“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” is one of the most successful horror films in the history of cinema. A terrifying slasher that shocked viewers and physically damaged members of the Tobe Hooper-directed shoot.
Chainsaw Massacre, the terrifying film by Tobe Hooper
In 1974 Tobe Hooper turned America upside down with Chainsaw Massacre. Inside, a group of friends travel to the heart of the Texas countryside. By stopping near a house that seems abandoned, they will become the prey of a family of cannibals. There follows an agonizing hunt and a terrifying massacre. Due to its violence, the film was banned in several countries, for eight years in France.
However, with its budget of barely 140,000 dollars, it brought in 30 million at the time just with the North American box office. Today, this would correspond to a budget of about $ 700,000 and revenues of over $ 155 million. Above all, Chainsaw Massacre paved the way for kind of slasher and has achieved cult film status.
However, it is good to remember that Chainsaw Massacre is not not just a horror movie. Tobe Hooper offering in subtext a critique of America marked, in the mid-1970s, in particular by the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal. You can also see there a critique of capitalism and the American bourgeoisie. It is clearly in line with another mythical horror film: The Exorcist (1973) by William Friedkin.
While the film terrified many of its viewers, it also shocked the majority of the film crew. Indeed, Chainsaw Massacre experienced several complications during its production which spanned six weeks instead of one.
An unhealthy and dangerous atmosphere
First of all, several incidents have been reported. Notably with Gunnar Hansen, the interpreter of the Leatherface killer, who was injured while operating one of the chainsaws. The director wanted the tools to actually work during filming to promote immersion. Fortunately, even more serious accidents were narrowly avoided. When attacking William Vail (Kirk) with the chainsaw, Gunnar Hansen, who had no control over it, passed just inches from his colleague’s face. And for the scene where he has to run in the woods with the chainsaw, he fell to the ground and his head brushed against the tool.
In addition, due to the low budget, the shooting was tiring for the crews who had to shoot seven days a week and sometimes 16 hours a day. All in difficult conditions marked by high humidity and high temperatures, greater than 35 degrees. Gunnar Hansen explained about this in the book The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Companion :
I only had one costume because we didn’t have any money. They did not dare to clean it for fear that the colors would wash out with the detergent. So I wore the mask 12 to 16 hours a day for a month.
Likewise, Dottie Pearl, the makeup artist, confided in Telerama (via Europe 1) to have felt, like the whole team, a feeling of disgust on the set.
It’s unhealthy. We are working on an unhealthy movie and we are getting sick. We all feel disgusted with ourselves.
This disgust also comes from the fact that the sets were larger than life. Unable to afford special effects, Tobe Hooper and his team used real animal bones and animal skins to decorate the killer’s house.
Actresses pushed to the limit
Finally, the shooting was extreme for actresses Teri McMinn (Pam) and Marilyn Burns (Sally). The first one found herself suspended with a rope between her legs causing her real pain. For her part, Marilyn Burns was really pushed to the limit to shoot the scene where her character is tied to a chair. If the sequence lasts only a few minutes, it took 26 hours to shoot it. An unbearable situation for the actress. Chainsaw Massacre It was therefore a dangerous and exhausting shoot for the whole team. This is felt as much in the testimonials as in the various behind-the-scenes videos.