Comparison of Representations of the American and British Family. Tobe Hooper’s "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and Steven Sheil’s "Mum & Dad"
Hausarbeit (Hauptseminar) 2015 8 Seiten
Table of Contents
2. Family Structure
3. The Home of the Family
4. Physical Appearance of the Family
5. Contact to the Outside World
7. Impact on the Audience
This paper will compare how families are represented in two horror movies, Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre from 1974 and Steven Sheil’s Mum & Dad from 2008.
According to the Longman New Universal Dictionary the term ‘family’ describes a group of people living under one roof, especially a set of two or more adults living together and rearing their children. Furthermore the term ‘nuclear family’ is “used to refer to a unit consisting of spouses and their dependent children.” The family is performing “tasks necessary to the survival of the species and to the social continuity: namely, the regulation of sexual relationship, reproduction, the socialization of children, the economic cooperation between sexes.”
In both movies the family is the monster, which is according to Robin Wood among five recurrent motifs in horror movies “a single unifying master figure”. He has noticed that the psychotic and schizophrenic are “all shown as products of the [guilty] family”. This paper will analyze the family structure, the homes and appearance of the families, their contact to the outside world and their dealing with sexuality. In a final step I will explain the impact of those to horror movies on the audience.
2. Family Structure
In The Texas Chainsaw Massacre the main focus lies on the local slaughterhouse family even though the five young people could be considered a family as well, consisting of “two couples and a brother-sister family unit”. But they stay on the whole uncharacterized and get killed except Sally quiet fast whereas the slaughterhouse family is more present during the whole movie and therefore characterized in detail.
This family consists of two psychotic sons, Hitchhiker and Leatherface, their father, as well as “an aged and only marginally alive grandfather; and their dead grandmother and her dog, whose mummified corpses are ceremonially included in the family gatherings.”
With the grandmother only existing as a decomposing corpse (Wood 91) and no information about the remaining of a mother women are absent. According to Wood the absence of women in this all-male family “deprives [it] of its social sense and social meaning while leaving its strength of primitive loyalties largely untouched.”
In this family a hierarchical order is recognizable following old Southern values like the appreciation of the older and obeying their rules. The father in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre dominates and beats his sons, who are afraid of him and obey his orders. The only sign of disrespect is shown after him admitting not to enjoy the killing, his sons call him “only a chef”, whereas they have a real profession being butchers. Those “[t]hree generations of slaughterhouse workers, once proud of their craft but now displaced by machines, have taken up killing and cannibalism as a way of life.” According to Wood this family is “held together, and torn apart, by bonds and tensions with which we are all familiar – with which we are likely to have grown up.” The audience cannot cleanly dissociate themselves from the slaughterhouse family and a sense grows in us that they are victims of the slaughterhouse environment, of capitalism and our society.
The family in Mum & Dad consists of a mother and a father and their two “adopted” children Birdie and Elbie, as Birdie tells Lena at their first encounter. This leads to the assumption that the two have been kidnapped by Mum and Dad at some point in their lives. Lena is being tricked into the house and the family, because Mum wishes for another girl. Later in the movie Lena discovers that the family consists of one more family member, a hidden disabled daughter, who Dad calls his “own flesh and blood”, whereas Mum looks disgusted and annoyed.
As well as in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre this family is dominated by a strong hierarchical order and a tyrannical father figure. The Dad is a psychopathic serial killer who expects everyone in his family to obey his rules, to have no secrets and to put the family first. So instead of going to school or college the kids work and steal at the airport to support the family, do household chores like disposing of human body parts or washing bloodstained clothes. Especially Birdie is fighting for the attention of her parents trying to do everything she can to please them. But she also realizes that the children are seen as “toys” by their parents, as Birdie puts it when talking to Elbie about being replaced by Angel. There is also a huge rivalry among the siblings who constantly play off each other seeking the love and attention of their parents.
Violence in this family is not only resorted against victims from outside but also the children by the father as well as the mother. Mum might seem gentile and nice in comparison to the unpredictable Dad, but she has the predilection for torturing her children by cutting in their flesh.
In Mum & Dad the audience never learns their family name, neither the surnames of the parents. We only get to know the children`s names Birdie, Elbie and Lena who is later renamed Angel by Mum. Mum and Dad remain nameless, as the slaughterhouse family in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
 Longman New Universal Dictionary. Harlow, 1982.
 Marshall, Gordon: Oxford Dictionary of Sociology. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1985.
 Wood, Robin: Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan. New York: Columbia University Press, 1986. P. 83.
 Wood, P. 84
 Ibid. 90
 Clover, J. Carol: Her Body, Himself: Gender in the Slasher Film. Representations, No. 20, Special Issue: Misogyny, Misandry, and Misanthrophy (Autumn, 1987), pp. 187-228. University of California Press. P. 192.
 Wood, P. 91
 Clover, P. 193
 Wood, P. 92
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- comparison representations american british family tobe hooper’s texas chainsaw massacre steven sheil’s