Teri McMinn Talks Meathooks, Chainsaws, and Massacres
As any horror fan worth their salt knows, back in 1974, a little film was released (or unleashed) upon the public with the off-putting yet intriguing title, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Most horror folks have heard all the stories about the film including The Dinner Scene shoot and about the deal with Bryanston, which led to years of legal wrangling. The cast has, to one degree or another, stayed in the public eye and director Tobe Hooper, DP Daniel Pearl and Production Manager Ron Bozman all moved on to other films, even an Oscar win.
But one cast member has remained mysteriously quiet. And she is the most iconic of them all – Pam, the girl on the hook. Every TCM poster has her image along with Gunnar Hansen’s Leatherface, but no one really knew what happened to her once the film was wrapped. Now, Teri McMinn, who so memorably played Pam, the Girl in the Red Shorts, has emerged from her self-imposed silence and TCM fans are rejoicing!
Dread Central recently interviewed the delightfully vivacious Teri McMinn and got the scoop on where she went after the film, what she remembers from the shoot and what she REALLY wishes she had kept from the movie.
Elaine Lamkin: Thank you so much for taking time to speak with Dread Central, Teri. It seems you are definitely the It Girl right now.
Teri McMinn: Well, there are definitely a lot of “Pam” fans I have met this past year, since my debut at Monster Mania in 2008. It was pretty overwhelming at first.
EL: The obvious question, which I’m sure you’ve already been asked a million times is: Where did you go after Chainsaw? It was almost as though you fell off of the face of the earth. And there was talk that you wanted nothing to do with the film after you did it. What brought you out of retirement now?
TM: There was never any time unfortunately. I was for several years, in the late ’80’s, an Event Planner and after that I ran my own floral business until 2004. From 2004 until 2008, I moved back to Los Angeles where I managed a hotel on the beach. I was extremely focused and committed to my work. The luxury of ‘your own time’ just doesn’t exist when you run a business. When you run any business, especially your own, you can’t just take off whenever you like, to do interviews and conventions.
If I go to a convention, as I do now on occasion, I’m gone a minimum of 5 days. After they’re over, we’re all completely exhausted, because from the moment we arrive at the conventions, we’re busy from morning until late at night, meeting fans all day signing, and usually numerous interviews. There are always parties, screenings, and Q and A’s. This includes 2 days of flying and traveling to get there and home.
Conventions are so much fun to do, but they are also very hard work. I realized more than ever, once I ‘came out’, it’s very time consuming being “Pam”. I am contacted by sweet, loving, and devoted fans, every day… and it is growing with each convention.
After Cinema Wasteland in April 2008, I had over 500 email messages, comments, tags, and requests in a month. Geez~ and a gazillion hits between My Space and Facebook. I’m not complaining, just stating the logistics! “Pam” is so beloved.
TM: No, not UT. They refused to accept 1 hour of my 40 hard earned hours from the year I was an Apprentice at The Dallas Theater Center. The DTC was affiliated with Trinity University in San Antonio. Unbeknownst to naive me, there was a bitter, jealous rivalry between Paul Baker at Trinity/DTC and the Drama Director at UT. It was insane!
I ended up just taking math and English classes that year. The next year I switched to St Edward’s University in Austin, where the head of their Drama Department, Dr. Ed Mangum, accepted all my hours. I was waiting tables at a little restaurant/ bar called Mrs. Robinson’s, and going to school.
Tobe and Kim saw my picture in The Austin American Statesman, the local newspaper. I was doing the play, “Catch Me If You Can”, with the actor, Frank Sutton. Frank was famous for a popular ’70’s TV series called, “Gomer Pyle”, and St Ed’s brought in LA people for their shows. I got the chance to work with several L.A. ‘celebrities’, while I was there.
EL: What memories do you have of the shoot and would you mind sharing any of them? No matter how many interviews are done, books written and documentaries filmed, people STILL have questions about The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
TM: We were all so excited in the beginning. I was to shoot for 2 and a half weeks, and was paid $200 a week. After 2 weeks, we were way behind schedule and they ran out of money. We were all asked to sign on to finish the film for ‘deferred money’ aka ‘points’ on the eventual selling of the film. It would go on another 4 weeks.
Toward the end of filming I was offered a six-week run, to play the lead, “Lizzie”, in “The Rainmaker”, Get Paid, and get my Actor’s Equity Card. This was a very big deal to any serious actor, as I was. Tobe and Kim needed to do ‘a couple of days of pick-up shots’, and had to have me for them.
They had gone a little crazy by that time. I’m sure you’ve heard, as is common knowledge. If you don’t, Wikipedia talks about some of the set problems. The crew had walked off twice, during Sally’s scenes. Anyway, they absolutely refused to work around my schedule. I was young and felt very coerced to do what they ‘needed’. If it were today, of course I would have done the play and let them work around MY schedule.
There’s a famous picture Sallye Richardson took of me sitting on the steps of the house, when I say the line, “Let’s go!”, and stomp toward the swing. I was very sad that day because, after a two weeks of losing good sleep trying to decide, I had finally turned down the play. I was tired, totally broke, very depressed. No one can really understand that we’d all been through the ringer. Believe me, none of us had a clue if all our hard work would ever come out of the can. Two and a half weeks became almost 7 grueling tense weeks.
EL: Your character, Pam, along with Gunnar’s Leatherface, are the iconic images people see everytime a TCM poster is displayed. How does it feel to be known, possibly forever, as The Girl on the Hook? And just how uncomfortable WAS it to be on that hook? I have heard that pantyhose came into play, to hold you up there.
