Sun-Scorched Terror: Celebrate the Leadup to Halloween with These Five Terrifying Flicks Set in Texas

click to enlarge The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

Texas is a scary place.

Our state has a rich history of terror, from our haunted landmarks and ghostly children at train tracks to that one Whataburger where everybody swears somebody once died. Hell, not many states can boast that one of its senators is also possibly the Zodiac Killer.

Appropriately enough, there’s also an amazing selection of horror films set in Texas, so we thought October would be a perfect time to offer some recommendations of our favorite Lone Star spooktaculars.

The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976)
Town rates as one of the earliest slashers in history, made two years after Black Christmas and two years before Halloween. While the movie’s not a classic like the pair of titles it’s sandwiched between, it’s still worth a viewing for a handful of truly creepy scenes. A lot of its humor doesn’t really work now — and maybe never did — so prepare to cringe through a chunk of the runtime to get to the high points, though. The Town That Dreaded Sundown is loosely based on the real Texarkana Moonlight Murders, a series of unsolved killings and attacks in — you guessed it — Texarkana, back in spring of 1946. So, you can probably imagine why back in 1977 city officials threatened to sue over the film’s poster tagline: “In 1946 this man killed five people… Today he still lurks the streets of Texarkana.” Ultimately there was no suit, and to this day, Texarkana celebrates The Town That Dreaded Sundown with an annual screening at Spring Lake Park around Halloween.

The Devil’s Rejects (2005)
Who would have guessed ’90s rocker Rob Zombie would become one of the most interesting horror filmmakers of the new century? Not everything he’s made has been great by any means — I’m specifically looking at you, 31 — but the guy has gifted us with several gems, The Lords of Salem being my personal favorite. But, The Devil’s Rejects, a sequel to the bizarrely entertaining House of 1,000 Corpses, is what most people think about when they talk about Rob Zombie — and for good reason. This film is a sun-scorched road trip to hell stretched out across 109 minutes in the wilds of Texas. It’s less cartoonish than its predecessor, coming across more like a violent Western in the style of The Wild Bunch and Badlands. The Texas in The Devil’s Rejects is so hot it’ll make you sweat just watching it.

click to enlarge The Devil’s Rejects
The Devil’s Rejects

Frailty (2001)
Anybody who’s visited the Lone Star State for more than five minutes can tell we tend to take our religion quite seriously. Well, many of us do, anyway. Almost to a terrifying level. Maybe that’s why Frailty works so well. In it, the late Bill Paxton gives one of his best performances as an insane dad forcing his two boys to help him exterminate “demons” from the world. Those demons? Yeah, they’re just regular people. Or are they? No, really, they are. As you might imagine, this isn’t a good movie to watch on Father’s Day.

Bubba Ho-Tep (2002)
Not everybody wants to feel the absolute desecration of the human soul when watching a horror movie. Some folks prefer something a bit more light-hearted and humorous. Enter Don Coscarelli’s amazing adaptation of a novella of the same name by Texas’ greatest literary gift to the world: Joe R. Lansdale. Bubba Ho-Tep spins a yarn about Elvis Presley, now an elderly resident in an East Texas rest home, battling a goddamn mummy with his trusty sidekick: a resident convinced he’s President John F. Kennedy. It’s hilarious and well worth your time. Make sure you read Lansdale’s novella, too, found in his collection The Best of Joe R. Lansdale. By the way, every story in this book slaps; you won’t regret picking it up.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
What more can be said about the weirdest and scariest horror movie of all time? Forty-five years later, and nothing has topped it. No movie in history has ever made its viewers so vividly uncomfortable like this one. Thousands of films have tried, and they’ve all failed. TCM is scary not only just for its content but its presentation. Director Tobe Hooper accomplished something truly special with his cinematic approach. Sometimes TCM feels less like a movie than the nightmare of a deranged lunatic locked up in an abandoned asylum. Hooper’s direction is raw and appears totally oblivious to how things are supposed to be done. That makes the movie a nihilistic retreat into the unknown. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre works because it makes its viewer worried not just for the characters but also the filmmaker. For some fans, it remains perhaps the greatest achievement not just in horror but cinematic history.