The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
Directed by Tobe Hooper
Produced by Tobe Hooper Louis Peraino
Screenplay by Kim Henkel Tobe Hooper
Story by Kim Henkel Tobe Hooper
Starring Marilyn BurnsPaul A. PartainEdwin NealJim SiedowGunnar Hansen
Music by Wayne Bell Tobe Hooper
Cinematography Daniel Pearl
Editing by Larry Carroll Sallye Richardson
Studio Vortex
Distributed by Bryanston Pictures
Release date(s) October 1, 1974 (1974-10-01)
Running time 84 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget <$300,000
Gross revenue $30,859,000


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The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

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Theatrical release poster

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is a 1974 American independent horror film directed by Tobe Hooper, who cowrote it with Kim Henkel. It stars Marilyn Burns, Edwin Neal, Paul A. Partain, Jim Siedow, and Gunnar Hansen, who respectively portray Sally Hardesty, Franklin Hardesty, the hitchhiker, the proprietor, and the main antagonist, Leatherface. The film follows a group of friends who fall victim to a family of cannibals while on their way to visit an old homestead. Although it was marketed as a true story to attract a wider audience and as a subtle commentary on the era's political climate, its plot is entirely fictional. The character of Leatherface and minor plot details were inspired by the actions of real-life killer Ed Gein.Hooper produced the film for less than $300,000 using a cast of relatively unknown actors drawn mainly from central Texas where the film was shot. The limited budget forced Hooper to film seven days a week for long hours so he could finish as quickly as possible and reduce rental costs on the equipment. Due to the film's violent content, Hooper struggled to find a distributor. Eventually, however, Louis Perano of Bryanston Pictures purchased the distribution rights. Hooper limited the quantity of onscreen gore in hopes of securing a "PG" (Parental Guidance) rating, but the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) rated it "R" (Restricted; children under 17 require a parent or guardian). The film faced similar difficulties internationally.Upon its October 1974 release, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was banned outright in several countries, and numerous theaters later stopped showing the film in response to viewers' complaints about its violence. It initially drew a mixed reception from critics. The film was a commercial success, grossing over $30 million at the United States box office and becoming, at that time, the highest-grossing independent film ever. It has since gained a reputation as one of the most influential horror films in cinema history. It is credited with originating several elements common in the slasher genre, including the use of power tools as murder weapons and the characterization of the killer as a large, hulking, faceless figure. The popularity of the film led to a franchise which continued the story of Leatherface and his family through sequels, remakes, comic books, and video games.


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Sally Hardesty (Marilyn Burns) and her brother, Franklin (Paul A. Partain), travel with three friends, Jerry (Allen Danziger), Kirk (William Vail), and Pam (Teri McMinn), to a cemetery where the grave of the Hardestys' grandfather is located. Their aim is to investigate reports of vandalism and corpse defilement. Afterwards, they decide to visit an old Hardesty family homestead. Along the way, they pick up a hitchhiker (Edwin Neal). He behaves strangely and slashes both himself and Franklin with a straight razor before the group forces him out of the van. They stop at a gas station to refuel, but the proprietor (Jim Siedow) tells them that the pumps are empty. They continue towards the homestead, intending to return to the gas station once the fuel has been delivered.

When they arrive, Franklin tells Kirk and Pam about a local swimming hole, and the couple head off to find it. Instead, they stumble upon a nearby house. Kirk calls out, asking for gas, while Pam waits on the front steps. After Kirk receives no answer, he discovers that the door is unlocked and enters the house, where Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen) appears and kills him. Pam enters soon after and finds the house filled with furniture made from human bones. She attempts to flee, but Leatherface catches her and impales her on a meathook. At sunset, Jerry heads out to look for Pam and Kirk. He finds the couple's blanket outside the nearby house. He investigates and finds Pam, who is still alive, inside a freezer. Before he can react, Leatherface murders him and stuffs Pam back into the freezer.

