It’s hard to even talk about it in the usual terms of horror movies. You can’t discuss it in terms of good vs. bad or ask questions about the existence of evil. I mean, you can ask the questions, but you won’t be able to hear the answers over the roar of the chainsaw cutting your philosophical guts into shreds.
I don’t know. The thing just kind of transcends movies for me. I don’t come out of it poking holes in the plot or critiquing the acting performances. I don’t talk about special effects or cinematography or pace. I don’t think of it as being a made thing. You find it. You experience it. Then you take a shower and go shakily to bed.
So when I found myself for the first time in my life in the state whose name is part of the movie’s title and an integral part of its milieu, I crossed my fingers and hoped I was near a shooting location, despite the state being the largest in the lower 48. Turns out I was near a shooting location, within minutes somehow. And even though I was only in Texas for a mere 24 hours, I was able to dedicate time to visit it.
Oh, you know that shot.
After John Larroquette does his dulcet thing, the screen goes black and we hear the unmistakable sounds of sweaty effort and a shovel biting dirt. Next, the darkness is interspersed with the brief, disconcerting images of a rotting corpse timed to the trademark sound of that mosquito flash bulb. Finally, the harsh orange dawn of a Texas sky lights an object that a voice-over newscast reveals as a “grisly work of art: The remains of a badly decomposed body to a large monument.”
It’s a drippy, fetid corpse perched jauntily atop a gravestone and holding another rancid skull in its hands. I believe the art world calls this kind of piece found art…in this case found six feet below the sod and given a resurrection that Jesus didn’t promise.
“Grave robbing in Texas is this hour’s top news story” the newscaster informs us and, a few minutes later, our group of victims-in-a-van stop by the cemetery to make sure their grandfather’s plot wasn’t part of that story.
The cemetery is called Bagdad Cemetery, and it’s in the city of Leander. It was created in 1857 with the burial of a three-year-old boy named John Babcock, and it gets its name from a previous name of the town. Back when Tobe Hooper desecrated it, the graveyard was surrounded by nowhere.
Today, it’s across the street from a strip mall, which goes a long way to stripping the cemetery of any of its Texas Chain Saw atmosphere. Going the rest of the way for me were the rain showers and cool, dark clouds that shaded our visit. Normally, that’s perfect weather for a cemetery jaunt, but for this cemetery, it would have been better had the experience been sweaty and dirty and grimy, like the movie itself.
Where they set up the corpse sculpture is easy to find, on the path near the cemetery’s only building. The big tell-tale is the tall, fluted pillar grave marker with the angled top. We stood there and watched the first five minutes of the movie on a phone, 40 years after it was made on that grave dirt. I’ve done that a few times at filming locations, and it never fails to excite me. I always imagine some interdimensional, omnipresent being looking at that spot in the universe and seeing some dude watching on a phone what some other dude is making right beside him, separating by time but not space.
The headstone on which the corpse perched wasn’t there. I don’t know if it has been removed in the past four decades or if the crew had created a fake one to avoid sacrilege. I assume the latter, but when you create a work like TXCM, respect for the dead ain’t a high priority. The brief, follow-up scene in the graveyard was filmed all around that same part of the graveyard and just outside it.
This visit was up there for me. Exorcist Stairs up there. Night of the Living Dead Cemetery up there. Granted, there are more interesting and more important locations for TXCM—most notably the house where much of the movie takes place. It’s been transplanted to a different town and turned into a restaurant. Hopefully I’ll get there some day. There’s a dinner scene I want to re-create.
If not, well, we don’t all get what we want. Sometimes we’re like Leatherface in the last scene, wearing human flesh and eye shadow, impotently waving a chainsaw in the air in a petulant dance over the one that got away.
If you want to call what happened to Sally Hardesty “getting away.”