In this series I will aim to discuss some of our key influences in greater depth and explain just what it is about these movies that have served as an inspiration on ONUS. Be that style, substance or just a general feeling, there’s something in these movies that has, in one way or another, served as a key inspiration on the film.
THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE (1974) Dir. Tobe Hooper
We’ve all heard of Tobe Hooper’s incredible debut feature, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. It has a reputation well beyond the horror that lurks within the film, but despite that the film itself is still an absolutely terrifying and horrific experience.
Shot with next to no budget over the course of a relentlessly hot summer in Texas, the film has an almost documentary feel to it. It’s as though Hooper has bottled fear and let it loose on the screen. I’m not quite sure everything that comes together to make The Texas Chain Saw Massacre the terrifying and gruelling experience it is was deliberate on the part of the filmmakers. In fact, if you ask me, I believe an awful lot of it was sheer luck.
None the less, terrifying it most certainly is. There is a definite uncomfortableness throughout the first half that gives way to the second half’s utterly horrendous horrors as we wind up with our final girl and we see, for the first time, inside the Sawyer House proper.
Stepping aside from the obvious iconography of Leatherface for a moment, what has always terrified me about The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, more so than any other scene, is the utter terror of the dinner sequence. Sally strapped to the chair, the cannibalistic insanity of the Sawyers playing out beyond, as though she’s being forced to watch some warped immersive theatre, one that’s all too real. It gives me shivers just thinking about it.
Now, there aren’t any cannibals in ONUS, and I wouldn’t even dare to try and capture the sheer craziness that’s portrayed in Texas Chain Saw, I don’t think I ever could, but what there is in ONUS is a family. And, well… that’s where a strange sort of influence comes from.
See, what Tobe Hooper does in that dinner scene is takes something that is everyday and perfectly mundane – a family having dinner – and warps it into something so absolutely terrifying and hard to watch that the entire thing becomes an experience unto itself. It’s such a difficult film and a difficult sequence to sit through, but that’s part of the film’s success.
With ONUS I hope to capture that. They way Hooper shoots everything just a little off. The way he edits everything just a little off. The odd sounds, the unnerving angles. Everything about The Texas Chain Saw Massacre oozes dread, and I want my film to feel like that too.
If ONUS us even half as terrifying as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre then I will have considered the film a success. Even one third. And I believe that’s all down to the unsettling feeling that lurks inside of everything in the film. When we see them exiting their van near the very beginning the shot is framed so the sky is the most prominent thing, a big looming nothing that hovers over the protagonist and her friends.
And the film never does the obvious thing. It’s never clear where it’s going or who is going to survive. Things happen quickly and then suddenly they just are. There doesn’t even appear to be a sense of structure to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, it just is. It meanders along and then – boom! – things start happening only for them to abruptly stop again at the end.
ONUS has a much more clear structure, but hopefully I’ve also managed to capture that sense of not knowing where this is going, what it’s about or what is even going to happen from one moment to the next. Hopefully you’ll be kept on the edge of your seat throughout.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre might not seem like an obvious source of inspiration for a film like ONUS but I assure you it most definitely was. If you’re making a horror film and you’re not taking inspiration from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre on some level it’s probably not worth trying.