Book Review: CHAIN SAW CONFIDENTIAL

PrintE-mail Written by Robin Pierce

Review: Chain Saw Confidential – How We Made America's Most Notorious Horror Movie / Author: Gunnar Hansen / Publisher: Chronicle Books / Release Date: October 1st

In an industry where hyperbole is the norm, little is ever what it is said to be. Take The Texas Chain Saw Massacre for instance, reviled and vilified at the time of its intended UK release and ultimately refused a certificate by the BBFC. The tales of making this film have long since entered the realm of urban legend, as indeed has the film itself with many people believing that the film is, to all intents and purposes, documented fact and that it all really happened. Case in point, the Texas Prison Museum had, at one point, a notice on their website confirming once and for all that Leatherface was NOT incarcerated in any of the facilities of the Texas Department of Corrections.

A film that has managed to creep that deeply under the skin of the audience’s consciousness MUST have had a truly warped and strange gestation and creation, and finally the truth can be told, by someone who was actually there at the time. Not a friend’s cousin, not a second-hand account from a third party, but an honest to goodness eye witness. The actor behind the role of Leatherface, Gunnar Hansen, a sensitive and gentle writer of poetry, has penned a complete account of the filming of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and believe us it is a riveting and stunningly well written book.

TCSM fans world-wide should certainly be clamouring to read this true, highly detailed story of the trials and tribulations behind the camera. To his credit, Hansen has contacted the cast and crew of the movie and conducted extensive interviews with them, covering every piece of minutiae about the shared experience of bringing this tale to the screen, so in a way, it’s a collective experience that Hansen is relating.

The story is of independent/guerilla filmmaking at its best – or worst if you were a cast member. Imagine having to film indoors during a hot Texan summer where the heat was approaching 120 degrees and having to spend literally hours under Leatherface’s mask. Imagine being actress Marilyn Burns, who suffered all too literally for her art, being beaten for real in the garage before being taken back to the Chain Saw family home, and then actually having her finger cut open so the "grandpa" could suckle. Her distress during the long chase with Leatherface was all too real as Hansen was chasing her with a real chain saw. Marvel at the notion that the stunt stand-in would take a dive through the ground floor window – a fall of three feet, but to show Burns actually landing amid the shards of sugar glass, the actress herself had to dive from a six foot scaffold!

But of course, the filming – which takes up the bulk of the book – is only a part of the story. There’s the hostile reaction to the film when it was released, the several countries (including ours) who banned it outright. And then there are the crazed fans who claim to have been on set, or who swear they know exactly which wing in which Texas prison the real, actual Leatherface is presently held under armed guard.

And then there’s the money, bad distribution deals and shady share distribution that led to the cast and crew being paid peanuts despite the film raking in millions on its initial release. Hansen himself has often been portrayed as an enigmatic and mysterious figure, but here he tells us exactly why he dropped from the spotlight for years after TCSM. It’s a strange tale of drugs, creativity, suffering and a determination to get the job done by an inexperienced crew and raw, young actors who in that summer of 1973 embarked on a journey that is as compelling as the story they would tell on the screen. Starburst can’t recommend this highly enough. Chain Saw Confidential is an absolute MUST read for any horror or independent film fan.


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