Texas is known for its expansive size, relentless heat, and plentiful barbecue joints. But there’s another important association, and it’s one of the most influential horror movies ever made: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
In 1974, Austin native Tobe Hooper co-wrote and independently directed the jarring genre film that subsequently catapulted him (and Texas) onto the film scene. While many moviegoers at the time typically associated Texas cinema with westerns, now there was a new type of film to consider, one that sparked a wave of fear and intrigue with the revelation of a new monster by the name of Leatherface.
In order to attract a wider audience, Texas Chain Saw was marketed as a true story, though it was mostly untrue. While the events that took place were entirely fictional, the character of Leatherface was based on notorious serial killer Ed Gein. The film follows a group of teenagers that fall prey to a clan of cannibals who serve their victims up as barbecue.
The original movie by Hooper and the 2003 remake by Marcus Nispel (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the only difference between the titles being the formatting of the word “chainsaw”) were filmed in Texas, which means there are three landmark sets that fans can visit. Even better, all include restaurants, offering a taste of the Chain Saw experience, minus human meat.
1010 King Court, Kingsland, Texas
Original house from Tobe Hooper’s 1974 The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
Hours: breakfast - 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday; lunch - 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday; snacks - 2 to 4:30 p.m. daily; dinner - 4:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday
Built in the early 1900s, the quaint green-and-white cottage originally stood in Round Rock, where it became an iconic film set for Hooper’s horror classic. It was purchased by the owners of The Antlers Inn in 1998, when the structure was disassembled into nine pieces and transported to its current location, just off the railroad tracks. The Queen Anne architecture was fully restored with its wrap-around white porch, lacy gingerbread trim, signature fish-scale green roof, and polished hardwood floors.
The current owners decided to subtly embrace the house’s horror past, but not with cheap gimmicks like bones dangling from the ceiling or taxidermy hanging from the walls. Instead, there are tasteful vintage photographs and paintings of the restaurant, allowing guests to enjoy themselves without being overwhelmed with memorabilia.
For those looking to indulge in the movie just a bit, there are behind-the-scenes photos in the adjacent bar and upstairs lounge, the area where a certain Chain Saw character liked to relax. After dining, people are welcome to wander through the lounge, sit on the patio and enjoy a cocktail, or stroll down the infamous hallway where Leatherface clubbed and dragged his victims into his workspace dungeon. Within the restaurant’s Club Car Bar, people are able to purchase movie-related merchandise like shirts and bumper stickers.
In that vein of tastefulness, the restaurant’s menu is elegant, selected to appeal to an array of appetites. For dinner, there’s a complementary balance of seafood and steak options; with classics for breakfast; and sandwiches, wraps, and burgers for lunch.
Several of Grand Central Cafe’s wait staff claim that the house is haunted. There have been reports of lights flashing, phantom footsteps, and objects moving around on their own. Those feeling brave can also spend the night on the property by reserving a room at the next-door inn. While the sleeping accommodations have no direct tie-in to the Texas Chain Saw Massacre franchise, it’s still a nice touch for visitors who want to get away for the weekend in search of relaxation, good food, and maybe even some ghosts, too.
1073 TX-304, Bastrop, Texas
Original gas station from Tobe Hooper’s 1974 The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
Hours: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday
The gas station featured in the original Texas Chain Saw keeps it simple and spooky. Located off the highway in rural Bastrop, this location is where the cannibalistic Sawyer family cooked their victims for barbecue, which is what’s on the menu of the actual restaurant (though made with beef and pork). Sausage, brisket, and beef are served with classic sides like potato salad, coleslaw, and beans. All of the meat is smoked on-site, and the kitchen is in the same space as it is in the film. Guests can either eat inside or outside in a covered area with several picnic tables. Close by are a handful of small cabins where travelers spend the night, or they can sit around the communal fire pit while watching an outdoor film screening.
This location, as compared to Grand Central Cafe, leans into the horror fandom the most. Sprinkled throughout the property are relics from the movie itself. Visitors can walk up and peek into the green van that was driven by the naive teens when they picked up the deranged hitchhiker. There is also a rundown pick-up truck that may or may not have belonged to the gas station owner in the film. The walls of the interior are lined with vinyl toys from various horror franchises (Gremlins, Annabelle, A Nightmare on Elm Street). Multiple masks stare down at patrons from behind the glass check-out counter filled with enamel pins, and at least fifteen different variations of Texas Chain Saw shirts are for sale against the back wall.
And if that isn’t enough to satisfy those horror cravings, the Gas Station also hosts various free meet-and-greets with famous genre actors. In early November, visitors can meet The Exorcist actress Eileen Dietz, who was Linda Blair’s double and whose face was used for the demon in the 1973 film.
The Cele Store
18726 Cameron Road, Manor, Texas
Gas station from director Marcus Nispel’s 2003 film The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Hours: 6 to 9 p.m. Thursday and Friday; 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday
The Cele Store (which is pronounced “seal”) was first established in 1891 as the Richland Saloon. Purchased in 1956 by the Weiss family, this Texas treasure has been a family-run endeavor ever since. The building’s withered exterior is the same as it was in the 2003 Chainsaw remake, where it served as the gas station. The store has also been featured in the coming-of-age drama Secondhand Lions and television series spinoff Fear the Walking Dead.
Upon passing through Cele’s creaky yet welcoming door, there’s the aroma of barbecue and the sound of radio country music, and it feels like stepping back in time. The walls are adorned with antique farming tools, taxidermy, and photos of friends, family, and historic shots of the store through the years. The tables are draped in butcher paper and dressed with baskets of crackers as well as Halloween decorations like fake cockroaches, spiders, and a jack-o-lantern candy bucket — a clear indication that the October holiday is beloved by the owners.
Cele makes use of simple salt and pepper for its brisket and ribs, and everything is made using the brick pit that has been smoking meat since 1964. The barbecue menu varies depending on the hour, rotating through pork tenderloin, baby back ribs, sausages, brisket, etc. Sides include pickled jalapeños, cheddar cheese, sandwich bread, pickles, and onions (no coleslaw or potato salad here), and guests are welcome to bring their own sides, too.
There’s an old-school southern charm to the Cele Store. Local country bands grace the indoor stage every month providing an intimate dance hall feel to the establishment. Regardless of the day or time of year, the staff and regulars welcome visitors with friendly smiles, great service, and stories that can only be properly shared over a cold beer and a warm meal, one much different from the horror movie itself.