The Texas Chain Saw Massacre has many impressive elements, but few would deny that the film’s visceral impact is heightened by Wayne Bell’s extraordinary musique concrète score – not quite music, this collection of experimental sounds, atmospherics and nightmarish noises adds considerably to the film’s intensity. It’s also become something of a holy grail for both soundtrack collectors and industrial music enthusiasts, being frustrating unavailable because of fiendishly complicated rights issues and possibly lost master tapes. Some have sought to get around this problem by commissioning new scores for the film – because clearly, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre would be improved immeasurably by a retro synth score by some band you’ve never heard of – and then issuing it on vinyl. This is the very definition of pointless.
More interesting is the work of Mark Fox, who recorded a Chain Saw inspired score for David Gregory’s 1999 documentary The Texas Chain Saw Massacre: The Shocking Truth. A labour of love shot on a shoestring, The Shocking Truth remains the definitive story of the film and its sequels, and was the starting point of Gregory’s career as the premier cinema documentarian. You can find the film as an extra on most editions of Chain Saw to emerge since 1999.
Fox was tasked with getting around the soundtrack issues and providing the documentary with its own distinct sound by creating a new score inspired by, but not based on, Bell’s work in the original film. Taking a trip to an abattoir to get a feel for the sounds of death and slaughter, Fox then took the techniques of musique concrète – found sounds, the banging of metal and chains, the atmospherics of reality – and used vintage analogue synths and bass guitar to give the music a feel of the era that Chain Saw was made. Recording on a 4 track cassette deck also ensured that the results were suitably lo-fi.
Fox’s score might have languished unheard outside the documentary (where it is, understandably, mostly hidden in the background) had the need for Chain Saw material not brought it to the attention of Pure Destructive Records, who issued the soundtrack on vinyl. How many people managed to miss the words ‘The Shocking Truth’ on the cover and bought this thinking that it was the original film soundtrack is open to conjecture, but I would suggest that anyone who did so would only have a momentary sense of disappointment. Fox does a fine job here of not only creating a viable and sympathetic alternate soundtrack for The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (and, of course, authentic soundtrack for the documentary), but also comes up with a dark and unsettling musical landscape in its own right. The album is a fascinating collision of industrial noise and electronic harshness with a couple of brooding synth tunes that have an atmosphere of unsettling threat to them. There are individual tracks (with cheery titles like Subhuman, Spasms, Meat Pulley and Hoist) but the record works best as a flowing piece, the soundscapes bleeding into each other for the most part. It’s a suite of… well, not music exactly for the most part, but a mix of power electronics and avant-garde experimentation, and it works surprisingly well. As something designed to complement, not replace the original film score, it works very well, and is certainly the best Chain Saw related music that you can legally buy.
Of course, what everyone wants is the official score to be issued, though that still seems a way off yet. The closest we have, amusingly, is the inclusion of Roger Bartlett’s plinky-plunky country ditty Fool for a Blonde, heard in the original film, given away as a CD single with original copies of The Shocking Truth and now rather oddly inserted into the middle of Fox’s score on the LP. It’s a curiously affecting little song, laid back to the point of falling over, and it stands out like a sore thumb amongst the rest of the score – but I’m rather glad it is there.
Here’s one of the more traditionally musical numbers: