What is the recipe for horror? Take a nice little rural town, a beautiful, sunny afternoon, and the sweet smell of barbecue. Throw in five happy teen-agers and an open road sprinkled with rustic farmhouses. Not too scary, is it?
Add a chainsaw, a handful of meat hooks, a room full of human bones and a madman wearing a mask that used to be someone else's face. Mix in a bit of cannibalism for the final product: a human slaughterhouse. OK, now we are scared.
These unreal images are the reason movies like the "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" remain popular over generations. The latest version of the film was released Oct. 17 and topped box office charts after its opening weekend, with $29,100,000 in revenue. Seeing people like ourselves being tortured does not make us feel happy, but for some reason we cannot stop watching.
Part of the reason the "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" is so frightening is the familiar tagline: "based on a true story." How many people have driven through rural Texas and felt their skin crawl at the sight of a run-down secluded farmhouse?
The truth is, there really was no Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The movie was loosely based on a real person, Ed Gein. What many people do not know is that the original "Leatherface" lived in Wisconsin. Obviously, Texas is much better suited for random human mutilation and cannibalism.
According to houseofhorrors.com, Gein grew up with his brother and his disturbed mother, who manipulated her sons' minds and convinced them that women and sex were evil.
Later, after the deaths of both his brother and his mother, Gein began his career in the perverted and macabre by digging up nearby graves and taking the corpses home with him, where he used parts of their bodies to satisfy his need for artistic expression.
The 1974 version of the film mentions the grave robberies, along with a graphic image of a corpse strapped to a monument. The 2003 remake of the story does not incorporate these events into the plot.
Eventually Gein started abducting live women and killing them for his collection. Crimelibrary.com states that investigators found a woman's body hanging from a hook in Gein's house, as well as furniture, masks and clothing made from human bones and skin. No chainsaw is mentioned on either Web site.
The sheriff who discovered Gein's obsession in 1957 was investigating the deranged man as a suspect in a local store robbery.
Gein's atrocities have inspired the creation of several horror films, including "Psycho," "The Silence of the Lambs," and the "Texas Chainsaw Massacre." All of these films have been very successful and are still enjoyed today.
In the newest version of the "Texas Chainsaw Massacre," director Marcus Nipsel takes a familiar story and makes it even more horrifying. The story still takes place in the 1970s. The protagonists are still five teenagers who take an accidental detour as they drive through south Texas.
"Leatherface," the chainsaw-wielding killer, still uses meat hooks to store his victims. All but one of the teenagers suffer painful, horrifying deaths and there are still plenty of human bones scattered around the secluded farmhouse.
So why pay $8 to see a movie when the outcome is obvious before the previews are over? While the fate of these unsuspecting, and unbelievably brave teen-agers is no mystery, Nipsel does his part to make the 2003 version of the film unique and unpredictable.
In the 1974 movie, directed by Tobe Hooper, the audience only connects with the victims emotionally at the beginning of the film. Once the massacre begins, the audience learns more about the dysfunctional family, but hears nothing more than hysterical screams from the young victims.
In Nipsel's version, the character development continues throughout the film. Nipsel wants this movie to frighten people even more than the original did, and he achieves this goal by making the audience more emotionally attached to the five teenagers.
Victims have the chance to talk with each other after they have been attacked. Also, they are faced with several moral dilemmas throughout the film. The teenagers interact more with various members of the deranged family, and a few interesting neighbors and former victims are introduced.
These changes help make the plot more complicated and frightening.
Two sequels, "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part II" and "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation," have been created since the release of the original film. These movies are disappointing because not enough details are added to either plot to expand on the story in an interesting way.
Changes in the 2003 adaptation help the audience forget they are watching a movie they have probably seen many times before. By changing the age or gender of certain characters or altering their backgrounds or motives, Nipsel makes the story his own while preserving enough of the plot to continue the tradition the original movie left behind.
Ed Gein was convicted in 1967 but was acquitted because he was found criminally insane. He died in the geriatric ward of the Mendota Mental Health Institute in 1984. Hooper's "Leatherface" is very much alive and is still busy scaring people. Of course, the "Leatherface" of the film world cannot die in prison. There would be no one left to take care of all the dirty work in the sequels.
Perhaps the real "Leatherface" would have had better luck if he had been born in Texas. The Wisconsin Chainsaw Massacre? What was Gein thinking?
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