Marilyn Burns: An appreciation from ‘Texas Chainsaw 2’ star Bill Moseley
Marilyn Burns as a bloody Sally Hardesty in "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre." (Sallye Richardson)Link
Marilyn Burns on the run in "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre." (Bryanston Pictures)Link
Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen) wielding his weapon while Marilyn Burns' Sally Hardesty tries to escape in "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre." (Daniel Pearl)Link
Marilyn Burns in a scene from the film "Future Kill" in 1985, which reunited her with her "Texas" costar Edwin Neal. (Vestron Video / Getty Images)Link
Horror movie character actor Bill Moseley, a Yale graduate who has had a long and unlikely career as a low-budget actor, was featured in "Texas Chainsaw 3D." Moseley was photographed at his apartment in Los Angeles in December 2012. (Christina House / For The Times)Link
"Texas Chainsaw 3D" director John Luessenhop and Bill Moseley as Drayton Sawyer on the set of the movie. (Lionsgate)Link
Grandpa Sawyer (John Dugan, left) and Drayton Sawyer (Bill Moseley, center) in the movie 'Texas Chainsaw 3D.' (Justin Lubin)Link
Actress Marilyn Burns died Tuesday in her Houston-area home at age 65. Texas figured large in her career — Burns was perhaps best known for starring in “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre,” Tobe Hooper’s dark nightmare of murder and cannibalism in the South that has become, in the years since its original release, a landmark in the horror genre and in the world of independent filmmaking. Bill Moseley was one of the many viewers deeply affected by the film — his relationship to it helped shape his acting career. Below, the man who starred in “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2” as Chop-top offers an appreciation of Burns.
My first glimpse of Marilyn Burns was on the screen of the old Paramount Theater in Boston’s Combat Zone in 1975, in Tobe Hooper’s horror classic, “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.” Marilyn was young, blond, pretty but not gorgeous, and tough as nails. She had to be. After all, what her character, Sally Hardesty, thought was going to be a fun weekend in the West Texas countryside with her hippie pals quickly devolved into a hellish Olympics of survival at the hands of the blood-thirsty Sawyer clan — with their straight razors, pig hammers, chainsaws and an aptitude for turning human beings into tasty roadside sausages.
Love at first sight for me? You bet your chicken in a birdcage! Unlike her hapless pals, Sally Hardesty survived those sociopathic lunatics. “She ran, she screamed, she got away,” were the words I used to accompany my Facebook posting about her death on Tuesday, Aug. 5, at the tender age of 65. “Well, almost,” commented my friend and fellow “Texas Chainsaw” alum William Butler. Right, almost.
The first time I met Marilyn must have been close to 20 years ago at a horror convention in Pasadena, Calif. I still have a curled snapshot of my now-20-something daughter, Jane, being tenderly choked by both Gunnar Hansen (Leatherface) and Edwin Neal (the Hitchhiker). I had just come aboard the good ship “Chainsaw,” having played Chop-top, the Hitchhiker’s twin brother, in the Hooper-directed sequel. One of my favorite lines from “TCM 2” was uttered by the Cook, the late great Jim Siedow, who famously proclaimed, “The Saw is family!” And indeed it is.
First Paul Partain, who played Sally’s wheelchair-bound brother, Franklin; then my good friend Jim, and now Marilyn. The family gets smaller, but as the original “Texas Chain Saw” celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, the family remains as loud and scary and vital as it was those many years ago when a low-budget indie with a crazy title turned my life upside down.
I was so disturbed by the original “TCM” that I saw it at least a dozen times, figuring that it would become so familiar to me that I could push back from its gripping reality and make myself a little room to breathe. No such luck. All I succeeded in doing was driving that fear spike deeper into my brain.
It wasn’t until I made a 5-minute film in 1984 called “The Texas Chainsaw Manicure,” set in a beauty parlor on Staten Island, N.Y., that the Saw started cutting right for me. Tobe Hooper saw my short, loved my cameo and hired me to play Chop-top in “TCM 2.” Once I saw Siedow in the parking lot of our Austin, Texas, hotel, once I was welcomed into the Sawyer family, the fear was gone and the fun began. Something about if you can’t lick ’em…
Thanks to Chop-top, I went on to land parts in movies such as “House of 1000 Corpses” and “The Devil’s Rejects,” and hit the horror convention circuit. I would occasionally bump into Marilyn, and even though I was “Saw 2” and not the original, she’d always have a smile and a chuckle for me. Marilyn Burns. Let’s not forget her in Tobe Hooper’s grisly fun “Eaten Alive,” with the awesome Neville Brand, and my favorite Charles Manson movie, “Helter Skelter,” with my “Devil’s Rejects” pal, Steve Railsback.
I finally got to work with Marilyn on John Luessenhop’s 2013 “Texas Chainssaw 3-D.” I played Siedow’s character, Drayton, and Marilyn played the family matriarch. It was such a thrill for me to hang out on the set with Marilyn, Gunnar and John Dugan, the original Grandpa, and to pass an evening cracking each other up as we reminisced about our “Chainsaw” days for a DVD extra. Marilyn was looking a little frail, but she always seemed in good spirits.
I was gratified to see that news of Marilyn’s death made it onto TMZ’s website. We horror workers for the most part toil in obscurity outside our beloved genre. To me, and to legions of horror fans worldwide, Marilyn was a Scream Queen extraordinaire and a real superstar. I just hope that for all the aspiring actresses and actors out there who dream of being chased by a large man with a mask of human faces and a roaring, smoking chainsaw, just watch Marilyn.
She ran, she screamed, she got away.
— Bill Moseley
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