"Chain Saw Confidential: How We Made the World's Most Notorious Horror Movie" Book Review
Written by Robert Gold
Published by Dark Ink Publishing
Written by Gunnar Hansen
2013, 208 pages, Non-Fiction
Book released on August 18th, 2023
Some movies can earn early street cred on title alone. One such notorious film is The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Director Tobe Hooper and co-writer Kim Henkel came up with a powerful concept that roared onto the scene in 1974 and now, nearly fifty years later, remains a high-water mark in horror cinema. There are so many outrageous stories surrounding the production of this film, surely not all of them can be accurate. In 2013, the truth behind the making of the picture came into stark focus with a firsthand accounting of the shoot by Leatherface actor Gunnar Hansen in his captivating book Chain Saw Confidential: How We Made the World’s Most Notorious Horror Movie.
Hansen opens his book with a recounting of the numerous myths surrounding the picture, including: that it was shot by drug-crazed hippies without a script; that it was funded by the mafia; that people actually died while filming and from there everyone involved went on to be rich and famous. As he so bluntly puts it – none of this is true. What follows is a collection of interviews with several members of the cast and crew as well as insights from various contemporary members of the horror community, including directors John Landis (An American Werewolf in London) and Stuart Gordon (Dolls) and Hellraiser actor Doug Bradley.
The book includes a thoughtful foreword by fellow author Ray Garton followed by an introduction by Hansen. Neatly organized into twenty chapters with titles frequently inspired by lines of dialogue from the film, Hansen reflects on his iconic character and his approach to the role. He reveals he was kept apart from the other actors to keep them from getting too friendly with their killer. He spent much of his downtime preparing for the numerous chase scenes by running every day and practicing with the chain saw. The author shares a number of interesting production stories, including how such iconic moments as the dolly shot pushing under the swing and the meat hook kill were accomplished. He goes on to admit there was a large marijuana crop growing behind the house that everyone frequented.
The biggest factor Hansen relates is how difficult a production this was, shooting in the unbearably hot Texas summer without air conditioning and with temperatures regularly over one hundred degrees. Many confined filming locations, including inside the van, were cramped with members of cast and crew making an already hard shoot all the more unbearable. The most arduous day of filming was the twenty-six-hour marathon dinner table scene that was reportedly so hot and uncomfortable, people became physically ill. The farmhouse location was filled with bones, roadkill and other meat that would steadily cook under the lights, filling the room with an overpowering stench.
Hansen says there was little actual danger during the production, but there were several moments of safety concern due to inexperience of the cast and crew. He reveals the level of pain actress Marilyn Burns experienced both physically and emotionally as her character is being abused throughout the second half of the film. She was actually beaten with a broom and had her finger sliced for real while shooting a few infamous scenes.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre opened to largely scathing reviews, but there were a few champions. The picture went on to make millions at the box office and, thanks to a less than favorable contract, enriched the distributors leaving the cast and crew shafted for their share of the profits. Hansen says he received his first check a year later for $47.07 and over the next four decades has earned a little over $8,100. The film has become the source of legend, as many viewers believe Leatherface is a real person (the character was inspired by Ed Gein) haunting the Texas countryside.
The author closes with an insightful essay on the difference between horror and terror. Not long after publishing this memoir, Gunnar Hansen passed away in 2015. Now celebrating not only the memoir’s tenth anniversary, but also the film’s upcoming fiftieth, the book is back in print, allowing readers a second chance to read this impressive accounting of the making of a modern classic. Fans of the film will definitely want to add this title to their library, as even the most dedicated will likely learn from Hansen’s keen sense of storytelling.
This page includes affiliate links where Horror DNA may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.