While Inferno is considered a classic from Dario Argento’s golden era now, it was released to a fairly muted reception in 1980. A big reason for this is that it barely saw release outside Italy, with co-financer 20th Century Fox growing cold on the project after a management change. It was the second part of Argento’s planned Three Mothers trilogy, which follows the exploits of three nasty witches, with the concept being inspired by author Thomas de Quincey’s Suspiria De Profundis. Argento’s previous film Suspiria proved to be a surprise hit for Fox, so they were initially hot on a sequel. According to Argento, he showed Inferno to new studio head Sherry Lansing, who responded with revulsion; this may sound like a good reaction for a horror flick, but she hated the film and it subsequently languished on a shelf before being released straight to video in 1985.
This was doubly crushing for Argento following Inferno’s tough production, where he was ill with hepatitis for much of the shoot, and his mentor Mario Bava stepped in to helm certain sequences. Argento then put his concluding chapter on hold, returning to the Giallo genre with his next film Tenebrae. As the years rolled by he showed little interest in finishing the trilogy, but co-creator Daria Nicolodi was eager to see it completed. She shared her concepts for a potential third film with Luigi Cozzi, a frequent Argento collaborator and the director behind enjoyably trashy fare like Starcrash and Contamination – a film that somehow mashes Alien with a Roger Moore Bond movie.
Nicolodi soon felt Cozzi wasn’t the best fit for her vision of the story, so she withdrew but allowed him to use some of her ideas. Aside from being a filmmaker, Cozzi is also a huge movie nerd, which can be seen from the references he litters throughout his work. He intended his film to be an unofficial end to the Third Mothers trilogy whilst being a tribute to his friend and mentor Dario. It was developed with the title De Profundis (From The Deep), but the American distributors were planning a movie series based on the works of Edgar Allen Poe, so they forced Cozzi to call it The Black Cat and insert random shots of black cats to justify the name. The Poe series never materialized, and the film has also been dubbed Demons 6 in some territories despite having nothing to do with that series.
Since Cozzi didn’t want to step on Argento’s toes he concocted an intriguing meta-concept for The Black Cat. Instead of being a direct sequel the story follows a group of filmmakers working on a movie about Levana, the Mother of Tears. Suspiria and Inferno followed the Mother of Sighs and Mother of Darkness respectively, so the characters within this story want to make a separate movie about the dreaded third mother. The director casts his wife Anne as Levana but she soon suffers horrible nightmares about the witch and reality and fiction start to blur wildly.
It’s a concept positively glowing with potential and it’s easy to see how Argento in his prime could have made something special from it; alas, Cozzi is no Argento. It starts well, opening with a cryptic sequence where a woman drives to a deserted building to confront a killer, who is visually inspired by the blank-faced murderer from Bava’s Blood and Black Lace. The sequence is bathed in lurid colors meant to invoke Argento’s work. It turns out this sequence is from a film Anne is working on, with the director is played by none other than Michele Soavi in a brief cameo. The early potential of The Black Cat fades away when the plot kicks in though, and a tidal wave of awkward exposition, ropey performances and sluggish pacing washes over the film.
Most of The Black Cat is a series of dull conversations in cheap locations, with the occasional horror setpiece to spice things up. There’s a lot of potential in the blurred reality concept but Cozzi’s handling is too ham-fisted to generate suspense. Levana’s first attack on Anne comes where she bursts through a mirror – which intentionally evokes the finale of Inferno – and pukes green vomit on her, which just makes you feel bad for the poor actress. Anne then has a series of violent hallucinations throughout the story, including one where her television explodes and shoots green innards. It may sound like silly fun but the slack pace sucks the life out of it, so even the crazy moments feel underwhelming.
Levana herself made a brief appearance in Inferno as a beautiful music student, but The Black Cat presents her as a cheesy looking hag with glowing eyes. She’s never threatening, and while the story initially plays up the mystery of whether she even exists, the “reveal” can be seen a long way off. The twisting of reality yields a couple of good scenes, however, including one where a possessed Anne stabs her husband while getting into character. For a moment it genuinely feels real, until it fakes out again. It’s interesting to compare the film to something like New Nightmare or anime Perfect Blue, both of which follow an actress who goes so deep into a role her grip on reality – and her own identity – melts away. While those movies take the time to develop themes and play with the idea of reality versus fiction, Cozzi often uses The Black Cat as a springboard for reheated scares from better movies.
In a neat touch, the film references the existence of the two previous movies, with the Suspiria theme even playing a couple of times. Cozzi also pays tribute to himself in one sequence, where Levana explodes the chest of an unlucky victim in a shot that wouldn’t look out of place in Contamination. Overall The Black Cat is a patchwork of ideas that never gel together, going from stilted satire on the film business to a scene with a haunted fridge the next. None of the performers are doing their best work, though Caroline Munro is fun as Anne’s catty co-star. Cozzi displays occasional directorial flare too, from a recurring mirror motif to a couple of impressive camera moves. The finale manages to be suitably bonkers too, with the witch shooting lasers at Anne – who for some reason has discovered the ability to rewind time.
Buried somewhere deep inside The Black Cat is a fascinating meta-commentary on the genre and filmmaking, but it’s trapped under a sloppy horror movie. Ironically while Cozzi was shooting it Argento was working on his version of The Black Cat for the anthology Two Evil Eyes. Cozzi’s little-seen tribute got lost in the fallout of its production company 21st Century Film Corporation going bankrupt and as a result, it’s difficult to track down, though it does pop up on streaming sites now and again. Dario’s reaction to the film is difficult to nail down. In an interview on the Arrow Blu-ray for Inferno Cozzi claims he showed it to his mentor and that he enjoyed it, while Dario denies having watched it, and claims Cozzi kept it away from him.
Exclusive: Cast & Crew Reflect on Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation – Part 2
Last month, we brought you Part 1 of an extensive cast & crew retrospective detailing the history of the oft-maligned sequel Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation! Continuing our coverage, we bring you the remainder of our interviews with actors Tyler Cone (The War at Home), Tonie Perensky (Varsity Blues), and John Harrison (Guiding Light) as well as special effects artists J.M. Logan (Children of the Corn IV: The Gathering) and Andy Cockrum (Sin City).
In this segment, we cover the various production details that went into the making of this campy sequel, as well as provide a bit of insight into the Hollywood politics that plagued the film’s initial release! Enjoy!
What were the shooting conditions like?
J.M. LOGAN (Special Effects / Stunts): “Shooting conditions were about as basic as they could get. Chainsaw was an incredibly low budget movie. I don’t know the official figure, but it was a very small, very local production… privately financed by a wealthy lawyer who I think was a personal friend of Kim Henkel; they’d been trying to put it together for years. Bob Kuhn was a classic Texas warrior-poet-cowboy who’d always show up in the morning after every all-night shoot with a giant cooler of Lone Star beer on ice for the crew. So that was the guy that made this movie happen, if it helps paint a picture. It was all local actors and I think Levie Isaacks (cinematographer) was the only person that came in from Los Angeles. I can’t imagine the budget was more than a couple hundred grand. They had rented an old historic house in downtown Austin as their production office and set out to find the things they’d need among local professionals.
The production gave me a little shed in the back of the house which became my make-up effects lab. I placed my first order for special effects supplies from Hollywood and my good buddy Andy, a filmmaker colleague, volunteered to be my assistant as long as we covered his gas and I agreed to do the make-up effects for his movie A Troll’s Bridge, which we shot immediately following Chainsaw. Honestly, it was a miracle I didn’t fall flat on my face. I’d never even used most of the supplies I was ordering. I just knew that’s what everyone else used to make that stuff. Incidentally, I ended up doing all the practical effects on the movie too; I didn’t know any better.”
ANDY COCKRUM (Special Effects / Stunts): “My job on the set was initially helping J.M. with tasks like painting latex on skeletons or helping Matthew with his leg brace. However, my job quickly shifted from being J.M.’s full-time assistant to being the fog guy.”
