The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is a 1974 film directed by Tobe Hooper. It is widely believed to be a true story (possibly because of the intro), but is not. The closest it comes to it is that the antagonist, Leatherface, is loosely inspired by serial killer Ed Gein, who wore the skin of his victims.
The film opens with an eerie prelude, including an introduction and a radio broadcast about several gruesome graverobbings. Sally Hardesty (Marilyn Burns), her wheelchair-bound brother Franklin (Paul A. Partain), Sally's boyfriend Jerry (Allen Danziger), her best friend Pam (Teri McMinn) and Pam's boyfriend Kirk (William Vail) are driving to an old homestead in Texas. On the way, they stop at a local cemetery so Sally can relieve her concerns of her grandfather's grave being vandalized. The group later picks up a strange-looking hitchhiker (Edwin Neal) who bumbles incoherently and crazily. He takes a picture of the gang, cuts himself with a razor and then cuts Franklin. The group shoves the crazy man out of the van and drive off, after the hitchhiker smears blood all over the van.
The teenagers arrive at a gas station where the proprietor (Jim Seidow) tells them the tanks are empty and the gang sets off to the home, barely managing to make it to the plantation mansion. Tired of Pam and Kirk's annoying foreplay, Franklin tells the couple about a nearby lake and the two set off. But instead, they find a house with a running generator. Pam sits outside while Kirk explores inside the house. Upon entering a secret room, he comes face-to-face with a large man wearing a mask made out of human skin-Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen). Leatherface murders Kirk via blow to the head with a sledgehammer and drags him into the back room. Pam goes into the old house where she stumbles upon a room filled with bones and live chickens. She flees the house, but Leatherface catches her on the front porch and drags her back inside, where he hangs her on a meathook in the back room. She then is forced to witness Leatherface dismembering Kirk with a chainsaw.
Evening falls, and Jerry goes to look for Kirk and Pam. He finds the house, and he goes inside and enters a back room where he discovers Pam locked in a freezer, barely alive. Leatherface appears and bashes Jerry with a sledgehammer. Night comes soon, and Sally tries to push Franklin along the uneven forest trail in the darkness. All of a sudden, Leatherface leaps from the shadows and murders Franklin with a chainsaw. Sally flees into the dark woods, Leatherface in pursuit. She endlessly is chased through the woods by Leatherface wielding the chainsaw (in one of the most remarkable chase scenes in movie history) until Sally finds the house where all of her friends were butchered. She races inside and upstairs, she finds the remains of an elderly couple, the man barely alive and the woman, dead and mummified. Sally then is attacked by Leatherface and she leaps through an upstairs window to escape. She runs into the woods again until she comes upon a gas station.Inside, the proprietor consoles her and then beats her with a broom, ties her up and shoves her in his truck where he drives her to the house. Sally is tied up at the dinner table and it is revealed that the hitchhiker, the proprietor and Leatherface are all one cannibalistic family. Sally is physically and verbally tormented by the demented family, for what seems like hours, and she is almost killed when they try to get Grandpa (the barely alive man that Sally found earlier) to kill Sally with a sledgehammer, but he is too weak to do so, and the hitchhiker grabs the hammer-letting go of Sally-and in all the confusion, Sally breaks free and jumps through a window outside just as the sun has begun to rise. Sally runs to the road, the hitchhiker behind her and slashing her with a small knife. But an eighteen wheeler drives by and runs the hitchhiker over. Leatherface runs at Sally, chainsaw ablaze and the driver of the eighteen wheeler helps Sally into the truck, and Leatherface begins to saw at the door. They climb out the other side and as Leatherface pursues them, the truck driver hits Leatherface in the head with a wrench, causing him to drop him chainsaw and cut his leg. Sally jumps into the back oof a passing pick-up truck and as she is driven away, she laughs hysterically at Leatherface who swings his chainsaw in frustration.
