Updated: Aug 23, 2019
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre came out in October of 1974. The film was directed by Tobe Hooper and it was a struggle from the start. The cast members were small actors from Texas, where it was filmed. Hooper immediately had difficulty finding a distributor due to the violent nature of the film. Eventually, Bryanston Pictures purchased the rights but that wasn't the end of the struggle. Originally the film received an X rating and scene cuts had to be made to get it down to an R rating, when Hooper was hoping for a PG rating. Several countries, including Canada, immediately banned the movie and many U.S. theaters stopped playing the movie after continuous complaints. Regardless of the complaints and bans, the movie which was made for $140,000 the movie grossed over $30 mil selling over 16.5 million tickets in the those last few months of 1974. They had marketed it as a "true story" to attract a larger audience despite being only loosely based on a true story. Although it was first criticized, the movie has quickly become known as one of the most influential and mind boggling movies ever made.
Although most have seen the movie, I'll give y'all a quick rundown. Sally and Frank Hardesty travel with their friends to visit their grandfather's grave to investigate reports of grave robbery and vandalism. Along their travels they decide to visit the old Hardesty homestead and pick up a hitchhiker on their way. The hitchhiker is a wacko and attacks Franklin before being forced out of the vehicle. They're running out of gas when they stop at a station but the pumps are empty. They continue onto the homestead where some of the friends stumble on a farmhouse and figure they'll go inquire about some gas. Immediately after entering the farmhouse, the character Kirk is attacked by Leatherface, a psycho killer who wears the skinned faces of his victims. The movie then follows Sally's capture, torture at a dinner table, and escape from Leatherface's cannibalistic family.
Some fun (or maybe not so fun) facts about the dinner table scene is that it was known to the actors as the "Last Supper" due to the intolerable filming conditions. They filmed the scene 26 hours straight in heat well above 100 degrees. The actors had to take frequent breathing and vomit breaks outside. In one portion of the scene, Sally, played by Marilyn Burns, has her hand cut by Leatherface but the prop knife malfunctioned and Gunnar Hansen, playing Leatherface, got so frustrated with the prop that he just actually cut her. This wasn't the only pain for Burns as Jim Siedow, playing another cannibalistic family member, was supposed to beat Sally in the film but had a hard time depicting it as real violence so he actually hit her. Several times. Over and over until after eight takes, she fainted. Her final scene where she is laughing hysterically is real as well. After finally finishing filming (or so she thought), Marilyn was told that there was a problem with one of the shots and she had to get back in there for another go. Conditions were so awful for her that the idea of having to go back and do it one more time was almost comical. Even the behind the scenes of this movie was horrific, but the movie itself is a terrifying thriller and will make you never trust another small town human ever again.
So I mentioned this was loosely based on a true story, and that true story is the story of serial killer Ed Gein.
Ed Gein was born on August 27, 1906 in La Crosse County, WI. His father George was an alcoholic who couldn't hold a job and eventually sold a local grocery business to move his wife Augusta and his two sons, Henry George and Ed, to a 155-acre farm in Plainfield, WI. The two children were only allowed to leave the farm to attend school and remained in isolation for the most part. The family was immensely religious and Augusta taught the boys the innate dangers of the world, the evils of drinking and drugs, and the promiscuity of women as instruments of the devil. She read the bible to them daily so isolating children and teaching them pretty much everyone that they'll ever meet is a monster is definitely not the best way to raise your children. Pro parenting tips.
People described Ed as shy and odd. He was prone to random bouts of laughter like he was always having conversations in his head. This is not surprising, considering his mother didn't allow him to have friends to the point where he would literally be punished for making them. After the death of his father George in 1940, Ed and his brother took up odd jobs to pay the bills. Ed was even a babysitter for several other townsfolk as he seemed to be more comfortable around children than most adults. Despite his social faults, Ed did start dating a single mother of two and had plans to move in with her, but these plans fell through.
In 1944, Henry and Ed were burning marsh vegetation off the farm when the fire got out of control. By the end of the day when the fire had been extinguished, Ed reported Henry missing. A search party underwent and they found Henry lying face down. Cause of death was reported as heart failure, but it was noted that Henry has bruises on his head. It was later speculated that Ed may have killed his brother over comments he had made about their mother.