J.M. LOGAN (Special Effects / Stunts): “I brought in a bunch of smoke machines that I borrowed from video game tycoon Richard Garriott’s stash of stuff that we’d used to put on his epic spook house in 1992. Every bit of fog you see in that movie are Andy and I running around in the woods with two stage foggers that weighed about 100 pounds a piece!”
ANDY COCKRUM (Special Effects / Stunts): “They had a couple of fog machines and no designated operator. One night I volunteered and for the rest of the shoot, I was running around the woods with these heavy fog machines that were tethered to long extension chords. It was a grueling hot job but I loved doing it. Most of the scenes where you see Renee running through the woods or cars racing through the forest… that’s my fog!”
TONIE PERENSKY (Darla): “Our first night of shooting was a night shoot out on location in the woods in Bastrop, Texas. It was 95 degrees with 100% humidity at midnight! I felt so badly for our hair and make-up department. I had a bouffant hair style and the minute I stepped out of my car aka my personal honey-wagon, my whole look would practically melt.”
TYLER CONE (Barry): “Those nights were hot… and long nights from sunset to sunrise. So in between, we had as much fun as we possibly could.”
ANDY COCKRUM (Special Effects / Stunts): “I also played the Stuffed DPS Officer. I guess I get to brag that I played in a scene opposite Renee Zellweger. My job was to stand perfectly still in a corner… Renee runs in, sees me, screams and then runs away. Unfortunately, this was the last shot of a long night and by that time, I was so exhausted that I couldn’t stand still and was slightly weaving back and forth. I remember one of the camera assistants being so pissed at me because he was tired and wanted to go home. He started screaming and throwing stuff and had a fit and walked off-set. They eventually got the shot but if you look closely, I think you can see me moving back and forth.”
J.M. LOGAN (Special Effects / Stunts): “Chainsaw was a very, very rough shoot for everyone. It was almost all night shoots. We only had one motor home for all the cast, costumes, everything… limited amenities… uncomfortable locations that were sometimes an hour’s drive away from home… long days and massive mosquitoes. I didn’t know any better at the time, but it was an incredibly tough movie to work. We were all beat into the mud… which was part of Kim’s philosophy. He felt the discomfort of everyone making the movie would psychologically help create the atmosphere of discomfort in the film itself. He wasn’t there to have a good time and actively tried to make the experience uncomfortable, in the most purely creative sense possible. He didn’t thrive on others suffering, necessarily… he thought that art came from adversity, which is a sentiment I believe in philosophically… but Kim took it to another place.”
Was there a scene that proved most difficult to accomplish?
TONIE PERENSKY (Darla): “The kitchen scene where Matthew smacks me and throws me down to the floor… we shot a number of takes.”
TYLER CONE (Barry): “The car scene was tough to shoot because it was 110 degrees in that warehouse. For me, none of my scenes were really tough. Even the scene where I got killed, it was a split-second with a sledgehammer coming down on my head and then all of a sudden, it’s like, Barry’s gone!”
JOHN HARRISON (Sean): “The chase scene was challenging for technical reasons. When Matthew was running me down with the truck, we were suppose to make it look like the truck was zigzagging across the road. It was tough because the road was fairly narrow and my natural instinct would probably have been to run into the woods instead of staying in the street. Part of the joy in this period and specific genre is watching people do stupid things. It is like the typical scene of a person home alone and going outside without any protection to check on the noise of something really creepy… then they get their head chopped off or they are eaten by a monster. Or the dream that people are being chased but their feet aren’t moving and the monster is walking slowly but catching up. There is a but of humor in the cheesiness of events.”
J.M. LOGAN (Special Effects / Stunts): “Everything on this movie was difficult to accomplish. It was hot… which means that the actors were super sweaty which is hell on make-up. There were no trailers or other movie comforts… so nowhere to really cool off. We were rolling camera from dusk til dawn, six nights a week, for what seemed like months. I don’t know how long it actually was, but it was long enough to feel like a lifetime. In many ways, I feel like I grew up on that movie… it was a transformative film for me. Not only did I get to put my spin on one of the greatest horror icons there is, but I learned how to work a movie set.”
ANDY COCKRUM (Special Effects / Stunts): “I’d only worked on two features before… as an extra on Nadine (starring Jeff Bridges and Kim Basinger) and doing props for a Merchant Ivory production… so I didn’t have a lot of experience on how a film should run. Since then, I’ve worked on several Robert Rodriguez films… Sin City, Spy Kids 2… and looking back at Chainsaw, I realize it was a pretty crazy shoot.”
J.M. LOGAN (Special Effects / Stunts): “In the scene at the end where Leatherface chases the RV and then shows up strapped to the side of the wrecker… that was actually me as Robbie’s stunt double because Robbie had hurt his knee. Both Andy and Steve Kuhn, who was the transportation captain and son of producer Robert Kuhn, at one point or another, played Leatherface in that sequence in various shots. The shots with me were the first shot of him running out of the woods, the shots through the RV door of him trying to get in, and then being strapped to the side of the wrecker. We all wore Debbie Pastor’s face at some point!”
ANDY COCKRUM (Special Effects / Stunts): “I was Robbie’s stunt double for two or three scenes. They asked me to put on the outfit, which was lingerie, a mask and a wig… The scenes I was his stunt double for were at the end when he was chasing Renee down the road with the Chainsaw. Some of those shots are me. Also, in the shot where Leatherface is on the back of the tow truck swinging at the RV… that’s me.
Looking back… and having worked on many films since then… I realize now how crazy and dangerous that shot really was. There was no rehearsal. They just took a belt and secured me to the back of the truck and told me, ‘Okay, the truck is going to speed down this road and pull up next to the RV. You’ll lean out as far as you can while you’re swinging like crazy at the RV, then right at the end, the tow truck will veer off and the RV will flip.’ That was it; no rehearsal, no nothing. It was pretty exciting and scary at the same time and I think I could have done it better with some sort of rehearsal. But we did the shot and I survived. Robbie eventually had a small part in A Troll’s Bridge as well.”
TYLER CONE (Barry): “I remember with Renee running and the cattle prod… and all the different things that Lisa had to go through with all the blood on her face… I just remember everybody else seemed to have a much tougher time whereas I was just having a good time. I just didn’t have any of the heavy duty scenes!”
J.M. LOGAN (Special Effects / Stunts): “At one point in the movie, Matthew bites onto Lisa’s nose and shakes it so violently, she comes away bloody. To create the effect of her bitten nose, I made a prosthetic. Once Kim saw it, he told me that he wanted me to put wax on her nose and actually bite it myself so that it would look real. He wanted to see that actually happen so that he’d believe it… and he wanted Lisa to feel the experience of someone biting her actual nose. I don’t remember if I tried that or not to appease him, but ultimately we went with the prosthetic version.”
TYLER CONE (Barry): “Joe Stevens was very method and he was hitting that cattle prod so hard on Renee that it was actually bending a bit. In the scene with the shotgun on me, he was hitting me with that shotgun. I mean, I had figure 8 scratches on my chest from the barrel of that shotgun.
I’m always protective of my friends and I was very protective of Renee and Lisa this one night because… from the cattle prod, they just had bruises all over them… Renee was all scraped up. I mean, she probably still has scars from when she was filming this. And I remember saying, ‘Either I want to have scenes like this or we need to stop…’ I was a little bit envious because I really wanted to have some action scenes but I also remember being like, ‘Okay, they need to tone this down a little bit.’ Because as you’re making a movie, you really shouldn’t be getting injured this much. And I’m sure if a union was on-set, they probably would’ve prevented some of that stuff from happening. But everyone stuck with it though. They were troopers!”
Any memorable on-set moments?
TYLER CONE (Barry): “The high school scene was the first night of filming. My first scene was the kissing scene where Heather (Lisa Newmyer) finds me.”
JOHN HARRISON (Sean): “The moment we drove off from the prom parking lot was following a short sprinkle. I recall the production and art team running all over the parking lot trying to wipe down cars for continuity.”
