Sally Hardesty (Marilyn Burns) and her brother Franklin (Paul A. Partain) travel with three friends to a cemetery holding the grave of Hardestys’ grandfather. They aim to investigate reports of vandalism and of corpse-defilement. Afterward, they decide to visit an old Hardesty family homestead, and on the way, the group picks up a hitchhiker (Edwin Neal). The man speaks and acts bizarrely, and then slashes himself and Franklin with a straight razor before being forced from the group’s van. The group stops at a gas station to fuel their vehicle, but when they find out from the proprietor (Jim Siedow) that the pumps are empty, the group continues to the homestead, intending to return to the gas station later after a fuel truck makes its delivery. Franklin tells Kirk (William Vail) and Pam (Teri McMinn) about a local swimming hole, and the couple heads off to find it. Instead, they stumble upon a nearby house. Kirk decides to ask the residents for some gas, while Pam waits on the front steps.
Receiving no answer but finding the door unlocked, Kirk enters the house; Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen) suddenly appears and kills him. Pam enters soon after to find the house filled with furniture made from human bones. She attempts to flee but Leatherface catches her and impales her on a meathook. At sunset, Sally’s boyfriend Jerry (Allen Danziger) heads out to look for the others. Finding the couple’s blanket outside the house, he investigates and finds Pam still alive inside a freezer. Before he can react, Leatherface appears and murders him, stuffing Pam back inside the freezer afterward.
With darkness falling, Sally and Franklin set out to find their friends. As they near the killer’s house, calling for the others, Leatherface lunges out of the darkness and murders Franklin with a chainsaw. Sally escapes to the house only to find the desiccated remains of an elderly couple in an upstairs room. With Leatherface still pursuing her, she jumps through a second floor window and continues to flee, eventually arriving at the gas station. As she reaches it, Leatherface disappears into the night. The proprietor at first calms her with offers of help, then binds her with rope and forces her into his truck. He drives to the house, arriving at the same time as the hitchhiker, who turns out to be Leatherface’s younger brother. The pair bring Sally inside, with the hitchhiker taunting her when he realizes who she is.
The men torment the bound and gagged Sally while Leatherface, now dressed as a woman, serves dinner. The old man from upstairs is still alive, and brought to the table to join the meal. During the night, they decide Sally should be killed by “Grandpa” (John Dugan) out of respect for his work at the slaughter house when he was younger. “Grandpa” is too weak to hit Sally with a hammer, repeatedly dropping it. In the confusion, Sally breaks free, leaps through a window and escapes from the house, running out into the road. Leatherface and the hitchhiker give chase, but the hitchhiker is run down and killed by a passing semi-trailer truck. Armed with his chainsaw, Leatherface attacks the truck when the driver stops to help, and is hit in the face with a large wrench wielded by the driver. Sally escapes in the bed of a passing pickup truck as Leatherface waves the chainsaw above his head in frustration.
“I definitely studied Gein,…. but I also noticed a murder case in Houston at the time, a serial murderer you probably remember named Elmer Wayne Henley. He was a young man who recruited victims for an older homosexual man. I saw some news report where Elmer Wayne… said, ‘I did these crimes, and I’m gonna stand up and take it like a man” Well, that struck me as interesting, that he had this conventional morality at that point. He wanted it known that, now that he was caught, he would do the right thing. So this kind of moral schizophrenia is something I tried to build into the characters.”
The concept for the film arose in the early 1970s while Hooper worked as a college professor at the University of Texas at Austin and as a documentary cameraman. He had previously developed the idea of a film centering on isolation, the woods, and darkness, and continued to explore these ideas as he thought up the concept of the film. He also credited the local San Antonio news as part of the inspiration for the film, due to the graphic nature of the story being featured. Development took place using the working titles of Headcheese and Leatherface. Hooper based the plot loosely on the murders committed by 1950s Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein, who served as the inspiration for a number of other horror films.
