Texas Monthly Reporter


Austin movie makers Tobe Hooper and Kim Henkel have made what they hope is the classic horror thriller. Truly terrifying movies are rare indeed. The trick is not merely to shock by using music, gore, or weird beings, but to create an atmosphere of fear, a much harder and more sophisticated task.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was made last summer around Taylor, and concerns a family who have been laid off from their jobs at the local slaughterhouse. They set up their own abattoir, lure hitchhikers and unsuspecting visitors to the old mansion, and continue practicing their trade until the meat shortage is over.

Leatherface, played by 6’ 4”, 300-pound Gunnar Hansen, a U.T. student from Iceland, operates the fastest chain saw in Williamson County and is the real meanie in the film. Most intriguing, however, is the grandfather, a paternal old ghoul who appears in drag as, yes, a grand-mummy.

The interior decoration of the classic house of horrors is slightly bizarre. Human bone mobiles hang from the ceiling. There’s a skin sofa and lampshades. Incisors and molars cover the floor like pecan shells.

It’s the real thing. Two human skeletons were shipped from India for interior props. A friendly dentist from Los Angeles supplied two shoeboxes filled with human teeth for the family’s carpet.

The realism caused unsuspected problems as the arc lights increased the room temperature (unnecessary in August) and the bones began to emit noxious odors causing cast members to bolt frequently for windows and doors.

Both men are veteran film makers. Hooper has shot and directed well over a million feet of commercials, documentaries, shorts, and features, including “The Heisters” and “Eggshells,” both of which won prestigious awards at New York, San Francisco, and Atlanta film festivals. Henkel wrote the script for Massacre and has worked with Hooper since “Eggshell” days. This is their first 90-minute, color, big-budget (under $300,000) feature-length movie. It premiers in Texas in April.

“The true monster itself is death. All the classic horror flicks —Dracula. Frankenstein, Psycho—have this in common. They have a unique way of getting inside you by setting up symbols that represent death; a graveyard, bones, flowers,” said Hooper.

“If you put them in the proper order then you create the most important aura known as the creeps.”

The most effective horror movie of the past ten years? “The Night of the Living Dead,” says Hooper. “It was a crudely made film but very effective. I doubt seriously if you’ll be seeing it on late night television any time soon.” Other nominees mentioned were Repulsion, Psycho, Legend of Hell House, and Rosemary’s Baby. Neither man had seen this season’s shocker, The Exorcist.

Their next project was predictable. “We want to do a broad comedy. Something very looney tunes and merry melodies,” said Henkel.

What about the

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