The Texas Chain Saw Massacre’s Script Started As A Classic Fairytale

Traditional fairy tales almost always have important lessons to teach. Goldilocks educates us on why you probably shouldn't just wander into a stranger's house one day and make yourself at home. Red Riding Hood alerts us to the perils of talking to suspicious strangers, even if they are wearing your grandmother's clothes (honestly, that second bit really should be a major red flag). And Hansel and Gretel expand upon the "strangers are bad" lesson by teaching us that just because a house is made of candy, that doesn't mean you should necessarily start gorging on it. 

Because all of these fairytales have a creepy bend to them, many, if not all, have been turned into horror films over the years. Sometimes the movies are obvious retellings of classic tales like 2020's "Gretel & Hansel" or 2011's "Red Riding Hood." Other times though, the fairytale source material is a bit harder to put your finger on.

Tobe Hooper's remarkable 1974 horror classic "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre," is a twisted tale about a group of young people who unexpectedly find themselves at the mercy of a murderous family they come across after their van runs out of gas while driving through Texas. It's a masterpiece for the way it evokes terror in its viewers without utilizing very much gore, and some of the most iconic moments in horror happen during the film's short 83-minute run time. However, one thing fans of the film might not know is that the movie's script has fairytale roots. When stripped down to its bare bones, "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre" is nothing more than an ominous re-telling of "Hansel & Gretel." 

Fairytale Fodder

In case you need a quick refresher, "Hansel & Gretel" is about two siblings who get lost in the woods (whether this is on purpose or by accident depends on which version you're reading) and discover a house made of candy. A witch lives there, and because she's No Good, she coaxes them into her sweet abode determined to fatten them up and eat them. Eventually though, Gretel escapes and kills the witch by shoving her into her own fiery oven, thus saving herself and her brother from the witch's dinner plans.

This classic story caused a creative spark in a young Tobe Hooper who would go on to write the screenplay for "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre" with his friend Kim Henkel. In an article for Texas Monthly, Henkel talked about how the two "became casual friends" after working together on an earlier Hooper film "Eggshells" which featured a risqué fully-nude scene from Henkel himself. After "Eggshells," Henkel said, "[Tobe Hooper] wanted me to develop a script with him," so the friends set to work writing their version of "Hansel and Gretel." But because "Eggshells" did not do very well, the two were not very hopeful about this next film's success. "We had no budget, we had no cast, and the last picture had not been successful," said Henkel.

It wasn't until Hooper saw another horror classic that had recently come out in theaters that he finally came up with a way to grab people's attention with one of his films.

A Twisted Take On An Old Classic

At the time Hooper was working on his next film, George A. Romero's now-classic zombie movie, "Night of the Living Dead," had recently been released. The film was causing quite the stir, and it was exactly the kind of reaction Hooper was looking for in regard to his own work. Recognizing that people were "lined up to see" Romero's film, Hooper told Texas Monthly, "I thought, 'This is it. This is the way to get attention two thousand miles from L.A. and get noticed. If I could only raise the money.' " He got back in touch with Henkel, and the duo started revising their "Hansel and Gretel" retelling.

Henkel explained, "I started going over to [Hooper's] house every evening and figuring out the story structure. Mainly we were working out a feel." The result of their efforts was a script with its roots in the classic fairytale, albeit "a little more sinister." Instead of a cannibalistic witch, Henkel and Hooper got inspired by the real-life serial killer Ed Gein. Gein's habit of wearing the skin of his victims and digging up graves would serve as inspiration for the film's now-iconic Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen), a far cry away from the evil witch with a house made entirely out of sweets. 

Still, if you strip "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre" down to its basic structure, you can definitely see its fairytale framework: young people are lured to a mysterious house where they are set to be butchered and eaten like livestock. Only in Hooper and Henkel's version, while the sister (Marilyn Burns) escapes, her brother and the rest of her friends aren't quite as lucky. But even without its happy ending, "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre" did exactly what Hooper hoped. Audiences were hooked and Hooper's career was finally ready to begin. 

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The post The Texas Chain Saw Massacre's Script Started As A Classic Fairytale appeared first on /Film.

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