Originally released way back in 1974, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre continues to be one of the most iconic and influential horror films of all time.
Not only did the film terrify generations of filmgoers, it also undoubtedly inspired many people who lived up north to swear that they would never visit Texas. (Speaking as a Texan, I appreciate it!) So powerful was the impact of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre that it is regularly cited as being one of the first “gore” films, despite the fact that barely a drop of blood is seen throughout the entire film. Instead, what is seen is Sally (played by Marilyn Burns) screaming while running and Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen) dancing with that chainsaw.
So, how did a group of hippies in Austin come to make one of the most famous movies of all time? That is the question that is answered in the 2004 book, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Companion. Written by Stefan Jaworzyn and featuring a foreword by Gunnar Hansen, this breezy and entertaining book contains almost everything you could possibly want to know about this film. The book is largely an oral history, featuring lengthy quotes from the film’s cast and crew. (For the most part, Jaworzyn allows the interviews speak for themselves and only occasionally interjects any editorial commentary.) Along with detailing the film’s infamously difficult production (with Marilyn Burns nearly being driven to the point of an actual breakdown and Hansen, an otherwise sensitive poet, coming close to being possessed by his murderous character at one point), the companion also deals with crimes of Ed Gein and Tobe Hooper’s career both before and after his best known film.
Most interesting, to me, were the sections that dealt with how the head of the Texas Film Commission helped to secure The Texas Chainsaw Massacre a national distribution deal. Considering that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre basically portrayed Texas as being a place where you could get killed if you made a wrong turn, the involvement of the Texas Film Commission may seem strange at first. Some of the interviews in the book seem to suggest that the head of the Commission had a crush on Marilyn Burns.
It’s an entertaining book, even if I don’t agree with everything that Jaworzyn says. (He calls Psycho overrated at one point.) With the recent deaths of Marilyn Burns, Gunnar Hansen, and Tobe Hooper, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Companion now serves as something of a tribute to these three artists and the film that, to the surprise of everyone, changed cinema forever.