In discussing influences on the film, Hooper cites the impact of changes in the cultural and political landscape. He directly correlates the intentional misinformation that the “film you are about to see is true” as a response to being “lied to by the government about things that were going on all over the world,” including Watergate, the gasoline crisis, and “the massacres and atrocities in the Vietnam War.” The additional “lack of sentimentality and the brutality of things” that Hooper noticed in watching the local news whose coverage was graphic, “showing brains spilled all over the road” led to his belief “that man was the real monster here, just wearing a different face, so I put a literal mask on the monster in my film.” The idea for featuring a chainsaw came to Hooper while in the hardware section of a crowded store as he contemplated a way to get out quickly through the crowd.
Hooper and Kim Henkelhe original writers of the screenplayormed a corporation named Vortex, Inc., with Henkel as president and Hooper as vice president. They asked Bill Parsley, a friend of Hooper’s, to provide funding for the film. Parsley then formed a company named MAB, Inc. and invested $60,000 towards making the film. In return, MAB owned fifty percent of the film and its profits. Production manager Ron Bozman told most of the cast and crew to defer parts of their salaries until after the movie was sold. Vortex made the idea more attractive by awarding nearly everyone with a share of Vortex’s potential profits, ranging from .25 to six percent (similar to mortgage points). Due to a miscommunication among Vortex and the others, the cast and crew were not informed that Vortex owned only fifty percent of the film, thereby making their points worth half of the assumed value.
The crew had exceeded the original $60,000 budget for the film during the editing process, which, by that time, had amounted to a total of $140,000. Pie in the Sky (P.I.T.S.) donated $23,532 in exchange for 19 percent of Vortex’s 50 percent share of the profits. That left Henkel and Hooper with 45 percent of Vortex between them, and the remaining 36 percent divided among 20 cast and crew members. Warren Skaaren made a deal as an equal partner with Hooper and Henkel, along with a 15 percent share of Vortex. Skaaren received a deferred salary of $5,000 and three percent of the gross profits (MAB and Vortex combined). David Foster, producer of the 1982 horror film The Thing had arranged for a private screening for some of Bryanston Distributing Company’s West Coast executives, and received 1.5 percent of Vortex’s profits and a deferred fee of $500.
On August 28, 1974, Louis (Butchi) Periano of Bryanston Distribution Company offered Bozman and Skaaren a contract of $225,000 and 35 percent of the profits from the worldwide distribution of the film. Years later, Bozman stated, “We made a deal with the devil, [sigh], and I guess that, in a way, we got what we deserved.” They signed the contract with Bryanston. After the investors recouped their money (including interest), Skaaren’s salary and monitoring fee were paid, and the lawyers and accountants were paid, leaving only $8,100 to be divided among the 20 members of the cast and crew. Eventually the producers sued Bryanston for failing to pay them their full percentage of the box office profits. A court judgement fined Bryanston the sum of $500,000 to be paid to the filmmakers, and by then the company had declared bankruptcy. Bryanston Pictures folded in 1976, when Louis Peraino was convicted on obscenity charges for his role during the production of the film Deep Throat (1972). New Line Cinema took over from Bryanston and gave the producers a bigger percentage of the gross profits than Bryanston initially had paid them.
Many of the cast members had few or no previous acting credits. The cast consisted of actors around Texas who had previous roles in commercials or television and stage shows, as well as actors who were acquaintances of Hooper. Involvement in the film propelled many cast members into the motion-picture industry. The lead role of Sally went to the then-unknown Marilyn Burns. Burns had appeared previously on stage, and while attending the University of Texas at Austin, she joined its film commission board. Teri McMinn was a student and worked with various local theater companies, including the Dallas Theater Center. Henkel spotted her picture in the Austin American-Statesman, and called McMinn to come in for a reading. On her last call-back, he requested that she wear short shorts. Her costume proved to be the most comfortable of all the cast members’ costumes, taking into consideration the Texas heat that was to last throughout the entire shoot. Icelandic-American actor Gunnar Hansen gained the role of Leatherface. In preparing for his role, Hansen came to envisage Leatherface as mentally retarded and as never having learned to speak properly. Hansen visited a school for the mentally challenged and watched how the students moved and spoke to get a feel for his character. Hansen recalled, “It was 95, 100 degrees every day during filming. They wouldn’t wash my costume because they were worried that the laundry might lose it, or that it would change color. They didn’t have enough money for a second costume. So I wore that [mask] 12 to 16 hours a day, seven days a week, for a month.”
