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 Texas : Features : Columns : "Letters from Central Texas"

Tranquil setting belies past
PRAIRIE DELL

by Clay Coppedge

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Prairie 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.


The 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.

A
merica's 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.


The 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.

Honest.

Clay Coppedge
"Letters from Central Texas" September 24, 2004 Column
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