Monday, October 28, 2013

Chain Saw Confidential: How We Made The World's Most Notorious Horror Movie

I can't really remember the first time that I saw THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE...It was either on a rented Beta-max tape (Or possibly a Laser Disc...) at my friend Bryan's house when I was in my mid-teens, or else it was a grainy VHS tape that I watched with my younger Cousin Rob when I was in my late teens. I sure as hell remember my reaction to the film, though...It was identical to the comment made by Director John Landis (of AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON fame): "Who made this....?"

CHAINSAW is such a vivid, realistic film that watching it evokes a reaction akin to being punched in the sack. I've often wondered what the people that made the film were like, and what it entailed making such a horrific film...Thanks to Gunnar Hansen, I now know.

Hansen, of course, famously portrayed Leatherface, wielder of the movie's titular chainsaw. Upon learning that he had written a book about the experience of making the film, I immediately assumed that it was ghostwritten, because surely Gunnar Hansen must be a slightly demented, hulking doofus that can barely string together two coherent sentences, let alone write an entire book on his own, right? Well, a quick internet search would have proven me wrong, because Leatherface, while certainly looking good on a resume, is hardly Hansen's claim to fame: The man is a respected Author, having written books of Poetry, as well as Travel and History books. And there's not a Ghostwriter in sight...

I was, however, correct in my assumption that there must have been some kind of madness at work, fueling the making of this film. Hansen tells some alarming stories of close calls with the chainsaw, and actors who could have been killed performing their own stunts. There's a kind of "Hey, gang! Let's put on a show!" mentality that permeated the production, encompassing both cast and crew, and as more than one person associated with the film says in the course of the book "Someone must have been watching over us."

While there is a fair amount about Hansen's life in this book, it is by no means a Biography. It concerns itself strictly with the making of CHAINSAW, it's release and aftermath, and it's enduring legacy. Hansen remains humble and, dare I say it, endearing, throughout the book, and you leave with a great sense of what it was like on the set as a group of young people struggled to bring this cinematic vision of hell to the screen. Hansen also addresses some of the more outlandish stories and rumors that have grown in the film's wake, and does his best to set the record straight.

Hansen's exhaustive research really helps this book shine and stand apart from other behind-the-scenes books that I've read, but I did leave with one nagging question unanswered: Hansen seems to have interviewed nearly every surviving member of the film's cast and crew, with the exception of Director Tobe Hooper, whose quotes come from an unpublished 2008 interview with Paolo Zelati. Hooper also goes unmentioned in Hansen's Acknowledgements.....I wonder what the story is behind that? I guess that Hansen is certainly entitled to keep SOME secrets.....

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