What can you say about the Texas Chain Saw Massacre (the 1974 original) that hasn’t already been said? It’s been studied, broken down, copied, and intellectualized to death, and the general consensus among both horror fans and art fans is that it is one of the most important films in movie history.
Despite it’s legacy being watered down by a slew of sequels and remakes of dubious quality (let’s be honest- most of them outright sucked), it’s still one of the only horror movies inducted in the Museum of Modern Art in New York and began at least 3 or 4 horror movie trends in the United States (group of teenagers being preyed on by killers, crazy homicidal rednecks, a killer who wears a scary mask, and the final girl trope). So it’s fans already know a lot of the stories and rumors surrounding it- about the horrible conditions it was filmed under (including incredible heat and dangerous stuntwork that injured several of the actors and crew), the grueling 27 hour dinner scene shoot, the real carcasses and roadkill that made up (and stunk up) the set dressing, and all the financial troubles and Mafia double-dealing it underwent after it was released. A lot of the actors refused to talk about it for years because of the pain they went through and the lack of financial compensation they received. Many of them are still angry about it (I incensed Ed Neal (who played the Hitchhiker) at a convention one year asking about it, and he became more and more angry and agitated as he tried to explain it (the “moving decimal point”, as he calls it, wherein the more fingers that are in the pie, the farther the decimal point moves to the left in the amount of money him and the other cast members receive). To say there were a lot of hard feelings would be an understatement.
There was a story a few years ago in the convention circuit that Tobe Hooper (the director of the movie) was terrified of Gunnar Hansen, who played Leatherface (the main killer) and that anytime both of them were booked to do the same convention, Tobe would cancel. He also would not do the commentary for the Texas Chain Saw Massacre dvd at the same time as Gunnar without someone else there because he was afraid to be alone with him. Now, that same Gunnar Hansen has written a book detailing his experiences making The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and it’s a fascinating read.
After paraphrasing Herman Melville, he begins at the beginning of his involvement with the movie, and tells how he got the part of Leatherface and the things he did to prepare for it. He describes most of the key scenes in order and gives little asides and tidbits of information about them. His writing style is very to-the-point and matter of fact, and he discusses and debunks (and verifies) a lot of rumors and myths that have been told and believed about the movie and the making of it for years. It’s all told from his point of view, however he did interviews with all of the surviving principle cast and crew (except for Tobe Hooper, which lends more weight to the thought that there is some bad blood between them. He does not, however, speak ill of Tobe (for the most part) and does quote an interview done with him from 2008 for thoughts from his side of the story) and has quotes from them, as well as several members of the horror community such as Stuart Gordon, John Landis, and Doug Bradley (who all have thoughts on the legacy of the Texas Chain Saw Massacre). He also talks about how the film was received, the reviews both good and bad (“a vile little piece of sick crap”), and goes into details about the distributing fiasco and Mafia dealings (and manages to not sound too bitter about the whole situation).
He dedicates a few chapters at the end to various thoughts on horror, the horror movie, how the Texas Chain Saw Massacre fits into the horror movie history, and censorship (which will probably be preaching to the converted, with most of the likely readership of this book). Most Chain Saw fans probably already know a lot of these stories, but it’s good to have them verified by someone who was there and all in one place, so that when someone tells you they were in prison with the guy that Leatherface was based on you can tell them they’re full of shit and have this book to prove it (since he was barely loosely based on Ed Gein, and most of the story was totally made up).
This is a great book to read for anyone interested in horror movies, or even just indie/ guerrilla filmmaking. At just 234 pages (including 16 pages of photos), it’s a fast read as well. Definitely recommended.