Surprisingly, this film is one of the least bloodiest horror films of all time. This is because Tobe Hooper intended to make the movie for a "PG" rating, by keeping violence moderate, language mild, and having most of the horror implied offscreen rather than shown in great detail onscreen. However, this plan had actually backfired, and made the film even more horrifying. Because despite cutting and repeated submissions, the Ratings Board insisted on an "X" rating, and it wasn't until the film received the "R" rating when Hooper gave up and released it. Hooper had a similar ratings problem with the sequel.
Even in his lift boots, Gunnar Hansen could run faster than Marilyn Burns, so he had to do random things when chasing her through the woods (you'll notice in one head-on shot that he starts slicing up tree branches in the background).
Tobe Hooper allowed Gunnar Hansen to develop Leatherface as he saw fit, under his supervision. Hansen decided that Leatherface was mentally handicapped and never learned to talk properly, so he went to a school for the mentally handicapped and watched how they moved and listened to them talk to get a feel for the character. He also tried his best to make his portrayal as non-offensive as he could. Many fans including those who are mentally handicapped, say he succeeded.
A still photo, taken during filming of the entire "Sawyer" family posing outside the house as a gag, was found and stolen from the set by a visiting German reporter, who took it back to West Germany with him, and the image of the family eventually became the advertising poster for the first release of the movie in West Germany.
After getting into the old-age makeup, John Dugan decided that he did not ever want to go through the process again, meaning that all the scenes with him had to be filmed in the same session before he could take the makeup off. This entire process took about 36 hours (five of which which took to put the makeup on), during a brutal summer heat wave where the average temperature was over 100 degrees, with a large portion of it spent filming the dinner scene, with him wearing a heavy suit and necktie, sitting in a room filled with dead animals and rotting food with no air conditioning or electric fans. Everyone later recalled that the stench from the rotting food and people's body odor was so terrible that some crew members passed out or became sick from the smell. Edwin Neal who played the hitch-hiker claimed: "Filming that scene was the worst time of my life . . . and I had been in Vietnam, with people trying to kill me, so I guess that shows how bad it was."
Gunnar Hansen said that, during filming, he didn't get along very well with Paul A. Partain, who played Franklin. A few years later he met Partain again and realized that Partain, a method actor, had simply chosen to stay in character even when not filming. The two remained good friends up to Partain's death.
The film's original budget was $60,000; during the editing process, the filmmakers incurred an additional $80,000 in costs, requiring that they sell off portions of their ownership in the film's royalties.
Due to the low budget, Gunnar Hansen had only one shirt to wear as Leatherface. The shirt had been dyed, so it could not be washed; Hansen had to wear it for four straight weeks of filming in the hot and humid Texas summer. By the end of the shoot, no one wanted to stand near Hansen or sit next to him during breaks to eat lunch because his clothing smelled so bad.
The company worked seven days a week, 16 hours a day, in the summertime in one of Texas' notoriously brutal heat waves where the daytime temperature was over 100 degrees and later hovered at around 80 at night.
The film's original distributor was Bryanston Distribution Company, which turned out to be a Mafia front operated by Louis Peraino ("Butchie"), who used the movie to launder profits he made from Deep Throat (1972). In return, the production received only enough money to reimburse the investors and pay the cast and crew $405 apiece. The producers eventually discovered that Peraino had lied to them about the film's profits; after he was arrested on obscenity charges when his role in "Deep Throat" was revealed, the cast and crew filed suit against him and were awarded $25,000 each. New Line Cinema, which obtained the rights to the film from the now-bankrupt Bryanston, paid off the cast and crew as part of the purchase agreement.
The gas station the kids stop at was bought from the family of the original owners and is being renovated and turned into a "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" horror campground. The new owner is in the process of finding and purchasing as many original or contemporary period pieces for the resort. The owner is Roy Rose. He is putting in a restaurant, music venue and overnight cabins.
Since the film's original release, the location used as the Sawyer family house has changed completely. It's now an open field, with no indication there had ever been a house there. The house itself has been relocated and fully restored. It is now operated as the Junction House Restaurant on the grounds of the Antlers Hotel complex at 1010 King St. in Kingsland, TX.
Some urban legends say that the "real" Texas Chainsaw Massacre took place near Poth (a small town about 36 miles southeast of San Antonio). This is false. The film is fictional and based loosely on the life of Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein (as is the classic Psycho (1960)).
Gunnar Hansen hit his head on doorways and other objects several times during the shoot because the Leatherface mask severely limited his peripheral vision and the three-inch heels he wore made his 6'4" frame too high to clear all obstacles.
The film was rejected by the British film censors in 1975, but it did get a limited cinema release in the London area, thanks to the GLC (Greater London Council). It was banned again in 1977, when the censors' attempts to cut it were unsuccessful (for the purposes of a wider release), then it was banned again in 1984, due to the growing controversy involving "video nasties". In 1999, after the censors finally changed their policy, they took the plunge and passed it uncut for the cinema and video. It had been 25 years since they first banned it.
Contrary to popular belief, this film is not a true story. It was filmed from 15 July 1973-14 August 1973, while the opening narrative claims that the real events took place on 18 August 1973. Therefore, it would have been impossible for the film to have been based on events that had not happened at the time of filming.
This film has had a long and troubled "relationship" with German law. The original theatrical version in West Germany was denied a rating and therefore cut. In 1982 it was put on the index for youth-endangering media. Then in 1985 it was banned by the Munich district court and all existing copies were confiscated. Over the years the film was released on VHS and DVD in various (legal and illegal) versions, mostly cut. Since April 2008 the new German licensee, Turbine Medien, has tried to get the banning revoked and the film removed from the index. In September 2011 the district court of Frankfurt am Main finally lifted the banning (it was the first time in Germany that such an attempt was successful, making judiciary history). Finally, in December 2011 the film was removed from the BPjM index and subsequently rated "Not under 18" by the FSK.
Ed Gein--on whom "Leatherface" was loosely based--was not a true serial killer, as he actually only killed two people, both of them women. He was however, a ghoul. He stole body parts--only female--from many different graves. He kept some of the parts in his refrigerator, and skinned one corpse and wore the skin as a dress.
The electric generator used to power Leatherface's farmhouse was an air-cooled Wisconsin 12HP generator. Leatherface's character is based upon Wisconsin native Ed Gein, who was a notorious ghoul and murderer in the 1950s.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
During the dinner scene towards the end of the film when Leatherface cuts Sally's finger, actress Marilyn Burns slightly moved her finger so he would actually cut her. This happened because they couldn't get the fake blood to come out of the tube behind the blade.
The close-up of Leatherface cutting his leg on the chainsaw was the very last shot to be filmed; the actor was wearing a metal plate over his leg, which was then covered with a piece of meat and a blood bag. His scream was the actor's genuine scream of pain, as the chain repeatedly hit the plate. The friction from this caused the plate to get very hot and it burned his leg.
In the iconic scene when Gunnar Hansen ("Leatherface") swings his chainsaw in frustration because Sally gets away, Hansen was directed to look frustrated and he knew stomping his feet in anger would not suffice. He changed it to swinging his chainsaw because he wanted to scare director Tobe Hooper as "payback" for the way he treated the cast during filming.
For Pam's meat hook death scene, Teri McMinn was actually held up by a nylon cord that went between her legs which were padded with Maxi-Pads, despite the padding, it was still quite painful. She decided to use that pain to make her performance more believable.