The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was strongly criticized at the time of its release for its graphic content, so much so that it led to the film being banned in various countries, including Australia and the United Kingdom. However in recent years, the film has been considered a classic among critics, and has topped a Total Film poll as the greatest horror film of all time. The film has since produced three sequels in addition to a remake that has its own prequel.
Arriving at the Hardesty house, the group separates and begins exploring. Kirk and Pam, in search of a place to swim, stumble upon a nearby residence. Looking for gasoline, Kirk enters the house. Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen) appears from behind a door and kills Kirk with a sledgehammer. Pam, looking for Kirk, wanders into the house, and she too is grabbed by Leatherface, who hangs her on a meat hook. Back at the vehicle, Sally, Franklin, and Jerry begin to worry about Kirk and Pam; Jerry sets off to search for them. Jerry discovers the nearby house and walks in to look for Kirk and Pam. He opens the freezer and finds Pam's body, which suddenly springs to life; Leatherface enters the room and kills Jerry with the sledgehammer, then pushes Pam's body back into the freezer.
As night falls, Sally and Franklin set off to find the others. Sally pushes Franklin through the woods as they call out for their friends. Leatherface appears out of the darkness and cuts into Franklin's abdomen with a chainsaw. Sally runs away screaming with Leatherface chasing after her. Sally eventually finds her way back to the gas station the group had passed earlier. The owner of the station, credited as "Cook" (Jim Siedow), tries to calm Sally, who is ranting about being chased by a man with a chainsaw. The owner leaves to get his truck and returns with a bag and some rope. Sally realizes that the owner is involved with Leatherface, and she attempts to fight back. The man subdues her, puts her into his truck, and then heads back to the house. As the man picks up the previously mentioned hitchhiker along the way, it is revealed that all are part of the same cannibilistic family. Sally wakes to find herself tied to a chair at a dining table, where Leatherface and the hitchhiker bring Grandpa (John Dugan) to take part in killing and eating Sally.
Sally frees herself from her restraints and flees the house. The hitchhiker and Leatherface chase after her, with the hitchhiker slashing her back with his straight razor as they run. As the group reaches the road, a passing semi-trailer truck runs down the hitchhiker. When the driver stops, Sally pleads with him for both of them to get in the truck and leave. Leatherface chases the truck driver and Sally around the truck. The truck driver throws a wrench at Leatherface causing him to fall; Leatherface's leg is cut as the chainsaw falls onto it. A pickup truck approaches, and Sally manages to get into the truck bed. Sally laughs hysterically as she escapes, and Leatherface twirls and swings his chainsaw in frustration.
Tobe Hooper stated that the idea for featuring a chainsaw in a horror film came to him while in the hardware section of a crowded store, as he imagined a way to get out quickly through the crowd. The concept for the film arose in the early 1970s while he was a college professor and documentary cameraman in his native Austin, Texas.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was based loosely on the murders committed by 1950s serial killer Ed Gein, who served as the inspiration for a number of other horror films including Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960), Jonathan Demme's The Silence of the Lambs (1991) and William Girdler's Three on a Meathook (1972).
The movie's special effects were simple and limited by the budget. The blood depicted was often real, as the cast members were injured accidentally during filming. For example, Marilyn Burns' index finger was cut with a razor because there were difficulties getting the stage blood to come out of the tube behind the blade. Burns' costume was so drenched in stage blood that it was virtually solid on the last day of shooting.
The scene after Pam is hung on the meathook, when Leatherface first uses his chainsaw, caused some worry to actor William Vail (Kirk). Kirk was about to have his head cut off, and behind scenes actor Hansen told Vail not to move or he would be literally killed. He then brought the actually running chainsaw down within 3 inches of his face.
Midway through the editing process, Henkel and Hooper had exceeded the budget for the film. P.I.T.S. donated US$23,532 in exchange for nineteen percent of Vortex's already fifty percent share of the profits. That left Henkel and Hooper with 45% of Vortex between them and the remaining 36% divided up among twenty cast and crew members. Warren Skaaren made a deal as an equal partner with Hooper and Henkel, along with a fifteen percent share of Vortex. Skaaren was paid a deferred salary of US$5,000 and a "monitoring fee" of three percent of the gross profits (i.e., MAB and Vortex combined). David Foster arranged for a private screening for some of Bryanston Distributing Company's West Coast executives and received 1.5% of Vortex's profits and a deferred fee of US$500.
On August 28, 1974, Bozman and Skaaren were offered a contract of US$225,000 and 35% of the profits from the worldwide distribution of the film by Louis (Butchi) Periano of Bryanston Distribution Company. Years later, Bozman was quoted saying, "We made a deal with the devil, [sigh], and I guess that, in a way, we got what we deserved." The contract with Bryanston was signed. After the investors recouped their money (including interest), Skaaren's salary and monitoring fee were paid, and the lawyers and accountants were paid, only US$8,100 remained to be divided among the twenty filmmakers.
