Book Review: “Chain Saw Confidential” Is A Compelling Read


Review by James McDonald

As an independent filmmaker, I rarely get time to read books. I’m either reviewing movies or making them. I don’t have time to sit down and read a Stephen King or Stephanie Meyer novel because I’m more of a visual person, I have been ever since I picked up an 8mm movie camera at age 10. But, if the book is to do with filmmaking, editing, producing, directing, cinematography, etc., then I’ll take time to read it. Why? Because it pertains to the industry I work in and when it comes to the world of movies, I have a photographic memory. I have an extensive knowledge of movies, actors, directors, the year a film was released, the studio that released it and so on but my knowledge of movies, technically starts with the 70’s and onwards. The 60’s, 50’s, 40’s and earlier, I know a little here and there but the 70’s is where it began for me.

I have also read a lot of autobiographies about actors, directors, editors and love the glimpses these people give into their earlier lives and what really motivated them to break into the business, people like Harrison Ford, Steven Spielberg and Sam O’Steen. When it came time for me to review CHAIN SAW CONFIDENTIAL, I asked my family and friends if they knew who the author, Gunnar Hansen was and none of them had any idea. I then spoke to several filmmaker friends of mine and of course they all knew who he was, he was Leatherface. Who? Leatherface. You know, the guy in that horror movie? The one where the kids are all cut up into tiny pieces by the maniacal killer? Okay, I could be talking about any multitude of horror movies these days but this review refers to Gunnar Hansen, the actor who played Leatherface in the original 1974 movie, “Texas Chain Saw Massacre.”

The movie went something like this: Five friends visiting their grandpa’s old house are hunted down and terrorized by a chainsaw wielding killer and his family of grave-robbing cannibals. See? Pretty straightforward. Unfortunately, for Mr. Hansen, as the chainsaw wielding killer and the rest of the cast and crew, the making of “Texas Chain Saw Massacre” was anything but. Mr. Hansen decided to write a book, from his own perspective, titled CHAIN SAW CONFIDENTIAL, which chronicles the before, during and aftermath of a movie that has been hailed by some as an American classic while others, like the late Roger Ebert, dubbed it “violent and gruesome and blood-soaked…an unnecessary movie.” CHAIN SAW CONFIDENTIAL gives you a glimpse into what real low-budget, guerilla-style filmmaking is all about.

I’ve read books about the making of big blockbusters like the Indiana Jones movies or the making of “The Abyss” or “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” but in reading Mr. Hansen’s book, as a fellow indie filmmaker, I understood the blood, sweat and tears that the cast and crew endured, shooting the movie in central Texas, in 100 degree heat with no A/C and GASP! NO iPhones!!! Mr. Hansen pretty much sticks to the making of the film and the insights and anecdotes he provides, are a must-read for anybody interested in filmmaking, not just horror films. One aspect of the movie that he talks about in great detail, is the fact that none of the actors involved got paid up front. Instead, because there wasn’t a sizable budget, the producers offered them deferred payment, a practice used in abundance in low-budget filmmaking that means they won’t get paid upfront but if the movie gets picked up by a distributor and makes money, they will each receive a percentage of the profits.

All of the actors were fine with this because most of them, Mr. Hansen included, didn’t think that anything would happen with the movie, there’d probably be a small screening for cast and crew and then it would sit in the back of someone’s closet for all eternity. To date, the movie has grossed more than $30 million from a budget of a little over $80,000. Mr. Hansen stated that he has received only $8,000, to date and that he, and the rest of the cast, were robbed of monies they should have received. He puts that down to the fact that the producers of the movie, very inexperienced at the time, in trying to get the film distributed, ended up going with Bryanston, at the time, a new company in Hollywood founded by two brothers, Joseph and Louis Peraino who were rumored to be a part of the Joseph Colombo crime family in New York.

What I personally loved about the book, was that it showed the ingenuity of the cast and crew and that nothing is impossible. That’s the message in this book, and if you’re making a film with little or no money, you have to believe that message deep in your soul. Mr. Hansen also shows you that there was just as much horror behind-the-scenes as there was in the actual movie. For anybody who thinks that movie-making is all glamor and glitz, I dare you to pick up CHAIN SAW CONFIDENTIAL and after reading it, see if you still feel the same way. Highly recommended.

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James McDonald
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