scream like those horror vixens we knew by name and cup size, and he’d laugh.
I always tried to figure how long it’d be before I could kick my uncles sorry ass.
3. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (remake). Dir. Nispel, Marcus.
Daddy was my favorite felon. He’d traded thirty dollars in food stamps to a coworker so he could pay the fifteen dollars for tickets and free-refill popcorn. On the way to the theater, he asked me if I could hear the sound his car was making.
“Hear that buzzing noise. Like a hornet?”
Daddy was always convinced that his car was a wee bird away from breaking down. And he was often right. You could count on one of his cars breaking down. You could count on one of his cars like you could count on a schizophrenic’s mood ring to stay the same color. And Daddy, who stank of turkey grease and whose teeth were antiqued by cigarette smoke, was just like his cars.
But he followed through this once. I’d asked him to take me to see the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake. The one with Jessica Biel in a translucent wife beater.
In one of the first scenes, a woman shoots herself in the back of a van. The camera catches the other passengers’ horror by filming, presumably, inside the gaping hole in the dead woman’s head. I couldn’t watch anymore.
I spent the first 45 minutes hiding my eyes in the crook of my arm. I gradually grew more hysterical, begged my father to take me home. Kids younger than my twelve years watched me blitzkrieg into panic mode. They seemed sympathetic.
I thought people might laugh at my hysterics, like those girls who laughed at Carrie in the girls’ shower.
Plug it up, plug it up.
They’re all gonna laugh at you.
Those awful girl taunts from the de Palma film churrned in my head as I ran.
In the car, Daddy was cussin’ mad.
He listed all the things he could’ve bought with the wasted fifteen dollars as he drove me to Mama’s house. Every time I “pussed out” of something, as he called it, he claimed that I was doing it just to aggravate him.
“Why’re ya’ll back so early?” Mama asked. She’d been reading on the porch.
“Ask this one,” my daddy said. “Couldn’t stomach it. Made me spend all my money—money I could’ve spent on two cartons of cigarettes, four school lunches, fifteen lotto tickets, eight packs of lunch meat, six loafs of bread. I don’t know who taught him to waste money like this. If I would’ve raised him, it wouldn’t be this way. Letting you have my son was the worst mistake of my life…”
I stopped listening after that. I went inside and turned on the television. Chicago was on. Perfect. If Richard Gere couldn’t Billy Flynn my horror away, then nothing could. The tap-dancing, the pyrotechnics, and all that jazz were almost enough to drown out my parents outside. To this day, they still scream over me like creaky bedsprings.
I wish my parents had given me more confidence in the working class romance.
4. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning. Dir. Liebesman, Jonathan.
I was Jordan’s first, but he wasn’t mine. Mrs. Johnson’s chemistry class, junior year. We wrote each other notes like schoolgirls. I drew hermit crabs on our notes with corny names like “Shelly” and “Sheldon.” We were the only two openly gay kids at school in a small Alabama town. That was a lot to have in common in those days.
He grew his bangs long to hide heavy acne that clung to his forehead like barnacles on a ship’s underbelly. We had stupid, irresponsible sex. But my favorite part was after. He let me have my way with his carbuncled shoulder blades. I liked popping his pimples, and I liked when he winced from the pain.
Jordan’s parents eventually put him away. They sent him to one of those pray-the-gay-away places, which confused me. If you don’t want your kid to be gay, why send him to a place filled with other, probably gay teens?
He still wrote me notes, but they confiscated his cell phone at the camp. He told me his father was writing him letters in his own blood. His parents had tried every science and scripture they knew to make Jordan into a carmine-blooded American boy, but it wasn’t happening. Their Pinocchio in tight fitting jeans would never be a real boy.
He eventually came back from the camp, back to school, but he only came over once more. I’d rented Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning. It was my seventeenth birthday, and he’d brought me chocolate-covered pretzels.
