How Sneak-Watching The Texas Chain Saw Massacre at Age 9 Made Me a Filmmaker

A disturbing start to a passion for storytelling

Like many 9-year-olds, I liked to push boundaries when it came to following the rules. Though I did dive into the cookie stash a number of times in my tenure, for me, my misbehavior of choice involved sneaking a peek at movies that were "not appropriate" or "too scary" for me to watch as a kid (or for any kids, for that matter). There are kids who are afraid of the dark and actively avoid any mysterious corner of the house or suspect porcelain doll. Then there are those who cover their eyes at the sight of something that would be deemed horrific even for an adult—only to slyly open their fingers up to sneak a peek of the dreadful sight with one eye. I was undoubtedly the latter.

My parents were out of the house for the afternoon and I knew exactly how I would optimize those precious unsupervised hours. I made a beeline to my father's extensive video collection and went straight for the good stuff. On this momentous occasion, I lucked upon the jackpot: a chance for a viewing of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. While many children may have gotten one glimpse of the chainsaw-wielding maniac and created the groundwork for a lifetime of therapy, I was interestingly (and oddly) enough, inspired.

The very first time you see Leatherface in the movie, where he opens up the door, grabs the girl and slams the door shut was a major WTF moment for me where I realized I was strapped in and committed to this, like it or not. Did I probably have half of my face covered for most of the movie? Absolutely. Did I ever consider turning it off? Apart from a surprise emergency early return from the parentals, not for a minute. The movie was so raw and unlike anything I'd ever seen that I knew I was doing something wrong. As a "good" kid, I felt really bad about it, but I absolutely could not tear myself away. From that point, it was all downhill. While there is nothing ostensibly graphic within the film, the tone is so visceral and continues to get more bizarre the more you watch.

The movie left me awestruck with the realization it made me feel something completely different. Was it discomfort and possibly fear? Most likely. But the film made my heart race and occupied deep parts of my mind rent-free. I was excited by the idea of these maverick filmmakers who jumped in and did left-of-center things that made people uncomfortable, who made a movie that looked like a real experience, and it made me feel—weird. 

While other teenagers were splitting their time between the skate park and the mall, my friends and I became obsessed with the local video store. Pre-Internet, not only did you not have access to new films from the comfort of your own home, but the discovery of these counterculture stories was a reconnaissance mission we took all too seriously. On the weekends we would divide and conquer to get our hands on the latest horror or sci-fi release—the more off the beaten path, the better. We either snagged a title based on the sheer fact that we'd heard people talking about it, or—for better or worse—from a particularly gnarly cover that piqued curiosity over any other discerning factors. (This is still the case, it's just way easier now.)

This fascination quickly turned into our own creative exploration, coming up with our own scripts and shooting with whatever we could get our hands on. Making things with friends that brought the same shared passion for storytelling and getting our hands dirty in the process was the main goal. The final product was a natural byproduct of the enthusiasm and genuine awe we brought to the collaboration. The more I immersed myself into films, the more I was entranced by the sheer excitement that came along with discovering uncommon stories and unique perspectives. To me, it felt like an exclusive club you had to work to join by diving headfirst into the crazy movie scene and finding obscure and engaging projects that really made you feel something. 

At the end of the day, that's still the reason why we're still all here: to come together to make something cool and have fun along the way. Honestly, it's the only reason we're all still here. I am constantly pinching myself at how lucky I am to work with awesome people day in and day out and create together. Hard work is part of the process, but so long as the joy and enthusiasm that sparked us to all be where we are today remains, I'm here to stay.

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Daniel DelPurgatorio
Daniel DelPurgatorio is executive creative director at ATKPLN.

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