Leatherface in 'The Texas Chain Saw Massacre'. Photo by Everett Collection.
Nearly 40 years after Leatherface first buzzed onto the scene, the “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” (1974) franchise returns with “Texas Chainsaw 3D” opening wide this week. This new sequel to the original marks the seventh slasher film in the infamous franchise, and like the rest, it involves a power tool wielding psychopath with a fashion sense that hankers for masks made of human skin. We all know the new film will be a scream, but here are five facts about the film that started it all, “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre”.
Gunnar Hansen and Leatherface. Photos by Getty Images/Everett Collection.
Leatherface is a Poet with Two Graduate Degrees
1. Before Jason Voorhees and Michael Meyers helped solidify the slasher film as a bona fide genre, Leatherface was making his bones as the original masked madman. We know enough about Leatherface to fill seven films, but what about the original man behind the leather mask, Gunnar Hansen? Back in 1973, when he was earning his first graduate degree in Scandinavian Studies, Hansen found out writer/director Tobe Hooper still needed someone to play the killer in his low budget horror film. “I had been in some plays in college, so I tried out and got the part, figuring it would be a much better summer job than tending bar or pounding nails,” Hansen writes on his website. But the 6’4” Hansen never really wanted to be a movie star in the first place, he wanted to be a writer. Hansen turned down a role in Wes Craven’s “The Hills Have Eyes” (1977) to concentrate on his craft. He also returned to school to get another graduate degree in English. Over the years, Hansen realized he could accomplish both acting and writing, banging out screenplays, books, and poetry while appearing in over 20 films including a role in “Texas Chainsaw 3D,” the latest iteration of the franchise he helped make famous.
Gunnar Hansen, Marilyn Burn in 'The Texas Chain Saw Massacre'. Photo by Everett Collection.
The Whole Truth
2. Though the opening of the movie states it’s based on true events, “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” never actually happened, certainly not in Texas, and technically, not anywhere. Hooper has said the film is loosely based on the horrific deeds of real-life murderer Ed Gein (who also reportedly influenced Norman Bates in “Psycho” and Jame Gumb in “Silence of the Lambs”). By “loosely,” Hooper was apparently referring to the Hollywood definition of the word, as the real story is that Gein lived in Wisconsin, had a penchant for pilfering graves then making odd household items out of human remains (including masks), and admitted to killing two people, though he never used a chainsaw to do his dirty work. Hooper has also stated that he was inspired by a stand-up display of chainsaws he saw at Montgomery Ward while doing some Christmas shopping, which caused him to fantasize about the best way to drive off the throngs of people in line.
Thirst for Blood
3. Despite being banned in several countries due to its violent content, the seminal slasher flick earned over $30 million at the box office on an estimated budget of just over $83 thousand. With that kind of return on investment, it’s no wonder producers kept trying to repeat the success with remakes and sequels, all with varying degrees of success. As of now, the franchise has made more than $160 million domestically. That’s over $300 million when adjusted for inflation, with the original still reigning as the top earner, beating the 2003 remake by more than $20 grand. Whether or not the new version will be a hit or not is yet to be seen, but you can get a sense of "Texas Chainsaw 3D" from the trailer above.
Tobe Hooper, photo by Getty Images.
4. The story of road-tripping Texans who make a regrettable pit-stop at a house occupied by inbred, cannibalistic, grave-robbing serial killers is apparently more than it would appear at first bloody glance. “In a way I thought the heart of the film was about meat; it’s about the chain of life and killing sentient beings, and it has cannibalism in it, although you have to come to that conclusion by yourself because it’s only implied,” Hooper told Bizarre Magazine, while also mentioning that both he and director Guillermo Del Toro (“Hell Boy,” “Pans Labyrinth”) stopped eating meat because of the movie.
5. Having such a small budget forced Hooper to film for up to 18 hours a day. Add to that a south Texas location in the middle of the summer with temperatures frequently hitting triple digits, and the filmmakers found themselves with less than ideal conditions to keep a cast happy, or sane for that matter. All of which might explain why Hansen purposely cut cast mate Marilyn Burns (Sally Hardesty) while filming the scene where Leatherface feeds Grandpa. Since it obviously doesn’t explain such a violent action nearly enough, we’ll let Hansen try to sell the tale himself: “The tube on the backside of the knife blade that was supposed to deposit fake blood on Marilyn's finger knife kept clogging. After a few takes I got tired of it and stripped off the tape that covered the blade. You gotta understand, I was tired, it had been a long day, and I just wanted it over with! Marilyn screamed, and it looked very good, so we moved on to the next shot.” You can see the scene, along with Hansen’s DVD commentary in the YouTube clip above.
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