Month: August 2015
I was the last journalist to interview Marilyn Burns before her death, a year ago today.
This obit ran on PenthouseMagazine.com, but is no longer live. Today is the anniversary of her death, so I’m posting it again.
Marilyn Burns, The Original Scream Queen, dead at 65
On Tuesday, August 5, 2014, horror-film legend Marilyn Burns, star of Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, passed away in her sleep.
Anyone who has seen the film will always have her voice echoing through their minds—Sally Hardesty screaming at the top of her lungs while fleeing Leatherface and his buzzing chain saw, again and again, is unforgettable. Burns’ performance is one reason the movie works, and is so enduring. Her terror is so palpable. Her acting perfectly conveys the gut-wrenching moments of her realization that she’s a modern Gretel, having stumbled upon the evil cannibals’ house, and no one is coming to save her. The viewer can see when her character experiences this loss of security and sanity during her time with Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen), Hitchhiker (Ed Neal), Cook (Jim Siedow), and their Grandpa (John Dugan).
This summer marks the 40th anniversary of when a gang of inexperienced kids with a camera and a van came together for a few weeks and created one of the most extraordinary films of all time. I approached Marilyn Burns about an interview for an article I’m writing for the November  Penthouse magazine, about the film and the anniversary, and I was lucky enough that she agreed to talk to me. When she answered my questions on July 29, there was no way of knowing that she would be dead a week later, that my interview would be the last she would ever give.
Usually when a journalist interviews a subject for an article, not every response is used, and answers might be edited for space or relevance. As I’m working on my piece for the November issue, I find myself loathe to skip or discard any of her responses. I don’t want any of these words to be wasted, as they were her last given to the media. So here are some her words, dealing with the public reaction to the film when it was released:
“The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was certainly not recognized for many, many years as a classic. There was one article in The Los Angeles Times that was almost a whole page, featuring in big letters, ‘SLEAZE,’ right by a picture of me screaming. When it came out, people booed at the screen; people got sick; people went crazy over it. [Film critic] Rex Reed said, ‘Run, don’t walk. It makes Psycho look like a nursery rhyme and The Exorcist look like a comedy.’ Johnny Carson was on TV saying it was the most despicable, horrible, vile thing you could ever see.”
“Women Against Violence asked me, ‘Why, Ms. Burns, would you do such a movie?’ I was puzzled—I got away. I’m the first victim to get away! I’m a heroine. And then from The San Francisco Chronicle came: ‘Psychologically, the way perverts see these movies is to get out their aggression.’ One more review read: Chain Saw is the epitome of people that are sick and mentally ill and they need some avenue to release it, otherwise, they would be serial killers.’ So, there was definitely a mixed reaction to the film.”
“One thing that really helped this film was the title. ‘Texas’ sought some attention, ‘Chain Saw’ is quite catchy, and ‘Massacre’’ could stand alone to tell a story, but all three together does make the mind wander. Tobe [director Hooper] and Kim [writer Henkel] were familiar with the killer Ed Gein, so they gave him a family, added a chain saw, set it in Texas, and let the final victim get away. All right, it took Sally a few times to get it right, but she finally does get away.”
Burns never stopped acting, appearing in several films, including a role as Manson Family member Linda Kasabian in Helter Skelter, as well as cameos in a couple of more recent Chain Saw reimaginings. Although most of her acting work throughout her life was in theater, acting and directing, she did complete a final horror film in 2013, called Sacrament, directed by Shawn Ewert. Sacrament is about a group of friends on a getaway to a small town in Texas, where they encounter some suspicious townspeople known for their barbecue. Forty years later, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and its Final Girl’s screams continue to resonate.
Check out the November issue of Penthouse, on newsstands September 30, for more coverage of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre 40th anniversary, including more of Marilyn Burns’ last interview.