Tobe Hooper’s original 1974 classic ‘The Texas Chain Saw Massacre‘ is not only one of the greatest horror movies ever made, but it also happens to be one of my all time favorite films of any genre. And even now, 40 years later, I still revisit it often, read articles and books, watch any & all documentaries or special features regarding the making of it and I always manage to learn something new. Last year, Icons attended a special screening for the 40th anniversary with William Friedkin hosting and Tobe Hooper in attendance. (Check that report out for some bullet points on what fun stuff was discussed and uncovered then!)
A few weeks back, this writer was out in Dallas, Texas for the annual Texas Frightmare Weekend and the night prior to the convention’s kick off, the Alamo Drafthouse was hosting a special screening of the original ‘PHANTASM!’ We got there early and with some time to kill before the screening (pun intended), we hit up the bookstore in the same shopping center and I came across Gunnar Hansen‘s book ‘Chain Saw Confidential,’ which I’d been wanting to check out since it’s release, but for whatever reason kept inexplicably and unintentionally putting off. Well, not this time! I now had some reading material for the plane ride home! And I’m glad I picked it up, because getting the full account from Leatherface himself (paired up the memories of some of his co-stars and crew) paints yet another fascinating portrait of the insanity that went on behind the scenes to make the insanity happen on film!
I’ve been taking my time with the book in an attempt to savor it like good ol’ fashioned Texas BBQ, and I still have a few more chapters to go, but just based on what I managed to read on the plane, I learned the following tid-bits about the original ‘Texas Chain Saw Massacre‘ that I’d never known before. And while some of these may be fact according to Gunnar himself, I’ve lived with my own ideas about the film for the majority of my life, so I’m sticking with some of them! (I’ll point out what I mean ahead.)
The Cook (Jim Siedow) is actually the older brother, not the father of the family:
Whaaaaat? According to the book, Gunnar refers to the character of “The Cook,” played to perfection by the late, great Jim Siedow as the oldest brother to the Hitchhiker and Leatherface! I had always just assumed between this film and it’s 1986 sequel that The Cook was the Father of the bunch. I mean, there’s Grandpa and Ma (or at least her corpse) upstairs. And the way The Cook scolds the boys, I just assumed he was their daddy dearest. But apparently not! Regardless, I’m going to continue to believe he’s the one parental unit in this crazed bunch!
As pointed out by Gunnar in the book, most people just assume the last name of the family is Sawyer, because by Part 2, The Cook is actually given the name of Drayton Sawyer. Hell, they technically never say any names in the original so when you grew up with the franchise as a whole, why wouldn’t we think that Sawyer is their name? However, it’s actually “Slaughter.” On page 42 of ‘Chain Saw Confidential,” Gunnar writes, “Their real name is Slaughter, as seen in faint letters on the sign above the gas station: W.E. Slaughter Barbecue.” Even as a die hard fan that has watched the movie hundreds of time, I never noticed this minor detail. I don’t think anyone ever has! And if I had, I assumed it was the name of the place, not the family. Yet, regardless, they were the Sawyer’s by Part 2 and referenced as the Sawyer’s in the opening title crawl of Part 3. Yet in 4, director Kim Henkel (who co-wrote the first movie) referred to them as Slaughter again, which until reading this page in the book, I never understood! And again, despite it being fact, I’m still going to call them the Sawyer’s! Just never, ever again the Hewitt’s.
I mean, I just assumed everyone is a fan. But it was fun reading about how Chain Saw’s cinematographer Daniel Pearl (who also shot the 2003 remake) was visiting his wife on the set of 1941 and when Spielberg found out who he was, he whisked him away to discuss at great length ‘Texas Chain Saw Massacre‘ with him and John Belushi. In particular, he wanted to know how they pulled off the shot of Pam (Teri McMinn) getting off the swing seat and walking towards the house. Spielberg? Respect!
According to the book on page 55-56, Gunnar says that the original script mentions Leatherface’s teeth only once and is described as follows: “There is a flash of filed teeth.” Can you imagine how horrifying it would’ve been when we finally get a good look at Leatherface and seeing a mouth full of sharp pointy teeth? Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. Gunnar’s dentist Dr. Albert Johnson made the teeth for the film because he already has a full-mouth impression. He admits to being mildly disappointed when first seeing them and each tooth not being filed down to a sharp fang, but instead molded with baby teeth. But of course, these odd, irregular different sized baby teeth proved to be far more terrifying in the actual film.
Granted, I never fully thought this for sure, but it was one of those things that always has been in the back of my mind as an interesting, yet cruel twist of fate for poor Sally (Marilyn Burns). After watching her invalid brother Franklin (Paul Partain) get chainsawed to death by Leatherface and then running straight into the clutches of The Cook, she later awakens at the dinner table with the entire family. When she looks up at Leatherface, she’s horrified by his change in appearance and as he slowly approaches her, The Hitchhiker says, “do you like this face?” I always assumed Leatherface had taken Franklin’s face (hence her reaction) and that the Hitchhiker was mocking her with that line. But alas, Gunnar refers to this as the “pretty woman” mask, because the first mask was his “kill mask,” the second was that of an “old lady” for when Leatherface was being domesticated and this third was that of a woman and there’s a deleted scene of Leatherface putting make-up on this “pretty woman” mask. I always liked the idea (as sick as it is) that he’s wearing his next victim’s own brother’s face. After all, they did a similar gag in the remake, so why wouldn’t it be Franklin? Another tid-bit I’m stubbornly going to ignore.
But regardless, there’s loads of other fun and interesting details like the 5 above in Gunnar’s book, which gets my absolute highest recommendation. If you think you’ve read everything about ‘The Texas Chain Saw Massacre,’ then think again! Check out ‘Chain Saw Confidential!’
Oh and if you’ve got a long commute in the morning, there’s also an audio book version read by Gunnar Hansen himself!