Filming took place in Austin, Round Rock and Bastrop, Texas from July 15, 1973 through August 14, 1973, lasting more than four weeks. The cast and crew found the filming conditions tough. High temperatures occurred during filming, with the record high on July 26 at 97F (36C). The record low during the shoot was on July 31 at 83F (28.3C). The house was not cooled, and all ventilation was closed due to the scene being set for night time. The film was shot mainly using an Eclair NPR 16 mm camera, blown up to 32 mm; the low speed of the film required four times more light than modern cameras. Because of the small budget, the crew filmed seven days a week, 12 to 16 hours a day, while having to deal with high humidity. The largest proportion of the filming took place in a remote farmhouse filled with furniture constructed from animal bones and using a latex material as upholstery to give the appearance of human skin. The crew covered the walls of the house with splats of dried blood to give the house an authentic look.
Art director Robert A. Burns drove around the countryside, collecting the bones of cattle and other animals in various stages of decomposition, which he used to litter the floors of the house. The film’s special effects were simple and limited by the budget. The filmmakers discovered at least 100 marijuana plants at the back of the farmhouse: they belonged to the person renting the house at the time. The local sheriff was called to investigate, but did not arrive and the filmmakers were never reported. The blood depicted was sometimes real. During the filming of the scene in which Leatherface feeds Grandpa, the crew had difficulties getting the stage blood to come out of the tube, so Burns’ index finger was cut with a razor. Burns’ costume was so drenched in stage blood that it was virtually solid on the last day of shooting. The scene after Pam is hung on the meathook, when Leatherface first uses his chainsaw, caused some worry to actor Vail (Kirk). Kirk was about to have his head cut off, and actor Hansen (Leatherface) told Vail not to move or he would literally be killed. Hansen then brought down the running chainsaw within three inches of Vail’s face.
Upon the completion of post-production, filmmakers found it difficult to secure a distributor willing to market the film, due to the graphic content; however, on August 28, 1974, the Bryanston Distributing Company agreed to distribute the film. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre premiered on October 1, 1974 in Austin, Texas, almost a year after the completion of filming. The film screened nationally in the United States as a Saturday afternoon matine, and found success with a broader audience after it was falsely marketed as being a “true story”. After 1976, the film was reissued to first run theaters, every year, for eight years, with full-page ads.
Hooper reportedly hoped that the MPAA would give the complete, uncut release print a PG rating due to the minimal amount of gore presented in the film; The film was eventually was released by the MPAA uncensored with an R rating. The film was banned in many countries including Australia, Brazil, Finland, West Germany, Chile, Iceland, Ireland, Norway, Singapore, Sweden and the United Kingdom. After the initial release, including a one year theatrical run in London, the film was banned in the United Kingdom largely on the authority of British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) Secretary James Ferman, but saw a limited cinema release because of various city councils, including Camden Council, which granted a license to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, which was later classified 18 by the BBFC. Censors attempted to edit the film for the purposes of a wider release in 1977 but were unsuccessful. At the time of the film’s banning, the word “chainsaw” became outlawed in film titles, forcing studios to retitle their movies. One such film, Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers was retitled Hollywood Hookers, with an image of a chainsaw replacing the word. The BBFC passed the film in 1999 with no cuts. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was broadcast a year later on Channel 4.
