Tag Archives: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Ed Gein Part II: The Man Who Inspired Monsters

The devil is out there. Always stalking, ever-lurking, somewhere between the gossamer glow of the waking world inside our minds and just behind the walls of sleep. A genius wolf watching dreary sheep. I’m not asking if you’re religious or not, and, if we’re being perfectly honest, he doesn’t much care. He shows up and there’s Hell to pay. 

artist Gustave Dore, ‘Paradise Lost – Satan in Council’

Back in the 1950s, every god-fearing American had their butts warming a church pew come Sunday morning. The reverend would stand up and preach from the Good Book and, every so often, if he felt a particular agitation, the grand horrors of Hell would be the topic of the day. Turns out that Satan and his infernal realm of pain and suffering made for crowd-gathering material … just like it did in the Dark Ages.

Ma and Pa saintly do-wells, salt of the earth types who would never be caught dead at a motion picture show, especially one showing a scary movie, sure did eat up that Sunday-Funday grizzly stuff though. Why as a matter of fact, the nastier the Hell the sweeter the Heaven I guess you could say.

Haxan: Witchcraft Through The Ages

Reverend Wonderful had free reign to be as graphic as his imagination allowed when describing the stygian agony awaiting sinners gripped by the Devil’s talons. Horns and pitchforks, rusty chains, and Hell’s unquenching flames, it got the folks all riled up.

People liked the gory bits. They’d shout their support, yell an ‘Amen’ or two sometimes, and if the spirit took ’em, you’d see ol’ Miss Maryweather go a’running up and down the aisles. It was worshipful. It was saintly. It was a fucking circus ruled over by the good Reverend while rivets of sweat streamed like salty beads down his reddened face. The hotter the Hell the better the reaction.

“Preach it, brother!”

artist Gustave Dore, ‘Paradise Lost – Rebel Angels’

It was pure exploitation and fuck if church-goers didn’t take to it like flies to a turd. For many people, it felt right to think Satan was out there punishing unrepented sinners stewing in their own iniquities.

Did the Devil exist? Hell to the fuckin’ A you bet your ass the Devil existed. And people loved it about as much as they liked sipping their sweet lemon ice tea. He was the atavistic threat reigning over the writing agonies of Outer Darkness. His was the Inferno and all of its black miracles. The burning pits of Hell are where you’d find him and– pardon the pun – it was a burning hot topic. It was also a safe place, somewhere far away from the daily affairs of salt-of-the-earth types. 

They could take comfort knowing they would never have to deal with him. They were also goddamn wrong because one day the Devil showed up and turned out to be everyone’s meek and quiet neighbor.

He was someone they drank with, someone who babysat their kids. People were stunned stupid by the grizzly revelation as to what kind of Evil was living among them. Guess you don’t ever really know a person. Or at least what’s going on inside their heads.

And sure, it’s way easier to present Ed Gein as some evil demon or devil. Something elemental and almost fictional. He wasn’t though. He was one of us. Flesh, blood, and bone. Put his pants on just like we all do. But to his neighbors, he was pure evil. A Devil who built his house out of sin and sat on furnishings stitched together by human body parts.

You can’t make this shit up.

He surrounded himself with death and dwelt in gloom like a troll from some warped fairytale. He adorned himself in human flesh and stitches. And, if rumors are to be believed, he ate who he killed. 

Ed Gein was the stuff nightmares are made of.

inside Ed Gein’s house

But their Devil had been arrested and locked away like a community’s dirty little secret. His reign of terror was over. The ghoul who kept shrunken heads under his bed was now gone and the dead could finally rest in peace.

cop standing outside the Gein estate

Now that old charnel house of his was left to its grey solitude, a molding threshold into the domain of demons. A genuine house of horrors if ever there was one. It stood out like a festering tumor on the pristine façade of the kindly community, reminding everyone of the evils the human mind is capable of. 

