People typically chuckle when they hear the Texas Chain Saw Massacre house is now a restaurant, and with good reason: The site of one of the most grotesque, unnerving dinner scenes in horror-movie history now serves up (non-human) meat in a dining room that’s homey, not horrifying. Well, not everyone chuckles: As owner Jeremy Lee explains in this episode of Pop Pilgrims, he receives the occasional e-mail from people who think the house was the site of actual murders.
Those people are mistaken, but not necessarily crazy; the text underneath the title on the original movie poster certainly hinted at reality—“What happened is true. Now the motion picture that’s just as real”—and elements of Leatherface’s character were inspired by real-life serial killer Ed Gein. At the top of texaschainsawmassacre.net—the comprehensive fan site run by Pop Pilgrims guest Tim Harden—there’s a giant link at the top of the home page saying “DID THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE REALLY HAPPEN? Click HERE to find out!” The link leads to a page with a long explanation best summarized by the word “No.”
Regardless, it’s a little silly to believe The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was real. The house from the movie that caused so much controversy upon the film’s release four decades ago is a local landmark in Kingsland, Texas, about an hour northwest of Austin. There’s a plaque out front, and a life-sized Leatherface mannequin in Junction House’s upstairs bar (along with a pack of Texas Chain Saw Massacre chili mix). While The A.V. Club was shooting in the building, a group of senior women said in chipper voices, “Oh, you must be here for The Texas Chain Saw Massacre!”
It’s a happy ending for a house that was almost lost. When the owners bought the place in 1998, years of abandonment left it in rough shape. The house was broken apart and moved from its original location in Round Rock, Texas, to Kingsland, where it sits on the property of The Antlers Hotel.
The original layout mostly remains. While the upstairs area—where Leatherface’s dead grandmother and barely alive grandfather hung out—has been opened up for Junction House’s bar, the downstairs retains the original layout seen in the film. Director Tobe Hooper and his crew only used the left side of the house; the house’s tenant moved all of his stuff into the right side during the shoot. The sliding door from which Leatherface emerges was built for the film. (So was the dining-room table, which was made from swimming-pool diving boards.)
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was made for less than $300,000, but went on to make many, many times that, though the actors and crew received virtually none of the money. In her book Chainsaws, Slackers, And Spy Kids: Thirty Years Of Filmmaking In Austin, Texas, author Alison Macor lists a dizzying number of investors, business partners, and producers that the filmmakers cut deals with, not to mention the mob-associated film distributor, Bryanston Pictures. (The company made a fortune—and landed itself in a landmark legal case—by distributing the famous porn film Deep Throat.) With so many fingers in the pie, little was left for the people who actually made The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. As Macor told The A.V. Club, “Someone made a lot of money on that movie.” It’s just that no one’s sure where it went.
But the success of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, which spawned three sequels, a prequel, a remake, and an Atari 2600 videogame, did trickle down to the cast and crew in other ways. The film launched the careers of Hooper, cinematographer Daniel Pearl, makeup artist Dorothy Pearl, and special-effects artist Dean W. Miller. And several of the cast members went on to earn appearance fees at horror conventions, especially Gunnar Hansen, who played the original Leatherface.
Cast members Marilyn Burns, Edwin Neal, and Allen Danziger were on hand at Junction House a couple of weeks back, when Austin-based theater group the Alamo Drafthouse did one of its “Rolling Roadshow” screenings of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre at Junction House. Nearly 40 years later, they’re still going back to the scene of the film, if not the scene of the crime.