With darkness falling, Sally and Franklin set out to find their friends. As they near the neighboring house and call out, Leatherface lunges from the darkness and kills Franklin with a chainsaw. Sally heads toward the house and finds the desiccated remains of an elderly couple in an upstairs room. She escapes from Leatherface by jumping through a second-floor window and flees to the gas station. Leatherface disappears into the night. The proprietor calms her with offers of help, but then ties her up and forces her into his truck. He drives to the house, arriving at the same time as the hitchhiker, who turns out to be Leatherface's younger brother. When the pair bring Sally inside, the hitchhiker recognizes her and taunts her.

The men torment the bound and gagged Sally, while Leatherface, now dressed as a woman, serves dinner. Leatherface and the hitchhiker bring an old man, "Grandpa" (John Dugan), from upstairs to share the meal. During the night, they decide Sally should be killed by "Grandpa". He tries to hit her with a hammer, but is too weak. In the confusion, she breaks free, leaps through a window, and escapes to the road. Leatherface and the hitchhiker give chase, but the latter is run down and killed by a passing semi-trailer truck. Armed with his chainsaw, Leatherface attacks the truck when the driver stops to help. The driver hits him in the face with a large wrench. Sally escapes in the back of a passing pickup truck as Leatherface waves the chainsaw above his head in frustration.


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The farmhouse used for The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was moved from La Frontera to Kingsland, Texas and restored as a restaurant.[22][note 2]

The concept for The Texas Chain Saw Massacre arose in the early 1970s when Tobe Hooper worked as an assistant film director at the University of Texas at Austin and as a documentary cameraman. He had already developed a story centering on the theme of isolation, woods, and darkness. He credited the graphic coverage of violence by San Antonio news outlets as one inspiration for the film and based the plot loosely on the murders committed in 1950s Wisconsin by Ed Gein, who inspired other horror films such as Psycho (1960) and The Silence of the Lambs (1991). During development, Hooper used the working titles of Headcheese and Leatherface.

Hooper has cited changes in the cultural and political landscape as central influences on the film. His intentional misinformation that the "film you are about to see is true" was a response to being "lied to by the government about things that were going on all over the world", including Watergate, the gasoline crisis, and "the massacres and atrocities in the Vietnam War". The "lack of sentimentality and the brutality of things" that Hooper noticed while watching the local news, whose graphic coverage was epitomized by "showing brains spilled all over the road", led to his belief that "man was the real monster here, just wearing a different face, so I put a literal mask on the monster in my film". The idea of using a chainsaw as the murder weapon came to Hooper while he was in the hardware section of a busy store, contemplating a fast way to get through the crowd.

Hooper and Kim Henkel cowrote the screenplay and formed a corporation, Vortex, with Henkel as president and Hooper as vice president. They asked Bill Parsley, a friend of Hooper, to provide funding, so Parsley formed a company named MAB, Inc. and invested $60,000 in the production. In return, MAB owned 50 percent of the film and its profits. Production manager Ron Bozman told most of the cast and crew that he would have to defer parts of their salaries until after it was sold to a distributor. Vortex made the idea more attractive by awarding them a share of its potential profits, ranging from 0.25 to 6 percent, similar to mortgage points. The cast and crew were not informed that Vortex owned only 50 percent, which meant their points were worth half of the assumed value.


Many of the cast members at the time were relatively unknown actors—Texans who had played roles in commercials, television, and stage shows, as well as actors whom Hooper knew personally, such as Allen Danziger and Jim Siedow. Involvement in the film propelled some of them into the motion picture industry. The lead role of Sally was given to Marilyn Burns, who had appeared previously on stage and served on the film commission board at UT Austin while studying there.Teri McMinn was a student who worked with local theater companies, including the Dallas Theater Center. Henkel called McMinn to come in for a reading after he spotted her picture in the Austin American-Statesman. On her last call-back, he requested that she wear short shorts, which proved to be the most comfortable of all the cast members' costumes.

Icelandic-American actor Gunnar Hansen was selected for the role of Leatherface. In preparation for his role, he regarded Leatherface as being mentally retarded and having never learned to speak properly. To research his character, Hansen visited a special needs school and watched how the students moved and spoke.