A planned auction of the estate was scheduled and you could say a fungal interest blossomed about that macabre place and it was bound to draw in a crowd locals weren’t too keen on. The weird types, outsiders, people with ill intentions for sure. Freaks with a flair for the grotesque oddities of life.

the old Gein house

So when the good citizens of Plainfield woke up one morning to find Gein’s house of death and corpses had mysteriously burned down in the night – just mere days before the auction funny enough – there was a collective sigh of relief. That pretty orange glow radiating brightly in the early dawn hours meant the whole affair had to be over and done with. Call it an act of God (thank ye, Jesus) or comeuppance there weren’t any tears shed over the smoking ashes of the estate once the blazing inferno quieted down. The fire claimed everything. The grounds were burnt black as if nature rejected the earth the foundations were laid on. All that remained were the seared underpinning jutting out like decayed ribs. 

20 Mar 1958, Plainfield, Wisconsin, USA — Smoldering ruins is all that remains of the House of Horrors after a fire of undetermined cause destroyed the two story frame building on March 20, 1958. Once the home of confessed killer ghoul Ed Gein, who shocked the nation when human remains were found in it, the house was to be auctioned. Police suspected arson. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

That’s the end of that, or so it was assumed. Let lying corpses lie (ha, ha), just go on like nothing happened and this whole messy thing’ll just blow over. Thing is though, devils like Gein don’t just go away. They haunt the mind and tickle deeply repressed fantasies in us all. 

Gein had not only just reshaped American culture (not to mention kick-started an international interest in serial killers) but he became the blueprint of horrors to come. In fact, Gein was now the foundation of who the American Boogeyman was to become. Both in real life and on the silver screen.

In the years to follow the genius of horror could not ignore Gein’s playful side and as result, much of culture’s most beloved guilty pleasures sprung up out of the mire of the madman’s crimes against life and death. Had it not been for Gein picking up a shovel and heading out to a cemetery one night would we now have some of horror’s most respected and praised titles? Not likely. That’ll boil your noodles if you let it. 

Boogeyman of Boogeymen

Robert Bloch would make a name for himself – and write one of the most influential horror stories of the century – all due to his little book Psycho. Bloch was living in WI at the time and was shocked by every heinous detail pouring in from the papers about Ed Gein. The concepts of grave robbing and an overbearing mother lording her toxic influence over one lonely young man just couldn’t get out of Bloch’s head. They became the foundations upon which a budding sub-genre of horror would be fortified upon – that being the slasher genre. 

Norman Bates, the titular madman himself, is the focus of the book, something I’ve mentioned before. The book is also even more disturbing than the classic film. The book was enough to scare the Master of Suspense himself, Alfred Hitchock who earnestly recognized the indisputable talent of this story. And knowing the book was based on the Ed Gein crimes made the project all the more appealing. 

Norman Bates, kind-natured, quiet, and a bit simple, the humble face of the Bates Motel where, if you catch Norman’s eye and he gets that (uh-oh) funny feeling down his pants, chances are when you check in you won’t be checking out. Berated by his mother (who can be seen sitting menacingly in the upper window of the house atop the hill) Bates lives a lonely life. One you can easily pity. But he lives a double life too. 

As we all now know Norman keeps his dead mother at home where her dried corpse can still torment his broken mind. I think Ed was proud of that little touch. Taking it one step further Norman lets mother have her fun by dressing up and channeling the harsh woman. Hitchcock’s Psycho shocked people and with a little of Gein’s ghoulish fun reshaped the nature of horror movies. Norman Bates was the archetype for future slasher icons such as Michael Myers, Jason, and Leatherface to come.

A decade later the quiet outback of Texas became a slaughter field when young innocents were met with a chainsaw-wielding madman. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is renowned as one of the top five best horror films ever made and its most macabre moments can all be linked back to the grotesque habits of Eddie boy.

It’s interesting that each member of the deranged family of cannibals embodies an attribute of Gein. It’s as if the ghoul’s essence stains each scene from opening to final credits. 

Most people identify the skin-wearing traits of Leatherface back to Eddie, but there’s the Hitchhiker who digs up the dead and brings home the really good stuff to furnish the living room. There’s also the cook whose quiet nature lures in unsuspecting victims. He’s such a nice guy until he can catch you off your guard. Then it’s straight to the icebox with you.

You know, the more I think of it the more I’m convinced the original film is an absolute masterpiece. Every time I watch it I’m that much more impressed. It’s a simple formula but – as is proven most often in horror – it’s the simple stuff that works the best. 

