In 1974, director Tobe Hooper burst onto the horror scene full throttle, with chainsaws revving!
He had directed one previous film, 1969’s “Eggshells”, and was ready to be a star. Filmed in the summer of 1973 on a limited budget, the film has of course gone on to acheive a legendary cult status.
In the hopes of reaching the widest audience possible, Hooper kept the on-screen gore to a minimum, but the persistent menace and tone of dread in the film secured a hard R rating. Scratching their heads as how to best market the film to the most people possible, they finally struck on a brilliant ploy of releasing it as “a true story”.
Posters exclaimed “It happened!” and “What happened is real!”
Even the original trailer convinced audiences that “what happened is true”, and claimed to be telling the story of “the most bizarre and brutal series of crimes in America”.
An effective marketing strategy, to be sure, as there are still people that are convinced the film is based on facts even now, 40 years later. The low budget aesthetic certainly made the film feel real enough, and the adamant stance the filmmakers took about the truth of the tale was convincing.
In reality, the completely fictional film was created from several different sources and ideas that had embedded themselves in the mind of Tobe Hooper.
To be fair, elements of the story of the Hewitt clan were based on true events, but that can be said of nearly every story.
Most influential, and perhaps one of the most fictionalized real-life murderers in history, was the case of Ed Gein. Gein’s story has been the basis for elements of Psycho, Silence Of The Lambs, and several other films including the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. However, a closer look at the life and crimes of Gein show the ties to be tenuous at best.
Ed Gein was a Wisconsin native, who was tried and convicted in 1968 in his home town of Plainfield, Wisconsin. After losing his father to alcoholism and his brother to a suspicious fire, Gein lived alone with his mother until her death of a stroke in 1945. In the years between her death and his arrest, Gein reportedly spent much of his time digging up the graves of recently deceased women, in the hopes of creating a “woman suit”. Authorities found many bizarre body parts and hideous creations in the home of Mr. Gein, including nine human skin masks, a collection of bowls made from human skulls, a belt made of severed nipples, and a lampshade made from the skin of a human face. He spent the remainder of his life in a mental hospital, and died on July 26th, 1984.
Also an influence on Tobe Hooper’s script was another newsworthy murder case, of one Elmer Wayne Henley who was on trial in Houston at the time of filming. Henley was accused of abducting, torturing and murdering at least 28 boys between 1970 and 1973, and his case was being called “the deadliest case of serial murders in American history”.
What struck Hooper about this case was Henley’s statement, “I did these crimes, and I’m gonna stand up and take it like a man”.
Henley’s element of a twisted sense of pride and schizophrenic morality was the basis for the deranged bond of family that is built into the “Texas Chainsaw” mythology. Combined with the shocking world-view and horrifying actions of Ed Gein, Hooper began to shape the ideas of this backwoods family and their odd loyalty and acceptance of the insanity of their own family.
It is also important to mention the political climate of the era when considering the misleading way the film was marketed. Hooper says it was a response to “Constantly being lied to by the government” at the time, with all kinds of political and cultural shifts in progress. The violence of the Vietnam War, the oil crisis, and Watergate were all in the news, and Hooper decided if they could get away with all these lies, then so could he!
So he deliberately misled the public, as a social commentary.
Another notable influence on Hooper at the time of the making of the film is how the chainsaw came to be the weapon of choice. Not used by any of the true stories Hooper was basing the film on, the idea of the chainsaw as a murder weapon came to him in the most inane of places. He was in a hardware store, impatiently waiting in a long line, and daydreamed about hacking through the customers with a chainsaw to speed through the line!
So, in reality, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is purely a work of fiction, an amalgamation of many ideas floating around the head of Tobe Hooper, expertly marketed and still relevant and influential to this day![youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ae-bBisE5ZE]