How The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 Helped Shape Austin Filmmaking
The saw remains the same for Mike Blizzard
It's been said that there would be no Austin filmmaking scene without The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. The 1974 freak-out horror put ATX on the map cinematically; but what of its warped sibling, 1986's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2?
This weekend, AFS Cinema screens Tobe Hooper's bizarre, comedy-tinged gorefest in a double-bill with Also Starring Austin, Mike Blizzard's history of Austin moviemaking from the very first silent reels to contemporary dramas and documentaries.
The original is undoubtedly a touchstone for Texas filmmaking. Blizzard said, "It was the first successful movie to come out of Austin, and it was made by the people who made Eggshells – this total hippy-dippy, freaky movie – who just decided, 'Well, if we want to sell anything, we need to make a horror movie.'"
However, in 1974, Hooper and his gang of cutthroats and meatballs shot in Round Rock and Leander, not Austin itself. While shooting his documentary, Blizzard got a fascinating insight from local filmmakers Brian Poyser and Andrew Bujalski: "They said that Chain Saw had such an outsize impact on film production in Austin, [but] neither of them saw it as an Austin movie. It didn't feel like Austin. It felt like scary rural Texas. But [Chainsaw] 2 was shot almost completely in Austin."
It's almost a matter of journalistic and filmmaking lore in Austin that the bulk of TCM 2's interiors were shot in what had been the Austin American-Statesman printworks at Third and Guadalupe. Yet like that old structure (now a parking lot), many of the locations are either gone or changed: Cut-Rite Chainsaws is now the Mean Eyed Cat; the exteriors of southern-fried rock station KOKLA are now a mixed-use development. There was recently a brief flurry of mourning and outrage when the ramp under the bridge at U.S. 183 and Montopolis – where Leatherface (Bill Johnson) butchers two football fans and audiences get their first sight of the vengeance-driven Lieutenant Boude "Lefty" Enright (Dennis Hopper) – was demolished for the highway renovations. Blizzard said, "They're preserving the bridge, but it'll just be for pedestrians."
But TCM 2 isn't just connected to Austin by geography. Blizzard said, "When Tobe brought it back here, he employed a lot of local people" – including cinematographer Richard Kooris, production sound mixer Wayne Bell, and Richard Linklater's longtime collaborator Lee Daniel, who got his first-ever film credit as an assistant camera operator.
And if it wasn't for TCM 2, there would not have been an Austin Film Commission. Blizzard said, "According to [Austin Film Commission Director] Brian Gannon, it was that movie that kicked off the city making Gary Bond the first Austin film commissioner, and making an office for that purpose." That service opened the door to the rush of mid-to-late Eighties studio films like D.O.A., Heartbreak Hotel, and Nadine taking advantage of the low costs and talented crews on offer here. "That's when Hollywood features started to be shot in Austin."
While The Texas Chain Saw Massacre proved Austin could make movies, it was the sequel that proved Austin is a moviemaking town. Blizzard said, "When Tobe decided that shooting the movie here was essential, that really kicked off the franchise that is Chainsaw, and the majority of those future movies in that franchise have been shot here in Austin, whether it be additional sequels or reboots. So that film production impact has continued over the years."
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 screens at AFS Cinema (6406 N. I-35), Sat., Feb. 23, at 7pm. Also Starring Austin screens Fri., Feb. 22, at 7:30pm, and Sat., Feb. 23, at 4pm. Tickets and info at www.austinfilm.org.