Shortly after Henry's death, Augusta had a stroke and Ed committed to taking care of her full time. She often let him sleep in her bed and would call him a "good boy". Mommy issues. She passed away on Dec 29th, 1945 and Ed was devastated. He boarded up rooms used by her including the upstairs, the parlor, and living room, leaving them untouched. Around the same time he started to become interested in some taboo magazines about Nazi atrocities and cannibals and murders and anatomy. Basically everything about him screamed "I might be a murderer".
On November 16th, 1957, the hardware store owner in the Town Bernice Worden had disappeared. Residents noted her truck had been driven out around 9:30 in the morning and after that the store had been closed all day. Her son Frank, who just so happened to be the deputy sheriff, entered the store at the end of the work day to find an open cash register and blood all over the floor. He had noted Ed Gein was in the store the night before his mother's disappearance and his purchase was the last receipt before Worden disappeared. Immediately Gein was arrested and his farm was searched.
When police searched the property they found Bernice Worden's decapitated body in a shed. She was hung upside down by her legs. She had been short with a .22 caliber rifle and she had been disemboweled and mutilate post mortem.
But Worden was not the only body they found. Throughout the house police found, human bones and various objects made out of skin including a lampshades, wastebaskets and chair seats. They found various body parts such as nine vulvas, two of which they said had to have been from young girls around 15 years old. He had a belt made from a women's nipples. Don't ask me know. He also had socks of human skin, 4 noses, various fingernails, a pair of lips just hanging on a drawstring, a corset made of a women's skinned torso complete with breasts, and leggings made from human legs. I'm not done. He also had Bernice Worden's entire head in a burlap sack. It had nails through each ear and was tied up with twine as if he was preparing to display it like the head of a game trophy. He also had her heart in a plastic bag in front of the stove which begs the question, was he going to cook it? He was reading about cannibals so who knows. He had skulls on his bedposts and most notable of all, he had 9 masks made of skinned human faces hanging on the wall which is why he was clearly the inspiration for the character Leatherface.
Obviously police sat Ed down for questioning. He told investigators that between 1947 and 1952, he had made several visits to local graveyards and exhumed bodies that he thought resembled his mother. He then took them home and made various fucking object from their corpses. He admitted doing this shortly after their deaths so he was definitely planning this out pretty well, looking at obituaries daily. He said after his mother's death, he began creating a woman's suit to "become his mother". He took an admitted total of 9 bodies from graves. Gein denied having sex with the bodies because "they smelled too bad". Not because that's fucked up but like nah, I thought about it but couldn't get past the smell. He admitted to shooting and killing another woman, the Plainfield innkeeper, Mary Hogan whose face mask he also kept. Four other missing persons are believed to have been victims of Gein but that was never proven. Police did follow up on the graves and were able to substantiate those claims by Gein.
At his first trial in 1957, he plead not guilty by reason of insanity and was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Psychiatrists deemed him unfit for trial and he was sent to Central State Hospital for the Criminally Insane in Waupun, WI, before being transferred to Mendota State Hospital in Madison.
In 1968, doctors determined he was now fit for trial and his new trial began November 7th. At trial, Gein said Worden's death was an accident. He had accidentally shot a gun in her store while examining it but didn't remember any details after that. In fact, he really didn't remember any details at all which is super convenient. Obviously the "I don't recall" defense did not work with all the evidence he sprawled around his home so on November 14th, 1968 he was found guilty. However, a second trial took place to determine Gein's sanity and after doctor and defense testimony, he was again found not guilty by reason of insanity and spent the rest of his life in mental hospitals. He was considered a model patient, extremely well behand and seemingly happy until his death in 1984 of lung cancer at the age of 77.
Ed Gein who was to become known as the Butcher of Plainfield, obviously inspired the idea of Leatherface in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre original. There is a scene where one of the characters stumbles into a room full of furniture made of human skin, just as Gein had done.There was mention of grave robbing which we know was a nightly pastime for Gein. Leatherface also dresses up as a female in the film to serve dinner just as Gein would do in his home. Lastly, and most obviously, Leatherface wore the skinned faces of his victims just as Gein had made masks of his. Ed Gein has since inspired several other tv shows and movies, of course including the Texas Chainsaw Massacre sequels and remakes, Robb Zombie's House of 1000 Corpses and the Devil's Rejects, Psycho, The Silence of the Lambs, and American Horror Story: Asylum. Pretty much if you've seen any horror movies with masks or objects made of human skin or murderers with insane mommy issues, know that the inspiration came straight from Ed Gein.