Australia’s Censorship Board first viewed The Texas Chain Saw Massacre in June 1975 and swiftly refused to register the 83-minute print. The distributor appealed to the Review Board, which upheld the decision in August 1975. The distributor prepared a reconstructed 77-minute version, only to see it banned again in December 1975. In 1976, the Australian authorities also banned the edited version of the film. It would take five years for the film to be re-presented to the censors, and the film was banned again. Greater Union Organisation (GUO) Film Distributors were refused registration for a 2283.4 (83m 27s) print in July 1981. The reason given for the ban was frequent and gratuitous violence of high intensity. An 83-minute print submitted by Filmways Australia was approved for an R rating in January 1984.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre grossed more than $30 million in the United States, making it one of the most successful independent films. It was overtaken in 1978 by John Carpenter’s Halloween, which grossed $47 million at the box office upon release. It was selected for the 1975 Cannes Film Festival Directors’ Fortnight, though the viewing was delayed due to a bomb scare. In 1976, the film won the Grand Prize at the Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival in France. The film was generally well-received by most critics, TV Guide called it “an intelligent, absorbing, and deeply disturbing horror film that is nearly bloodless in its depiction of violence”, and Empire called it “the most purely horrifying horror movie ever made”. Chicago Reader said, “The picture gets to you more through its intensity than its craft, but Hooper does have a talent.” Film review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a 90% “fresh” rating.
Some reviewers disliked the film’s violence and gory special effects. The film’s release in San Francisco saw moviegoers walking out of theatres in disgust. In February 1976, theatres in Ottawa, Canada were asked to withdraw The Texas Chain Saw Massacre due to concern about increasing violence being associated with the film. Linda Gross of the Los Angeles Times called it a “despicable film” and described Henkel and Hooper as being “less concerned with a plastic script”. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote, “‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ is as violent and gruesome and blood-soaked as the title promises … without any apparent purpose, unless the creation of disgust and fright is a purpose … and yet it’s well-made, well-acted, and all too effective.” Steve Crum of Dispatch-Tribune Newspapers criticized the film, describing it as “cultish trash that set new low standards for brutality”. In his 1976 article “Fashions in Pornography” for Harper’s Magazine, writer Stephen Koch described The Texas Chain Saw Massacre as “unrelenting sadistic violence as extreme and hideous as a complete lack of imagination can possibly make it”. Bruce Westbrook of the Houston Chronicle called the film “a backwoods masterpiece of fear and loathing, Texas style.”
Thirty-six years later, some critics called The Texas Chain Saw Massacre one of the scariest movies ever made. Mike Emery of the Austin Chronicle said that the film was “horrifying, yet engrossing … But the worst part about this vision is that despite its sensational aspects, it never seems too far from what could be the truth”. Noted reviewer Rex Reed called it “The most terrifying motion picture I have ever seen.” Fellow horror director Wes Craven has reminisced of his first viewing of the film, stating that he wondered “what kind of Mansonite crazoid” could have “conjured up such a visceral and punishing experience.” Horror novelist Stephen King considers it “cataclysmic terror”, and stated, “I would happily testify to its redeeming social merit in any court in the country.” Variety stated, “Despite the heavy doses of gore in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Tobe Hooper’s pic is well-made for an exploiter of its type.” The film has also been declared one of the few horror movies to invoke “the authentic quality of nightmare”.
Since The Texas Chain Saw Massacre’s premiere, the film has appeared on various home video formats, including VHS, laserdisc, CED, DVD, UMD and Blu-ray Disc. It was first released on videotape and CED format in the 1980s by Wizard Video and Vestron Video. The film was again banned in the United Kingdom in 1984, during the moral panic surrounding video nasties. After the retirement of its secretary, Ferman, in 1999, the BBFC passed the film uncut on cinema and video, with the 18 certificate, almost 25 years after the original release. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was originally released on DVD format in October 1998 for the United States, and, due to the controversy surrounding the film, in May 2000 for the United Kingdom. A revised DVD edition of the film was released in 2007 in Australia, after initially being released on DVD in 2001. A region 1 two-disc edition was released by Dark Sky Films, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: Ultimate Edition. The release included several interviews, improved audio and picture quality, and other features such as deleted scenes. Reviews for the release were extremely positive, with critics praising the sound and picture quality of the restoration. A region 0 three-disc DVD edition, entitled The Texas Chain Saw Massacre: Seriously Ultimate Edition, was released in the United Kingdom on November 3, 2008. Dark Sky Films released a Blu-ray Disc version of the film on September 30, 2008. The Blu-ray was subsequently released by Second Sight Films in the United Kingdom on November 16, 2009.
Legacy and influence
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, considered one of the greatest horror films of all time, has significantly influenced the horror genre. Ridley Scott credited the film as an inspiration for his 1979 film Alien. French director Alexandre Aja credited The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, among other films, as influencing him early on in his life. Channel 4 called it “a triumph of style and atmosphere”, and said The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is without doubt one of the most influential horror films of all time. John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) incorporated the film’s use of minimal blood and gore, and focused instead on the suspense. The film was among TIME Magazine’s top 25 horror films of all time. In 1990, the film was inducted into the Horror Hall of Fame, with Tobe Hooper accepting the award. William Friedkin inducted Hooper into the 2003 Texas Film Hall of Fame. New York City’s Museum of Modern Art added the film to its permanent collection, validating its claim as legitimate, unconventional art. Entertainment Weekly ranked the film #6 on their list of “The Top 50 Cult Films”. Rebecca Ascher-Walsh believes that the film “paved the way for such future shock-franchises as Halloween, The Evil Dead, and The Blair Witch Project”. Mark Olsen of the Los Angeles Times described the film as being “cheap, grubby and out of control”, and that the film “both defines and entirely supersedes the very notion of the exploitation picture.” In a Total Film poll conducted in 2005, the film was selected as the greatest horror film of all time. Leatherface has gained a reputation as one of the most disturbing and notorious characters in the horror genre, and The Times listed The Texas Chain Saw Massacre as one of the 50 most controversial films of all time.
Horror filmmaker and heavy metal singer Rob Zombie sees the film as a major influence, most notably in his film House of 1000 Corpses, released in 2003. Isabel Cristina Pinedo stated, “The horror genre must keep terror and comedy in tension if it is to successfully tread the thin line that separates it from terrorism and parody… this delicate balance is struck in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in which the decaying corpse of Grandpa not only incorporates horrific and humorous effects, but actually uses one to exacerbate the other.” Scott Von Doviak of Hick Flicks called it “one of the rare horror movies to make effective use of daylight, right from the gruesome opening shot of a decaying corpse splayed across a cemetery tombstone”. The book, Contemporary North American Film Directors called the film “a disquieting inspection of rural insanity, more intricate and less bloodthirsty than the title might connote.111] In the book Horror Films, one critic’s opinion of the film was that it was “the most affecting gore thriller of all and, in a broader view, among the most effective horror films ever made…”, and that “the driving force of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is something far more horrible than aberrant sexuality: total insanity.112] Christopher Null of Filmcritic.com said, “In our collective consciousness, Leatherface and his chainsaw have become as iconic as Freddy and his razors or Jason and his hockey mask.” The film was placed 199th in Empire magazine’s 2008 list of the 500 greatest motion pictures of all time.
Main article: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (comics)
Shortly after The Texas Chain Saw Massacre established itself as a success on home video in 1982, Wizard Video released a mass-market video game adaptation for the Atari 2600. In the game, the player assumes the role of the film’s primary antagonist, Leatherface, and attempts to murder trespassers while avoiding obstacles such as fences and cow skulls. As one of the first horror-themed video games, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre caused controversy when it was released due to the violent nature of the video game and sold poorly because many game stores refused to stock it. Wizard Video’s other commercial release, Halloween, had a slightly better reception; the limited number of copies sold has made the game highly valued items among Atari collectors.
