A small slice of movie history sits on a stretch of Texas 304 in Bastrop. It's a quaint enough spot, well past the charred-tree graveyard from the 2011 wildfires that devastated the area, and nothing that would demand attention from the road.
For fans of the horror genre, however, the building on site will stand out as one of the principal locations of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It has been restored to look as it did in the 1974 film, and it opened earlier this month as a tourist attraction and lunch spot. Known simply as The Gas Station, the building houses a mountain of horror-flick merchandise. Out back sits a pavilion, along with picnic tables and four newly constructed cabins for Chainsaw fans whose appreciation reaches overnight-stay levels.
As in the movie, barbecue is served, though visitors won't have to worry about the meat source this time around. A sign proudly states -- just as it did on film -- "We Slaughter Barbecue."
The restoration process was a labor of love for owners Roy and Lisa Rose, who moved from Cleveland to Bastrop to tackle the project. The Roses, as you might imagine, are big fans of Tobe Hooper's film. Lisa Rose says that it's been Roy's favorite movie since he was 10 years old.
The Gas Station's grand opening included a costume contest and appearances by two actors from Chainsaw: Edwin Neal, who played the squirrely hitchhiker, and Ed Guinn, the wrench-wielding hero at the film's end. Halloween festivities are on deck for this weekend, including a return appearance by Neal.
When I stopped by for a recent visit, Gas Station employee Ben Hughes explained what it was all about.
"Honestly, it's just to keep it alive," he says. "When it comes down to cult classics and iconic movies, Texas Chainsaw Massacre has always been one of them. To be able to share that with people, have everybody see it and go, 'Wow, that movie scared me half to death.' You want to have that shock in life, you want to be able to say you did it. How often are you able to do that? It's kinda like meeting one of your favorite stars."
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was a hard movie to ignore, starting with the title. Those words seemed to have a greater impact as a notorious Lone Star State incident. (The Delaware Chainsaw Massacre doesn't have the same ring to it.)
The film still oozes with creepiness, starting with the idea that it was a true story, including narration by a pre-Night Court John Larroquette: "The film which you are about to see is an account of the tragedy which befell a group of five youths …"
At 14 years old, watching the movie at a Halloween party, I was as scared of that ghostly voiceover and the "true story" notion as much as anything in the film. But it's not quite true. Screenwriter Kim Henkel told Texas Monthly in 2004 that it was inspired by the acts of two serial killers, Ed Gein and Elmer Wayne Henley. That's as far as the "truth" goes. The plot's road trip is memorable nonetheless, following the teens to their unfortunate encounters with Leatherface and his family.
The film is loaded with bad ideas and "Don't go in there!" moments. Take the first glimpse of a sweaty Neal on the side of the road, which inspires this well-thought-out conversation among the teens:
"Should we pick him up?"
"Oh yeah, man, pick him up. He'll asphyxiate out there."
We all know the proper answer is, "For the love of God, do not pick him up." But hey, man, it's the '70s.
The gas station pops up early in the film, as the teens pile out of the lima-bean-green Ford van for a pit stop. That's where they meet the old man who is later revealed to be the brother to Leatherface and the hitchhiker. The gas station has no gas, but there is barbecue to sell. From there, it's on to a seemingly abandoned house, where the chainsaw chaos begins.
The film was naturally controversial, though the gore was more implied than splattered. Film critic Roger Ebert noted its gruesome nature in his review, and that its sole purpose seemed to be "the creation of disgust and fright."
"And yet in its own way, the movie is some kind of weird, off-the-wall achievement," he wrote. "I can't imagine why anyone would want to make a movie like this, and yet it's well-made, well-acted, and all too effective."
The movie made $30 million, according to boxofficemojo.com, and became a horror classic, paving the way for Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger to slash up screens in the late '70s and '80s. Chainsaw sequels followed, largely of a sillier variety. The 1994 sequel does get points for its two young actors who would go on to Oscar-winning careers: Matthew McConaughey and Renee Zellweger. A remake starring Jessica Biel was released in 2003, then a prequel in 2006 and a 3-D film in 2013. But none were regarded with the same shock as the first.
"There's nothing like the original," Hughes says. "… You'll never make an original like that again."
The other building prominently featured in the original film was the family's house of horrors, which was located in Round Rock. It found a new life, however, after being taken apart and moved to Kingsland in Llano County. It is now a restaurant called Grand Central Cafe near the Antlers Hotel, and the cafe's website briefly explains the house's journey.
Back in Bastrop, the restoration idea began four years ago. Lisa Rose says that Roy had inquired about purchasing the building from its previous owners, who finally were ready to sell in 2014.
"We hopped on a plane from Cleveland, Ohio, we flew out here, we checked it out, we bought it," she says.
The restoration included extensive wood and concrete work, she says, and the couple aimed to keep it as original as they could. A replica of the green van sits behind the building, and other '70s-era items are on site, including an antique gas pump and Coke machine.
"We just want it to be authentic, so when you go, you're not disappointed," Hughes says. "It's the way it was. We want you to come out and go, 'This is exactly like it was.' … If you're going to do it, do it right."
Inside the building, it's merch city, with loads of Chainsaw T-shirts and figures. (If you've ever wanted a string of holiday lights with Leatherface's head as the bulbs, get thee to Bastrop.) A wild-eyed figure of Neal's hitchhiker character can be found reclining on a rusty chair. Other franchises are also represented, including life-size figures of Krueger and Ghostface from Scream.
For fans in the area, The Gas Station may turn out to be a regular lunch spot. Plates of brisket, sausage, beans and potato salad are being served daily at the outdoor pavilion.
And for the diehard fans, the cabins are a pleasant shade of green on the outside, with red-and-black walls inside. The restroom stalls feature a hammer instead of a doorknob, for Leatherface's initial weapon of choice in the original film.
Halloween festivities will go on through Monday with the return of Neal, who Hughes calls "one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet." The weekend also features appearances from Caroline Williams, known as "Stretch" from the first Chainsaw sequel, 1986's Part 2, which will be shown on the big screen by the pavilion.
After all the time and money spent on bringing The Gas Station back to life, Rose says of the long-awaited opening, "It's awesome."
"I love it," she says. "When people come here, they're so happy. I love sharing something that we love with other people who love the same thing."