‘Argo’ and Other Forgivably False “True Story” Films

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

Tobe Hooper’s 1974 cult classic opens with a matter-of-fact crawl (read by a young and unbilled John Larroquette) warning viewers that the film “is an account of the tragedy that befell a group of five youths, in particular Sally Hardesty and her invalid brother, Franklin” one “idyllic summer afternoon.” The film’s marketing campaign seized on the film’s true story roots, which were made even more explicit when its remake was released in 2003. But according to Snopes, Hooper’s film was less based on a true story than on his own trip to the hardware section of a Montgomery Ward’s, where a display of chainsaws got his cinematic wheels turning. But there was no such person as Sally or Franklin Hardesty outside of Hooper’s screenplay; the “true story” angle came from Hooper being secondarily inspired by the story of Wisconsin serial killer, cannibal, and necrophiliac Ed Gein. But that’s nothing new — Gein also loosely inspired Psycho and The Silence of the Lambs, among other horror classics. More importantly, it doesn’t really matter to the film. While the opening crawl, coupled with the film’s grubby, low-budget aesthetic, lends it something of a documentary realism, the knowledge that Leatherface was a fictional creation doesn’t keep Texas Chain Saw Massacre from being serious nightmare fuel.