- Marilyn Burns - Sally Hardesty
- Allen Danziger - Jerry
- Paul A. Partain - Franklin Hardesty
- William Vail - Kirk
- Teri McMinn - Pam (as Teri Mcminn)
- Edwin Neal - Hitchhiker
- Jim Siedow - Old Man
- Gunnar Hansen - Leatherface
- John Dugan - Grandfather
- Robert Courtin - Window Washer
- William Creamer - Bearded Man
- John Henry Faulk - Storyteller
- Jerry Green - Cowboy
- Ed Guinn - Cattle Truck Driver
- Joe Bill Hogan - Drunk
- Perry Lorenz - Pick Up Driver
The concept for The Texas Chain Saw Massacre arose in the early 1970s while Tobe Hooper was working as an assistant film director at the University of Texas at Austin and as a documentary cameraman. He had already developed a story involving the elements of isolation, the woods, and darkness. He credited the graphic coverage of violence by San Antonio news outlets as one inspiration for the film and based elements of the plot on serial killer Ed Gein in 1950s Wisconsin; Gein inspired other horror films such as Psycho (1960) and The Silence of the Lambs (1991). During development, Hooper used the working titles of Headcheese and Leatherface.
Hooper has cited changes in the cultural and political landscape as central influences on the film. His intentional misinformation, that the "film you are about to see is true", was a response to being "lied to by the government about things that were going on all over the world", including Watergate, the 1973 oil crisis, and "the massacres and atrocities in the Vietnam War". The "lack of sentimentality and the brutality of things" that Hooper noticed while watching the local news, whose graphic coverage was epitomized by "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 of using a chainsaw as the murder weapon came to Hooper while he was in the hardware section of a busy store, contemplating how to speed his way through the crowd. Hooper and Kim Henkel cowrote the screenplay and formed Vortex, Inc. with Henkel as president and Hooper as vice president. They asked Bill Parsley, a friend of Hooper, to provide funding. Parsley formed a company named MAB, Inc. through which he invested $60,000 in the production. In return, MAB owned 50 percent of the film and its profits. Production manager Ron Bozman told most of the cast and crew that he would have to defer part of their salaries until after it was sold to a distributor. Vortex made the idea more attractive by awarding them a share of its potential profits, ranging from 0.25 to 6 percent, similar to mortgage points. The cast and crew were not informed that Vortex owned only 50 percent, which meant their points were worth half of the assumed value.
Many of the cast members at the time were relatively unknown actors—Texans who had played roles in commercials, television, and stage shows, as well as performers whom Hooper knew personally, such as Allen Danziger and Jim Siedow. Involvement in the film propelled some of them into the motion picture industry. The lead role of Sally was given to Marilyn Burns, who had appeared previously on stage and served on the film commission board at UT Austin while studying there. Teri McMinn was a student who worked with local theater companies, including the Dallas Theater Center. Henkel called McMinn to come in for a reading after he spotted her picture in the Austin American-Statesman. For her last call-back he requested that she wear short shorts, which proved to be the most comfortable of all the cast members' costumes. Icelandic-American actor Gunnar Hansen was selected for the role of Leatherface. He regarded Leatherface as being mentally retarded and having never learned to speak properly. To research his character in preparation for his role, Hansen visited a special needs school and watched how the students moved and spoke. John Larroquette briefly served as narrator in the opening credits.
The primary filming location was an early 1900s farmhouse located on Quick Hill Road near Round Rock, Texas, where the La Frontera development is now located. The small budget and concerns over high-cost equipment rentals meant the crew filmed seven days a week, up to 16 hours a day. The environment was humid and the cast and crew found conditions tough; temperatures peaked at 110 °F (43 °C) on July 26. Hansen later 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."
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was mainly shot using an Eclair NPR 16 mm camera with fine-grain, low-speed film that required four times more light than modern digital cameras. Most of the filming took place in the farmhouse, which was filled with furniture constructed from animal bones and a latex material used as upholstery to give the appearance of human skin. The house was not cooled, and there was little ventilation. The crew covered its walls with drops of animal blood obtained from a local slaughterhouse. Art director Robert Burns drove around the countryside and collected the remains of cattle and other animals in various stages of decomposition, with which he littered the floors of the house. The special effects were simple and limited by the budget. The on-screen blood was real in some cases, such as the scene in which Leatherface feeds "Grandpa". The crew had difficulty getting the stage blood to come out of its tube, so instead Burns's index finger was cut with a razor. Burns's costume was so drenched with stage blood that it was "virtually solid" by the last day of shooting. The scene in which Leatherface decapitates Kirk with a chainsaw worried actor William Vail (Kirk). After telling Vail to stay still lest he really be killed, Hansen brought the running chainsaw to within 3 inches (8 cm) of Vail's face.
