The Movie: 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre' (1974)
The Scene: Sally and her brother Franklin take some friends on a Texas road-trip to investigate the cemetery where Sally's grandfather was laid to rest, after reports surfaced that a vandalism occurred. While they wait for a local gas station to get a fuel refill -- so they can get back on the road -- Kirk and his girlfriend Pam slip away from the group to go swimming. Along their walk, they come across a decrepit house filled with broken-down cars and farm equipment. Hoping the residents have extra gasoline laying around, Kirk knocks on the front door. But instead of receiving a charitable act from a stranger, he stumbles into first contact with one of movie history's most notorious slasher serial killers -- Leatherface.
Why It's Iconic: 'Texas Chainsaw Massacre' is gruesome and frightening from the opening shot. Yet for a long stretch of time, no chainsaws are revved up. Instead, five hapless 20-somethings come across weird inhabitants of a desolate Texas town, getting more and more freaked out as the sun begins to set.
Kirk's death, however, sets the rest of the movie on a tailspin that feels like one long terrifying roller coaster drop. Leatherface -- the skin-suit wearing, meat-loving cannibal killer dispatches him like one of the many livestock he sends to slaughter. When Leatherface slams the metal door shut, it reverberates with a chilling, echoing thud that grabs your attention, and leaves you too afraid to look away from the screen.
Imitators/Flatterers: 'TCM' was followed by two sequels, two reboots and a prequel. The 2003 version attempted to recreate the hammer death/door slamming moment -- and didn't really pull it off.
More importantly, the original 1974 version influenced a generation of horror directors -- from Wes Craven to Rob Zombie -- and defined many of the templates we associate with the slasher film. Tobe Hooper's low-budget, creative and uncomfortably-close style of storytelling has been analyzed and commended for decades -- not just being an excellent demonstration of suspenseful directing, but for providing a grim insight into the savage horrors of humanity.