Don Bauder 6:07 a.m., May 21
The Texas Chainsaw interview that never was
This is the way the year ends, not with a star, but a starless night...
Dad-burn it! In keeping with Big Screen's promise to bring you, the reader, more interviews with beautiful young actresses in 2013, we were all set to chat with Alexandra Daddario, star of Texas Chainsaw 3D - coming Friday to a theater near you!
But for some reason - probably having to do with a surprise attack by a chainsaw-wielding madman - Daddario never showed up for our appointment.
Leatherface's latest victim?
It's a pity, because I was eager to follow up on the revelation - already alluded to in a number of interviews - that her character turns out to be chainsaw-daddy Leatherface's cousin:
As I understand it, your character in TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D discovers that she's related to Leatherface. which I imagine is pretty shocking. Can you talk a little about how this comes to light?
Alexandra: The story is sort of a mystery at first, she doesn't know anything about her family or any of this, and as it unravels you start to see the evolution of her character and who she was and who she becomes. That was really fun to play. When she does discover what's really going on, it's just a great twist, it changes the way she sees herself.
I see what I did there.
Now mind you, Heather (Daddario's character in Texas Chainsaw) isn't just any cousin. According to Wikipedia, she's...kin:
Picking up where the 1974 original film ends, the citizens of Newt, Texas decide to burn down the farm house of the Sawyer family for their role in aiding Jeb Sawyer, also known as Leatherface, in countless murders. The entire family is presumed dead with the exception of an infant, Heather, who is placed with an adoptive family.
This lil' scamp is the lone survivor of the Sawyer farmhouse family. The Sawyers, it is worth noting, were not a decent bunch forever lamenting the lone black leatherfaced sheep in the family tree. They were a horrible, horrible collection of killers whose idea of filial piety was to have the family patriarch administer the killing blow to the pretty blonde they had tied up at the dinner table.
"Let grandpa do it!"
Crazy was deep in the Sawyer bloodline, is what I'm saying. Heather's bloodline. "Evolution of her character," indeed. If you're curious, you can check the original film out right here:
Ah, YouTube. Is there nothing you won't allow?
I also wanted to ask Daddario about the horror genre in general - how to really deliver what the genre is supposed to deliver when the genre has become so self-conscious (viz. the Scream series and the more recent Cabin in the Woods). I mean, when the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre came out, it was gut-wrenching - because it was fresh. What the hell is this? Also, because it was - and I cannot stress this enough - scary. Not gory. Scary. Up in your head scary.
Lemme explain. Here's a wonderful documentary on the making of the film, featuring several of the original cast members:
For the purposes of this little chat, start at 28:00. Gunnar Hansen (the original Leatherface) has just finished explaining how they made the original meathook scene. He notes that he still winces when he sees that scene, even though he knows how it was done. Take it Gunnar:
"I think it's a good lesson in logical filmaking. It's horrifying and gruesome not because you ever see the hook go in, but because you see her reaction to the pain of the hook."
What's scary isn't the gore. What's scary is another human being's suffering. Let's continue with Edwin Neal, who played the crazy hitchhiker in the film:
"The implication in Chainsaw is one of its strongest things. I have won bet after bet after bet off of people who have seen the film once, maybe twice, betting me that you see the hook go through the girl. You do not see the hook go through the girl. But they will say, 'Of course you do! The hook goes right through! It's a great shot!' You see him setting her down on the hook. But what your mind does is, it finishes the image. It finishes it. It's inevitable if you have any imagination whatsoever. They also bet me that you see Paul Partane cut in half in the wheelchair. You never see anything except Leatherface."
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is iconic. Splatter horror is here today, gone tomorrow. I think maybe the way Chainsaw engaged the imagination is part of the reason. Something to consider, horror people.
Also crucial: set design! Boring old set design!
Or, rather, awesome engaging set design!
Again and again, these castmembers describe the difficulty of filming the dinner table scene - talking about the smell of rotting meat, the heat, the flies, the bones lying around, the creepy props...
It was awful for them, but it's also awful for you. I sort of suspect that set design explains why the Saw franchise lasted as long as it did. People liked those ingenious-looking death machines.
SPECIAL VIEWING BONUS: The documentary includes cut footage of Leatherface dolling himself up with a little extra makeup before he goes to enjoy the death of his final victim:
It's a nice callback to the source material: Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein, in whose home investigators found a woman's face made into a mask:
Pick it up at 33:00 or so. A minute or so further in, you get former FBI Special Agent John Douglas describing how Gein would put motor oil on the inside of the mask to keep the skin supple, and lipstick on the exterior of the mask to keep things pretty. That History Channel show is devoted to Gein as the inspiration for Buffalo Bill, the killer in The Silence of the Lambs. But Gein was also the inspiration for Leatherface, and, famously, mommy-loving killer Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. One crazy killer, three classic horror films. None of them gory, all of them scary - because they get into your head.