The Horrifying True Story Behind 'Texas Chainsaw Massacre' Is Even Wilder Than You Think

By | October 21, 2018
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Vortex-Henkel-Hooper/Bryanston/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

Halloween isn’t just a holiday—it’s our entire October mood. So celebrate the best time of year with a month’s worth of stories that will keep you up all night long. (Binge-watching and eating candy, probably. Same, tbh.) Cheers, witches!


OK, here’s the good news: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is technically fictional. The bad news is that the movie is most definitely based on a real-life murderer. Delightful! If you’ve already seen the film—which you should if your interests include being emotionally traumatized—then you know it’s about a group of friends who are preyed on by a family of cannibals in the middle of nowhere. One notable member of the cannibalistic fam is Leatherface, whose preferred method of killing is with a chainsaw. Delightful x 2!

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SO, IS THERE AN IRL LEATHERFACE?

The movie was marketed as being a “true story,” but it’d be more accurate to say that it was inspired by the real-life crimes of Wisconsin-based murderer and “body snatcher” Ed Gein—otherwise known as “the Butcher of Plainfield.” Gein was known for exhuming corpses from graveyards and making mementos with their bones and skin, which clearly served as inspiration for the scene in Texas Chainsaw Massacre when one of the characters stumbles into a room full of furniture made of dead people and then is impaled on a meathook. 😐

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Ed Gein at his arraignment in 1957.

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Gein, who was found guilty of murdering a hardware store owner named Bernice Worden in 1968, was eventually institutionalized for being, well, insane. Sheriffs found Worden’s decapitated body in a shed, and while searching Gein’s house they also found all sorts of horrifying objects made of skin—including masks, which is noteworthy because Leatherface wears a mask made of human skin in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

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As if all that isn’t disturbing enough, Gein was also obsessed with his deceased mother; after she died, he kept her room in pristine condition even as the rest of the house decayed. He apparently hoped to “literally crawl into her skin.” AH!

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An inside look at Ed Gein’s home. Keep in mind that he kept his deceased mother’s rooms super clean and well-preserved.

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Texas Chainsaw Massacre co-writer Kim Henkel says he was definitely, uh, “inspired” by Ed Gein, but he also had another murderer in mind:

I definitely studied Gein…but I also noticed a murder case in Houston at the time, a serial murderer you probably remember named Elmer Wayne Henley. He was a young man who recruited victims for an older homosexual man. I saw some news report where Elmer Wayne…said, ‘I did these crimes, and I’m gonna stand up and take it like a man.’ Well, that struck me as interesting, that he had this conventional morality at that point. He wanted it known that, now that he was caught, he would do the right thing. So this kind of moral schizophrenia is something I tried to build into the characters.

So, basically, the cannibal crew in Texas Chainsaw Massacre is actually an amalgamation of lots of creepy IRL men, which definitely makes the entire movie much more terrifying. On that note, have fun trying to sleep tonight. Bye!

WAIT, WHAT ABOUT THE CHAINSAWS?

Oh, that part is actually inspired by a very real, very relatable real-life horror: holiday shopping. Director Tobe Hooper explained to Texas Monthly:

“There were these big Christmas crowds, I was frustrated, and I found myself near a display rack of chain saws. I just kind of zoned in on it. I did a rack focus to the saws, and I thought, ‘I know a way I could get through this crowd really quickly.’ I went home, sat down, all the channels just tuned in, the zeitgeist blew through, and the whole damn story came to me in what seemed like about thirty seconds. The hitchhiker, the older brother at the gas station, the girl escaping twice, the dinner sequence, people out in the country out of gas.”

And yeah, the ones used in the film are actual chainsaws. Business casual.

THAT CREEPY HOUSE WASN’T REAL THEN, HUH?

Actually, it is. It’s been relocated and refurbished but yeah, it’s still standing. And it’s home to a restaurant that serves a dessert that consists of “three deep fried pancake balls with mixed in treats.” IT’S A HAPPY ENDING AFTER ALL YOU GUYS!!!

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