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre became a grindhouse staple and was ultimately banned in certain countries. The UK saw fit to slap the movie on the infamous Video Nasties list. And to this day there are some countries where horror fans cannot watch the full movie. It fucked with people’s heads that much. TCM is simply metal to the bone. 

Another writer (Thomas Harris) would make a career for himself when his novel of grizzly crime and mystery took the world by storm and made Anthony Hopkins a name to be feared and celebrated once the story was adapted to film. 

The Silence of the Lambs is punch-to-the-throat thrill ride to stop a serial killer who is mutilating women. Our killer here, nicknamed Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine), not only channels Ed Gein but goes the extra mile by utilizing a few of Ted Bundy’s nefarious tricks to great effect. Bill goes about his transition by capturing women and turning their skins into his new and improved body. 

Though considered more of a psychological thriller than a scary movie I see it as an early example of elevated horror and the movie scared the pink fucking shit out of audiences upon its release. I was a kid when it came out and I remember being reprimanded for just talking about it. I wasn’t allowed to say the name for fucks fucking sake! As if it would conjure up something malignant and stygian. But that’s how badly this movie scared people. It snuck its way into people’s psyche and festered there.

Adding to the grizzly tension is Anthony Hopkin’s searing portrayal of cannibal psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter. Though incarcerated Lecter’s unique qualities make him a key element to discovering the shrouded identity of Buffalo Bill and putting an end to his reign of terror.

It’s interesting that each of these movies greatly differ from one another in tone and presentation. They each reflect on the social angst and attitude of their times and went on to further influence and redefine horror in the years to come. Hell, most people attribute Psycho as the start of the slasher genre, my favorite! And The Texas Chainsaw Massacre inspired Rob Zombie’s entire film career. Then there’s Silence of the Lambs which led to a massive boom of interest in grizzly crime films that led to future films like Se7enThe Bone CollectorDexter, and every single fucking NCIS you can imagine. Not to mention the phenomenal Hannibal show which is one of my favorite shows of all time.

It’s clear Ed Gein’s legacy could not be burned away. The Ghoul could not be spunged out of our minds. Horror endures. It always does.

As honorable mentions and in case you’ve watched these all a hundred times and need a little more Gein fix I’d recommend the following. 

Ed Gein, a movie that loosely follows the life and crimes of Ed Gein and starring none other than Kane Hodder (Jason and Hatchet) himself in the titular role. It’s not going for accuracy here and is more for shock value so you gotta take it with a grain of salt.

But if you’re in need for a serial killer kind of movie this one has you covered. It also features Michael Berryman of The Hills Have Eyes fame in it. 

Deranged, is a movie that doesn’t get a lot of attention but one I absolutely love. It’s a purer depiction of the Ed Gein story and is filmed like a semi-documentary or news special.

Yeah I know, it’s weird. But I love the tone and atmosphere of the movie. It has a retro atmosphere to it that sorta resembles A Christmas Story just slightly less satanic. 

Hitchcock, a biopic about the making of the movie Psycho. Anthony Hopkins plays the titular character and is guided by Ed Gein himself through means of inner dialogue. This move is just a little delight and fits in well if you’re in the mood for a Psycho marathon.  

Manic out!

It’s All About Family – The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Every horror fan seems to stumble upon this little flick, and, out of the vast array of slaughterhouse horror films, is left with an irreplaceable mark that none other can match. The movie’s not backed by a huge budget, its soundtrack is minimal at best, and it doesn’t feature any big names among its cast.

Something entirely against the grain for Hollywood standards. And yet the bloody film captivates, cuts deep, and then cauterizes the mind. It haunts the viewer long after the end credits roll. In short, the movie just works!

When you watch The Texas Chainsaw Massacre you are pulled in – whether you want to be or not – and made to endure the menace and the horror awaiting the character therein. It doesn’t feel like you’re watching actors but more like you’re in the thick of it with real-to-life people who are about to meet with an unfortunate end.

That’s just part of what makes this film such an ongoing success. For one thing, it’s not what people expect it to be. And that being some mindless little splatterfest.

Sure there is a lumbering chainsaw swinging murderer-butcher called Leatherface. But it’s not just about him. It’s the maniacal family of fellow ghouls who naturally adds to the macabre that made this movie legendary.

