Everything’s bigger in Texas: Steak dinners, belt buckles, cowboy hats… horror. The Lone Star State produced a some of America’s most deranged serial killers, including: Angel Maturino Reséndiz (The Railroad Killer), Dean Corll (The Candy Man), Kenneth McDuff (The Broomstick Killer), Charles Albright (The Eyeball Killer), David Berkowitz (Son of Sam), Dennis Rader (The BTK Killer), Coral Eugene Watts (The Sunday Morning Slasher), John Wayne Gacy, Richard Ramirez, and (most infamous of all) Henry Lee Lucas.
Is it any wonder, then, that when horror filmmakers are dreaming up appropriate locales for acts of extreme carnage, their minds so often drift towards Texas? Not only is it a state with plenty of dark history to draw from for inspiration, it’s got deserts, mountains, beaches, and cities; natural beauty and industrial waste. It’s populated by people from all walks of life, from oil barons to the poverty stricken. In other words: It’s an awesome place to set a horror movie. Below, in no particular order, are 10 of my favorites. Git along lil’ dogies!
All the Boys Love Mandy Lane (2006)
Not only is All the Boys Love Mandy Lane made and set in Texas, it stars home grown superstar Amber Heard as the titular Mandy. It’s a great film for fans of R-rated teen-centric horror movies that feature spoiled rich kids getting their comeuppance. When a weekend party at a secluded ranch becomes a bloodbath, characters (and viewers) are left wondering if these terrifying events are tied to a tragedy from Mandy’s past.
Kill or Be Killed (2016)
The latest from Texas filmmaking duo Duane Graves and Justin Meeks, Kill or Be Killed, is a fantastic retro-western with beautiful cinematography, a great soundtrack, and serious horror sensibilities. When a band of outlaws (pursued by lawmen) head to the desert for a stash of gold, the trek becomes a journey into madness. The natural beauty of Texas is juxtaposed against vicious violence and despicable treachery.
The Devil’s Rejects (2005)
Rob Zombie’s follow up to House of 1000 Corpses (2003) finds the marauding Fire Fly family on the run from authorities, Bonnie and Clyde style. It’s a bloody rampage that plays out along Texas’s highways, sweeping many innocents into the brutal chaos. The Devil’s Rejects made the evil clown Captain Spaulding (played by Sid Haig) a bona fide horror icon. Sheri Moon Zombie and Bill Mosely are also fantastic as Baby and Otis Firefly.
Dear God No! (2011)
Dear God No! is a testament to the thriving indie movie scene in and around Austin, Texas. The film is a love letter to drive-in era exploitation and grindhouse cinema; it features a drug addled motorcycle gang on a rape and murder spree that’s like nothing you’ve ever seen. Fans of the subgenre will be delighted and amused. Those with delicate sensibilities, though, should definitely steer clear. A sequel, Frankenstein Created Bikers, is currently making rounds on the festival circuit.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
Like, duh! The Texas Chain Saw Massacre probably did more to demonize the entire state than any other film before or since. It helped create a perception that rural Texas is teeming with cannibals! A trio of sequels dropped in the 1980’s gave TCM incredible staying power, and reboots/sequels/prequels, beginning in 2003, introduced Leatherface and clan to a new generation of horror fans. It’s true: The Saw is Family.
Planet Terror (2007)
Texas based writer/director Robert Rodriguez blew us away with Planet Terror back in 2007. The film stars Scream Queen Rose McGowan as a stripper turned savior, leading a heavily armed motley crew against a legion of bio-engineered zombies. Along with Death Proof (written and directed by Quentin Tarantino) Planet Terror was part of the Grindhouse double feature, which paid tribute to classic exploitation films of the 1970’s.
The Texas Killing Fields (2011)
Based on true events and teeming with genuine tragedy, The Texas Killing Fields gives us a look at an impoverished community where life is cheap and merely surviving can be a challenge. A duo of detective struggle to find a link between a local murder and an infamous marshland thought to be a dumping ground for serial killers. It’s a quest for justice that pushes both men to the brink of damnation.
The Town that Dreaded Sundown (2014)
I actually liked the meta-remake, released in 2014, better than the original version of The Town that Dreaded Sundown (released in 1976). It’s an examination of Texarkana’s dubious legacy as the former stomping ground for a serial killer who was never caught, or even identified. When another spate of murders riles up the townsfolk, authorities (and viewers) are left wondering if there is a connection to the unsolved crimes from decades past, or a nefarious copycat. Will this killer also disappear before authorities close in?
Death Proof (2007)
The second part of the Grindhouse double feature, Death Proof (written and directed by Quentin Tarantino) is very different from Planet Terror, but just as impressive. Once again, the highways of Texas become a battleground in the longest, most insane car-chase ever filmed.
Butcher Boys (2012)
The second film on this list from Duane Graves and Justin Meeks, Butcher Boys, is tragically under-known and underrated. The story of a group of 20-somethings targeted by a syndicate of urban cannibals is smarter, gorier, and more entertaining than just about anything falling under the “torture porn” umbrella. It’s a must-see for fans of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, with so many cameos from the original cast it feels like a reunion.
While Austin, Texas is famous for its amazing music venues, it’s just as well known these days for its thriving indie film scene. A film festival has become a major component of the annual SXSW Festival. Established directors who call the city home include: Terrence Malick (The Thin Red Line), Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused), and (as previously mentioned) Robert Rodriguez (Once Upon a Time in Mexico, From Dusk Till Dawn, Predators). The state of Texas is also home to too many amazing up-and-comers to mention.
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