The Censorship Board in Australia first viewed The Texas Chain Saw Massacre in June 1975. The 83-minute print was swiftly refused registration. The distributor appealed to the Review Board who upheld the decision in August 1975. The distributor prepared a reconstructed 77-minute version, only to see it banned again in December 1975. In 1976, the film was banned again.
It would take five years for the film to be re-presented to the censors. However the result was much the same. Greater Union Orgainzation (GUO) Film Distributors refused registration for a 2283.4 (83m 27s) print in July 1981. The reason given for the ban was "violence".
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was generally well-received by most critics. TV Guide called it "an intelligent, absorbing, and deeply disturbing horror film that is nearly bloodless in its depiction of violence", and Empire Magazine called it "the most purely horrifying horror movie ever made". Mike Emery of the Austin Chronicle said that the film was "horrifying, yet engrossing ... But the worst part about this vision is that despite its sensational aspects, it never seems too far from what could be the truth." Chicago Reader said, "The picture gets to you more through its intensity than its craft, but Hooper does have a talent." Christopher Null of Filmcritic.com said, "In our collective consciousness, Leatherface and his chainsaw have become as iconic as Freddy and his razors or Jason and his hockey mask. Several reviewers disliked the film's gory special effects. Critic Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times believed that it was well-acted, well-directed, and effective; but claimed that the film became too gratuitously violent and seemed "weird" in parts. Steve Crum of Dispatch Tribune Newspapers criticized the film, describing it as "cultish trash that set new low standards for brutality". Stephen Koch's 1976 diatribe against the film in "Fashions in Pornography" for Harper's Magazine described The Texas Chain Saw Massacre as "unrelenting sadistic violence as extreme and hideous as a complete lack of imagination can possibly make it". Robin Wood stated "Watching it recently with a large, half-stoned youth audience who cheered and applauded every one of Leatherface's outrages against their representatives on screen was a terrifying experience". More recently, however, critics have called The Texas Chain Saw Massacre one of the scariest movies ever made. Rob Gonsalves of eFilmCritic.com refers to the film as "a masterpiece", and hails it as "The Great American Horror Movie". Noted reviewer Rex Reed called it "The most terrifying motion picture I have ever seen." Horror novelist Stephen King considers it "cataclysmic terror", and stated, "I would happily testify to its redeeming social merit in any court in the country." In a 2005 poll conducted by Total Film, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre topped the list as the greatest horror film of all time, beating John Carpenter's Halloween. Movie review website Rotten Tomatoes gave the film an 89% "fresh" rating. Variety stated, "Despite the heavy doses of gore in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Tobe Hooper's pic is well-made for an exploiter of its type. The script by Hooper and Kim Henkel is a take-off on the same incident which inspired Robert Bloch's novel (and later Alfred Hitchcock's film) Psycho. The film has also been declared one of the few horror movies to invoke "the authentic quality of nightmare".
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was originally released on DVD format in October 1998 for the United States, and, because of the controversy, in May 2000 for the United Kingdom. The Australian DVD release date was in early 2002. A region 1 two-disc edition was released, entitled The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: Ultimate Edition. The release included several interviews, improved audio and picture quality, and other features such as deleted scenes. Reviews for the release were extremely positive, with critics praising the sound and picture quality of the restoration. Dark Sky Films released a Blu-ray Disc version of the film, on September 30, 2008. A region 2 three-disc edition, entitled The Texas Chain Saw Massacre: Seriously Ultimate Edition is scheduled for release in the United Kingdom on November 3, 2008.
The film spawned two more sequels; Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1990) was the next, with a budget of US$2 million. Hooper did not return for the film; it was directed by Jeff Burr. In the movie, R. A. Mihailoff starred as the Leatherface. Chris Parcellin of Film Threat said, "It's really just another generic slasher flick with nothing beyond the Leatherface connection to recommend it to discerning fans. The third sequel, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation was released in 1995, starring Renée Zellweger and Matthew McConaughey. The film was a semi-remake of the original, although it was originally intended to be a complete remake of the first film. Maitland McDonagh of TV Guide's Movie Guide said that the movie was "tired and dated.
A remake entitled The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was released in 2003. The film starred Jessica Biel, Eric Balfour, Andrew Bryniarski as Leatherface, and R. Lee Ermey as Sheriff Hoyt. The film received more positive critic reviews than the other sequels, though it only managed to achieve a 35% "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with 52 out of 150 reviews being positive. Notable critic Roger Ebert called it "a contemptible film: Vile, ugly and brutal. A prequel to the remake, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning was released in 2006. The film was directed by Jonathan Liebesman, and produced by Michael Bay and Mike Fleiss. It had a starring cast of Jordana Brewster, Taylor Handley, with R. Lee Ermey and Andrew Bryniarski reprising their roles as Sheriff Hoyt and Leatherface respectively. The film was panned by most critics, with a 14% "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Mark Palermo said, "The focus in (The) Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning isn't on the confrontation of demons, moral reckoning, or terror. It's an unimaginative exercise in suffering".