The Hitchhiker (Nubbins Sawyer)

Choosing to open your movie with a lingering shot focused on a nice oozing corpse is one helluva way to slap your audience to attention. Before the viewer even gets a chance to settle the film goes full-on grotesque, a slight sucker punch to the senses informing the viewer as to what kind of movie they’re in for. There’s no turning back now, folks. We’re in for a nasty bit of cinema and all we can do is sit back and enjoy as best we can.

I know you love it.

Turns out a string of grave robberies have been transpiring all over the county. We’re introduced to our heroes who stop by the local graveyard to see if their grandpa’s grave was among those desecrated or not. His was fine.

But the jelly-faced ugly we saw at the film’s opening was one of the unfortunate dead dudes dug up and propped up like some maniac Halloween decoration.

It doesn’t take long before we’re introduced to the ghoul responsible for the midnight graveyard monster mashing. He gets picked up on the side of the road by our cast of heroes and we all just know the shit’s about to hit the fan.

The Hitchhiker’s (Edwin Neal) scenes alone could be considered the scariest of the whole film. He’s weird, he has something all over his face, and he has all the manners of an unmedicated schizophrenic. His jittery behavior immediately sets an unsettling mood. This fucker is unstable as all Hell and now our heroes are trapped in the van with this lunatic.

It doesn’t take long before he cuts himself (to everyone’s shock), performs some kind of black magic ritual, then cuts poor Franklin’s (Paul A. Partain) arm. That’s exactly the kind of behavior that’ll get you kicked out of the car, buster! He leaves the vehicle after scaring the bejeezus out of everyone inside, but not before leaving a bloody smear on the side of the van. Why? Just to fuck with them. And it works perfectly.

Fucking fuck’ sake and Hell what was that all about? It’s just the kind of craziness we can expect out of this movie.

The Cook (Drayton Sawyer)

I love this guy! I always thought he was the dad to both Leatherface and the Hitchhiker. It just seemed obvious to me and still does if we’re being honest. But due to the dinner-time scene where the looney bin candidate (Hitchhiker) says, “he’s just the cook!” and getting a violent “QUIET” in rebuttal that causes people to think he’s just that: the cook. But in my defense, the Cook could be dad and cooking is just his thing. He doesn’t enjoy the killin’ part of things and leaves that up to both of his sons.

Makes sense to me.

There’s also the hilarious scene when Cook comes home and sees the mayhem Leatherface has done to the front door. Infuriated he hops out of the truck and indignantly yells, “Look what yur brother’s done to the door!” That sounds just like something a dad would shout. It’s also insight into the character’s psyche. Kind of a practical kind of guy. It’s hilarious how pissed he gets over property damage. It’s subtle but also a glimpse into his unhinged behavior.

Upon introduction, you wouldn’t suspect much from Cook considering he’s presented as the nice gas station owner who calmly advises the heroes not to go poking their noses into places they shouldn’t be. Later, and after one of the most hair-raising chase scenes in any movie ever, Sally (Marilyn Burns) seeks refuge back at the gas station where the kindly owner offers her shelter.

That’s where we’re shown the double-sidedness hiding behind Drayton’s crooked smile. Lo and behold he’s part of the clan and the audience is presented an alarming fact: this atrocity is county-wide. So who can you trust? Poor Sally learns there’s no one out there on her side.

Drayton smacks her around with a broom and ties her head-first into a potato sack. He traps her in his truck but then runs back into the gas station to turn off the lights first before taking off. “The cost of electricity is enough to drive a man outta business,” he reasons with his sobbing captive. Quite practical. He takes off down the road and can’t help himself and starts poking Sally a little bit with a stick. Sadism making him giggle with childish glee drooling off his face.

The role was brought to life by the one and only Jim Siedow who would return to the role in Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 and plays pretty much the same guy. I love him. The man chews up every scene he’s in.

Grandpa Sawyer

Creepy, creepy, and fucking creepy. This old corpse of a character shouldn’t be alive and defies mortality. He looks like a dry husk. I wasn’t even really sure he was alive – and come on, it’s entirely feasible that this family of lunatics would carry down a corpse to have dinner with them – until he helps himself to some of Sally’s warm blood.

