Harbinger Down South: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre Gas Station

March 28, 2016 — I’ve what’s probably an unhealthy fascination with Tobe Hooper’s 1974 horror film The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. So, when two years ago I was in Austin for the first time for less than 24 hours for day job reasons, I found time to squeeze in a visit to the cemetery where the opening scene was shot. Well, it happened again. Earlier this month I found myself in Austin for less than 24 hours for day job reasons again. And, again, I was able to squeeze in a TXCM filming site. For this, my personal Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, it was the gas station. Slash BBQ joint.

WE Slaughter is where the gang tries to gas up and get directions to the old Franklin place at the beginning of the movie. Where they were told not to go messing around in old houses. Where that one dude washes their window and then disappears, peeling off into some other horror movie even though he obviously belonged in this one. Where Sally eventually escapes to only to find out that her worries are slightly larger than a hulking brute in a face-mask of the non-sports type.

Over the years, the little shack changed hands. I’m not sure if being a filming site for TXCM raised or lowered its real estate valuation. It’s most recent incarnation was as Bilbo’s Texas Landmark, which through the little I could find in between search results clogged with TXCM references, was a grocery store. But, only a few years into the new millennium, it shut down, as well.

Then, early last year, an Ohio horror fan named Roy Rose bought it and partnered with Ari Lehman (who played jack-in-the-lake Jason from the first Friday the 13th movie) to turn it into what he delightfully called a “horror BBQ resort.” And then the news reports stopped.

So consider this a follow-up news report.

The gas station is in Bastrop, 35 miles southwest of Austin (I was only able to visit because we flew into Houston and drove to Austin, so it was on the way). The gas station is on Route 304, where Clearview Drive touches it. Surprisingly, what we found when we dug the rental car into the dust that was the place’s front yard was…activity.

Two men were working on the place, doing that construction thing I find so mystical. I walked over to them and after a quick conversation learned that the owner wasn’t there, that he was in the process of getting it ready to open at some point, and sure, we could look around and take pictures. None of us used the phrase, “horror BBQ resort.”

The basic shape of the building is the same, although the gas pumps are missing. That’s been true for a long time. A new WE Slaughter Barbeque sign shined whitely on the roof in the Texas sun, complete with Coca-Cola logo (“Sign of Good Taste”). Inside it was empty, the walls skeletal and awaiting drywall. Behind it was a line of four tiny cabins...the resort part, I assume. There was also a big green van straight out of the movie sitting there empty and forlorn as if its owners had long ago been chainsawed into pulled pork.

It looks like Rose’s vision as a place to eat, sleep, and be horrified has been coalescing over the past year. All around a lonely, ramshackle building that a location scout happened to stumble on in the early 1970s. And to think, the actual house from the movie merely got turned into a non-themed restaurant.

As we pulled away, back on the road for Austin, a Texas flag flapped proudly from a house across the street. And I kept my eyes peeled for hitchhikers.