Grit and Curly Things: Marilyn Burns on the Texas Chain Saw Massacre Series

The star of the original horror classic talks about her new cameo in Texas Chainsaw 3D, those bell bottoms and the legacy of the franchise.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

With the new Texas Chainsaw 3D coming to theaters, we got a chance to speak with Marilyn Burns, star of the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Out of respect for the new film, we wanted to give it some attention. However, in order to do so, we have to issue a spoiler warning for the specifics from Chainsaw 3D we asked Burns about. If you’re reading this before seeing the new film, you can skip the first four questions and jump right into reminiscing about the 1974 classic, in which Burns played Sally, the Leatherface victim who famously had to endure dinner with the whole cannibal family.


CraveOnline: How did it feel to see your 1974 footage in 3D?

Marilyn Burns: Now, I haven’t seen the film yet but I have seen the previews so yes, that was quite an experience. That is quite an experience.

Did you know they were using the original film and converting it to 3D?

I sure did, but I wasn’t able to really talk about it until I actually saw it on television advertising the film. So yes, I now can mention it. Yes, that was quite an experience. I think that’s incredible that they did that because it ties the movies in together.

What was your decision to actually come back for a role in the film?

Well, the script was absolutely amazing. It was just an honor to come back, that they were still thinking about us. It was great. For Gunner Hansen and John Dugan and I to be in Shreveport, Louisiana filming it, we had a ball.

Was it important to you that you not be back as Sally, but a different character?

That was the way the script was written. It fit in perfectly I think the way they ended up doing it. To take it from where that film left off and start where they did was a terrific idea that just worked brilliantly.



Do you think about where Sally is now after the events of that first film?

Oh, 1000s of scripts afterwards. Myself, I wrote many and many other people did too, about what happened to Sally, but those didn’t make it to the screen. But yes, we always think about what she did. Personally, I would’ve liked to have seen her come back and slaughter those guys.

Do you think she could ever recover and have a normal life?

Why, of course. She’s a strong woman. She could get away. She’s one of the first that ever got away. She dang well better come back.

How do you look back on the original shoot, which was a sort of legend of harrowing filmmaking?

Well, I look back on it fondly because evidently all the tortures we went through during the filming helped create the atmosphere that made it onto screen.

Does it help to have some distance from experiencing it?

Gee, every time I see it I can remember it like yesterday, so it’s become very fond now, especially since people still seem to like it. You can’t help but be thankful that your hard work is still being appreciated because that was never expected.

Did you have to run at full speed to outrun Gunnar Hansen?

Oh, we were both running at full speed, believe me. Take after take after take. No, I think we both did our share of running during that picture. If you were being chased by a chainsaw, you wouldn’t have to worry about how fast you ran.

How do you look back on those white bellbottoms?

Oh God. They actually went out before the darn thing came out. They went out of style and I thought, “Oh my God, the film’s coming out and nobody’s wearing bellbottoms.” So for about 10 years I felt absolutely stupid running around in those bellbottoms. But fortunately, they did come back too so I guess it made it all okay.

Later in the movie they tie a rag in your mouth. I imagine there’s no way they can fake that. Did you actually have to keep a rag in your mouth?

Yes, and the way they got the rag was they said, “Oh, we need a rag for Burns. Somebody go find a rag.” So something that was laying on the set picking up gosh knows what, they crammed in my mouth and you could just feel the grit and curly things and God knows what else was in that thing running around my mouth. It was absolutely gross, and then because we got it on film, we had to use it again without washing it or doing anything. It was disgusting.

Did you get sick?

No, we didn’t get sick. Only during the dinner sequence did we all get queasy when everything started smelling and it was so many hours. No, we didn’t get sick from the rag. There were plenty of other things to get sick from.

What was it like shooting the dinner scene?

