I know you answered this question about The Texas Chain Saw Massacre around the time of the remake in 2003, but I can't find it on your new page. I'm wondering how much of the film is true and how much is Hollywood made up? A friend of mine thinks it's totally true, chainsaw and all, but I'm trying to tell her it's only partially true and she doesn't believe me. Thanks for all your answers from forever; I read you every week. You've even won me more than a few bets! Brandi

If I keep winning bets for you, I may have to start asking for kickbacks. You can't find the old posting because it isn't there any more, but here's a recap of the salient points. A warning to the faint of heart: The details get very nasty in paragraph three.

Let's start with the truth of the title: The real-life case that inspired The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) and all its various sequels, prequels and remakes took place in Wisconsin, did not involve a chainsaw and was not a massacre - by all reliable accounts, only two women were murdered and not at the same time. This isn't to say that it's okay to kill two people as long as you space them out or anything, only that two killings three years apart do not a massacre make.

What filmmaker Tobe Hooper and his collaborators took from the case of Ed Gein, a reclusive farmer from Plainfield, Wis., who was arrested in 1957 on charges of having fatally shot a local shopkeeper, Bernice Worden, and gutted her like a deer in his shed, were the grotesque trappings of Gein's crimes, most of which began with grave robbery rather than murder. Local police, who knew Gein had visited Worden's store shortly before she disappeared, leaving no concrete clues other than a disturbing trail of blood, were only stopping by to talk to Gein. Gein was a well-known local eccentric who had lived alone in a rundown farmhouse since the death of his mother more than ten years earlier, but noone thought he was dangerous. Neighbors even let him babysit for their children. So finding Worden's butchered body was a hell of a shock, as was what they found when they went poking around the main house: A bowl made of the top of a human skull, a shade pull with a pair of lips at the end, human-skin lampshades made, a box full of women's private parts, a belt made of nipples, a complete "lady suit" made of human skin and hair, apparently from different sources, and much, much more as the old carny hucksters used to say. Under questioning, Gein admitted to a second murder, that of a tavern keeper named Mary Hogan in 1954.

The sheer lunatic inventiveness of Gein's tinkering with body parts was reproduced and embellished upon by Texas Chain Saw Massacre's art director, Robert Burns. Hooper also took the idea of deranged doings behind the fa├žade of an apparently ordinary country house, and worked with his cast to evoke an atmosphere of sheer, near-incomprehensible horror, which is certainly what the discoveries in the Gein house aroused. Gein seems to have dabbled in cannibalism, but it wasn't the primary purpose behind his crimes; Gein was driven by a bizarre, warped fascination with the female body that had its roots in a suffocatingly close relationship with his oppressively religious mother.

And that's about it for the film's factual basis: Whatever Gein did, he did alone, not with members of his family. He shot his victims, rather than dismembering them with a chainsaw. He did have a human flesh mask, but it was part of the lady suit. And he certainly wasn't a hulking butcher like the movies' Leatherface: Gein was a skinny, weather-beaten farmer in a trucker cap.

Gein was suspected in several killings and disappearances besides the ones to which he admitted, including the suspicious death of his own brother, Henry, in 1944, which was ruled accidental at the time. The grounds around the Gein house were dug up, but no concrete evidence was ever found to contradict his claim that he had killed Hogan and Worden, acquiring the rest of the raw materials for his handiwork by digging up corpses from cemeteries and spiriting away the parts he needed. Examination of the Plainfield graveyard supported his story.

Subsequent Chainsaw Massacre movies elaborated on the mythology of the first film, but other filmmakers and novelists went back to the source material and manipulated it to their own ends. Robert Bloch's novel Psycho, which Alfred Hitchcock turned into the famous 1960 movie, was also inspired by the Gein case; Bloch and Hitchcock were more interested in the psychology of an isolated killer, warped by his close relationship with his mother, who was able to hide his insanity from neighbors and acquaintances than in the skull bowls.

Thomas Harris modeled Silence of the Lambs killer Jame Gumb on Gein -- Gumb kidnaps and murders women so he can use their skin to build his own lady suit. The 1974 film Deranged, which was completely eclipsed by Texas Chain Saw Massacre, lightly fictionalizes the Gein case and features a really disturbing performance by Roberts Blossom as killer/corpse violator "Ezra Cobb," and the direct-to-video Ed Gein (2000), starring Steve Railsback (who, you may recall, jump-started his career with a truly creepy performance as Charles Manson in the 1976 TV movie Helter Skelter), is a remarkably accurate account of Gein's life and crimes.