Texas Chainsaw Massacre: the Movie, the Books and the Tour
PHOTO GALLERY (click on photo to enlarge)
"Last Chance Gas Station"
Bagdad Cemetery - "The Cemetery"
"The House" Currently a restaurant -
Grand Central Cafe in Kingsland, Texas
"Hewitt House" from Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2
In 1974 the face of American movie cinema was changed forever by the arrival of a strange new low-budge horror movie filmed in the area in and around Round Rock, Texas.
No one really saw this one coming; it had a bare-bones advertising budget but word of mouth spread quickly among horror movie buffs while the film was generally derided by most mainstream movie critics.
Like any good exploitation movie, it had a lurid poster of a scantily-clad girl, a monstrous threatening man wielding a chainsaw and a catchy title that sounded bigger than life: THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. Wow!
And like any good exploitation film it promised much more than it delivered. Even though the film was almost instantly banned in France and Great Britain, when it was finally shown on TV years later there wasn't really much footage that had to be censored or deleted for airplay because it wasn't nearly as bloody or gory as the title would lead one to believe. Director Tobe Hooper was operating on a shoestring budget and really couldn't afford to purchase very much of the expensive Max Factor stage blood.
The film by all rights should have played the drive-ins for two weeks and become just another forgotten movie; instead it worked due an effective combination of its poor lighting, which made peoples imagination work overtime and made people see things they thought they were seeing, fast paced editing, the anything-can-happen story-line and the believable performances of its cast, who looked and acted as intensely as the script called for. Critics like Roger Ebert who initially condemned it, then re watched it years later and recanted calling it “a modern day masterpiece”. Compared to a lot of other films that came out that same year, TCM has aged quite well over the years.
And yet while the film's basic story was a mix of fiction and a very few select facts from a true crime story that happened in Wisconsin back in the 1950s (the Ed Gein case) the film spawned a mythology of even more fictional legends. At the beginning of the film there is a preface that claims the events in the film are true (they aren't) but this is just a device to get the guard of the audience down. People on Texas Death Row claimed to have committed crimes the film was based on. Urban legends that the events depicted in the film really happened took off and developed a life of their own. As the years went by the claims that the film was indeed based on a true story multiplied.
There are numerous books, magazine articles and Internet web sites devoted to the film; most of them are slightly less than credible. There are two books that I can personally recommend: the first being Stefan Jaworzyn's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Companion (2003) in which nearly two dozen people from the cast and crew are interviewed and allowed to tell their stories from their points of view. The second was printed ten years later in 2013: Chainsaw Confidential by Gunnar Hansen who was a pivotal star of the film (he played the guy wielding the chainsaw in the poster, “Leatherface”) and does an excellent job of both telling the story and debunking many of the myths and rumors about the film.
As I mentioned earlier, the film was filmed in and around the area of Round Rock, Texas but some other towns had key locations as well. In 2013 we Googled the exact locations of three of the pivotal filming locations and visited them and took photos. It's interesting to me that they are still around after nearly 45 years; usually film sets are dismantled, destroyed and discarded yet these locations are amazingly intact.
The first location we visited was the Bagdad Cemetery ( SE corner of County Rd 279 and FM Rd 2243 ) in Leander, Texas. It's a few miles west of I35 and takes a while to get to. The location doesn't exactly jump out at you; it's around the corner from a massive HEB grocery store and across the road from from a strip center of stores but I recognized some of the grave markers from the film's opening scene from the road. As we rolled through the gates I could hardly contain my excitement upon seeing the more recognizable grave markers. Bagdad Cemetery is a very old cemetery and you could tell the films opening scene was filmed in one of the oldest parts; there were obvious much newer markers and entire newer-looking sections of the cemetery on both our left and right as we drove through the gate.
As we rolled in two large black rats the size of squirrels ran across the unpaved gravel path in front of our car from right to left and scurried underneath a large, very old crypt. She wouldn't get out of the car after that. I got out and did a 360 taking photos around the cemetery and got back in the car and we drove through the cemetery. Seeing the markers from the film didn't give me the creeps as much as seeing how we were in an currently used cemetery and I felt a little morbid being there as a curiosity seeker. We rolled by one grave that was obviously that of a child or an infant; they had teddy bears positioned in nearby tree limbs acting as sentinels; we cruised out of the exit gate in reverent silence.
The second location we visited was the gas station featured in two scenes of the film ( 1073 SH 304, Bastrop, TX ) Actually we visited this one twice but I'll get back to that later. We drove down a long road in the middle of nowhere south of Round Rock past several farms and ranches and even past a couple of really old-looking cemeteries. Finally on our left we saw it. In the film it was a Gulf station; today the Gulf sign and the gas pumps are gone as was the Coke machine. On our first visit a sign on the top of the building said: “BILBO'S TEXAS LANDMARK” but the place was boarded up and was plastered with “KEEP OUT NO TRESPASSING” signs. The second time we visited two years later in 2015 the BILBOs sign was laying on its face in the driveway and a two-tone green van very similar to the van shown in the film's opening was parked in the tall weeds a few yards behind the building.
The building itself looked pretty old in the 1974 film and looks today like a good stiff wind would take it down but supposedly a fan of the film has purchased it and is planning on restoring it. We will update this when we find out more.
Then there's the farmhouse where most of the film takes place. Originally it was located near Round Rock and was taken apart piece by piece and moved to its present location in Kingsland Texas (1010 King Court) where it is enjoying a new life as a restaurant (The Grand Central Cafe) We had lunch there and I am happy to report they make an excellent chicken-fried steak and the desserts are to (ahem) kill for. There is absolutely nothing scary or threatening about the place, the food is home-cooking style and the staff completely non-threatening. Very worth both the trouble to look for and the scenic drive: Kingsland is a charming little town. Open Tues-Sat 5-9, Sunday 11-2 (Call to verify) 325-388-6022
So there you have it; covering the entire Texas Chainsaw Massacre Tour will take up an entire weekend and cost you at least a couple of tanks of gas but for fans of the film it's well worth it.
LINK: Here are a couple of post/pre trip reading recommendations!