TYLER CONE (Barry): “We had a lot of the scenes in the car. We filmed those scenes after we did all of the outdoor stuff because we had this large warehouse [which is] where we filmed… it was like 110 degrees in there. It was hot and we were all sweating. Those were kind of stressful times to work.”
JOHN HARRISON (Sean): “The old car we used with the suicide doors was beautiful and troublesome. I don’t recall what happened exactly but I feel that it broke down a couple of times when we were trying to get it to work for the scenes.”
TYLER CONE (Barry): “We had contests of who could catch the biggest mosquitoes because we had mosquitoes out there like pterodactyls. I mean, they were going through jeans; they were going through everything!”
J.M. LOGAN (Special Effects / Stunts): “We would smash the beasts, transfer them to a piece of white gaffers tape and stick them to the inside of a ziploc bag with our name written on the tape. At the end of each week, the crew member who smashed the biggest mosquito would win a six pack of beer… many prizes were awarded. There were mosquitoes the size of humming birds.”
JOHN HARRISON (Sean): “On the nights that Renee, Tyler, Lisa, and I were hanging out, we had a ball. We would sing songs together, dance around, goof off, and just enjoyed our time. Renee even brought in some poems she had written and they were brilliant.”
TYLER CONE (Barry): “We spent a ton of time just dancing. We did ballroom, we did swing dancing, we did the pretzle, we sang… Renee was a great singer too. I never saw the movie Chicago, but I’m pretty sure she sang in it. Great voice.”
JOHN HARRISON (Sean): “I was on set for probably three weeks or so. While the budget was low and I needed to be there much more than just during the scenes I shot, it was such an exciting experience. We were treated well and had fun.”
TYLER CONE (Barry): “Renee would walk around and talk to Levie Isaacks or some of the crew… and while she’s talking to them, she’s squirting them in the crotch with a water gun. Totally straight-faced as she’s talking to them and they’re talking to her… and they just don’t even notice that she’s squirting them with a water gun. It was hilarious.
Sandra Adair, who was recently nominated for an Oscar, edited our film. I saw [Richard Linklater’s] Boyhood and was like, ‘She edited Chainsaw…’ I’m sure she would have a much different perspective *laughs* She saw so much footage, oh gosh.”
JOHN HARRISON (Sean): “Tyler used to give me rides to the set on occasion as I didn’t have a license yet. We would listen to bands like Blind Melon in Tyler’s jeep as we drove out or home, sometimes in the wee hours of the morning.”
TONIE PERENSKY (Darla): “Driving home at 7 AM on the I35 from Round Rock into Austin as Darla… ghoul make-up and that insanely sexy silver dress by Kari Perkins. I was exhausted, but when stopped in traffic, I would from time to time notice other drivers who had noticed me. You should have seen the look on their faces. Classic.”
Do you remember anything about the locations?
J.M. LOGAN (Special Effects / Stunts): “The high school and the ‘hospital’ at the end were both Pflugerville High School, which featured all of the original Chainsaw cast except Gunnar Hansen. Much of the driving stuff was at the intersection of Mopac and Highway 71, way before that intersection was complete. It was still under construction when we were shooting there, before Mopac continued any further south than Highway 71.”
TYLER CONE (Barry): “I do remember the house… Upstairs, there was some room that was supposedly off-limits to everybody. So, of course, once somebody says the room is off-limits, all of a sudden it’s because, ‘There was a murder. It’s haunted!’ The set decorator and art director had made that house such a mess, in a nice horror film-style… that it really looked like we had found this house in the middle of nowhere and decided to film in it.”
TONIE PERENSKY (Darla): “Between takes or during scenes that I was not in, I would sit on the back porch of that famous old house. One morning at dawn, I sat there looking out at the most sedate picture-perfect scene of the Texas prairie at sunrise… an orange glow… birds just beginning to sing the morning in… and then behind me rose the blood-curdling screams and sound of the chainsaw revving up and slicing through some… thing. It was surreal.”
J.M. LOGAN (Special Effects / Stunts): “All of the woods scenes and the road where the RV flips over was a ranch in Bastrop, close to the Lost Pines State Park, which is likely no longer there due to the devastating fires a few years ago. The gas station and the realtor office were in a small crossroads south of Bastrop on Highway 95, which I’m certain are no longer there.”
TONIE PERENSKY (Darla): “The realtor office was a little metal building, so multiply the heat and bugs for that one.”
J.M. LOGAN (Special Effects / Stunts): “The gas station was an ancient general store that had closed in the ’50s with most of its contents still intact. Inside, there were still pairs of Converse sneakers in their boxes from back when Converse first started manufacturing shoes.”
Do you have a favorite moment or line from the film?
JOHN HARRISON (Sean): “With Matthew… when Vilmer tells me, ‘He’s dead now.'”
TONIE PERENSKY (Darla): “The kitchen scene with Matthew. What can I say? It was an homage to a scene from The Postman Always Rings Twice. I tried to do it justice.”
TYLER CONE (Barry): “My favorite moment was actually an ad-lib in rehearsal. When Heather, Lisa’s character, starts going on about, ‘What if we all died? They could write a song about it!’ and I just slowly look at her and say, ‘Shut up.’ That wasn’t originally in the script. When we were in rehearsal over at the studio, I remember doing that and Kim was like, ‘Okay, we have to have that in there.’ That was my favorite line because… that was me.”
TONIE PERENSKY (Darla): “My favorite scene by far is at the Bud’s Pizza drive-thru where I am toying the police officer (Derek Keele) about his investigating what is in the trunk of my car (Renee Zellweger). I really got to improvise there and loved every single minute of it. Ever since I was a kid, I had an innate fascination with human behavior. I would closely observe people, dissect and extrapolate. The sociopathic mind is such a maze. And I’ve never met an actor who didn’t delight in playing ‘crazy.’ There’s so much room to create there.”
Do you recall anything about the local Austin rock band Pariah, whose song “Torn and Tied” is played during the opening scenes? Both Renee Zellweger and Lisa Newmyer were dating members of the band at the time.
TYLER CONE (Barry): “I believe Renee was roommates with Lisa for a long time. She was dating Sims [Ellison]. He was the bassist and I believe Lisa started dating Sims’ brother. One night, Renee and I got together when we were still in Austin and the band was shooting the music video for one of their songs. I remember Sims was wearing this Mickey Mouse spinners-and-shorts kind of get-up and Renee had on these really long eyelashes… I mean, she looked beautiful. And I guess we were part of this crowd watching these guys play, almost like a Nirvana-type video. But I’ve never seen that video… I’m not sure if it even came out. But Renee and I… we were extras in that music video.”
Rumors were circulating that McConaughey and Zellweger’s agencies were ashamed of the film and in turn, had put pressure on Columbia/Tri-Star in order to shelve the wide release. Do you recall any of these matters? Were you disappointed in the film’s limited release?
TONIE PERENSKY (Darla): “Every actor goes into a project with high hopes. There’s always a cautious optimism that you could be a part of something that will be entertaining and have a lasting impact. So, of course I had hoped the film would have made a bigger splash initially.”
ANDY COCKRUM (Special Effects / Stunts): “I had no knowledge of agencies trying to squash the film. However, one day on the set… J.M., Tyler and I were discussing that we were going to shoot A Troll’s Bridge after Chainsaw. Renee said she was interested in playing a part in the film. I remember a few weeks after Chainsaw wrapped, I met with Renee down on 6th Street to give her the script. She seemed really excited to have another film on her schedule. A week or so later, she called to tell me she couldn’t take the part because she had a role in Love and a .45 and the rest is history! Obviously, I think she made the right choice.”
TYLER CONE (Barry): “Renee wanted to make sure that she had the next project lined up… which ended up being Love and a .45 with Rory Cochran, which kind of helped her move out to Los Angeles. That was around the same time that Matthew moved out to LA as well and I think he did Angels in the Outfield. It was kind of weird how both of their careers took off around the same time.”
JOHN HARRISON (Sean): “I was in high school during that whole period and not too worried about it. I was more concerned about my classes, football, band, theater, and after school jobs.”
J.M. LOGAN (Special Effects / Stunts): “After we wrapped, I just went on and kept working. I moved to Los Angeles three years later. I kept getting wind that at some point, the movie had been completed but hadn’t come out yet so I didn’t really know much about it. We had a premiere at the Paramount Theatre in Austin… I would say around 1995… just after Matthew started exploding. Both he and Renee were there, but then I didn’t hear anything at all for years until it finally came out on video with a whimper.”
TYLER CONE (Barry): “I was living in Los Angeles when the release happened four years later, but the film actually did show at South by Southwest. So we had that screening there… Renee didn’t show up to that one but Matthew did. I believe that was right after he had started A Time to Kill and so there was already a lot of buzz about him getting that lead role. So my take was that he was totally cool with it because if he wasn’t, he wouldn’t have been at the premiere. He came over to me after and told me that I was funny in the movie… but we didn’t see Renee and the rumors at the time… and I don’t know which way it was… was that it was more Renee’s manager and not Matthew.
And I do know that at one point, when I was living in Los Angeles… because remember, Renee and I were pretty good friends… she sent me a message because she was jet-setting all of the sudden… she said she had to get her phone disconnected and was going to get a new number. She had left me this really long message and said to call her through her manager. I did and I said, ‘Renee told me to get a hold of her through here, just let her know that I called.’ Her manager said, ‘Oh, by the way, how do you know her?’ and I said, ‘We did Chainsaw together.’ I probably should’ve just said we were friends from Texas. He laughed and said, ‘Yeah, she’s not gonna call you,’ and then hung up. So that was the last interaction that I had with Renee and so my thought was that it was more so him. I do know that Renee stayed in contact with Lisa afterwards and it wasn’t like she was trying to run from the film. I believe that if I had been through her management and not really her manager personally, it would have been different. Renee wouldn’t have done that.
As a matter of fact, I think I still have the voicemail… Because it was on the old voicemail tapes and I realized I had saved everything from those days… scripts, video tapes, any kind of tapes… so I have all that stuff. I haven’t heard it but I know it’s in there somewhere. I just remember it being this really long message like, ‘I hope that LA is rockin’, we gotta get together, just make sure that if you want to get a hold of me, you call this guy.’ If she didn’t want to talk to me, she wouldn’t have left this long message. So when I got through to him to get a hold of her and he pulled that little laugh and said, ‘She’s not going to call you,’ once he found out I was associated with Chainsaw… I mean, that was him. That was him for sure.
Supposedly, Robbie told her what happened and she was so mad that her manager had said that yet I still never heard from her after that. So she knows what happened but, again, it wasn’t one of those things I was devastated by. I’m sure if I ever ran into her, I’d be cordial because I don’t blame her for his actions.”
According to Texas Monthly, Robert Jacks also believed Zellweger’s camp was behind the film’s botched release. Did Jacks ever comment on the matter with you?
TYLER CONE (Barry): “Robbie and I were friends after we filmed. He was still in Austin when I was in Austin. Matthew and Renee had already moved to Los Angeles. Even though I was talking to Renee on occasion, Matthew and I never spoke outside of filming. And so Robbie was kind of in-between, like, ‘Hey, what’s going on with Matthew? What’s happening with Renee?’ Because he was in contact with both of them. And I know that he was excited for this to come out because he was also really good friends with Blondie… Debbie Harry… and they had worked on the soundtrack together and so he was looking at that as an opportunity for his music as well.
I’m not surprised that he would be upset by anybody trying to squash it, but I don’t recall him saying that it was Matthew or Renee. I just remember, at the time, it seemed to come more from Renee’s side. I can understand if he was upset. I mean, I wanted the film to come out. We were excited to work on it and to see what was going to happen. Then all of a sudden, it was one of those situations where it’s not good enough for somebody? It’s like, wait a second, you were on the set, you had a good time, we all had a good time doing this and now it’s not good enough and you want to hide it? That’s why I didn’t feel that it was Renee or Matthew, but I would not be surprised… especially given my interaction with her manager… I would not be surprised at all if it was him. At all. I felt like he pulled a lot of strings with her career and her personal relationships as well.”
What are your thoughts on the lasting appeal of the film?
J.M. LOGAN (Special Effects / Stunts): “As a movie, I think it’s all pretty silly, but I don’t know that it matters much what I think. I still think it’s one of the most bizarre and unique movies I’ve ever been a part of. The whole experience was so traumatic, even though it was amazing at the same time… it’s still hard, 25 years later, for me to be objective about the film. This wasn’t another job for me, as it might be now. It was my first job of its kind… my age of reason. My rite of passage in many ways.”
TYLER CONE (Barry): “I just think that if more people did kind of catch on to what Kim was trying to do, it would’ve been more entertaining for people. I admit there were a lot of people that were angry with the film because they were expecting something different. I think some of it also… with Matthew and Renee’s careers taking off when they did and how that whole thing happened… I think that it kind of took out some of that chance for it to be known as a campy cult classic because then their success kind of overshadowed everything. Now, people would watch it and they would be more fascinated with the fact that Matthew and Renee came from this as opposed to appreciating it for what it is.”
TONIE PERENSKY (Darla): “I am grateful that it seems to have found its audience over the years. I never dreamed that twenty years later, I’d be answering questions about the film. That makes me smile.”
TYLER CONE (Barry): “At the time, there were a couple of interviews but Lisa, Renee and Matthew really took everybody’s attention. Robbie, a little bit… but for the most part, people weren’t really too interested in John and I; they were more interested in Matthew and Renee, obviously, and then Lisa… because she was the scream queen who got hung on the hook, everybody wanted to get a piece of her!
The Los Angeles Times actually had a pretty decent article and what I liked is they said that I was a guy that had an electronic news zipper scrolling across his forehead reading marked for death, which I thought was a pretty good compliment… It was a good compliment to me when people didn’t want to meet me ’cause they thought I was going to be an asshole. It’s been a long time and being recognized… which doesn’t happen often but it does happen on occasion… is still like, ‘Wow. That’s really cool.’ If people are like, ‘Wow, I was kind of afraid that you were going to be a dick,’ I’m like, ‘That’s cool! That’s cool that you thought that!'”
J.M. LOGAN (Special Effects / Stunts): “I was so young and had such naive expectations… it almost seemed natural that I could be doing a Chainsaw movie at that point. I just sort of thought that’s how it happened; you kept working on movies and some of them happened to be noticed and you took opportunities where you could find them. I definitely felt honored to be doing a Chainsaw movie, but I don’t think I quite grasped the uniqueness of what I was doing at the time… or appreciated it as thoroughly as I might now. I didn’t feel like I was making a “big” Chainsaw movie. It was the kind of atmosphere that felt like a bunch of friends got together and decided to make a movie with Leatherface in it. It never felt official but at that point, I didn’t have much to compare it to. I didn’t quite understand the gravity at the time.”
JOHN HARRISON (Sean): “Fond memories of a really fun time. My wife got to work with our friend Eric Thornett a few years ago on a couple of projects. It was fun to watch them play with some of the same fun, campy elements that make these films enjoyable. Chainsaw definitely has a bit of a legacy from its original release. Each iteration is also so different from its previous version. My time on-set and with the cast and crew is definitely a time I will never forget.”
TYLER CONE (Barry): “I feel like we all got something from the film and whatever direction we went in our lives, Texas Chainsaw will always be a part of it. I would love to be able to reconnect with everybody. Obviously, that’s very difficult to do, almost impossible to do… but I had a great time.”
TONIE PERENSKY (Darla): “I got to be a part of the canon of Chainsaw films, and as a horror aficionado, that’s great. I’m honored to have been part of the series and rub shoulders with horror royalty. Thank you so much for bringing attention to the film and keeping fans in the loop.”
TYLER CONE (Barry): “If you keep an open mind, you’ll see the humor. But if you go in and you’re like, ‘I want to see the original Chainsaw,’ you’re not going to see it. You have to have an open mind to see the differences that Kim Henkel purposely put into the film. There were no mistakes. He knew what he was doing when he was doing it. He was a really smart guy and people just didn’t get it. He interjected that humor in there on purpose, and I like that kind of stuff. I like that humor.”
J.M. LOGAN (Special Effects / Stunts): “The movie itself is a very strange piece of art. Resplendent in flaws arising from both the script and the manner by which it was made, driven by a man executing a vision formed over twenty years of catharsis… For years afterwards, the sound of someone in a neighborhood using a chainsaw would send involuntary shivers down my spine from the experience of working on the film and I’m sure I’m not alone. In the end, I think Kim would look at that as being one of his greatest accomplishments.”
Repression Runs in the Family: The Early Films of Wes Craven
Before we get into the meat of this article (so to speak), it has to be said that it’s not 100% confirmed that Wes Craven is Abe Snake, the pseudonymous director of the 1975 porno film Angela, the Fireworks Woman. But he’s listed on IMDB as both the film’s writer and director, and Brenan Klein made a great case for Craven’s authorship over at Blumhouse.com: “Immediately,” he writes, “one of [Craven’s] his most common themes rises to the fore: the dark side of the American family unit.” The closest he came to admitting it, which is good enough for me, was in 2014 in an interview with Simon Abrams of the Village Voice, when he said with a kind of wink, “I might have directed [a porn film]. But apart from that one, I didn’t make any others.” So for the purposes of this article, we’re just going to assume that The Fireworks Woman is one of Craven’s films.
As others have pointed out, Craven’s upbringing has a lot to do with the themes that would later emerge in his cinematic work. His father died when Craven was three, but the man’s extreme anger left a deep impression on his son. And his mother, a strict Baptist, kept him under her thumb, reminding him that hell was waiting for him if he indulged in any of his baser instincts. So Craven saw firsthand the consequences of both expressing and repressing one’s animalistic instincts, and the damage that each extreme could cause. As a result, the characters in his first three movies fluctuate between these extremes.
The Last House on the Left (1972), an idea Craven admitted to lifting from Bergman’s Virgin Spring, begins and ends with characters who experience both extremes. The movie opens as Dr. John Collingwood (Richard Towers) discusses a local murder spree that he’s reading about in the newspaper and then asks his wife Estelle (Cynthia Carr), what’s for dinner. Here we have the suburban disconnect that Craven will explore off and on for the rest of his career. Suburbia is a place where violence is supposed to happen “out there” somewhere in the uncivilized wider world. Murder, the Collingwoods feel, will never come to their house, and they will never have a reason to commit murder themselves. Of course not. Right. Well, okay, but that all changes when the Collingwoods’ daughter Mari (Sandra Peabody) and her friend Phyllis (Lucy Grantham) go to a rock-n-roll concert and are abducted by the very gang that the good doctor had been reading about in the paper earlier. (There are a lot of weird, sometimes silly coincidences in this movie. A lot of Wes Craven’s charm comes from his being something of a brilliant hack.)
The group, consisting of three men and one woman take the girls to the woods (which, in another bizarre coincidence, happens to be near the Collingwoods’ quiet suburban house) where they’re tortured, raped, murdered, and their bodies abandoned. In another just-barely believable coincidence, the group is offered shelter for the night in the Collingwoods’ home. You might suspect where this is going. The Collingwoods, naturally, find out the identities of the people staying with them and when they discover their daughter’s corpse in the woods outside their house, they shed every hint of their middle class civility, something that once had seemed to shelter them from the outside world’s savagery, and become feral. A penis is bitten off, a throat is cut, a guy is goaded into shooting himself to death, and the good doctor hacks a man to death with a chainsaw. Well, now, that’s how you end a movie, eh?
Admittedly, the transition from repressed middle-class gentility to violent killers seems, well, the word abrupt puts it mildly, but Craven’s point is made. Though the Collingwoods’ phones aren’t working, the audience knows that the local police are on their way. But one gets the feeling that the police were far from the Collingwoods’ minds anyway. Their violence was the result of an overpowering impulse beyond their control. The movie suggests that if this kind of violence is latent in such genteel, civilized creatures such as the Collingwoods, it damn sure means that the rest of us are capable of going to such extremes. A scary thought, indeed. Or maybe not, depending on how you view violence as a solution to injustice, how much you really believe in an eye for an eye.
Angela, the Fireworks Woman (1975) deals with the same basic theme, but in a wholly different way. Well, as you might expect. Since this is porn. Hardcore porn. Naturally, the movie is mostly about sexual repression, though there is some violence, because this is Wes Craven we’re talking about.
We begin at a kind of Bacchanalian party with plenty of naked men and women frolicking bare-assed in the open air with Craven (yeah, he cast himself in his own porn movie) encouraging it all. He’s the devil, more or less, a strange supernatural presence that appears every now and then.
The main characters are Angela (Jennifer Jordan) and Peter (Eric Edwards). They’re siblings, but they’re also lovers. Very close family, I suppose. They have all sorts of sex with each other until Peter decides that what they’re doing is wrong (I mean, yeah…) and so he decides the only solution is to join the priesthood. (Okay, kind of extreme, but why not…) I guess if there’s no other way to avoid having sex with your sister, then the priesthood it is. So there you have your big, bold, repression dynamic.
For her part, Angela is perfectly fine with shedding social mores, seeing through the sometimes arbitrary nature of learned morality. She figures she likes having sex with her brother. What’s the big deal? So Angela spends the rest of the hour-long film moving from one sexual adventure to another while trying the entire time to get her brother to stop being such a fuddy-duddy and leave the priesthood so that he can have, like, all the sex with her. Along the way, she takes up with a BDSM couple, a swinger couple who enjoy fucking while they’re zonked out of their minds on acid, and gets raped.
The rape scene is so uncomfortable and weird that it pretty much gives away Craven’s authorship. A guy wants to rape Angela, but he gets hit over the head with a fish by another guy who takes Angela away and rapes her himself. This is a very dark scene, especially when you consider that it’s in a movie designed to arouse male viewers. Full penetration, a money shot, weird porno music. It’s as if Craven is daring his audience to like what they’re seeing. No doubt too many men did in fact like that scene.
This is all weird as shit, but it zeros in on the main point of the thing. Besides Peter, almost everyone else in the movie does what they want, indulging in their more base impulses no matter the damage that it causes. Though to be fair, only the rapist really hurts anyone in this film.
And in an ironic twist on the Hollywood happy ending, Peter eventually learns to embrace his true nature and he and his sister end up sailing off together, finally the happy couple they were meant to be. Yeah, even for a 70’s porn, Angela is weird.
So, then, onto The Hills Have Eyes (1977), Craven’s final movie of the 70’s. Here we have a (slightly) more nuanced view of repression and the consequences of giving into one’s instincts. I think it’s important to remember that while the family that gets attacked by the cannibal family are most certainly victims, they’re also intruders, invaders even. They’re warned away from the savagery that awaits them but go anyway, bringing a garish camping trailer, a tiny version of a suburban home on wheels. If getting stuck in the desert with a camper isn’t a metaphor for the attempt to tame savagery with civilization, then I don’t know what is.
As with Last House, Craven shows just how thin the veneer that separates so-called civilization from complete savagery is, and how little it takes to push ourselves to nearly unlimited acts of violence. It takes a lot for Bobby Carter (Robert Houston), his sister Brenda (Suze Lanier-Bramlett), and their brother-in-law Doug (Martin Speer) to resort to violence, but when they do, it comes out full bore.
Both Last House and Hills make the argument that sometimes, in order to save oneself or to make sure justice is served, violence is necessary. Craven is clearly not saying that violence makes people “no better” than the murderers and rapists they’re killing. Indeed, during the Hills director’s commentary, Craven constantly refers to the cannibal family as the “bad guys.” Likewise, Angela’s sexual liberation is in no way comparable to the man who mindlessly follows through in his desire to rape her. In this way, Craven does make the argument that liberation can be a positive thing if it has the effect of self-satisfaction without harming others or if it’s used in pursuit of justice.
The darker part of this point of view is its arbitrary nature. Whatever we think about people who break taboos or engage in vigilante violence, Craven argues that none of us are above such behavior, and everyone is capable of it. Violence is inevitable and repressed instincts will eventually manifest themselves with the proper stimulus. The best we can hope for is relatively positive results.
Exclusive: Cast & Crew Reflect on Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation – Part 1
As most of you know, the widely-anticipated Texas Chainsaw prequel Leatherface was made available across On-Demand platforms this past weekend (October 20th) and has actually garnered some pretty decent reviews! It has been a long road for this prequel to see the light of day (having been shot in 2015) and to commemorate the occasion, we here at Dread Central take a trip down memory lane to celebrate the 20th anniversary of one of the series’ more colorful entries: 1997’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation starring then-unknowns Matthew McConaughey and Renee Zellweger!
Shot in 1993 under the title The Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the film was directed by Kim Henkel who, along with the late Tobe Hooper, co-created the original 1974 shocker. Intended as a “return” to the original’s form, Henkel’s version would instead take a wildly different and hotly-debated approach. The Next Generation transforms the iconic chainsaw-wielding Leatherface into a wailing mess who occasionally dons drag. Nobody actually dies by use of chainsaw and instead of killing for food… Leatherface’s traditionally cannibal family are partial to take-out pizza. The film also makes the bold move of attempting to explain the family’s practices as ‘spiritual experiences’ intended to evoke fear in the public… all spearheaded by the Illuminati, no less.
Despite being purchased for distribution by Columbia/Tri-Star, the film’s release was repeatedly shelved. During the time since filming, both McConaughey and Zellweger had left Texas for Hollywood and were on the brink of stardom. At the time, Chainsaw producer Robert Kuhn noted that both actors’ agencies were trying to squash the release in fear for their clients’ burgeoning careers. But on August 29, 1997, Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation finally received a release, opening in 23 theatres nationwide. Ultimately, the film only grossed $185,989, prompting the filmmakers to sue the studio as well as the Creative Artists Agency (CAA) for failing to adhere to the contractual terms for a wide release and for contract interference, respectively.
Eviscerated by critics and fans at the time, The Next Generation has found its fair share of cult-like supporters in recent years (Rob Zombie has even included the film as part of his “13 Nights of Halloween” program on the HDNET Movies Channel!). Creative liberties embraced, there’s a lot to enjoy about this particular Chainsaw. McConaughey delivers a maniacal performance as Vilmer, head of the family, who sports a remote-controlled robotic leg for reasons unknown (nothing to see here; this isn’t unusual by the film’s standards). The real charms of this installment are the black comedy elements, particularly the amusingly obtuse and almost unbelievable dialogue spouted off by the wonderful supporting cast; all the more effective when set against the backdrop of the film’s more horrific moments. Notable standouts include Lisa Newmyer as the dim yet resilient Heather (how she survives as long as she does is beyond anyone’s guess), Tyler Cone as her obnoxious boyfriend Barry, and Tonie Perensky as McConaughey’s girlfriend Darla, whom Variety referred to as “the most stunningly sexy sociopath to hit the screen since Linda Fiorentino steamed up The Last Seduction.”
As evidenced by this interview with Kim Henkel, Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation was crafted with care… and still packs enough of a brutal punch to be worthy of the legacy of its title. However, because of the film’s star power and initial criticism… unlike other Chainsaw entries, few, if any, of this film’s supporting cast & crew have ever been interviewed or appeared at a convention (let’s fix this, guys)… It is a real treat to say that in honor of the film’s 20th anniversary, we caught up with cast members Tyler Cone (The War at Home), John Harrison (“Guiding Light”) and Tonie Perensky (Varsity Blues) as well as special effects technicians J.M. Logan (Children of the Corn: The Gathering) and Andy Cockrum (Sin City), who were kind enough to share their experiences of working on this bizarrely hilarious film! Enjoy!
How did you land the gig?
TYLER CONE (Barry): “At the time, I was doing some theatre work for Planned Parenthood in Austin. I was nineteen years old, in college, and a friend of mine, who I just knew outside of the industry, was a special effects artist, Josh ‘J.M.’ Logan, and he told me that they were casting for Texas Chainsaw. And I got really excited because the first experience that I ever had of just being in a place where they filmed a movie was when I moved to Texas and my dad’s office was in an area where they had filmed the first Texas Chainsaw. I was just in awe of actually standing where they filmed that movie. So when Josh told me that they were auditioning, I quickly got a head shot together and put together my tiny little resume and went and read. I actually ended up reading with Lisa (Newmyer) and I think, at that time, she had already been cast and they had a hard time finding the role of Barry. I guess I just came across douchy enough where I got a call from Cevin Cathell, who was the production manager at the time. She called me that night and asked if I wanted to be in the movie, and the rest is history.”
JOHN HARRISON (Sean): “A friend gave my name to the casting team and I got called in. Not much to speak of in terms of a career at the time but I was thrilled to get to spend some time on such a fun project. I was just going into high school at the time.”
TONIE PERENSKY (Darla): “I had cut my teeth in Canadian theater and got into film in Austin. I was doing lead roles in independent films and some small roles in features. I hadn’t landed Varsity Blues yet. That came after Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”
J.M. LOGAN (Special Effects / Stunts): “By the time Chainsaw came around, I was nineteen years old and living in an art studio not zoned for residents; the bathroom was down the hall. I was stage managing at the theatre I’d been working at since I was twelve, sustaining myself by running spotlight at local theatres, working as a stage hand and rigger at the local touring rock show venue, building props for photo shoots, doing effects on student films and had just taken a job in a family dental lab making dentures to have some kind of regular income.
I probably got recommended by the Texas Film Commission, who I’d had a relationship with since I started bugging them to get contact information for local productions since I was about twelve. I remember in the interview with production manager Cevin Cathell… after showing her the portfolio I’d assembled, she initially wanted me to build Vilmer (McConaughey)’s mechanical leg but said there weren’t really any make-up or gore effects in the script. This seemed a little odd to me considering Chainsaw 2 was one of the bloodiest movies I’d ever seen. But Kim Henkel’s vision was more psychological than physical violence… without guts spilling out everywhere. At first, it didn’t seem like they needed all that much help in the effects department. Also, from a professional perspective of someone who spent a lot of time in Hollywood as Cevin had… I was super young, super green, clearly local and with a pretty rudimentary portfolio compared to what she was used to… and she had every right to be hesitant. I thought my chances of getting the movie were extremely slim; I was just happy to build a prop for them.
Somehow, my job grew over the following weeks. I think I quoted something like $1500 for the whole movie, including labor, after pricing everything I’d need from the Burman mail order catalogue. I really had no idea what I was doing when it came to the business aspect, how long the shoot was, the idea of day or weekly rates or anything else of practicality. In the end, I think they hired me because I seemed capable, dedicated and was the cheapest possible option.”
ANDY COCKRUM (Special Effects / Stunts): “About a year before Chainsaw, I was working at a post-production office as a night editor and I had also written a script called A Troll’s Bridge that I hoped to produce at some point. The film took place in a small Texas town, about a guy who accidentally hits a troll with his jeep and then all hell breaks loose.
Coincidentally, one night, I was taking a break from editing a music video and I walked past a studio door that was wide open. Inside, I could see a few dozen monster masks and other props in various stages of production. Working on one of those masks was J.M. Logan. We quickly became friends and over the next few months, we collaborated on a couple of short films. Eventually, after Chainsaw wrapped, he did the make-up on A Troll’s Bridge.
At about the same time that J.M. got the job on Chainsaw, I was between editing projects and he asked me to be his assistant. As a kid, I had dabbled in making Planet of the Apes masks so I jumped at the chance to actually work, non-paid, on an actual film production.”
