Review: “Chain Saw Confidential” by Gunnar Hansen

A review by Brit.

In the eyes of many horror fans, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is one of the greatest movies within the genre. It was released in 1974 and was quickly renowned for its craftsmanship and surprisingly bloodless violence. It was hated as much as it was loved. And in the form of Chain Saw Confidential, the one taking on the telling of the film’s origin story (and the reckoning of its legacy) is Gunnar Hansen. Who better than Leatherface himself to take on this muddy tale of dead chickens, melted film prints and runaway eight hour makeup chair sessions?

This book is largely an oral history of the making of Massacre, from the origins in the head of cigar-chomping director Tobe Hooper to the placement of the film in the Museum of Modern Art (and the scathing reviews that choice inspired). Helpfully, the story is also organized in the order of the actual movie’s plot. Hansen’s perspective is somewhat limited due to his starring role in the film. But he interviews cast and crew members extensively, openly admitting when details are inconsistent or if something has been completely forgotten. Add in thoughts about the movie from figures like John Landis (director of An American Werewolf in London) and it’s a very fun ride.

There are two reasons why I did not give this book five stars. The first is that readers who are inherently interested in horror and/or the filmmaking process itself will have a much better experience reading this book than those who are not. It’s undeniable. I’m a huge fan of Massacre, so naturally I enjoyed hearing about the nitty-gritty details about chicken bones and poor set insulation.The average reader may not care to hear about the post-production money distribution web of confusion that happened after the movie took off.

The second reason is that some readers may find Hansen’s treatise on horror at the end of the book tiring. It’s understandable that he has strong feelings on horror being connected to violence in American culture. But it’s 2017, and this debate now largely takes place only in academic and highly political circles. Even if you have no plans to watch Massacre for yourself, this book is still a good testament to the power of research and desire to tell the “real story” of how a legendary phenomenon came to be. Hansen writes in a wry voice that often reminded me of my grandfather. He’s exactly the kind of storyteller to take on this twisted, fun story.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

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