Well, it was just as miserable as it looked. It was so hot, we were in there for 26 hours straight and in the house we blacked out the windows. We were just in that little space with the rotting chicken feet and the rotting head cheese and all the smelly cast and crew, just take after take. You can tell all the screaming and the craziness shooting everybody, because Tobe [Hooper] wanted shots of every character doing their thing, close-up shots. So we had to do close-ups of everybody at the dinner table with everybody’s point of view. That’s a whole lot of shots and a heck of a lot of footage but with his editing he managed to get the best I think of all parts so it does show up on screen, but boy, we worked to make it that way.

The camera gets right up into your eyes in that scene, doesn’t it?

Yes, and actually he called me back after we finished shooting and said, “Marilyn, we just have to do a couple shots of your eye.” And I said, “What?” So he says, “Yes.” I said, “Well, I’ve got a date.” He goes, “Come on into the studio, we’ll do it real quick.” Three or four hours later of shooting my eyeball, he got what he wanted.

Did you have any accidents with the hammer, ever accidentally get hit?

Accidents, yes. We had taken off the stupid sledge hammer part and then put a piece of foam rubber, but they still used the steel tool itself so that hit me in the head because it went right through the foam rubber. Boy, I did have some good bumps on my head. Plus, you heard that sledge hammer when it hit the bottom of the pan underneath me. It was quite painful. It was nuts but we were at the end of the shoot by then. All we cared about was just to get out of there and get it done.

You also came back for a cameo in part four, Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation. How did that work out, and why not for parts two and three?

Well, I don’t think I was asked for two and three. Part four, I wasn’t supposed to be really a cameo. Kim [Henkel] had written me a part and I was Screen Actors Guild and I couldn’t take it. So I said, “Well, listen. Let’s just do a quick shot as a joke. Nobody’ll know it was me.” People seem to figure it out. I wasn’t expecting that. I just did that as a [joke] between the writer/director Kim Henkel and I so that was a big surprise.

How did you like Renee Zellweger as the heroine of part four?

She was absolutely delightful. She was incredible. Boy, she’s some kind of actress, I’ll tell you.

With your career, why have you come in and out of acting with a role every few years?

Oh, it’s just worked out that way for one reason or another. I had to step out of it for a while but it always pulls me back. It seems to. I’ve always enjoyed it.

And Chainsaw especially keeps pulling you back.

Well, that’s the biggest surprise of all, but I love it and I’m so grateful. People still remember it and still want to see it.

What else do you do in your career and in your life these days?

Oh, I still write and I direct and I do teach. I occasionally take some jobs. I’ve got some projects coming up and there’s been a lot of conventions to attend that have been so much fun. They’re just amazing that the people respect the horror genre now and really seem to like it. For a long time, believe me, people liked to see it but nobody talked about it if you know what I mean.

Yeah, it seems like every few years we’re talking about the return of horror, but it’s never really gone away.

No, but when Chainsaw came out, for a good 10 years, people didn’t think it was very respectable. In London it was banned for 20 and it’s just now being released in Germany this year that they can see it, it’s not banned. So people still have the stigma even though Chainsaw doesn’t have any nudity, profanity or really any blood in it. But at the time, it seemed to strike a nerve in people.

I wonder if those countries that banned the original were showing the remake which was quite graphic.

You know, I don’t know that. I will find out. I’ve been to Germany twice and I’ll be going next year in March. I will find out. I know they have to get a lot of their DVDs and such from all the surrounding countries but now Chainsaw will be okay there. That’ll be interesting to see the response because whenever it’s banned, people really do want to see it. It does get a bigger group of people because they want to know why is it banned?

Have you had any experiences on other films that were as memorable as Chainsaw but people don’t talk about them as much?

Well, Helter Skelter still comes up. That was quite a controversial film in itself about the story of Charlie Manson and his game. That still strikes nerves in a lot of people. That serial killer was for real, he’s alive and thank goodness they’re all still in prison.

Fred Topel is a staff writer at CraveOnline. Follow him on Twitter at @FredTopel.