Horror 365 Movie 45: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre–A Family Portrait (Revisited)

I’ve been thinking about The Texas Chainsaw Massacre of late. It’s probably because Murk, the, uh, let’s call him groundskeeper here at Castle Blogferatu, asked what my favorite movie is. The conversation went something like this:

MURK: Grunt, snort, ugh.
ME: What do you mean, “What is my favorite horror movie?”
MURK: Grunt, snort, ugh, sniff.
ME: No, it is not a simple question, but either Psycho or Texas Chainsaw Massacre, why?
MURK: Mumble, mumble, blurg.
ME: Well, I suppose you’re right. One could arguably examine Chainsaw as a reaction to and commentary on the violence of a post-postmod…Wait. Don’t you have a dungeon to clean??
MURK: Spork.

Sigh. He gets the oddest ideas. But it did get me wondering why, other than top-shelf filmmaking, I love Texas Chainsaw Massacre so. In my quest for an answer, I took another look at The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: A Family Portrait (Revisited). This is by no means the greatest Chainsaw doc ever, and didn’t do much to answer my question, but it was well worth seeing for a number of other reasons.

If you’re not familiar, this is the rereleased DVD version (hence “Revisited”) of Brad Shellady’s original film in which he interviews the lads who played the family. And these guys do have a tale or two to tell.

I’ll start with Jim Siedow and John Dugan. Siedow (Drayton Sawyer/Cook), seems almost bemused by the following of Chainsaw. By and large it just seems like another role. He does confess to having difficulty bringing himself to whack Marilyn Burns with a stick during her abduction (despite Tobe Hooper and Burns herself repeatedly telling him to go ahead and hit her). Similarly, Dugan (Grandpa Sawyer) maintains a certain level of humor about the entire film.

What I really want to focus on is the contrast between Gunnar Hansen and Edwin Neal. Hansen is easily my favorite interview, not because he’s Leatherface, but because he’s very soft spoken and articulate, a complete contrast to the character he plays. He mentions that Hooper wanted him for the part almost immediately because Hansen at 6’4″ filled the doorway. I was also unaware that before Chainsaw, he was playing Lenny in Of Mice And Men at UT Austin. Makes sense.

For me, one of the best parts is Hansen’s description of the harness that was rigged up for the meat hook scene and how the harness is actually what brings Teri McMinn up short, making it look like it’s the hook doing it. “And it really works,” he adds, “because I still wince when I see that scene, even knowing how it’s done.”

Overall, Hansen offers the most thoughtful recollections and observations about his experiences on Chainsaw, from the state of his clothing which could never be cleaned for fear the colors would change, to the near inhuman shooting conditions in the often over 110-degree Texas heat, to Leatherface’s leg-cutting scene complete with steel, steak and blood bags.

And that leaves Neal, hands down the most annoying, self-aggrandizing, and egotistical of the lot. You might not think of someone as chewing up the scenery during an interview. Neal offers up a veritable clinic on it. Still, as a writer and photographer friend of mine pointed out, watching such awfulness has its appeal as well.

Mercifully, it’s not until 55 minutes into the hour-long run time that he starts bragging about how, “These characters are much more interesting, I find, much more real than the characters in Psycho.” Had that been in the first 30 minutes, I would have stopped watching. When he then adds that, “Chainsaw is one of the only real horror movies ever made,” I nearly stopped anyway.

To hear Neal tell it, his portrayal of The Hitchhiker was almost entirely responsible for Chainsaw’s wild success. His painful attempts to mimic Tobe Hooper are nigh unwatchable (as is most everything else he has to say). “I have won bet after bet after bet 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.”

Yeeeeeessssss. I’m sure those long winter nights just fly by.

There’s nothing Neal doesn’t congratulate himself about. Well the scene where I’m groveling in the dirt was difficult because…and the eighteen-wheeler scene was probably the most difficult to shoot because (I’d argue the 30 hours shooting the dinner scene was worse, but okay)…and it was my idea to swing the razor while chasing Sally…and blah blah blah.

And what the hell is “self-mutilization?” Self-mutilation maybe, but…

Yeesh. Whatever.

He remarks that Chainsaw was the reason he was offered Future-Kill which I (shockingly) have not seen. Based on his interview, part of me wants to refuse to watch it. Ever. I am, however, a professional and as such have an occupational obligation to do so. Comes with the territory.

But I’m not looking forward to it.

Oh, what’s the worst that could happen?