In Defense Of Franklin Hardesty

by The Acolyte/Blaise Bienvenue

I know of no other film, let alone a seminal horror film with both a cult and mainstream audience, that opens with a guy in a wheelchair trying to piss into a coffee can on the side of the road. The man in question is one Franklin Hardesty (Paul Partain) who, along with sister Sally (Marilyn Burns), comprises one of two clans featured in Tobe Hooper, Kim Henkel, Wayne Bell, Daniel Pearl, and Robert Burns’s darkly humorous, unsentimentally brutal, viscerally traumatic rumination on the nature of family relations, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Since more than enough has already been said about the film, I will use this space to express a controversial opinion: Franklin Hardesty, one of the most notoriously unpopular figures in cinema (even the other cast members reportedly shunned Partain during filming for staying in character), is a guileless, unassuming soul who does not deserve to die.

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In addition to being a prime early example of the refreshing phenomenon of disabled characters who do not handle their impairments with excessive saintly grace (predates John Malkovich in Places In The Heart by ten years), Franklin is a person who is childlike and pure. He describes the methods used to slaughter cows in an abattoir with vivid animation not because he revels in the utter disgust this causes fellow road trippers, but because he is completely unaware of their revulsion. His conversation with the unkempt, maniacal Hitchhiker (Edwin Neal) early in the film displays an open curiosity that does not judge, but only questions. Said questions may be clumsy and tactless, but the look in Franklin’s eyes tells us all we need to know about what’s in his heart. I would rather spend the last few hours of my life with someone like him than with any of the mean-spirited, affected hard cases who prattle on about how they couldn’t wait for him to die, even if those few hours would end with his taking us down the dirt road that would lead to our demise. Just what that says about me, I’m not sure, but I’ll take the trade-off.

– The Acolyte