How A Busy Department Store Inspired Tobe Hooper's Texas Chain Saw Massacre

Every good slasher villain has their weapon of choice. Michael is very into kitchen knives. Jason loves the machete. Freddy has his extremely unique and oh-so-terrifying glove knives, and Leatherface, the misunderstood murderer of Tobe Hooper's "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre," has his chainsaw.

It's an iconic chainsaw, yellow and sufficiently greased up, and when you see it on screen, you just know it's helped carve up a lot of bodies — animal and human — in its lifetime. Gunnar Hansen, the actor who breathed life into the character of Leatherface, wields the weapon with both ease and menace so that every time he appears on screen with the saw buzzing, you want to run. And let's not forget the final moments of the film that show Leatherface seemingly dancing with the chainsaw as the sun comes up and Sally Hardesty gets away. This is one of the most iconic moments in the film, and the chainsaw is the perfect dance partner for a deranged lunatic. 

But just how did Hooper come up with the idea to center the chainsaw as the main weapon of choice in his film? It's a brilliant choice, but it is also a bit of an oddball one considering knives and guns feel so much more prevalent and a hell of a lot easier to handle and use on film. Well, it turns out Hooper's inspiration struck where many people find themselves at their most vulnerable: on a trip to the store during the consumer driven madness that is the holiday season.  

Don't make me use this chainsaw, Santa!

Chainsaws in horror films are kind of a thing. Every time one shows up, audiences get a bit of a thrill. Most likely, this is because they are loud, gritty, and do a great job splattering blood around as they rip everything in their path to pulpy shreds. And they're scary. But chainsaws are also beloved because of Leatherface and his iconic chainsaw in "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre." The chainsaw in a horror film has become a not-so-subtle nod to the classic 1974 horror flick, so much so that I can't even look at one anymore without thinking of Leatherface and Sally. 

When Hooper was working on his script for the film, all he had was an idea for a group of young adults who were struggling with the political and emotional effects of the 1970s. He knew the film needed more to it, but he wasn't quite sure what. Then, he entered a department store during the shopping rush of the holiday season and got an idea. In a conversation with Interview Magazine, Hooper describes the moment the idea of a chainsaw as a murder weapon was born:

"There were thousands of people in there, and I was weaving through them to get out, and I found myself in the hardware department, I looked down and there was a rack of chainsaws in front of me for sale."

 Seeing the chainsaws caused Hooper to fantasize about using one to part the packed crowds of stressed shoppers so that he could get out of the store with ease, and just like that, the rest of Hooper's script fell into place.

You've only got one shot

Once filming started though, the chainsaw proved to be a bit difficult to use. In the beginning, the saw was actually functional. The chain was in place and that baby was ready to cut up anything. This, however, was kind of a dangerous idea. Hooper tells Interview Magazine, "After Gunnar fell and had the presence of mind to throw the saw away from him, we decided we had to do something," stating that he brought his concerns to the table by saying, "Excuse me, someone may get hurt" (so polite I love it!). 

After Hansen's near accident, they worked without the clutch, so that while the chain was still functioning as it should, it wasn't going to actually hurt anybody. "When we needed to cut into something, we'd put the clutch back in," says Hooper. This process was made difficult by the simple fact that they only had a single saw to use for the entirety of filming. "We really did only have one saw, so it would take hours to pull the clutch out and put it back," says Hooper. And as many "Texas Chain Saw" fans know, filming conditions on the set were absolutely atrocious, so I'm sure this whole chainsaw business only added to the madness experienced there. Regardless, for all the frustrations and safety precautions the cast and crew of Hooper's masterpiece experienced, horror fans have been given one of the greatest horror films (and if you're me, just films in general) of all time.