A girl and her wheelchair bound brother head for Texas, with some friends, when they hear their grandfather's grave has been desecrated. There, their investigations lead them to a house of ex- slaughterhouse workers, with a love of power tools.
The most purely horrifying horror movie ever made. A quarter of a century on, power-tools may have been overused blunting the sheer gall of using a title as up-front as this, but Tobe Hooper's sick, inventive little film remains as disturbing, suspenseful and shattering as the day it first saw the light of a drive-in screen.
Its "plot" is textbook modern American folktale - a vanload of kids, not unlike the bunch from Scooby Doo, wander off the road in rural Texas and trespass on the wrong farm, where they are murdered by a family of degenerates who used to work in the local slaughterhouse but now practice their bloody skills on passing people. The longest-lived is Sally (Burns), a blonde in amazingly wide white flares who makes it through an appalling dinner table scene and finally escapes. (Although it's an open question as to what is left of her mind after the experience.)
From the first images - a corpse wired to a grave, sunspots, a dead armadillo in the road - the film goes all out to show you the uncomfortable. The horror scenes are staged with unforgettable force, using the soundtrack as much as the (oddly restrained) visuals to batter you senseless, but Hooper and his collaborators, especially art director Bob Burns, fill the film with unsettling details that register on the corner of the eye. The horrror house, where human and animal bones are used in the furniture and a fat chicken is cooped in a canary cage, is a truly nightmarish locale, and the four maniacs each have unpleasant but credible tics.
Unlike The Exorcist, which tries to make horror play with a mass audience, this is a picture for the hardcore crowd. It has an almost absurdist lack of meaning which is as horrific as any "message" could be, and is never less than totally committed to scaring you witless. Usually, when they say "Not for those of a nervous disposition", it's shameless hype; this time, they mean it.
Genuinely disturbing, even now.