In 1974, Texas was put on the scare film culture map with the release of what is acknowledged to be one of the most important modern American horror films. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was directed by Tobe Hooper, who'd spent a few years making documentaries and experimental films, along with a small band of talented (mostly) unknown actors and crew members.
The film that resulted had a gritty and brutal realism that shocked audiences, even though it contained very little gore, and it's almost definitely THE horror movie most associated with the Lone Star State. It's not uncommon to find people who still believe that the tale of Leatherface and his murderous clan is a true story (It's not, unless you look to Ed Gein and other distant non-Texan true crime inspirations), and that kind of folkloric power is rare, speaking to the film's continuing resonance with viewers.
Fortunately for especially devoted fans, a couple of the film's most notable locations are still standing, and are open to visitors willing to make a short road trip to experience them.
First is "The Gas Station," which was an actual old-school gas station featured prominently in the film. Visitors will be out of luck if they stop there looking to fuel up their car, but the horror landmark, which is located in Bastrop, will let them feel a connection to the film, and is one of the coolest horror-themed gift shops they're likely to find anywhere.
The Gas Station had a grand opening last weekend, which featured autograph signings by cast members and other cool stuff, but it's now open for business, and the crowds have subsided enough to make visiting more low key and relaxed.
For those who really want to spend some time around the film location, the current owner has built several guest cabins on the grounds, available for rental. In the near future, The Gas Station will also feature its own on-site barbecue joint, which sounds scary considering the movie that made the place famous, but also yummy.
Roughly an hour and a half's drive from The Gas Station is another Texas Chainsaw Massacre location that's hospitable to visitors.
The Grand Central Cafe is the house that Leatherface and his family of killers made their home base in the film, and was moved from Williamson County to Kingsland in the late '90s. At the time, the early 1900s Victorian had seen better times, but it was restored, and is now a beautiful restaurant on the grounds of The Antlers Hotel.
Despite its much-needed renovation, the house is still instantly recognizable to any fan of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and it's almost impossible not to feel superfan chills when you're walking in the front entrance to immediately see the staircase leading up to the attic where the movie's famous "dinner scene" was filmed.
Just beyond the staircase is a short hallway that was blocked off and made into Leatherface's lair for the movie — it's amazing to be able to stand there.
The Grand Central Cafe has a railroad theme these days, but the proprietors smartly don't hide its movie past, although a person who was unfamiliar with the film and the house's connection to it could easily not notice. There's a sign outside that mentions its history, and a much smaller one near the door advertising shirts and shot glasses for sale, but those are the only clues downstairs that the house has a famous past. It's the kind of place where people get a little dressed up to eat, and you could comfortably take a date or a grandparent out for a nice meal.
Upstairs, the connection to the movie is more strongly represented. It's the restaurant's "Lounge Car," which is exactly what it sounds like — a casual and comfortable bar and seating for patrons to relax around.
A sign at the top of the stairs advertises a special, "Leatherface Lemonade," and there are a couple of Texas Chainsaw souvenir shirts displayed on one wall. In one corner near a restroom, there are a couple of chairs arranged near photos from the movie.
Nothing is presented in over-the-top, gruesome, horror film fashion; it's all understated and tasteful, but a neat reminder to fans that they're in the house where the most famous Texas-based horror flick was shot. The Grand Central Cafe is a popular spot, so visitors should give it a call and make a reservation if they plan to eat there.
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Horror fans are a rare breed, and some of us will go to great lengths to connect with the films we love. Fortunately for fans of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the significant movie locations are still around, and have been preserved to enjoy. Just listen for the distant sounds of a chainsaw buzzing...