I was no longer scared of Leatherface. I was old enough to know that there were things in the world much worse than a man in a blood-splattered smock.
5. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning. Dir. Liebesman, Jonathan.
I moved away from home for college in Birmingham Alabama, which is a sizeable stretch from my hometown. Jordan went there too, but we found we had less in common as we explored the currents of this much larger pond.
After all, everyone’s gay at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Our two-person pride parade had grown and we found that we had little to talk about anymore.
I met Solomon at my worst. I was on anti-anxiety, anti-depressant, and anti-psychotic meds all at once. He as it turned out, he was worse off than I was.
His parents were professors at a private college. His family looks like a slice from Adolf Hitler’s Nordic pie-in-the-sky, but Solomon is mixed race. Adopted.
Our first date was in his parents basement, which served as his quarters. I saw an ashtray full of pills, all differently colored—bland, inoffensive colors. Like colors you paint the walls of an assisted-living facility or a cancer ward.
“I know why you hoard them,” I said. “You feel like you aren’t in control of anything, and if you have enough pills to do you in, that at least gives you control over something.”
“The fact that he understood that life, that feeling, was enough to make me want to drive to Massachusetts and marry him on the spot. We watched TCM: The Beginning just as I’d watched it with Jordan nearly two years before.
Solomon is the type of person you never finish a movie with. There are distractions. You find yourself wanting to touch the koi fish that half-moon around his pelvic bones. Then your fingers touch his inner thigh, where there’s an ornate dragon, long as a preacher’s tongue. These are tattoos he has done himself.
“How do you do that yourself? Dosen’t it hurt?” I asked him.
“No,” Solomon said, laughing.
He laughed at pain like Uncle Chris had laughed at that hickory switch. Like the dumb bastard in the horror film who isn’t scared of what might be behind that creaky door.
When Solomon finally did try to kill himself, it wasn’t with pills. It was with a blade. He cut his neck and bled all over the basement floor. When you try to commit suicide, 911 operators alert the police and they come as well as paramedics. A police search found marijuana seeds, improvised explosives a la the trenchcoat mafia. After Solomon recovered from the suicide attempt, they charged him for both the seeds and the homemade bombs.
When they showed those awful pictures in court, of the blood, it looked like a cranberry bog. I never knew there was that much blood in a person’s body. I never knew how he lost so much and still survived.
We weren’t together anymore, but I still cried for him in the courtroom. They played the 911 call made by his mother. She was so calm, so strong in the recording, and I loved her then more than I’d ever loved her son.
I thought back to every time I’d covered my eyes with the crook of my arm, knowing that Solomon’s mother hadn’t had that option.
6. Texas Chainsaw 3D. Dir. Lussenhop, John.
Late last year, I finally saw the re-make the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The newest incarnation cuts out the “massacre” and is simply titled Texas Chainsaw. It’s unbelievably dumb, laughably ridiculous, unnecessarily 3D, and won’t even work on a nostalgic level years from now.
I saw it with my dad at the dollar theater down on Lorna Road.
Like the film’s title is shortened, I’ve also shortened, I’ve also shortened “Daddy” to “Dad.”
“Aunt Brittany” is just “Brittany” and “Uncle Chris” is simply “Chris”.
On our way back from the movie, my dad asks me to listen. Do I hear that pitter-patter—”That might be the engine tearing up again,” he speculates. We don’t have much to talk about, and I don’t see him very often. He only ever comes to Birmingham when he’s confident that his car can make the trip.
I ask him about all the same people. How is so-and-so’s baby? How is Mamaw’s brother’s heart palpitations? Has such-and-such’s daughter got out of jail yet?
And then he asks me to listen for phantom noise again, but I hear nothing. I start thinking about facts.
My father bums a cigarette from me, complaining about how it tastes compared to his preferred brand. This bothers me at first, but then I remember those immortal words written on a chainsaw. I still hear those words in my uncle’s growl. They calm me now, and in that moment I’ve forgiven everything.