The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: How Tobe Hooper’s Troubled Production Led to One of the Scariest Movies of All Time

Leatherface image, Source: Lattanzio, Ryan. “’Don’t Breathe’ Director Fede Álvarez Producing next ‘Texas Chainsaw’ Film.” IndieWire, IndieWire, 19 Sept. 2019, https://www.indiewire.com/2019/09/fede-alvarez-texas-chainsaw-massacre-sequel-1202175010/. 

As a long-time fan of horror, spooky season has always been one of my favorite times to watch movies. All of the horror classics just resonate so much harder near Halloween, and I always try to make it through as many of my favorites as I can. One of the films I never skip is Tobe Hooper’s infamously gruesome 1974 film The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. I believe Hooper’s iconic film still reigns as the scariest movie ever made, and so I decided to take a look back on what made the movie so great.

For those who have not seen it, the film follows a group of friends in their 20s driving through the sparsely populated fields of Texas. Two of the friends, Sally and Franklin, are brother and sister and want to visit the grave of their grandfather. On the way they run into a strange hitchhiker who attempts to stab Franklin before they throw him back on the road, an event that kicks off a much further descent into strangeness and terror. After stopping to look for the old grave, each of the friends runs into a crazed killer named “Leatherface,” who along with their family attempts to turn each of these people literally into dinner…

Dinner scene, source: McCormick, Rich. “4K Version of ‘The Texas Chain Saw Massacre’ Revs up for Theatrical Release.” The Verge, The Verge, 23 June 2014, https://www.theverge.com/2014/6/22/5833378/texas-chainsaw-massacre-4k-version.

Especially for the 1970s, the concept is very twisted, and the film still has this gross and uneasy quality to it decades later. A big part of the effect of the film is related to its production. In addition to being an acclaimed horror film, Tobe Hooper’s movie is also an iconic staple of the indie-film scene. Produced with a small crew and miniscule cast, it is incredible what they managed to pull off. The production conditions were infamous for terrible heat, disgusting props, and lots of fighting between the cast and crew under these undesirable conditions. However, this low-budget and intense production is arguably part of what helps translate to screen the gritty, underground quality which makes this film all the more scary.

Behind the scenes shot, source: Smith, Harrison. “Tobe Hooper, Horror Master behind ‘the Texas Chain Saw Massacre,’ Dies at 74.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 28 Aug. 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/obituaries/tobe-hooper-horror-master-behind-the-texas-chain-saw-massacre-dies-at-74/2017/08/28/4b0794d4-8bfc-11e7-91d5-ab4e4bb76a3a_story.html.

The no-name actors, the unnervingly specific and strange set design, and handheld grainy camera work all combine to give the film this strange realistic quality. At times, the movie almost makes you feel like you have found some long-lost footage, and thiscombined with the opening title card that gives the idea that these events may be realmake the events that transpire all the more disturbing. It all leads up to a final shot that will be hard to get out of your memory once you see it, one of several iconic, terrifying images in this timeless horror classic that every fan of scary movies must see. JG

Janzen Green joined the Media Services staff this semester (Fall 2021), and this is his first Media Beat blog post. Janzen studies media and film here at IU and is a welcome addition to the Media Services staff.