In Conclusion

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is legendary among horror fans. It’s often repeated and, in many cases, remade but there’s something special about the original, something that cannot be repeated or done over. I personally think it has to do with the impression made by the Sawyer family. It’s one of those things that came about by the correct alignment of astral bodies and a little black magic. It’s a dark miracle that the thing exists and made its way to drive-ins and living rooms for generations.

The TCM remake isn’t exactly bad. And they tried to give us a rotten family to put Leatherface in the midst of. But the Hewitts (2003) just don’t live up to the macabre nature of the Sawyers (1974). Albeit the Hewitt family is most certainly sinister but they lack the true unhinged quality the Sawyers have. Seriously the instability of the Sawyers is almost otherworldly. Their victims never know what to expect. They may invite you to a home-cooked meal made out of your best friends or they’ll gut you alive. You never know and that alone keeps you on your toes around them. They are pure psychopaths and take obscene delight in that.

Each of the characters mentioned here – in one way or another – reflects the very ghoul who inspired the lot of them, Ed Gein. Grave robbery, slaughtering pretty people, wearing stitched-together human skins, boiling skulls, and eating human flesh. They’re all ghoulish and reflect the heinous nature of Eddy boy.

I think he’d be damn proud of the lot of them!

That’s something lacking in each movie that followed the original. The family was not all that scary and only served to, well, shit just be there. The focus became more and more reliant upon Leatherface in each proceeding film. And none of them match the claustrophobic terror inspired by Tobe Hooper’s exploitation masterpiece.

I know there’s the upcoming Netflix TCM coming out soon. Looks like there is no family to back Leatherface this time around and so we’ll see how well the creepy and the grotesque work. I might not be impressed by the trailer of Leatherface pooping in the field but I’m still going to watch it. Hope it does well. I want a new good scare from TCM.

Whatever the outcome no one can take away the original film that’s proved the test of time.

Manic Out!

‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ – The Movie That Scared Me Before I Ever Watched it!

It cannot be stressed enough the impact visual images alone can have over an adolescent mind unprepared to fully process the visual overload it is suddenly forced to compute. And it can be anything. Read Marylyn Manson’s autobiography (Long Hard Road Out Of Hell) and you’ll read in grotesque detail what he and his cousin saw out of their grandpa which went on to scar them for life. Hopefully, none of us have to deal with lecherous visions of perverted grandparents like that, but, without a doubt, there could be something that you saw while you were little that left a searing brand smoking on your psyche. 

I sure did and it stayed with me for years! It helped develop my obscene taste for horror-gore and death metal music too. And though there is a macho Manic pride growling inside me to not reveal any hint of fear over anything I cannot deny the one thing that did really, really mess with my head at an early age.

I stumbled upon it while glancing through the magazine rack at a checkout line way back when. Being an avid horror/monster fan from the time I was in diapers I was eagerly skimming through a Gorezone magazine, my own little happy space when I turned the page to see a girl being hoisted up by a maniac to be hung on a rusty meat hook. 

I cannot tell you why but fuck-a-monk that got into my head! Like could it be possible for a movie – even a scary one – to go a little too far? I was only eight at the time so I hadn’t explored the gorier side of horror yet. This single image alone alerted me to a side of horror I was unaware of. Something that felt genuinely dangerous.

I was a stupid kid so cut me a little slack.

I didn’t know a thing about cannibalism at that age so I was unaware she was going to be that evening’s main course. I just knew what followed was going to be terrible for her. I later learned about people eating people being an actual thing and – again – that fucked with my head a little more. I didn’t know people did that. In fact, I wasn’t aware that was even possible! 

But one thing that did cross my mind while staring wide-eyed at that macabre image was how very taboo this was. Like I was going to get into trouble just for looking at it. That girl, someone young, pretty, and very helpless, about to hang in agony on that hook. They can’t put that kind of stuff in movies, could they? I closed the magazine and with some newfound trauma stood silently waiting for my aunt to finish up so we could leave. 

What kept repeating around in my head was, That must be the scariest movie ever.