The primary filming location was an early-1900s farmhouse located on Quick Hill Road near Round Rock, Texas, where the La Frontera development is currently located. The small budget and concerns with high-cost equipment rentals meant the crew filmed for seven days per week, 12 to 16 hours per day. The environment was humid, and the cast and crew found conditions tough; temperatures peaked at 110°F (43°C) on July 26. Hansen later recalled, "It was 95, 100 degrees every day during filming. They wouldn't wash my costume because they were worried that the laundry might lose it, or that it would change color. They didn't have enough money for a second costume. So I wore that [mask] 12 to 16 hours a day, seven days a week, for a month."

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was mainly shot using an Eclair NPR 16 mm camera with fine-grain, low-speed film that required four times more light than modern digital cameras. Most filming took place in the farmhouse, which was filled with furniture constructed from animal bones; latex material was used as upholstery to give the appearance of human skin. The house was not cooled, and there was little ventilation. The crew covered its walls with drops of animal blood obtained from a local slaughterhouse.Art director Robert Burns drove around the countryside and collected the remains of cattle and other animals in various stages of decomposition, with which he littered the floors of the house.

The special effects were simple and limited by the budget. The on-screen blood was real in some cases, such as the scene in which Leatherface feeds "Grandpa". The crew had difficulty getting the stage blood to come out of its tube, so instead Burns's index finger was cut with a razor. Burns's costume was so drenched with stage blood that it was "virtually solid" on the last day of shooting. The scene in which Leatherface decapitates Kirk with a chainsaw worried actor William Vail (Kirk). After telling Vail to stay still lest he really be killed, Hansen brought the running chainsaw to within 3 inches (8 cm) of Vail's face.

The crew exceeded the original $60,000 budget during editing. Sources differ on the film's final budget, offering figures between $93,000 and $300,000. A film production group, Pie in the Sky, provided $23,532 in exchange for 19 percent of Vortex's half of the profits. This left Henkel, Hooper and the rest of the cast and crew with a 40.5 percent stake.Warren Skaaren made a deal as an equal partner with Hooper and Henkel, in which he received a 15 percent share of Vortex. Skaaren received a deferred salary of $5,000 and 3 percent of the gross profits (MAB and Vortex combined). David Foster, producer of the 1982 horror film The Thing, arranged for a private screening for some of Bryanston Pictures' West Coast executives, and received 1.5 percent of Vortex's profits and a deferred fee of $500.

On August 28, 1974, Louis Peraino of Bryanston agreed to distribute the film worldwide, from which Bozman and Skaaren would receive $225,000 and 35 percent of the profits. Years later, Bozman stated, "We made a deal with the devil, [sigh], and I guess that, in a way, we got what we deserved." They signed the contract with Bryanston. After the investors recouped their money (with interest)—and after Skaaren, the lawyers and the accountants were paid—only $8,100 was left to be divided among the 20 cast and crew members. Eventually, the producers sued Bryanston for failing to pay them their full percentage of the box office profits. A court judgment instructed Bryanston to pay the filmmakers $500,000, but by then the company had declared bankruptcy. In 1983, New Line Cinema acquired the distribution rights from Bryanston and gave the producers a larger share of the profits.


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The Texas Chain Saw Massacre premiered on October 1, 1974, in Austin, almost a year after filming concluded. It screened nationally in the United States as a Saturday afternoon matinée and its false marketing as a "true story" helped it attract a broad audience. In San Francisco, cinema-goers walked out of theaters in disgust, and in February 1976, theaters in Ottawa, Canada, were asked by the local authority to withdraw the film due to growing concerns about the amount of violence it portrayed. For eight years after 1976, it was annually reissued to first-run theaters, promoted by full-page ads. The film grossed more than $30 million in the United States, making it one of the most successful independent films of all time. It was overtaken in 1978 by John Carpenter's Halloween, which grossed $47 million.

