Cannibalistic Capitalism and other American Delicacies: A Bataillean Taste of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

Naomi Merritt


The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (Tobe Hooper, 1974) presents a nightmarish vision of an America, metaphorically and literally devouring itself.  ‘Home, sweet, home’ becomes the slaughterhouse and consumers become the consumed as ‘cannibalistic capitalism’ (embodied by a family of unemployed but murderous abattoir workers), wreaks havoc on the lives of a hedonistic group of youths, as the ‘Age of Aquarius’ comes to a bloody end.  Chain Saw offers a model of horror that is both deeply rooted in American ideology, taboos, and the key (and interdependent) institutions of the family, the worker and capitalism, yet produces aberrant and transgressive versions of these same social units.  In this paper, the film’s representation of ‘cannibalistic capitalism’ will be explored in relation to Georges Bataille’s theory of taboo and transgression.  While Bataille asserts that the ‘main function of all taboos is to combat violence’ (thus maintaining the power, integrity and conformity of social institutions), he also suggests that the taboo paradoxically begets its own violent transgression.  In The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, capitalism’s transgressive excesses both ignite the taboo’s prohibitive power while revelling in and glorifying its violation.  This paper offers a ‘taste’ of a Bataillean approach to the theorising of horror and the spectatorial ‘pleasures’ of submitting to the anguish it provokes.


Bataille; Texas Chain Saw Massacre; Texas Chainsaw Massacre; Cannibalism; Tobe Hooper; Taboo; Transgression

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