Tobe Hooper Kicked Off The Texas Chain Saw Massacre With A Dump Truck Of Dead Animals

In the 1974 groundbreaking horror film "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre," Sally Hardesty (Marilyn Burns), her wheelchair-bound brother, Franklin (Paul A. Partain) and friends (played by Allen Danziger, Terri McMinn, and William Vail) visit the fictional town of Newt, Texas to check the grave of the Hardesty's grandfather amid reports of body snacthing happening in the area. Things turn deadly after they pick up a sick and twisted hitchhiker (Edwin Neal) who, along with the chainsaw-wielding Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen ), is a part of a cannibalistic family. This gruesomeness that unfolds is foreshadowed by the film's opening images: badly decomposed corpses burning under the sun in a cemetery and roadkill. 

You can almost smell the death through the screen. This was a strategic move made by the film's co-writer, director, and producer, the late Tobe Hooper, who prepped for making "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre" by studying psychology and horror classics. He explained in an interview with The Flashback Files:

"One of the things that always work, one of the creepiest things a horror film can have, is the ambiance of death. Like the way Frankenstein's monster is put together by pieces of dead bodies. That's why I opened the film in a graveyard. You're immediately repelled by this stuff. Like the sight of a coffin. It's classic Freudian."

Even though Hooper wanted to permeate the movie with the sense of death, he initially planned to decorate the set with stuffed animals, but the film's art director, Robert A. Burns, couldn't find any. "Bob, just figure it out please," is what Hooper told him. There was no way the director could plan for what happened next.

'It totally freaked everyone out, including me'

Robert A. Burns answered Tobe Hooper's directive in the most bizarre — but also fitting — way possible. Later in the movie, the cannibalistic family binds and tortures Sally in their farmhouse. At one point, they force her to eat dinner with them. The day Hooper shot this scene, he got an unpleasant surprise. He recounted to The Flashback Files:

"So on the day of shooting the dinner scene, a big dump truck pulls up at the house. It had one of these hydraulic beds and they dump all of these animal cadavers at the back of the house. A hundred at least. Dogs, cats, everything. They came from the city pound and had just been euthanized. It totally freaked everyone out, including me."

The set was stacked with a thousand pounds of dead animal carcasses scattered about; way more than what Hooper needed. It was a complete mess, and dangerous too. While working on a dead dog, a makeup artist accidentally shot herself in the leg with formaldehyde. With no other way to get rid of the them, a crew member poured gallons of gasoline on a mound of carcasses and set it ablaze. That only made matters worse. "The black oily smoke and the smell of smoldering animals would drift into the house, according to the way the wind blew," Hooper said. This was hell for everyone on set, but it was just one of the reasons why "The Texas Chain Saw" cast and crew hated Hooper

Hooper didn't let the cast bathe the foul odor away

The mess in the backyard of the farmhouse didn't deter Tobe Hooper; he used it to his advantage. At the time of its release, "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre" was misleadingly touted as being based on a true story. While Hooper used real-life serial killer and body snatcher Ed Gein as inspiration, the film's plot is largely fiction. Still, Hooper wanted the movie to feel real in every way, so he isolated the cast during lunch breaks and asked them not to bathe during production, which made it hard for them to stomach each other because the foul odor had gotten on their bodies.   

Working inside the farmhouse was no better than outside. The home was decorated with real human skeletons. Apparently, getting real human remains from India was cheaper than buying plastic props. Hooper explained to "The Flashback Files" how shooting inside the house became unbearable for his cast and crew.

"It was already over a hundred degrees in that house, but we had to shoot some of the dinner scene in daylight. So we put a big black tent over the house. With the tent it would get up to a hundred and seventeen degrees. And all the bones and skeletons in the house started cooking and putting out these noxious odors. People were running to the windows and throwing up."

Shooting the film was especially traumatic for the late Marilyn Burns, whose character, Sally, serves as the movie's final girl. Burns suffered many injuries on set, including a sliced finger. Years later, she told Gunnar Hansen that the experience was so scary that at the time she wasn't sure if she was shooting a movie or being tortured by a real-life chainsaw-slinging maniac.