Hooper reportedly hoped that the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) would give the complete, uncut release print a "PG" rating due to its minimal amount of visible gore. Instead, it was originally rated "X". After several minutes were cut, it was resubmitted to the MPAA and received an "R" rating. A distributor apparently restored the offending material, and at least one theater presented the full version played under an "R". It was banned in many countries, including Australia, Brazil, Finland, West Germany, Chile, Iceland, Ireland, Norway, Singapore, and Sweden. After its initial British release, including a one-year theatrical run in London,The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was banned on the authority of British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) Secretary James Ferman. Censors attempted to edit the film for the purposes of a wider release in 1977 but were unsuccessful. While the British ban was in force, the word "chainsaw" itself was barred from movie titles, forcing imitators to rename their films. In 1998, despite the BBFC ban, Camden London Borough Council granted the film a license. The following year, the BBFC passed The Texas Chain Saw Massacre for release with an 18 certificate (indicating that it should not be seen or purchased by a person under 18), which was broadcast a year later on Channel 4.

The Australian Classification Board first viewed the film in June 1975 and refused to classify the 83-minute print. The distributor appealed to the Review Board, which upheld the decision in August. The distributor prepared a 77-minute version, only to see it banned again in December. When the film was resubmitted to the censors five years later, it was banned again, and Greater Union Organization Film Distributors were refused registration for an 83-minute print in 1981. It was later submitted by Filmways Australia and approved for an "R" rating in 1984.


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Critical response
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre received a mixed reaction upon its initial release. Linda Gross of the Los Angeles Times criticized the film, calling it despicable, and described Henkel and Hooper as being more concerned with the realistic atmosphere than with a "plastic script".Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times criticized the film for being as violent and brutal as its title suggests, yet he praised it for the acting and the impact it had on the viewer. Revisiting the film in his 1976 article "Fashions in Pornography" for Harper's Magazine, writer Stephen Koch mentioned that he felt the sadistic violence in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre to be extreme and still unimaginative. Patrick Taggart of the Austin American-Statesman praised it as the most important horror film since George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1968).Variety found the picture to be well-made, despite the gory, violent scenes. John McCarty of Cinefantastique stated that the house featured in the film made the Bates motel "look positively pleasant by comparison".

Later, critics began to praise the film for its artistic qualities and effectiveness. TV Guide thought it was "intelligent" in its "bloodless depiction of violence", while Anton Bitel felt the fact that it was banned in the United Kingdom was a tribute to its artistic qualities and pointed out how the quiet sense of foreboding at the beginning of the film grows until the viewer experiences "a punishing assault on the senses".Dave Kehr of the Chicago Reader found the picture to be intense rather than well-crafted, but he noted Hooper's talent. Bruce Westbrook of the Houston Chronicle called it "a backwoods masterpiece of fear and loathing". Mike Emery of The Austin Chronicle said the film was "horrifying" and claimed what made it so effective was that the story never appeared to be too far from reality. Rebecca Ascher-Walsh of Entertainment Weekly believed it laid the foundations for future horror franchises such as Halloween, The Evil Dead, and The Blair Witch Project.

Since its release, it has been described as one of the scariest films ever made.Rex Reed described it as the most terrifying film he had ever seen.Empire described it as the most purely horrifying horror film ever made and called it "never less than totally committed to scaring you witless". Horror director Wes Craven reminisced about his first viewing of the film, stating he wondered "what kind of Mansonite crazoid" could have created such a thing.Horror novelist Stephen King considers it "cataclysmic terror", and stated, "I would happily testify to its redeeming social merit in any court in the country."The Texas Chain Saw Massacre has been declared one of the few horror films to invoke "the authentic quality of nightmare". Isabel Cristina Pinedo, author of Recreational Terror: Women and the Pleasures of Horror Film Viewing, stated, "The horror genre must keep terror and comedy in tension if it is to successfully tread the thin line that separates it from terrorism and parody ... this delicate balance is struck in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in which the decaying corpse of Grandpa not only incorporates horrific and humorous effects, but actually uses one to exacerbate the other." Scott Von Doviak of Hick Flicks noted the effective use of daylight shots, including the sight of a corpse splayed over a tombstone in the opening sequence. The book Contemporary North American Film Directors described it as being more elaborate and less bloodthirsty than the title might imply. Review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes reports that 90% of critics give the film a positive review, with an average score of 7.7 out of 10. This is based on 40 reviews collected between the years 2000 and 2009.

