The Saw is Family: A Retrospective of the “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” Saga (Updated)

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The film which you are about to see is an account of the tragedy which befell a group of five youths, in particular Sally Hardesty and her invalid brother, Franklin. It is all the more tragic in that they were young. But, had they lived very, very long lives, they could not have expected nor would they have wished to see as much of the mad and macabre as they were to see that day. For them an idyllic summer afternoon drive became a nightmare. The events of that day were to lead to the discovery of one of the most bizarre crimes in the annals of American history, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

Those words, narrated by future film and TV actor John Larroquette, would be the beginning of the greatest sagas in horror movie history and would unleash one of the most prolific killers in movie history. The idea of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre would be the brain child of two University of Texas-Austin film graduates, Tobe Hooper and Kim Henkel.

The film revolved around five young people who travel to the old family home of two of them and to make sure their relatives’ graves are still intact after reports of a series of grave robberies. When they run out of gas, it is the beginning of what will be a living nightmare when they come across a family of three brothers who used to work at the local slaughterhouse until they closed down because of the new “technology”. The youngest brother is a mentally-challenged beast who because of his wearing masks made of human skin, is called “Leatherface”.

The film, shot in the summer of 1973 was perhaps one of the most brutal film shoots in motion pictures. From the exhausting heat to apparent off-set antics and rifts between cast members and crew members, many have told stories about the experience. One book that gives a first hand experience from one of the actors is Chain Saw Confidential. The book’s author is the very man behind the mask in this very film.

All of the core cast members were newcomers to feature films. Marilyn Burns, as Sally Hardesty, would become the prototype of what Adam Rockman would call “the final girl” in slasher films and the film turned Icelandic-born writer Gunnar Hansen into a legend with his role of the monster known as Leatherface. Some of the other core cast members would go on to either retire from acting, continue acting, or work behind the scenes. Paul A. Partain was a Method actor who played his invalid character Franklin on and off the set, which kind of ticked off other members. Allen Dazinger was a social worker who would make his role of Sally’s boyfriend Jerry his only acting role along with Teri McMinn (Pam) and current set decorator William Vail (Kirk). Jim Siedow was the only SAG-union actor in the cast in the role of eldest brother, The Old Man. Edwin Neal, an aspiring actor having served in Vietnam, channeled his nephew to play the middle brother, Hitchhiker. Rounding out the cast was Hooper’s brother-in-law, 20-year old John Dugan, who went under extensive make-up to play Grandfather.

Many have misconstrued the fact that The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is a very gory film based on just its title. Funny enough, these come from people who most likely have never even seen the movie. The fact is that the film is not very bloody at all. In fact, the most blood in the film comes from lead actress Marilyn Burns, who not only had fake blood but actually had cut herself on branches during the chase sequence where Leatherface goes after her with his titular weapon. Even more, the titular weapon is only used in two scenes. Leatherface uses a sledgehammer and meat hooks aside from his chainsaw.

The film was released by the New York-based Bryanston Pictures in October 1974. In the first few days, the film had grossed over $600,000. However, due to its psychological style violence, the movie had gotten banned in many countries upon its initial release. Even more so, audiences in America also complained, thus resulting in screenings being pulled. However, what started as a $300,000 movie grossed $30,000,000. However, when Bryanston Pictures went dormant due to their producing a classic 1970’s adult film, New Line Cinema picked up the rights to re-release the film in 1980.

Director Tobe Hooper would direct horror films such as Eaten Alive and the original Poltergeist. In 1986, as part of his three-film deal with Cannon Films, Hooper brought the family back in Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2, which starred Dennis Hopper as a Texas Ranger after the family for what happened to his niece and nephew (Marilyn Burns and Paul A. Partain in the original). Jim Siedow returned to the role of the Old Man, who was now named Drayton Sawyer. Bill Moseley would play the twin brother of Edwin Neal’s Hitchhiker, Chop-Top, who served in Vietnam during the events of the first film. Finally, Gunnar Hansen, who focused on writing and not acting, did not return and was replaced by Bill Johnson as Leatherface.

New Line Cinema made Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III in 1989 under the direction of Jeff Burr. The film would have newcomers Kate Hodge (She Wolf of London) and Viggo Mortensen (The Lord of the Rings) alongside horror film veteran Ken Foree (Dawn of the Dead). R.A. Mihailoff played the role of Leatherface, who has a new family with two brothers, a mother, and (the hell?!)a daughter!

In 1993, lawyer Robert Kuhn bought the rights of the title back and Kim Henkel, who wrote the original film with Tobe Hooper, attempted to make a real sequel. It was anything but that! Originally titled The Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the film finally was released in 1997 as Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation. The reason for the three year wait? The lead two actors became big Hollywood stars. Matthew McConaughey and Renee Zellweger played the maniacal brother of Leatherface and the “final girl” respectively. Texas disc jockey Robert Jacks made his film debut as Leatherface and like Gunnar Hansen, sports three masks in the film. The film’s twist involving the Illuminati was utter ridiculousness. The film’s final scene had cameo appearances from John Dugan as a cop, Paul A. Partain as a hospital orderly, and an anonymously credited actor in the bed Partain’s character is pushing. That actor is Marilyn Burns.

