Wrap Shot: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

Cinematographer Daniel Pearl, ASC discusses his feature debut — shooting director Tobe Hooper's 1974 horror classic.

David E. Williams

Future ASC great Daniel Pearl on the set.

Necessity is the mother of invention, and in order to pull off an impressive opening crane shot for the independent horror film The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), director of photography and future ASC member Daniel Pearl relied on the homemade wooden camera rig seen in the photo above, devised by his crew. Mounted to its end is a tiny, wind-up Bolex 16mm camera.

In the image, you can also see director Tobe Hooper on the left, pointing toward a gruesome corpse prop situated atop a gravestone — the grim aftermath of a cemetery that has been vandalized:

From the opening shot, as filmed with the Bolex.

A low-budget picture, Massacre was shot on 16mm color reversal film with the intention of going directly to a 35mm blowup internegative to then make 35mm theatrical release prints. This would help maintain image quality.

While the sync-sound portions of the picture were largely shot with an Éclair NPR, the clockwork Bolex was also brought into play for handheld work and other specialty shots, such as this:

An extreme low-angle dolly shot from the film, depicting a spooky house looming over an unsuspecting character.

A native of Texas, Hooper — who would go on to helm such other genre classics as Salem's Lot and Poltergeist — died on August 26 at the age of 74.

After the staggering success of Massacre, Pearl would go on to later shoot Hooper’s sci-fi remake Invaders From Mars (1986), among other features, also working as a top commercial and music video cinematographer.

Pearl later revisited his Chain Saw roots by photographing the stylish 2003 remake of this most frightening film, directed by Marcus Nispel.

You can learn much more about the 1974 production — Pearl's very first feature project — in this short interview from ASC video collection:

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