Cultural impact
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, considered one of the greatest—and most controversial—horror films of all time, significantly influenced the horror genre. Ben Cobb of Channel 4 admired the film's style and atmosphere and proclaimed it to be one of the most influential horror films of all time. In 1999, Richard Zoglin of Time commented that it had set a new standard for the slasher genre.The Times listed it as one of the 50 most controversial films of all time.Tony Magistrale believes the film paved the way for horror to be used as a vehicle for social commentary. Mark Olsen of the Los Angeles Times described it as being "cheap, grubby and out of control", which "both defines and entirely supersedes the very notion of the exploitation picture". In his book, Dark Romance: Sexuality in the Horror Film, David Hogan called it "the most affecting gore thriller of all and, in a broader view, among the most effective horror films ever made"; he said, "the driving force of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is something far more horrible than aberrant sexuality: total insanity." Bill Nichols commented, '[it] achieves the force of authentic art, [is] profoundly disturbing and far more than personal, as the general response [to the film] demonstrates."

Leatherface has gained a reputation as one of the most disturbing and notorious characters in the horror genre, responsible for establishing the use of conventional tools as murder weapons and the image of a large, silent killer devoid of personality.Christopher Null of said, "In our collective consciousness, Leatherface and his chainsaw have become as iconic as Freddy and his razors or Jason and his hockey mask." Don Sumner called the film a classic that not only introduced a new villain to the horror pantheon but also influenced an entire generation of filmmakers. Leatherface and his family were ranked No. 3 in Total Film's list of "12 Messed-Up Movie Families".Ridley Scott credited it as an inspiration for his 1979 film, Alien. French director Alexandre Aja credited The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, among other films, as influencing his early career. John Carpenter's Halloween (1978) incorporated the film's focus on suspense and minimal use of blood and gore. Horror filmmaker and heavy metal musician Rob Zombie sees it as a major influence on his art, most notably his 2003 film House of 1000 Corpses.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was selected for the 1975 Cannes Film Festival Directors' Fortnight, but a bomb scare delayed the viewing. In 1976, it won the Grand Prize at the Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival in France, and was inducted into the Horror Hall of Fame in 1990, with director Hooper accepting the award. It was named "Outstanding Film of the Year" at the 19th annual London Film Festival.

William Friedkin, director of The Exorcist (1973), inducted Hooper into the 2003 Texas Film Hall of Fame. New York City's Museum of Modern Art added the film to its permanent collection, validating its claim as legitimate, unconventional art.Entertainment Weekly ranked the film No. 6 on its list of "The Top 50 Cult Films". In a 2005 Total Film poll, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was selected as the greatest horror film of all time. The film was named among Time magazine's top 25 horror films of all time in 2007. In 2008, the film ranked No. 199 on Empire magazine's list of "The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time".Empire also ranked it No. 46 in its list of the 50 greatest independent films. It was selected as the greatest horror film in a 2010 Total Film poll, whose judging panel included veteran horror directors such as John Carpenter, Wes Craven and George A. Romero, among others.The Guardian ranked The Texas Chain Saw Massacre No. 14 on its list of the top 25 horror films of all time.

Themes and analysis

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The underlying themes of the film have been the subject of extensive critical discussion; critics and scholars have interpreted it as a paradigmatic exploitation film in which female protagonists are subjected to brutal, sadistic violence. Stephen Prince comments that the horror is "born of the torment of the young woman subjected to imprisonment and abuse amid decaying arms ... and mobiles made of human bones and teeth." As with many horror films, it focuses on the "final girl" trope—the heroine and inevitable lone survivor who somehow escapes the horror that befalls the other characters: Sally Hardesty is wounded and tortured, yet manages to survive with the help of a male truck driver. Critics argue that even in exploitation films in which the ratio of male and female deaths is roughly equal, the images that linger will be of the violence committed against the female characters. The specific case of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre provides support for this argument: three men are killed in quick fashion, but one woman is brutally slaughtered—hung on a meathook—and the surviving woman endures physical and mental torture. In 1977, critic Mary Mackey described the meathook scene as probably the most brutal on-screen female death in any commercially distributed film. She placed it in a lineage of violent films that depict women as weak and incapable of protecting themselves.

