It’s one of the most influential horror movies of all time, spawning sequels, prequels, remakes, and more about Leatherface and his twisted family – but is The Texas Chain Saw Massacre based on a true story?
Released in 1974, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre quickly became notorious due to the hardcore violence depicted throughout.
But that controversy helped turn the film into a huge box office success, grossing more than $30 million at the US box office from a budget of just $140,000.
It also spawned a franchise, and to date there have been nine Texas Chainsaw Massacre movies, with the most recent released earlier this year on Netflix.
There have also been TCSM comics, while late last year, Gun Interactive announced a video game adaptation that will be an “asymmetrical multiplayer horror game.”
What is The Texas Chain Saw Massacre about?
The story of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre revolves around Sally, her brother, and her friends who are road tripping to an old homestead.
Low on gas – and while looking for a watering hole – two of the group stumble upon a house, where they are killed by ‘Leatherface’, a maniacal killer who hides behind a mask made of skin, and who murders with a chainsaw.
Leatherface doesn’t act alone however, as his family help dispatch victims, then turning their bones into furniture. They kill the group, one-by-one, but Sally gets away, the final shot featuring an enraged Leatherface waving his chainsaw around while she escapes on the back of a truck.
Is The Texas Chain Saw Massacre based on a true story?
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre certainly positions itself as being true. The poster proclaimed: “America’s most bizarre and brutal crimes… what happened is true.”
While the movie starts with these words flashing onscreen: “The film which you are about to see is an account of the tragedy which befell a group of five youths.”
However, while the movie takes inspiration from real-life, the story of Sally and her friends was made up by writer-director Tobe Hooper, and co-writer Kim Henkel.
How Ed Gein inspired Leatherface in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
Ed Gein was a Wisconsin killer who became known as ‘The Butcher of Plainfield.’ As well as murdering locals, he exhumed corpses, and turned bits of their bodies into furniture and clothes.
Gein inspired Leatherface and his family, with Hooper explaining in the below video how the story haunted him since childhood.
“My Wisconsin relatives told me about this guy that lived about 20 miles from them,” Hooper explains.
“They’d tell me this story over and over about these human skin lampshades, I think maybe they said something about hearts in the refrigerator, but really the image I came away with – almost my entire life – was there’s someone out there making lampshades out of people.”
Ed Gein’s chilling story didn’t only inspire TCSM either, as there’s also some of Gein in Psycho and The Silence of the Lambs.
How Elmer Wayne Henley inspired The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
Speaking to Texas Monthly in 2004, screenwriter Kim Henkel said another killer also inspired Leatherface and his family.
“I definitely studied Gein, but I also noticed a murder case in Houston at the time, a serial murderer you probably remember named Elmer Wayne Henley. He was a young man who recruited victims for an older homosexual man,” he said.
“I saw some news report where Elmer Wayne was identifying bodies and their locations, and he was this skinny little ol’ 17-year-old, and he kind of puffed out his chest and said, ‘I did these crimes, and I’m gonna stand up and take it like a man.’ Well, that struck me as interesting, that he had this conventional morality at that point.
“He wanted it known that, now that he was caught, he would do the right thing. So this kind of moral schizophrenia is something I tried to build into the characters.”
Where can I watch The Texas Chain Saw Massacre?
Due to being banned or extensively cut, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was tough to find in its original form, but now the uncut film is widely available.
In the UK, TCSM is streaming on Amazon Prime, Shudder, and the BFI Player, can be rented on Apple TV, and is out on both DVD and Blu-ray.
In the USA, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is streaming on Shudder, Showtime, Tubi, AMC, Freevee, Fubo, and Direct TV. While it’s available to rent or buy on Apple TV, YouTube, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Vudu, and Alamo Streaming.
You can check out our other articles exploring whether movies are based on true stories below: