Hey folks, Harry here... just heard the news that the one that got away got got. Translation: Marilyn Burns, "Sally," from the classic masterpiece of horror, Tobe Hooper's TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE has passed away.
I first met Marilyn Burns in 1973, the year before she forever made an impression upon the world in TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. It was December 11th, 1973... and somehow the cast and crew of the film crashed my 2nd Birthday Party. Father Geek, aka Jay Knowles aka my Dad, had been a classmate with Tobe Hooper - and in those early days of Austin, the community of film geeks were pretty tight and a helluvalot smaller than it was today. Now, I was 2 years old, that day, and I have solid memories of that night. I had a Gorgo cake where Godzilla had bit off my bottom half, which was brought out of my childhood kitchen with sparklers lit by my "uncle" Bob Magnussan who was in a full body foam rubber vintage home made GODZILLA costume... imagery that one can never forget... but it was topped about 45 seconds later, when a knock at the front door of my house at 4526 Red River... and the roar of a CHAINSAW filled the room... the door bust opens and Gunnar Hansen with the leatherface mask and chainsaw roaring spewing out gas, comes in the room, and behind him came Marilyn Burns in her Sally costume holding a brow reed basket, filled with amputated set body parts... and she let me pick a piece out... a right hand... still own it, it holds Guillermo Del Toro's CRONOS device over at Dad's house, where he also has the famous Arm Chair that Marilyn Burns was tied to... and another of Dad's good friends has her outfit from the original TCM and all the Bone Furniture from the living room. For me, it's important these things stay in Texas... Specifically in the Austin and Hill Country area... I'd love to open a museum here some day.
But Marilyn Burns is someone that I've kinda known as long as I can remember, but I was never particularly close to her. We met at various TCM events, partys in town over the years... we always recalled that party so long ago...
I didn't see TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE for years though. My Mom felt the movie would be traumatizing, but at the same time, I remember the TYCO yellow and orange pull string Chainsaw that Leatherface gave me, which I pulled and starting cutting my Godzilla cake up as everybody uproariously laughed. And I was constantly begging my parents to see the movie. I had a tie to a movie - and with every year that I became older... I loved movies more and more, still to today... and that I had this tie to this HORROR film that my MOM who let me see THE EXORCIST, ALIEN, SCANNERS, HALLOWEEN... you name it, we fucking saw it... but I was forbidden from seeing TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE... until one summer at the age of 14, Dad showed me TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE the night before Ed Neal (the Hitchhiker) was coming over to buy Movie Posters from Dad... he felt I needed the context.
What was Marilyn Burns like in person? SWEETHEART!!! Just wonderfully sweet and nice. Sort of woman that brightens a room with her presence. I love the scream Queens that "Got Away" - but Marilyn Burns... she never really did a whole lot else. She popped up in a couple of the CHAINSAW flicks since the original, the last being TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D. But I remember Ron Moore, the director of FUTUREKILL... which starred Ed Neal and Marilyn Burns pops up as well... with a GIGER 1-sheet. Well, Ron Moore was another great Movie Poster dealer in this country, who happened to be vaguely obsessed with TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE the way all proper Hill Country BBQ loving cinephiles should be!
At this point, we do not yet know the cause of death, only that her body was found by a friend. My heart goes out to not only her real family and loved ones... but the family she became famous with... The cast and crew of TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. In this day of $200 million dollar + cinema... A film as emotionally raw and real as TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE is precious to watch and learn from. There's not nearly the blood people imagine, it is intense due to brilliant editting and sound design... but also - that film would be so empty without Marilyn Burns. Her Sally is sweet and so fucking real feeling with her handicap brother Franklin. Those scenes of pushing him through that overgrown field before running into LEATHERFACE... or even more horrifying, that dinner table scene, which I would put up against any great sequence of editting and filmmaking in history... is hinged on the absolute TERROR that Marilyn Burns gives... now sure, I know part of that performance was caused by Bob Burns' real flesh & guts smell in that hot sweaty as hell room, but also... the bugfuck insanity of the room. I mean... FREAKS has that brilliant dinner table scene with the great song... but in TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE... they play for pure perverse terror and horror... I mean, when Grandpa is trying to hit her with the little sledge and Ed Neal is wanting to do it for him - and Burns is in absolute freak out mode and it feels REAL! 100%.
I'm not sure in the entire history of cinema, I've ever been more convinced of a character's terror as I am about Marilyn Burns in that scene. I want to step in like Rambo and blow all the crazy away to save her, but she's all on her own... with nobody to rescue her, to kill the bad guy... it is her absolute fucking refusal to die... her desperate attempt to get away, to live, to not give up. Her Sally had an incredible indomintable spirit - that defines the great women of Texas that I've come to know, but beyond that... the girls that love Horror take spirit from SALLY.
Marilyn Burns is an immortal in my eye, and that centers entirely upon that one awesome role of her life. She was a lot more, but she was always the sweetest to me. Her legend will live on film forever!