The Texas Chain Saw Massacreis a 1974 American independent horror film directed and produced by Tobe Hooper , who cowrote it with Kim Henkel . It stars Marilyn Burns , Paul A. Partain , Edwin Neal , Jim Siedow , and Gunnar Hansen , who respectively portray Sally Hardesty, Franklin Hardesty, the hitchhiker, the proprietor, and Leatherface , the main antagonist. The film follows a group of friends who fall victim to a family of cannibals while on their way to visit an old homestead. Although it was marketed as a true story to attract a wider audience and as a subtle commentary on the era's political climate, its plot is entirely fictional; however the character of Leatherface and minor plot details were inspired by the crimes of real-life murderer Ed Gein .
Hooper produced the film for less than $300,000 and used a cast of relatively unknown actors drawn mainly from central Texas, where the film was shot. The limited budget forced Hooper to film for long hours seven days a week, so that he could finish as quickly as possible and reduce equipment rental costs. Due to the film's violent content, Hooper struggled to find a distributor. Louis Perano of Bryanston Pictures eventually purchased the distribution rights. Hooper limited the quantity of onscreen gore in hopes of securing a "PG" (Parental Guidance) rating , but the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) rated it "R" (Restricted; children under 17 require a parent or guardian). The film faced similar difficulties internationally.
Upon its October 1974 release,The Texas Chain Saw Massacrewas banned outright in several countries, and numerous theaters later stopped showing the film in response to complaints about its violence. While it initially drew a mixed reception from critics, it was enormously profitable, grossing over $30 million at the domestic box office. It has since gained a reputation as one of the most influential horror films in cinema history. It is credited with originating several elements common in the slasher genre, including the use of power tools as murder weapons and the characterization of the killer as a large, hulking, faceless figure. The popularity of the film led to a franchise that continued the story of Leatherface and his family through sequels, remakes, comic books, and video games.
Sally Hardesty ( Marilyn Burns ) and her brother, Franklin ( Paul A. Partain ), travel with three friends, Jerry ( Allen Danziger ), Kirk ( William Vail ), and Pam ( Teri McMinn ), to visit the grave of the Hardestys' grandfather to investigate reports of vandalism and grave robbing. Afterwards, they decide to visit an old Hardesty family homestead. Along the way they pick up a hitchhiker ( Edwin Neal ) who slashes both himself and Franklin with a straight razor before the group forces him out of the van. They stop at a gas station to refuel, but the proprietor ( Jim Siedow ) tells them that the pumps are empty. They continue towards the homestead, intending to return to the gas station once the fuel has been delivered.
When they arrive, Franklin tells Kirk and Pam about a local swimming hole and the couple head off to find it. Instead they stumble upon a nearby house. Kirk calls out, asking for gas, while Pam waits on the front steps. After Kirk receives no answer, he discovers that the door is unlocked and enters the house, where Leatherface ( Gunnar Hansen ) appears and kills him. Pam enters soon after and finds the house filled with furniture made from human bones. She attempts to flee, but Leatherface catches her and impales her on a meathook. Jerry heads out to look for Pam and Kirk at sunset. He finds the couple's blanket outside the nearby house. He investigates and finds Pam, who is still alive, inside a freezer. Before he can react, Leatherface kills him and stuffs Pam back into the freezer.
With darkness falling, Sally and Franklin set out to find their friends. As they near the neighboring house and call out, Leatherface lunges from the darkness and kills Franklin with a chainsaw. Sally heads toward the house and finds the desiccated remains of an elderly couple in an upstairs room. She escapes from Leatherface by jumping through a second-floor window and flees to the gas station. Leatherface disappears into the night. The proprietor calms her with offers of help, but then ties her up and forces her into his truck. He drives to the house, arriving at the same time as the hitchhiker, who turns out to be Leatherface's younger brother. When the pair bring Sally inside, the hitchhiker recognizes her and taunts her.
The men torment the bound and gagged Sally while Leatherface, now dressed as a woman, serves dinner. Leatherface and the hitchhiker bring an old man, " Grandpa " ( John Dugan ), from upstairs to share the meal. During the night they decide Sally should be killed by "Grandpa". He tries to hit her with a hammer, but is too weak. In the ensuing confusion, she breaks free, leaps through a window, and escapes to the road. Leatherface and the hitchhiker give chase, but the latter is run down and killed by a passing semi-trailer truck. Armed with his chainsaw, Leatherface attacks the truck when the driver stops to help. The driver hits him in the face with a large wrench. Sally escapes in the back of a passing pickup truck as Leatherface waves the chainsaw above his head in frustration.
The concept forThe Texas Chain Saw Massacrearose in the early 1970s while Tobe Hooper was working as an assistant film director at the University of Texas at Austin and as a documentary cameraman.He had already developed a story involving the elements of isolation, the woods, and darkness.He credited the graphic coverage of violence by San Antonio news outlets as one inspiration for the filmand based elements of the plot on serial killer Ed Gein in 1950s Wisconsin ;Gein inspired other horror films such asPsycho(1960) andThe Silence of the Lambs(1991).During development, Hooper used the working titles ofHeadcheeseandLeatherface.