Dell was once the site of a roadside attraction and later the
principle set for the sequel to the movie "Texas Chainsaw Massacre."
The movie is often described as a cult favorite, which usually means
it's either so bad it's good, or it has a preposterous premise that
people think is based on a real incident. Contrary to a popular myth
of the urban variety, neither the original "Texas Chainsaw," the sequel
or a remake is based on fact. The term "Inspired By A True Story"
has taken root in the imagination of some fans; in some cases, it
has blossomed into a shocking true story that never happened. These
people are not swayed by facts.
sequel, identifiable by the presence of a Roman numeral at the end
of the original title, was filmed at what used to be the Prairie
Dell Lake Amusement Park, which flourished briefly just off IH-35,
south of Salado.
It carries a Jarrell mailing address. The amusement park is long gone.
In its place today is the Emerald Lake RV Park.
Lou Hernandez has managed the RV Park for the past six years. He says
he has been told the lake is natural and spring fed. He has tried
to get some pictures of the old amusement park or stills from the
movie to put on the walls of the office, but without success. "People
ask about it from time to time," he said. "I wish I had something
to show them. I'm still looking for some pictures."
The lake makes for a tranquil setting. It's hard to imagine or remember
that a gaudy replica of the Matterhorn once dominated this prairie
landscape. Even harder to imagine is the bloodletting mayhem of a
movie filmed in such a tranquil setting.
The movie was filmed at the park in 1986, a few years after it went
out of business. A movie publicist, in an interview with the Telegram,
gave the place a left hand-compliment when he said, "The park was
so dilapidated we didn't have to do anything to fix it up."
Director Tobe Hooper called the amusement park "a very strange place."
In the movie, the character Chop-Top comes back from Vietnam after
having a wedge slashed into his head with a machete. Using the money
from a government settlement, he buys a derelict amusement park, which
he intends to turn into Nam-land. Again, this is NOT based on a true
incident. No one ever planned a Nam-land amusement park here.
pre-eminent drive-in movie critic Joe Bob Briggs liked the movie despite
the faint but noticeable presence of a plot. Joe Bob describes the
movie's precipitous action: "A bimbo deejay records the sound of a
guy getting his brain chainsawed through the sunroof of a Mercedes
because the guy happened to be requesting a song by Humble Pie on
his daddy's cell phone at the time."
This sends a deranged Texas Ranger, played by, as Briggs dubs him,
"Dennis 'I Am Lord of the Harvest' Hopper" to the hardware store for
three Black and Deckers. He yanks the lanyard a time or two and goes
after Leatherface. Reviews indicate the movie starts to gets violent
at this point.
And the point is, it's just a movie. It didn't happen. The reference
desk at the Temple
library gets a lot of requests for news clippings of the incident.
The fans get downright angry when told it somebody just made it all
up. It's called fiction.
story that "inspired" Hooper to make the first movie was the case
of Ed Gein, a Wisconsin serial killer. Some of the macabre elements
of Leatherface show up in the Ed Gein story - skin masks, bone furniture,
the possibility of cannibals. Gein is also believed to have "inspired"
another horror movie, "Silence of the Lambs."
Gunnnar Hansen played Leatherface in the first movie. He devotes part
of his website to debunking the myth that any of this really happened.
"I've had people tell me they knew the original Leatherface, that
they had been guards at the state prison in Huntsville, Texas where
he was a prisoner," he writes.
The Texas Prison Museum in Huntsville
has a page on its website about the movie, pointing out that Ed Gein
lived his entire life in Wisconsin, where he died in an asylum in
1984. The man never so much as stepped foot on Texas soil.
© Clay Coppedge
"Letters from Central Texas"
24, 2004 Column