With Halloween on its way, those looking for a good scare might find themselves once again in the horror aisle of their local video provider. And as these film buffs may know, the recently released "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" is a remake of the 1974 classic of the same name.
However, what is less well-known is that the inspiration for this haunting classic can be traced a lot closer to home than some Wisconsinites may care to remember.
In 1957, after the disappearance of two local women, a group of Plainfield police followed a tip that would ultimately lead to one of Wisconsin's most gruesome tales and one of Hollywood's greatest inspirations.
That infamous tip led police to the home of local odd-job man Ed Gein, the only surviving member of the Gein birthright. And, while they did not find Gein at home that day, the police did locate the bodies of the women who had been missing from town, as well as parts of more than 40 other dismembered bodies, victims of recent grave robbing and other unimaginable horrors.
A further search of the house revealed an entire "woman suit" crafted together from the flesh of many of Gein's victims, a little something Gein fashioned to wear around the house.
The details of the Gein case have inspired and been exploited in some of the best horror films Hollywood has to offer. In fact, "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" (1974 and 2003) shares company with Hitchcock's "Psycho" (1960), and five-time Academy award winner "The Silence of the Lambs" (1991).
For those yet to see the "re-imagining" of Tobe Hooper's "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre," starring Jessica Biel, or witness the low-budget mastery of the original, the basic plot follows a group of scantily clad teens that unwittingly stumble into the worst place at the worst possible time and spend the remainder of the film running for their lives from a large chainsaw-brandishing psychopath.
And, if his weapon of choice was not enough to send movie patrons jumping, his choice of attire will always do the trick. Pulled straight from the Wisconsin headlines, this dastardly villain (affectionately referred to as "Leatherface" by those closest to him) wears a mask made entirely of human flesh, constructed lovingly from the faces of his victims. The debate may wage on about whether or not this remake does the original justice, but one thing's for sure, that Leatherface has a facemask that only a mother could love.
But long before a young Hooper developed the ideas for his low budget phenomenon, other directors were working to capitalize on the sensationalized Wisconsin incident. For a mere $9,000 Alfred Hitchcock anonymously purchased the rights to the recently published "Psycho" (1959) novel, penned by Wisconsin resident Robert Bloch.
Admittedly, the plot is in no way related to the Gein case, but Bloch was fascinated by the indications of a likeable villain. In a 1976 interview for "Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine," Bloch explained that after reading about the case in Wisconsin newspapers he was immediately intrigued that a man known by neighbors as "Good Old Ed Gein" could lead such a double life.
While neighbors testified that it was no secret Gein was upset after the death of his mother 1945 (some of the body parts recovered in the Gein house were later identified as having belonged to the long-buried Augusta Gein), few could have foreseen the effects her reportedly domineering personality would eventually spawn. This dichotomy would be the foundation and muse behind one of the world's most notorious mama's boy: Norman Bates.
And there is just something about a man in a "woman-suit" stiched from human flesh that can start any horror film rolling. A combination of several notorious serial killers, the "Buffalo Bill" character in "The Silence of the Lambs" blatantly followed in Gein's clinically psychotic footsteps.
In one of the most blatant examples of cinematic and idea sampling, Buffalo Bill shocks audiences by unveiling his handy-work, an outfit not likely to ever make the pages of Vogue. Ripped from the headlines of the Gein investigation, this aspect of the film has a high creepy-factor, considerably heightened by the fact that it is based on actual events.
The tagline for "The Texas Chainsaw Massacres," past and present, asks "Who will survive, and what will be left of them?" It's a question befitting Ed Gein, an infamous Wisconsin native whose death from cancer in 1984 has in no way ended his legacy of horror that continues to live on through American cinema.