Were you aware or perhaps a fan of the Texas Chainsaw films prior to shooting?
TONIE PERENSKY (Darla): “I had heard about the original Chainsaw in the late ’70s. The original Texas Chainsaw Massacre was such a defining moment in the history of horror. Along with films like Halloween, Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street… Texas Chainsaw Massacre helped to launch the genre that dominated the ’80s and is still a staple of horror today. I watched the original again and it’s just a brilliant use of a small crew and limited locations. There was really nothing like Texas Chainsaw Massacre before.”
JOHN HARRISON (Sean): “As a younger child, I enjoyed watching horror films. I had already seen the original Chainsaw films and sort of grew up with A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th and other series. It was fun to watch scary films but I found a lot of humor in them as well.”
ANDY COCKRUM (Special Effects / Stunts): “My earliest memory of the original Chainsaw was at the Chief Drive-In Theatre in 1974. I was thirteen and watching a re-release of Yellow Submarine. The drive-in had two screens facing each other, with two different films. Instead of watching Yellow Submarine, I crawled into the back car window and watched Texas Chainsaw. I couldn’t hear it but it still scared the hell out of me.”
J.M. LOGAN (Special Effects / Stunts): “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, in particular, was one of my biblical horror films. Chainsaw III never did much for me, but Leatherface is a character that transcends the franchise and has always been one of my favorite horror icons. I actually had a poster of the cast of Chainsaw 2 that I had signed by Bill Johnson (Leatherface), who I’d met because he was married to one of the staff at the Zach Scott Theatre, which is where I had my first job. He was regularly involved with the theatre and my first day on the job… I was building set pieces with him for their upcoming show. I was beside myself. Working alongside movie stars!”
TYLER CONE (Barry): “I still think the original Chainsaw is one of the most notorious horror films. For me… it was just actually being in that original location, which is crazy that… not many years later, there I was getting a role in another version of Texas Chainsaw.”
Kim Henkel was the co-writer of the original film and he made his directorial debut with this film. How did Henkel seem to be handling himself?
TONIE PERENSKY (Darla): “Hats off to Kim Henkel for facing the immense task of remaining true to the original while presenting our story in a way that would captivate a new generation. Ours was a particularly difficult shoot, with an extremely low budget while shooting in the incredibly hot and humid Texas summer. A challenge for any director, but Kim got it done.”
TYLER CONE (Barry): “Kim was great. Kim was a really smart guy. I think that a lot of people didn’t give him credit for the way he did this movie because there were a lot of people that really expected a remake of the original Chainsaw, but he really wanted to do something different.”
JOHN HARRISON (Sean): “Kim was such a cool guy. He was so thoughtful and generous. I recall that he seemed to treat everyone with such respect.”
J.M. LOGAN (Special Effects / Stunts): “Kim was a good ol’ Texas country boy just like Tobe. A slow, comfortable Texas drawl and an epic mustache. At the time, I’d only really worked with theatre directors. For the larger LA-based movies I’d done various things for, I had generally only observed the directors at a distance. I didn’t really have much to compare him to, but I know this was a labor of love for him.”
What was it like working alongside Matthew McConaughey and Renee Zellweger?
ANDY COCKRUM (Special Effects / Stunts): “Working with Matthew and Renee was awesome. At the time, neither of them had really taken off in their careers yet, so they were just two nice people we were working with. My job as assistant… and then eventually the fog guy… sort of limited my one-on-one with Renee and Matthew, except between takes.”
J.M. LOGAN (Special Effects / Stunts): “We must remember that these were all local Texas actors at the time. Matthew had made a bit of an impression with Dazed and Confused, but that was it. Renee hadn’t done anything of note yet and was mostly doing beer commercials at the time.”
TONIE PERENSKY (Darla): “What a treat to work with Matthew and Renee. We all came from different schools of acting, so it was wonderful to learn from each other. I had not worked with Renee before, however I had auditioned with Matt in Austin for a Dirty Dancing-style beer commercial a couple of months before the Chainsaw shoot.”
TYLER CONE (Barry): “Renee was amazing. I did most of my work with her. I did a few nights with Matthew, so we basically… We literally chucked rocks at the raw side of a barn. I think that was the most interaction that he and I had together.”
JOHN HARRISON (Sean): “Matthew was an absolute soldier in terms of work ethic. I recall how committed he was to everything he was doing. He had charisma and I knew at that time that he was the type of person you could throw any project at and he would pull it off.”
TONIE PERENSKY (Darla): “At the break before the callback, we were all chatting outside about our careers… typical actors. Matthew projected that he would probably head to LA and try to get some work behind the camera and maybe some odd jobs. I instantly let out a big laugh saying, ‘Oh Matthew, you are crazy if you think for a moment they’ll let you be wasted behind the camera.’ I’d been acting for over 25 years at that point and it was clear from the moment I met him that if he could even act half as well as his contemporaries, he was going to be a star. And I had never had that thought about any other actor.”
J.M. LOGAN (Special Effects / Stunts): “The kind of hardships we faced, as human beings suffering together, definitely led to some visceral and frank conversations with everyone. I remember at one point asking Renee why she was coming back every day to be beaten up by this movie… and make no mistake, she was a punching bag in this film… and she said, ‘Because if I don’t keep trying, I just see the rest of my career holding up beer cans.’ She was one of the most determined actors I’ve ever known and an extremely talented actor. Chainsaw took so long to come out after shooting it, however, that it was actually the movie she filmed after… Love and a .45… that put her on the Hollywood map. She told me at the end of Chainsaw that she was going to have that role and I’ve never seen anyone campaign harder. This movie was a rite of passage for her, and for Matthew, and I have amazing memories of both of them.”
TYLER CONE (Barry): “Matthew and I didn’t have any scenes together, but Renee and I… we danced a lot. We sang Grease songs a lot. We just had fun, y’know, and that friendship actually… We continued to be friends for a while after we filmed. When I moved to Los Angeles, we were friends for a little bit and then she got swept up after Jerry Maguire, and y’know, her life just completely changed, which, totally understandable. I’ve seen that happen to quite a few people now. But Renee and I were pretty tight on the film. It was a lot of fun to work with her.”
ANDY COCKRUM (Special Effects / Stunts): “I was fortunate enough to be included in some of the dailies screenings and the first time I saw Renee on screen, there was this overwhelming feeling that, ‘Man, she could be famous one day.’ She really lit up the screen.”
TYLER CONE (Barry): “She was a little older than me. I mean, I was only nineteen at the time and she was twenty-four or something like that… when you’re younger, those age differences seem bigger. So she treated me more like a little brother but we were still super tight.
The Renee that I knew was so different from the Renee that you see in interviews. Obviously, she’s had a long career, a successful career and she’s grown up a lot… y’know, we all grow up a lot. But she was just all-out crazy fun and I would love for people to see that side of her because the only thing I saw that had a lot of that fun aspect to it was Me, Myself & Irene.”
JOHN HARRISON (Sean): “Renee treated me so kindly and while I haven’t seen or spoken to her in years, she is someone I will always look up to.”
Were you aware the film was shaping up to be more of a dark comedy as opposed to a straightforward horror flick? i.e. transvestite Leatherface, the pizza-eating “cannibal” family, the Illuminati backstory?
TYLER CONE (Barry): “We were aware from the beginning because when we were doing rehearsals and going through the script, a lot of us were like, ‘How much blood?’ and Kim was like, ‘No!’ He didn’t want it to be a gory film. He wanted it to be more intellectual, he wanted it to be funny… He wanted the jokes to totally go over people’s heads. And they did.”
TONIE PERENSKY (Darla): “Reading the script, you get a sense of the tone and direction of the film. But every film takes on a life of its own as the actors bring the characters to life. I can’t tell you who said it first but most directors will agree that there are three types of films: the one that was written, the one that was shot and the one that was edited. I had an idea of where we were headed, but you never really know until you see it on the screen.”