Several comic books based on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise were made in 1991 by Northstar Comics entitled Leatherface. They were licensed The Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise to Avatar Press for use in new comic book stories, the first of which was published in 2005. In 2006, Avatar Press lost the license to DC Comics imprint, Wildstorm, who have published new stories based on the franchise. In June 2007 Wildstorm changed a number of horror comics, including The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, from monthly issues to specials and miniseries. The series of comics featured none of the main characters seen in the original film (Topps Comics Jason vs. Leatherface series is exempt) with the exception of Leatherface, however the 1991 “Leatherface” miniseries was loosely based on the third Texas Chainsaw Massacre film. Writer Mort Castle stated: “The series was very loosely based on Texas Chainsaw Massacre III. I worked from the original script by David Schow and the heavily edited theatrical release of director Jeff Burr, but had more or less free rein to write the story the way it should have been told. The first issue sold 30,000 copies.”
Kirk Jarvinen drew the first issue, and Guy Burwell finished the rest of the series. The comics, not having the same restrictions from the MPAA, had much more gore than the finished film. The ending, as well as the fates of several characters, was also altered. An adaptation of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was planned by Northstar Comics, but never came to fruition.
Main article: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (franchise)
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre has spawned three sequels, and a remakeitled The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and produced by Michael Bayeleased in 2003. The original film was first succeeded by The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986), once again directed by Hooper. The sequel was considerably more graphic and violent than the original, due to the fact that a larger amount of gore was present in the film and was consequently banned in Australia for 20 years, but finally released on DVD in a revised special edition in October 2006. The sequel was less well-received by the critics, as they felt it had moved away from the terror of the original for the sake of dark humor. Gunnar Hansen was asked to reprise his role as Leatherface in the second film, but ultimately declined.
The film spawned two more sequels; Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1990) was the next, with a budget of $2 million. Hooper did not return for the film due to scheduling conflicts with another film, Spontaneous Combustion. The film was instead directed by Jeff Burr. Chris Parcellin of Film Threat said, “It’s really just another generic slasher flick with nothing beyond the Leatherface connection to recommend it to discerning fans.” The third sequel, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation was released in 1995, starring Rene Zellweger and Matthew McConaughey. The film was a semi-remake of the original, although it was originally intended to be a complete remake of the first film. Maitland McDonagh of TV Guide’s Movie Guide said that the movie was “tired and dated.”
A remake entitled The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was released by Platinum Dunes in 2003. The film starred Jessica Biel, Eric Balfour, Andrew Bryniarski as Leatherface, and R. Lee Ermey as Sheriff Hoyt. The film received more positive critic reviews than the sequels, though it only managed to achieve a 35% “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with 52 positive reviews out of 150. Ebert called it “a contemptible film: Vile, ugly and brutal.” A prequel to the remake, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, was released in 2006. The film was directed by Jonathan Liebesman, and produced by Michael Bay and Mike Fleiss. It had a starring cast of Jordana Brewster and Taylor Handley, with Ermey and Bryniarski reprising their roles as Sheriff Hoyt and Leatherface, respectively. The film was panned by most critics, with a 14% “rotten” rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Mark Palermo, columnist for The Coast, said, “The focus in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning isn’t on the confrontation of demons, moral reckoning, or terror. It’s an unimaginative exercise in suffering”.
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v d e
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III
Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003) The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning
Leatherface Chop Top Other characters
All American Massacre Atari 2600 Game Comics
v d e
Films directed by Tobe Hooper
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) Eaten Alive (1977) Salem’s Lot (1979)
The Funhouse (1981) Poltergeist (1982) Lifeforce (1985) Invaders from Mars (1986) The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)
Spontaneous Combustion (1990) I’m Dangerous Tonight (1990) Night Terrors (1993) Body Bags (1993) The Mangler (1995) The Apartment Complex (1999)
Crocodile (2000) Toolbox Murders (2004) Mortuary (2005)
Categories: English-language films | 1970s horror films | 1974 films | American horror films | B movies | Films directed by Tobe Hooper | Films set in Texas | Films shot in Texas | New Line Cinema films | Slasher films | Texas Chainsaw Massacre | Urban legends | Cannibalism
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