The production exceeded its original $60,000 budget during editing. Sources differ on the film's final cost, offering figures between $93,000 and $300,000. A film production group, Pie in the Sky, provided $23,532 in exchange for 19 percent of Vortex. This left Henkel, Hooper and the rest of the cast and crew with a 40.5 percent stake. Warren Skaaren, then head of the Texas Film Commission, helped secure the distribution deal with Bryanston Pictures. David Foster, producer of the 1982 horror film The Thing, arranged for a private screening for some of Bryanston Pictures' West Coast executives, and received 1.5 percent of Vortex's profits and a deferred fee of $500. On August 28, 1974, Louis Peraino of Bryanston agreed to distribute the film worldwide, from which Bozman and Skaaren would receive $225,000 and 35 percent of the profits. 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 and after the investors recouped their money (with interest)—and after Skaaren, the lawyers, and the accountants were paid—only $8,100 was left to be divided among the 20 cast and crew members. Eventually the producers sued Bryanston for failing to pay them their full percentage of the box office profits. A court judgment instructed Bryanston to pay the filmmakers $500,000, but by then the company had declared bankruptcy. In 1983 New Line Cinema acquired the distribution rights from Bryanston and gave the producers a larger share of the profits.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre premiered on October 1, 1974, in Austin, Texas, almost a year after filming concluded. It screened nationally in the United States as a Saturday afternoon matinée and its false marketing as a "true story" helped it attract a broad audience. For eight years after 1976, it was annually reissued to first-run theaters, promoted by full-page ads. The film eventually grossed more than $30 million in the United States and Canada ($14.4 million in rentals), making it the 12th highest grossing film initially released in 1974, despite its minuscule budget. Among independent films, it was overtaken in 1978 by John Carpenter's Halloween, which grossed $47 million.
Hooper reportedly hoped that the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) would give the complete, uncut release print a "PG" rating due to its minimal amount of visible gore. Instead, it was originally rated "X". After several minutes were cut, it was resubmitted to the MPAA and received an "R" rating. A distributor apparently restored the offending material, and at least one theater presented the full version under an "R". In San Francisco, cinema-goers walked out of theaters in disgust and, in February 1976, two theaters in Ottawa, Canada were advised by local police to withdraw the film lest they face morality charges.
After its initial British release, including a one-year theatrical run in London, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was initially banned on the advice of British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) Secretary Stephen Murphy, and subsequently by his successor, James Ferman. While the British ban was in force the word "chainsaw" itself was barred from movie titles, forcing imitators to rename their films. In 1998, despite the BBFC ban, Camden London Borough Council granted the film a license. The following year the BBFC passed The Texas Chain Saw Massacre for release with an 18 certificate (indicating that it should not be seen or purchased by a person under 18), and it was broadcast a year later on Channel 4. The Australian Classification Board refused to classify the 83-minute version of the film in June 1975; the board similarly refused classification of a 77-minute print in December that year. In 1981, an 83-minute version submitted by Greater Union Organization Film Distributors was again refused registration. It was later submitted by Filmways Australia and approved for an "R" rating in 1984. It was banned for periods in many other countries, including Brazil, Chile, Finland, France, Iceland, Ireland, Norway, Singapore, Sweden and West Germany.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre received a mixed reaction upon its initial release. Linda Gross of the Los Angeles Times called it "despicable" and described Henkel and Hooper as more concerned with creating a realistic atmosphere than with its "plastic script". Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times said it was "as violent and gruesome and blood-soaked as the title promises", yet praised its acting and technical execution. Patrick Taggart of the Austin American-Statesman hailed it as the most important horror film since George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1968). Variety found the picture to be well-made, despite what it called the "heavy doses of gore". John McCarty of Cinefantastique stated that the house featured in the film made the Bates motel "look positively pleasant by comparison". Revisiting the film in his 1976 article "Fashions in Pornography" for Harper's Magazine, Stephen Koch found its sadistic violence to be extreme and unimaginative.