In 2003, prolific filmmaker Michael Bay set up a new production company, Platinum Dunes, with Andrew Form and Brad Fuller. Bay wanted to remake some of the classic horror tales of yore and his first film under this new banner was? You guessed it. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Setting the film on the same day as the original (August 18, 1973), the film introduced a new maniacal family, the Hewitts. Led by uncle Hoyt, the family consisted of wheelchair-bound Old Monty, Monty’s wife Luda Mae, daughter Henrietta, good-hearted son Jedidiah, and the adopted Thomas Hewitt, who would be known as Leatherface. Jessica Biel, Eric Balfour, Erica Leerhsen, Jonathan Tucker, and Mike Vogel would play the new victims with Andrew Bryniarski playing Leatherface under the direction of German-born filmmaker and music video director Marcus Nispel. The film hit #1 opening weekend and did well enough to make not a sequel, but a prequel.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning was released in 2006 and took place in the late 1960’s where two brothers bound to be drafted for the Vietnam War and their girlfriends fall victim to the Hewitts. We even see the birth of this version of Leatherface, reprised by Bryniarski (the only actor ever to play Leatherface twice). The film is perhaps the goriest of the entire saga as they truly pushed the envelope. There are even two alternate endings to the film.

In 2009, Twisted Pictures and Lionsgate bought the rights to the title but instead of Twisted (the makers of the Saw franchise), Bulgaria-based Nu Image (the company behind Isaac Florentine and Scott Adkins’ action packed films) assisted Lionsgate with a new film in the saga. However, a new concept was thought up: a real sequel to the original 1974 film. Production of Texas Chainsaw 3D took place in Louisiana and begins literally minutes after the escape of Sally Hardesty. The Sawyer family is confronted by a band of locals despite the sheriff promising Leatherface, or Jed Sawyer, a fair trial. The locals burn the house down and all are dead except a baby who is raised by two of the locals. Years later, the now grown-up Heather is given an inheritance with a bit of a surprise in the basement. Newcomer Dan Yeager played the now elder Leatherface as someone who was challenged to someone who is so close to his family that he will kill anyone who crosses him. The film did well at the box office despite mixed reactions and the single worst line in horror films (“Get him cuz!”) The upside is that Gunnar Hansen, John Dugan, Bill Moseley, and Marilyn Burns all made pivotal cameos in the film.

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Which brings us to 2016, when an official prequel to the 1974 will be unleashed. It must be mentioned that the original creators Tobe Hooper and Kim Henkel have served as executive producers of the saga since the 2003 remake. The new film, Leatherface, revolves around a group of teen escapees from a mental asylum and kidnap a nurse. The group is pursued by a deranged lawman but it will soon get worse when one of the escapees will meet his destiny as Leatherface. Stephen Dorff, Lili Taylor, James Bloor, and Sam Strike all star in the film, coming to theaters on October 20, 2017.

As it has been 41 years since the release of the original film, it is clear that the legend of Leatherface will always live in the hearts of all horror film fans and perhaps other film fans in general. This is one saga that will continue to test the sands of time and perhaps bring in a whole new generation of fans who will get their kicks seeing a beast who wears human skin masks and revs up all sorts of fury with his trusty saw.

During these forty-one years, the legend of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, has suffered some sad losses.

  • Robert Jacks (Leatherface in TCM: TNG) passed away in 2001, just one day shy of his 42nd birthday.
  • Jim Siedow (The Old Man/Drayton Sawyer in TCM 1 & 2) passed away in 2003 at the age of 83.
  • Miriam Byrd-Nethery (Mom in TCM 3) passed away in 2003 at the age of 73.
  • Paul A. Partain (Franklin Hardesty in TCM/Orderly in TCM: TNG) passed away in 2005 at the age of 58.
  • Lou Perryman (assistant cameraman – TCM/L.G. McPeters in TCM 2) passed away in 2009 at the age of 67.
  • Dennis Hopper (Lt. “Lefty” Enright in TCM 2) passed away in 2010 at the age of 74.
  • Marilyn Burns (Sally Hardesty in TCM/Hospital Patient in TCM: TNG/Verna Carson in TC3D) passed away in 2014 at the age of 65.
  • Gunnar Hansen (the original Leatherface) passed away in 2015 at the age of 68.
  • Co-creator/original film director Tobe Hooper passed away in 2017 at the age of 74.

To quote the late Jim Siedow…”The Saw is Family”…that it is Jim. That it is.

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