TYLER CONE (Barry): “So much of it was purposely campy. So many of my lines were purposely campy. The line when I tell Heather that if I don’t have sex, I could get ‘prostrate’ cancer. And I remember saying, ‘Shouldn’t we change this to prostate?’ And he was like, ‘No, no, no, it needs to be prostrate.’ Or the scene with W.E. (Joe Stevens) where I went inside the house and I’m calling him a dumb ass on the other side of the door and he’s got a shotgun… I’m like, ‘What?’ He said, ‘We just need to show how thick-headed Barry is. That’s the funny part.’ He really wanted to slide in this humor that I don’t think a lot of people got.”
TONIE PERENSKY (Darla): “Comedy is and has always been my first love. I was performing live improv with a group called ComedySportz and even auditioned for Saturday Night Live right around that time. So when it comes to comedy or camp or both, nothing made me happier to perform.”
JOHN HARRISON (Sean): “I always recognized a bit of humor in most horror films I had seen to that date. Many years later, I recall watching Freddy vs. Jason and laughing out loud with Freddy and Jason having their epic battle.”
J.M. LOGAN (Special Effects / Stunts): “Kim had this vision of Chainsaw since he and Tobe made the first one. He felt the like vision of psychological horror had been hijacked a bit into a gore franchise by Hollywood. This was his version to try and set the record straight. All of the stuff he worked in about the weird Illuminati guy at the end was something he was fascinated by and had always wanted to express in a Chainsaw film.”
TYLER CONE (Barry): “Kim wanted this one to stand on its own. I don’t know what the history was between him and Tobe but I know there was enough there to where he wanted to deviate from Texas Chainsaw 2.”
J.M. LOGAN (Special Effects / Stunts): “From what I remember, a story he told me when we were driving to set in his big, old rickety pick-up truck… this script was what he wanted the original Chainsaw to be. He’d been working on it ever since. This is the movie he wanted to make without Tobe’s influence. This was his pure vision.”
TYLER CONE (Barry): “Kim just wanted to come out and do a different version of it. I know the first version was really intense for the actors, and I think it was also really intense for him and he wanted this one to be a little more light-hearted, again, with the humor. But it was still intense. I mean, we still had some extremely intense things. I remember Robbie, who played Leatherface… It was tough for him to be as physical as he was with Lisa and Renee in a lot of those scenes.”
What was it like working with the late Robert Jacks (Leatherface)?
J.M. LOGAN (Special Effects / Stunts): “Robbie Jacks was a really amazingly creative, inspiring, generous, kind and deeply sad person who I still miss very much to this day. He had an incredible spirit and was taken from us much too early. I would love to have seen what he went on to do.”
TYLER CONE (Barry): “Robbie and I were friends for a long time after that and I had a lot of good times with him. He was homosexual and the first time I ever see Robbie… he walks out of his trailer… J.M. has just put his make-up on him, so he’s wearing this apron, these teeth, these gloves, this mask, the skin, all of the stuff, and he walks out and goes (effeminate voice) ‘I’m going to scare the shit out of them!’ I was like, ‘Oh yes.’ It’s a totally different Chainsaw.”
JOHN HARRISON (Sean): “I got to spend a little time with Robbie as well and in sharp contrast to the monster he played in the film, the one word I recall about Robbie was gentle. He seemed to have a very kind and gentle spirit in the few moments I spent with him. He left us way too soon as he passed away not very long after the film came out.”
TONIE PERENSKY (Darla): “Robbie Jacks and I knew each other from years before from the Austin punk scene. He was such a bright, edgy, creative soul and we were all, of course, shocked and saddened by his loss.”
J.M. LOGAN (Special Effects / Stunts): “Kim’s description of Leatherface was that the reason he wore other people’s skin was not to make himself hideous, but because he wanted to ‘become’ different people. He would take on the personalities of the other people whose faces he wore. To expand on that idea, he could be ‘killer’ Leatherface, but he could also take on the personality of a grandmother taking care of her children or a pretty lady who only wanted to be loved.Because the explanation was so intriguing, I loved the idea of Leatherface not always having to be a hideous monster, but that he might see himself as beautiful in some way as well. It was just the kind of twisted thinking I could key into and it was really fun to explore that aspect. Of course, Robbie was totally invested. He and I spent a lot of time together as I was constantly maintaining his make-up. Even under extraordinarily uncomfortable situations, he was never anything other than gentle and kind. He didn’t lose his temper once which is really saying something. The face and chest of the ‘pretty lady’ Leatherface were actually those of our production designer Debbie Pastor!”
How was the experience of working alongside the supporting cast?
J.M. LOGAN (Special Effects / Stunts): “The supporting cast was equally as fun. Tonie and Joe were both kind of local Austin celebrity actors. I’d done a couple of movies with Tonie and she was good friends with Andy. Joe and I had done a bunch of theatre shows together.”
TONIE PERENSKY (Darla): “Joe Stevens was an accomplished actor and theatre director by that time. We had done a play together a couple of years before. I had and still have so much respect for his work.”
JOHN HARRISON (Sean): “Joe was a blast and certainly went on to do quite a bit more.”
TYLER CONE (Barry): “Joe was a lot of fun. He was a more seasoned actor though and I’m quite confident that I annoyed the hell out of him. Because I was a nineteen year old with a big mouth. But he took it in stride because was very seasoned; a lot of experience… and his comfort level on the set is what I remember. And I really wanted to emulate that but again, I was just too immature at the time to really do it properly. We stayed in contact for a long time. In fact, when I moved out to Los Angeles, I think he did a stint out there as well and we hung out a bit.”
J.M. LOGAN (Special Effects / Stunts): “Tonie and Joe were both local actors who would get supporting roles in pretty much every movie that came through town… favorites of the local casting director whose name I think was Jo Edna. As the film community in Austin was incredibly small, we all knew each other by that time.”
ANDY COCKRUM (Special Effects / Stunts): “Tonie Perensky and I actually went back several years when she was a waitress at a bar I used to go to called Headliners on 6th Street. Tonie is truly one of the nicest people I’ve ever met.”
TYLER CONE (Barry): “Tonie Perensky… she was kind of like the ‘set mom.’ I don’t know why I called her that. Maybe it was just because I was so young… I’m sure Renee and Lisa didn’t see her in the same way. But maybe to John and I… because she was trying to take us under her wing. She was like, ‘You need to go these acting classes and this and this and this.’ She just tried to help us outside of the film to continue our careers. I only had one scene with Tonie though. I think the last couple of things I saw that she did was Varsity Blues and she was also Eminem’s mom in a music video.”
JOHN HARRISON (Sean): “Tonie was a friend long before we ever shot. She was one of the most nurturing and caring individuals I knew. We didn’t have scenes together but it was thrilling to be a part of the project with her.”
TONIE PERENSKY (Darla): “Tyler Cone was another handsome young actor. John Harrison was a student of mine… yet another handsome young actor. And Lisa… so pretty and wonderful at playing the vapid prom date. It was great fun working with them all.”
TYLER CONE (Barry): “I loved acting with Lisa. She was so fun to act with… playing my girlfriend. Because she was my girlfriend but we had all the problems that teenage kids have… dysfunctional and I was cheating on her and ‘I can’t believe how possessive she is!’ and all that kind of stuf… Maybe that’s one of the reasons why I got it. She and I had read together when I auditioned and so it probably wasn’t just me; it was me and her together and they were like, ‘Okay, yeah, this is the couple we need.'”
J.M. LOGAN (Special Effects / Stunts): “I didn’t really spend much time with Lisa but I think Tyler kept in touch. Tyler was actually a good friend of mine and I recommended him to Kim for this role because he mentioned that he was interested in getting into acting. This was his first gig!”
ANDY COCKRUM (Special Effects / Stunts): “I met Tyler on the set. He had been a friend of J.M.’s, and eventually played the lead character in my movie A Troll’s Bridge.”
TONIE PERENSKY (Darla): “James Gale was a particularly respected actor in the British theatre. We were all thrilled to have someone of his caliber on board.”
Be sure to check back for more insights from the cast & crew of Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation!
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