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LUBBOCK — There are few sounds as frightening — and iconic — as the roar of Leatherface's chainsaw.
Even fewer states are as terrifying as Texas.
At least, according to filmmakers who choose to film here.
More than 1,000 horror films — from “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” to “Friday the 13th” — have been made in the Lone Star State. Only California has had more horror films produced in its state, according to a recent report. Other horror movies filmed in Texas include “The Faculty” and Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s “Grindhouse” double feature. “Manos: The Hands of Fate,” notoriously considered to be one of the worst movies made before becoming a cult classic, was also filmed here.
“Texas has a very unique identity, its own lore and its own personality,” said James Kendrick, associate professor of film and digital media at Baylor University.
It’s not just horror movies like “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” made by Austin-native Tobe Hooper.
Dozens of other iconic movies — “Friday Night Lights,” “Dazed and Confused” and “Boyhood” to name a few — as well as TV shows such as “The Leftovers” and “Fear the Walking Dead” have been filmed in Texas, according to the Texas Film Commission.
“Not a lot of communities can boast about having Richard Linklater, Robert Rodriguez, Margaret Brown, and more of these kinds of names,” said Holly Herrick, head of film and creative media for Austin Film Society. “Texas really does have a robust artist community in addition to having crews in the state.”
The society’s studio, which hosted “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning” for filming, is one of many around Texas that offers space for filmmakers. In addition to filming in the state, Rogriguez also owns Troublemaker Studios based in Austin.
Texas’ legacy in film and other forms of creative media is bound to grow. Part of what draws filmmakers to Texas is tax incentives and grant opportunities for film projects. This year, state lawmakers increased the budget for the Texas Motion Image Industry Incentive Program from $45 million to $200 million. This boost can keep Texas’ incentives in the same competitive ballpark for film production as Georgia, New Mexico and Oklahoma.
Another allure for horror film makers is the state’s diverse landscape. Every corner of Texas has a unique beauty to it. West Texas has vibrant sunsets that go on for miles across the empty plains. East Texas’ Piney Woods spans hundreds of thousands of acres and gives hikers a shady retreat on the trail. And Gulf Coast beaches are home to centuries of rich history.
And yet, all of that majestic Texas beauty could quickly turn scary under the right — or wrong — circumstances. And just like that, you have a horror movie.
“One thing that’s really important for a certain subset of horror films is rural spaces,” Kendrick said. “Texas offers rural, southern and backwoods horror. They’re all good fodder for horror because they create isolation.”
Two of horror’s most iconic fictional killers, Jason Voorhees and Leatherface, had their respective franchises take advantage of these landscapes. Voorhees stomped through the grounds of Camp Fern in Marshall, a town in East Texas, where some filming for the 2009 remake took place.
In Leatherface’s case, a whole new fear was created for people nearly 50 years ago. The impact later spawned several sequels, franchise reboots and a dedicated fan base. The original movie was filmed outside Austin in rural Bastrop County at locations still standing today. The original home is now a restaurant named Hooper’s, in the director’s honor. It is accepting chainsaws from visitors for an art installation. We Slaughter Barbecue, the gas station featured in the movie, is now a tourist stop and horror museum.
In many ways, horror draws inspiration from everyday scenarios — someone drives on the far outskirts of a small town that doesn’t have a gas station, let alone a phone signal. They get lost with help nowhere in sight. And, if there is help somewhere far in walking distance, it’s in the form of a one-man police station or an “abandoned” house.
Regardless of the setting, horror movies play on the main character’s feelings of isolation. This is true regardless of the setting, Kendrick said. His favorite horror movie, “Rosemary’s Baby,” does this in Manhattan.
“It’s getting away from everything society puts in place to keep us safe,” Kendrick said. “Then, you’re in horror territory.”
Murder and mayhem isn’t just the stuff of Hollywood. The possibility of seeing ghosts draws in thousands of tourists every year. Texas is haunted from the shores of Galveston to the Alamo in San Antonio.
“It’s hard to talk about hauntings or spooky stories and not have them tie back to real life events,” said Will Wright, chief creative officer for the Galveston Historical Foundation. “Galveston has no shortage of that, especially if we look at the 1900 storm, the largest loss of life in a natural disaster in the United States.”
An estimated 8,000 people died in the storm that leveled the island 50 miles southeast of Houston.
The foundation manages more than 20 historic sites on the island, some of which are available for people to stay at. One of the most well-known supernatural houses is the 1838 Menard House, the oldest residence in town.
“It is a scary place for some people,” Wright said. “We’ve had guests stay there who came out afterward and said they would rather not stay there. I’ll get a call a few hours later saying ‘I don’t feel comfortable staying here.’”
As filmmakers continue to explore Texas for more unique film settings, Herrick with the Austin Film Society is confident the state will stand out from other states, both in production and on film — especially when it comes to growing a stamp in horror.
“Filmmakers continue to point to the ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ as being both a classic American film and how you make compelling cinema on a low budget,” Herrick said. “It’s known internationally and a cornerstone of horror.”
Kendrick, the Baylor film professor, also thinks the film has cemented Texas’ vast lore in film. Aside from the lesser-known “A Haunting in Connecticut,” there isn’t another horror movie with the name of a state in the title.
“What a powerful statement that alone is,” Kendrick said.
Disclosure: Austin Film Society and Baylor University have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
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