In one study, a group of men were shown five films depicting differing levels of violence against women. On first viewing The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, they experienced symptoms of depression and anxiety. However, upon subsequent viewing, they found the violence against women less offensive and more enjoyable. Another study, investigating gender-specific perceptions of slasher films, involved 30 male and 30 female university students. One male participant described the screaming, especially Sally's, as the "most freaky thing" in the film.

Various critics have seen the film as a representation of the response of the American people to the struggles faced by American society in the 1960s and the early to mid-1970s. Film critic Christopher Sharrett argues that American reactions to the Watergate scandal, as well as the "delegitimation of authority in the wake of Vietnam", are reflected in the art of the era, particularly the American horror film. Sharrett further argues that there is an "idea of apocalypse" in the film—it appeared amid a period of great social and political unrest in America. In Kim Newman's view, Hooper's presentation of the Sawyer family during the dinner scene parodies a typical American sitcom family: the gas station owner is the bread-winning father figure; the killer Leatherface is depicted as a bourgeois housewife; the hitchhiker acts as the rebellious teenager.

Critic Robin Wood characterizes Leatherface and his family as victims of industrial capitalism, their jobs as slaughterhouse workers having been rendered obsolete by technological advances. He states that the picture "brings to focus a spirit of negativity ... that seems to lie not far below the surface of the modern collective consciousness". Naomi Merritt explores the film's representation of "cannibalistic capitalism" in relation to Georges Bataille's theory of taboo and transgression. She elaborates on Wood's analysis, stating that the Sawyer family's values "reflect, or correspond to, established and interdependent American institutions ... but their embodiment of these social units is perverted and transgressive." Sharrett also argues that the horror film, particularly since Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) and The Birds (1963), poses questions about the "fundamental validity of the American civilizing process". Identifying The Texas Chain Saw Massacre as an apocalyptic allegory, Sharrett writes that it "shows the violent disruption of the security and stability of rural and urban life". Jesse Stommel of Bright Lights Film Journal argues that the lack of explicit violence in the film forces the viewer to question their own fascination with what is being depicted on-screen. Stommel argues further that it engages the audience more on a sensory level than on an intellectual one, citing the frantic camera movements, flashes of lights and the sounds heard throughout the film.


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Home media
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre has appeared on various home video formats; it was first released on videotape and CED in the 1980s by Wizard Video and Vestron Video, but was banned in the United Kingdom in 1984 during the moral panic surrounding "video nasties". After the retirement of Ferman in 1999, the BBFC passed the film uncut on cinema and video, with an 18 certificate, almost 25 years after the original release.The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was released on DVD in October 1998 in the United States, and in May 2000 in the United Kingdom. In 2007, a revised DVD was released in Australia after initially being released in 2001. Dark Sky Films released a two-disc "ultimate" edition, featuring several interviews, restored audio and picture quality, and other extras including deleted scenes. Reviews for the release were largely positive; critics praised the sound and picture quality of the restoration. Dark Sky Films released a Blu-ray version on September 30, 2008.

Shortly after The Texas Chain Saw Massacre established itself as a success on home video in 1982, Wizard Video released a mass-market video game adaptation for the Atari 2600. In the game, the player assumes the role of Leatherface and attempts to murder trespassers while avoiding obstacles such as fences and cow skulls. As one of the first horror-themed video games, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre caused controversy when it was first released, due to its violent nature, and sold poorly because many game stores refused to stock it.

The film was followed by three sequels; the first, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, was considerably more graphic and violent than the original and was banned in Australia for 20 years before being released on DVD in a revised special edition in October 2006.Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1990) was the second sequel released, though Hooper did not return to direct, due to scheduling conflicts with another film, Spontaneous Combustion. The third sequel, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation, was released in 1995, starring Renée Zellweger and Matthew McConaughey. The film was intended to be a remake of the 1974 original. A remake, entitled The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, was released by Platinum Dunes and New Line Cinema in 2003. It was followed by a prequel, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, in 2006.


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