David Gregory and Jake Shaw
The two-disc ‘Ultimate Edition’ of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre includes David Gregory’s feature-length documentary The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Shocking Truth (originally released on British VHS by Gregory’s company Exploited Films). In June 2000, I sat down with Gregory and his associate Jake Shaw (later director of the political documentary Ryan for Congress) in a pub in Nottingham to discuss the film. Part of this was used for a short feature in Fangoria.
Why have you made a documentary on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre?
David Gregory: "We originally wanted to bring the film out in England but we were told by the censors that it would never get passed. So we scrapped that idea, and then six months later it got passed for another company. So we thought: well, it’s one of my all-time favourite films and we wanted to have something to do with it. We were thinking about bringing Texas Chainsaw Massacre: A Family Portrait, which is a previous documentary, out on the Exploited label, but for one reason or another we couldn’t finalise anything there. We’d already got an interview with Gunnar Hansen so we thought: ‘Why don’t we just go and see if we can track some of the other people down?’
“One thing led to another. Gunnar gave us a lot of names and contacts. This guy called Tim Harden who has a website about Texas Chainsaw Massacre gave us loads of contacts. We basically were able to get in touch with everybody, with the exception of Tobe Hooper. We went and did the shoot in Texas, came back, started editing, and then Tobe Hooper got in touch and said that he would be willing to be interviewed as well. So we went back to Los Angeles for two days to do the interview with Tobe. Because Tobe hasn’t really done that much interview material on this film, but he was very good when I went out to interview him."
Am I right that you have no clips from the actual film?
DG: "There are no clips from the actual film, but that might change. That is true for our UK video release; it’s a tool to keep it exempt from certification. There’s a lot of rare stills in there, and there’s a lot of recreated footage that we shot on the road, like a freshly killed armadillo and things like that."
Which of course you found on the road.
DG: "By the roadside. We were told by Texas locals that you don’t see dead armadillos any more in Texas. We were driving to Houston to meet Jim Siedow and Marilyn Burns. I was driving but telling all the passengers to look out for armadillos at the side of the road. We just saw this squished pile at the side of the road, driving down at about 80, and everyone screamed ‘Armadillo!’ So I swung the car round back and was lying at the side of the road, filming this armadillo which I must say was a lot more disgusting and squished than the one that’s in the movie.”
Jake Shaw: "It was also incredibly dangerous. Because, as per usual, we had an intrepid cameraman. We had two cameras - a film camera and a video camera - and I was operating the video camera. And Nathan, our intrepid cameraman, who sees life only through his lens, had his head basically out just about where the 18-wheelers’ inside wheel goes. I’m saying, ‘Nathan, get out the road.’ ‘No, I’ll just get this shot.’ ‘Nathan, get out the road. Dave, just watch Nathan, will you?’ The postscript of the whole armadillo thing is that Dave, being the thorough director that he is, decided that perhaps on the way home we should try and just get a safety shot of another armadillo. After we’d seen the first armadillo, we were going down the road and we kept seeing... let’s say ‘lumps of biomass’ on the side of the road. Then, on the way back, they’d all gone!”
DG: "It seems like the Texas roadkill cleaners had been by in the time that we drove to and from Houston.”
JS: "Although I did find some beef jerky called ‘Texas Roadkill - we kill it, you grill it.’ So I have a suspicion it might end up there."
How many interviews did you do in total?
DG: "We interviewed... let’s see: Marilyn Burns, Paul Partain - Franklin, Allen Danziger - Jerry, William Vail - who played Kirk, Gunnar Hansen obviously, Jim Siedow the cook, Tobe Hooper - director, Kim Henkel - writer, Bob Burns - art director, Wayne Bell - composer, Ted Nicolaou - unit sound recordist, Jeff Burr - director of TCM3, Caroline Williams from TCM2, and Bob Keen - the guy who ‘deals with the money.’ All of whom gave us really good, in-depth interviews. Sadly, we didn’t get Ed Neal or Terry Mominn, the girl who is hung on the meat hook.”
JS: "We tried to get Danny Pearl, the DP, but he was very busy with Mariah Carey videos.
DG: ”He was very keen, he wanted to do it. He kept calling us, saying, ‘Can we do this?’ but sadly by the time we got back to LA he was in Toronto doing a Mariah Carey video. So we didn’t get him either."
What was the cut-off point where you said, ‘We’ll go with what we’ve got’?
JS: "About $4,000.”
DG: “There wasn’t a cut-off point because we’d already started editing when Tobe called us and said he was willing to be involved. Obviously Tobe is the most important interviewee in the whole programme. We knew with Ed Neal before we even went out there that he wasn’t going to be involved. With Tobe it wasn’t the case. With Tobe we were still leaving messages, trying to get through to him, and he was very busy on post-production on Crocodile. So it was just very difficult to get hold of him. And Terry Mominn, everyone just told us that she doesn’t talk about it any more. Although she runs a flower shop apparently in Austin and has a photo of herself impaled on the meat hook on the wall! So it’s still there."
How did you structure the thing? Did you have a rough script before you went out?