Years Pass

Long story short my parents decided to become missionaries when I was in 4th grade so I ended up spending the next 15 years in St. Petersburg, Russia. I loved it if we’re being honest. The horror and metal scene are both strong in the city, at least when I lived there. Once a year we would travel over to Helsinki, Finland where I would go to comic shops and books stores and load up on comics, figures, magazines, and books.

While skimming the magazines I got hold of a horror mag and, well wouldn’t you know, there was a huge piece on the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Bear in mind I was about seventeen at this time and was still trepid over the fucking movie without ever even seeing it.

Out of obsidian curiosity, I poured over the lengthy article, soaking in each and every grizzly detail, and learned about the puking hot despicable conditions the actors put themselves through.

How Gunner Hanson stank to high heaven and made people sick due to the odor when he was around. Because no one would wash the costumes! And filming under the glaring heat of a Texan sun inside a humid shack lacking any AC was entirely unbearable. 

Sally’s finger really did get cut open to feed Grandpa because actor Gunner Hanson just had enough. And, shit, I can’t blame him. Conditions were disgusting, hot, uncomfortable, and it played through on film fantastically. 

Considering how I hadn’t seen the movie yet I was bewitched by all the details. And then I read it was based on a true story – and not knowing much about Ed Gein at the time – I closed the magazine and let that bit of obscene info sink in. My teenage brain really thought this shit happened! Whatever dread I may have already established in my mind over this little film increased tenfold! 

Oh but that’s not all. For whatever reason when I was seventeen it was totally all about TCM! Day after reading that magazine article I was out and about looking around the Helsinki flea market where I saw a clamshell copy of – yeah you already know – TCM. I was also too chicken shit to buy it. You may all laugh at me. I was seventeen and stupid. Something I rapidly got over while pouring through all the Video Nasties I could later find.

However, I did return back to Russia entirely pissed with myself for not buying the fucking movie. And for some reason it was not at all easy to find a copy of some movies – Last House On The Left, I Spit On Your Grave, and Texas Chainsaw Massacre were almost all impossible to find. And there were no streaming services like Shudder or eBay to order hard-to-find movies. And that’s what made me kick myself over not getting the film. 

A whole year passed before I found myself in Helsinki again and back at the flea market. It was there, the clamshell video of TCM. I swear it was waiting on me like some malevolently patient stalker. My celluloid devil at the crossroads. I had to buy it this time and took the movie back home and watched it that very night. Lights were off and I was in bed watching truly the scariest movie I had ever seen up till that point. 

I don’t need to tell you how great the movie is or the merits of its scares. It works. Still to this day it works. It plays out like a demented dream and allows ghastly visuals to tell a simple story.

One thing the remakes and succeeding movies never quite manage to capture is the hellish simplicity of just letting scary images progress a story. It’s so simple but chillingly effective. The movie starts off with a corpse and it concludes with the ravings of a blood-drenched lunatic.

Added to the macabre images is a soundtrack of grating metal objects, static akin to a geiger counter, and shrill moans. It’s not at all traditional and fits perfectly into the strange and demented story of Leatherface and his family. It’s been said before but it really does feel like you’re watching a grotesque documentary.

Even though I had this film hyped up in my head I was not at all disappointed when I finally watched it. It did give me chills, like what the fuck is with the chicken in the parakeet cage? Weird shit like that just weirded me out and made me love the movie more and more. 

Joe Bob Briggs calls it the best movie ever made and he might be right. It’s certainly one that scared me years before I ever even watched it. It’s a dirty little product of its time and was influential in establishing the slasher genre. 

Future Past of Chainsaw

Gun Media, the guys behind that little Jason game I’m always yammering on about (check here), have gone and done it again by bringing fans TCM to play. The game is one of the most highly anticipated games among horror fans today as we wait for the chance to traverse the dangerous backwoods of Texas and, oh please let it be, become Leatherface and chase down stupid little fucks with a roaring chainsaw. 

So the legacy of Leatherface isn’t slowing down. And sure the franchise as a whole isn’t all that amazing but the first film alone is more than enough to keep fans screaming and scared. If you’ve never seen that original film it’s high time we fixed that. Grab a beer and turn the lights off as you cozy in for some Texas Chainsaw Massacre. And if you scream a little well that’s ok. 

Manic out!