TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE: THE SHOCKING TRUTH
Dir. David Gregory
Reviewer. Ed Hartland
What is there left to say about THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE? The tales of an intense shoot are well known by horror fans; sweltering temperatures, produced on a shoestring, ripped off by the distribution company with organised crime connections.
Nothing in THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: THE SHOCKING TRUTH, the documentary from David Gregory, originally released in 2000, lives up to the title’s shocking claim because the stories are well known, but does this matter? No, because THE SHOCKING TRUTH isn’t about the truth. It’s about the myth, about the conflicting memories that the people involved in the film have and about how the fallout of the disastrous distribution deal with Bryanston affected their perspectives.
An early exchange of talking heads sees Robert A. Burns, the film’s art director, and Tobe Hooper disagree over the director’s intentions towards Burns’s taxidermy armadillo. This sums up what’s so enjoyable about the documentary, each person involved has walked away with their own take on what happened on set and David Gregory plays with this beautifully.
Other disagreements include how long it took to shoot the family dinner scene; cast and crew members variously claim that it was shot over 26, 27, and 40 hours. Whether any of them are right doesn’t matter. What matters is that it all feeds into the mythology of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, this vicious masterpiece that is still an unsettling watch almost half a century after it first shocked audiences.
The anecdotes from THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE set are always interesting; Burns scavenging for animals parts, Ted Nicolaou’s young daughter accidentally walking in on Gunnar Hansen in full Leatherface mode—complete with chainsaw, and Paul A. Partain demanding he was paid before shooting his final scene. Interesting, but not what makes this documentary such an engaging watch while simultaneously being its biggest flaw.
When the documentary shifts into looking at stories of the original film’s distribution troubles the film becomes a tale of missed opportunity—something that looms over the films that followed in its wake. Each of the sequels, according to key players like Caroline Williams and Jeff Burr, was plagued with problems of studio interference and declining quality—and this is what interested me the most. As a fan of the original film and not-a-fan of the films that followed, I have never considered the franchise as a whole. As THE SHOCKING TRUTH covered each of the following films I began to see the tragic fall of a franchise beginning with one of the most powerful and influential horror films. I started to think about what THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 might have been if Tobe Hooper had been allowed to make the film he set out to create and what affect this would have had on THE RETURN OF THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. It reminded me a little of the story Tom Savini tells in his book Night of the Living Dead: The Version You’ve Never Seen in which he explains the vision he had for his remake of the zombie classic and how he was prevented from realising it.
Seeing the decline of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE from film to film was extremely engaging, but unfortunately THE SHOCKING TRUTH presents this as a whistle stop tour without lingering long enough on any of the subsequent films to give any real detail to it.
When it comes to documentaries of this nature your reaction relies on what you bring to the table. I have been mildly obsessed with THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE since I first read about it in a film magazine as a teenager—truly shocked by tales of the set being dressed with props made from actual animal bones and how it had been (loosely) inspired by the horrific crimes of Ed Gein. So I am more than happy to watch a documentary in which the people involved in the original film discuss making it. If, however, you’re expecting shocking revelations—as the title suggests—then you’ll probably be disappointed because, chances are, you’ve already encountered these stories before.