DG: "I had actually written the voice-over narration which changed a bit as the production went on, but yes, basically I’d written the outline before we went out there. We conceptualised it a bit, talked about how horror films were changing after Night of the Living Dead, then led through the early drive-in movies and how Chainsaw was basically connected with all of that. Then we did the whole bit about the making of the film. Essentially, it’s done chronologically through the film, with a big section devoted to the 26-hour shoot, the dinner scene, which was just fascinating, how they got through that.
“Twenty-six hours non-stop, in blazing heat. They had to put black over the windows because it was shot predominantly during the day and it was suppose-cheese and bones around the place; everyone was sweating disgustingly and being sick. They had dead dogs on the set at one point which they wanted to decorate the set with. They just looked too grim apparently, so somebody took them all out back, made a big pile and set fire to them. And they didn’t actually burn away as they thought they would. The person was delirious and probably thought they’d just disappear, but apparently they just smouldered and all this smoke from the dead dogs was coming into the set. And you can see that in the movie - that is a very intense scene in the film and the story behind it is just very fitting.
“Then we just go into the distribution thing; major hassles they had with distribution. After cutting a good deal in the first place, it turned out that a less than reputable company did the distribution, and it was a whole mess. It was made for $120,000 I think but it must have made $100 million worldwide, according to Bob Burns the art director, and nobody saw any of that because the distributors ran away with it unfortunately.
“And then we go into the sequels as well. We do bits on Chainsaw 2 - we’ve got some behind-the-scenes footage of Chainsaw 2. Chainsaw 3 - Jeff Burr. All these films sound like they were just as nightmarish getting to the screen as the first one. Bit of a cursed title. We did Part 4 as well; we got Kim Henkel and Bob Keen talking about that. We talked about Renee Zellwegger and Matthew McConnaughy and we’ve got some behind-the-scenes footage of that. It’s funny to watch Renee and Matthew just doing their thing when they were in the little movie, and now of course they’re huge stars."
With it being nearly 30 years ago, did people still remember it clearly?
DG: "I was amazed how well people did remember it. But of course, nobody was particularly old when they were making it, because they were all just out of film school, they were all students. So people remembered it pretty vividly. Ted Nicolaou, who now directs the Subspecies movies, he was the unit sound recordist and he just remembered everything. He was amazing.”
JS: "There was a little bit - not much - but a little bit of that quote from Shakespeare: ‘Old men remember with advantage.’ We’ve got a sequence where people are talking about this 26-hour shoot and it goes: ‘24 hours...’, ‘28 hours...’, ‘32 hours...’! Wayne Bell said, ‘I’m sure Tobe’s got it up to 42 by now.’ But it was amazing the clarity that people were remembering. There were one or two pieces that we didn’t put in for various reasons, but for the 75-minute documentary that it is, it doesn’t leave anything out as such. It’s quite in-depth and everybody seems to remember quite a lot."
Were you able to dig up any startling new information?
DG: "The problem with Chainsaw in my experience is that there haven’t been many interviews with all the people together. They’ve been very few and far between. Ed Neal’s done a fair bit of talking about it. Gunnar of course now goes on tour and talks about it. But to actually have all the different sides of the same story going on, where you can cut inbetween the way people remember it. I think a lot of the stuff we got on the 26-hour shoot, a lot of that’s quite new, the amount of detail it goes into. And of course all the stuff about the distribution. It’s quite famous that the film had troubled distribution but I think everyone going into what happened to the finances and what went on, that’s all fascinating stuff."
Do you have oversees distribution for the film?
DG: "We don’t have any oversees distribution for it at the moment. We’re going to see how well it does in the UK. At the moment there’s been a lot of interest in it, particularly as the film itself has just come out on retail video for the first time ever - and on DVD. So there’s a lot of coverage on this film at the moment; it’s having a real revival over here. It is a film that’s unlike any other. We were trying to think, if we did a follow-up to this, what other film could we possibly do that has such a following and there really aren’t that many films. They’ve done The Exorcist, they’ve done Night of the Living Dead, they’ve done Dawn of the Dead. If you look at websites devoted to Chainsaw, there are so many. And of course everybody knows Texas Chainsaw Massacre by title, even if they haven’t seen the film. So hopefully there will be potential for it to be distributed elsewhere as well."
When did you start planning this?
DG: "It was when it was re-released theatrically. We did the interview with Gunnar last year, with a view to doing something Chainsaw-related; we didn’t know what at the time. As we started doing a bit of research on it and realised that everybody was basically contactable and based in either Austin or Los Angeles, we thought we could do a nice little guerrilla shoot, where three of us fly over there with a video camera and a Bolex and just roadtrip around and meet up with everybody and talk to them.”
JS: "Ironically, we actually had film stock for the cine camera that was as old as Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The sum result is that it actually looks like it has the spirit of the film. To think what we shot, I’m really pleased that we took the cine camera because it really makes the whole thing look a lot better.”
DG: "It’s not overbearing in the programme but it’s nice to have those general shots of Texas and cattle and the armadillo obviously and things like that. It really adds to the feel of the programme.”