Critics later frequently praised both the film's aesthetic quality and its power. Observing that it managed to be "horrifying without being a bloodbath (you'll see more gore in a Steven Seagal film)", Bruce Westbrook of the Houston Chronicle called it "a backwoods masterpiece of fear and loathing". TV Guide thought it was "intelligent" in its "bloodless depiction of violence", while Anton Bitel felt the fact that it was banned in the United Kingdom was a tribute to its artistry. He pointed out how the quiet sense of foreboding at the beginning of the film grows, until the viewer experiences "a punishing assault on the senses". In Hick Flicks: The Rise and Fall of Redneck Cinema, Scott Von Doviak commended its effective use of daylight shots, unusual among horror films, such as the sight of a corpse draped over a tombstone in the opening sequence. Mike Emery of The Austin Chronicle praised the film's "subtle touches"—such as radio broadcasts heard in the background describing grisly murders around Texas—and said that what made it so dreadful was that it never strayed too far from potential reality. It has often been described as one of the scariest films of all time. Rex Reed called it the most terrifying film he had ever seen. Empire described it as "the most purely horrifying horror movie ever made" and called it "never less than totally committed to scaring you witless". Reminiscing about his first viewing of the film, horror director Wes Craven recalled wondering "what kind of Mansonite crazoid" could have created such a thing. It is a work of "cataclysmic terror", in the words of horror novelist Stephen King, who declared, "I would happily testify to its redeeming social merit in any court in the country." Critic Robin Wood found it one of the few horror films to possess "the authentic quality of nightmare". Based on 74 reviews published since 2000, the review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes reports that 91% of critics gave it a positive review, with an average score of 7.9 out of 10.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is considered one of the greatest—and most controversial—of horror films, and a major influence on the genre. In 1999 Richard Zoglin of Time commented that it had "set a new standard for slasher films". The Times listed it as one of the 50 most controversial films of all time. Tony Magistrale believes the film paved the way for horror to be used as a vehicle for social commentary. Describing it as "cheap, grubby and out of control", Mark Olsen of the Los Angeles Times declared that it "both defines and entirely supersedes the very notion of the exploitation picture". In his book Dark Romance: Sexuality in the Horror Film, David Hogan called it "the most affecting gore thriller of all and, in a broader view, among the most effective horror films ever made ... the driving force of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is something far more horrible than aberrant sexuality: total insanity." According to Bill Nichols, it "achieves the force of authentic art, profoundly disturbing, intensely personal, yet at the same time far more than personal". Leonard Wolf praised the film as "...an exquisite work of art" and compared it to a Greek tragedy, noting the lack of onscreen violence.
Leatherface has gained a reputation as a significant character in the horror genre, responsible for establishing the use of conventional tools as murder weapons and the image of a large, silent killer devoid of personality. 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." Don Sumner called The Texas Chain Saw Massacre a classic that not only introduced a new villain to the horror pantheon but also influenced an entire generation of filmmakers. According to Rebecca Ascher-Walsh of Entertainment Weekly, it laid the foundations for future horror franchises such as Halloween, The Evil Dead, and The Blair Witch Project. Ridley Scott cited it as an inspiration for his 1979 film Alien. French director Alexandre Aja credited it as an early influence on his career. Horror filmmaker and heavy metal musician Rob Zombie sees it as a major influence on his art, most notably his 2003 film House of 1000 Corpses. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was selected for the 1975 Cannes Film Festival Directors' Fortnight and London Film Festival. In 1976, it won the Special Jury Prize at the Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival in France. Entertainment Weekly ranked the film sixth on its 2003 list of "The Top 50 Cult Films". In a 2005 Total Film poll, it was selected as the greatest horror film of all time. It was named among Time magazine's top 25 horror films in 2007. In 2008 the film ranked number 199 on Empire magazine's list of "The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time". Empire also ranked it 46th in its list of the 50 greatest independent films. In a 2010 Total Film poll, it was again selected as the greatest horror film; the judging panel included veteran horror directors such as John Carpenter, Wes Craven, and George A. Romero. In 2010, as well, The Guardian ranked it number 14 on its list of the top 25 horror films. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was inducted into the Horror Hall of Fame in 1990, with director Hooper accepting the award, and it is part of the permanent collection of New York City's Museum of Modern Art. In 2012, the film was named by critics in the British Film Institute's Sight & Sound magazine as one of the 250 greatest films.