TM: It feels Great… today! It was more embarrassing at the time because of the contraption inside my tiny little costume<;) It was like a chastity belt with panty hose attached that ran underneath the bathing suit straps. I’ll just say, it consisted of parachute strapping, steel rings, panty hose, and some very thick foam padding.
EL: What do you remember about your castmates: Marilyn Burns, the late Paul A. Partain, William Vail, Gunnar Hansen, Edwin Neal, Allan Danziger, the late Jim Siedow and John Dugan? Are you still in contact with any of them? And what about Tobe Hooper – have you stayed in touch with him?
TM: We all moved on and lost contact with one another. We saw each other from time to time for an interview here or there. I moved to Dallas almost immediately after the filming to do Dinner Theater. Tobe, I saw years later from time to time in the early ’80’s, then I moved to NY for 5 years and lost contact with everyone. Gunnar and Allen I saw here and there when I moved back to Austin from NY and started my flower business. I saw them through out the ’90’s. I have a fun slide show on My Space called “Chainsaw Gal: Herstory. It kinda fills in any gaps if you read the captions.
It was great getting together for the first time at Monster Mania in 2008. Today, we’re all in touch. Marilyn and Ed are my closest of friends.
EL: There was talk of a lot of bad blood after TCM came out because of a bad deal made with the distributors, Bryanston, and no one who worked on the film seeing much, if any, money. Do you feel that is still the case?
TM: I never heard anything from them, so I gave up on any money, and just lived my life. I was paid around $600 bucks when it went to video in 1985. I did a handful of free interviews over the years. In 2008 I did an interview for the new Blu Ray re-release. Daniel Pearl and I are part of the featured “Extras” on it. We shot about 45 minutes of film. Mine is a 17 minute interview and it’s the first time I talk in over 20 years. I was given a few DVD’s.
It was one of “The Most Rented/Sold Videos” throughout the ’80’s and ’90’s and it still sells very, very well.
I never made any more money on the video or DVD rentals or sales other than the initial $600. I get only an itty bitty check, once in a blue moon, when it’s shown on the big screen in a movie theater, which is almost never.
EL: When was the last time you watched TCM and what do you think of it?
TM: In Erie, at the film festival, on the big screen with Bill Vail, Allen Danziger, and a bunch of adorable fans.
EL: Have you seen any of the sequels or the 2003 remake (which Daniel Pearl also shot)?
TM: I have and they’re so bloody! I love Caroline and Bill’s [Johnson] work in TCM 2. She’s so cute in those shorts!
I loved Daniel’s camera work in the last one. Many people don’t know how gorgeous his work is, because they don’t know they have seen it. In the industry, he’s famous for his video and commercial work, from Sting, Janet Jackson, Mariah Carey, Shania Twain to Lexus. He’s so talented, and I love to say, “He shot my very first portfolio for me.” Let me find those and dust off the cobwebs!
EL: When you were shooting TCM, did you have ANY idea what this little film from Texas would become?
TM: No. None of us did. Truly. It was a work of love. Sometimes one gambles and… occasionally they hit the jackpot. I’m cheerfully grateful to be known as”the girl on the meat hook”.
EL: You are also the centerpiece of one of the film’s most famous shots – the “Hansel and Gretel”/“Let’s GO!!” shot – where you approach the house and it just LOOMS over you (and your naked back). Did you have any idea what Tobe and Daniel were going for and what direction do you remember being given?
TM: No, they tricked me into it. People don’t know, or forget, that was 1974! This is long before most/many of our fans were born!
Let me set the scene for you. For that time doing a ‘Scab’ film, meaning a non-union film, was tantamount to doing porn. There was no “Indie Film”, the term as we know today for Independent Projects. This was a Scab Film, and serious actors were not supposed to do them. It was completely frowned upon. I had no agent, and no one to look out for me, and since they’d already asked me to do a nude scene, which I had promptly refused, after I’d already signed on to play “Pam”, I was skeptical. I didn’t trust that they had my best interests at heart. I didn’t know any of them until they cast me.
When I walked on to the set that day to film that scene, I saw Daniel and his camera, under the slat swing I was to go and sit on. The camera was placed about 15 inches from where my butt was going to be sitting. It gave me a bad feeling. I was VERY worried about my cheeks in those little red shorts, and I freaked out. Tobe was a nice-enough guy to me, but he wasn’t the best communicator with actors. He never explained what he was trying to achieve with the shot.
He and I argued for a long time when I saw the camera under the swing. Finally, frustrated, Tobe made me a promise. His exact words to me were, “Aw, goddamn it Teri, we’ll shoot around it!” I eventually acquiesced and did the shot. They did shoot around it, didn’t they… all around my ass!
For many years I was very critical of my work in the film and could not watch the film at all. It’s called many things, “the butt shot”, the “famous dolly shot”, the “red shorts shot”.
Today, I’m grateful to both Daniel and Tobe, for sticking to their guns. It’s a beautiful scene, beautifully shot by the talented Daniel Pearl. I’ve admitted it to Tobe and to the world, that I love that scene. I just wish my ass looked as good today!
EL: Much has been made of the torture Marilyn Burns went through during the filming but you had your fair share as well – falling into the bone room, being grabbed by Leatherface as you make a run for it, the hook and, one of the creepiest shots for me, you coming out of that freezer like a Jack-in-the-box. What memories do you have of those scenes, especially the freezer scene?
TM: During filming TCM, I was out of the blue, suddenly offered “Lizzie”, in “The Rainmaker”, at St. Ed’s, with Peter Breck. Ed Mangum and the original actress had major differences, so she was let go. Peter was well known for his role as “Nick Barkley” from the popular ’70’s TV series “The Big Valley”, with Barbara Stanwyck. We were receiving rave reviews, playing to packed houses, and standing O’s every night. I was filming TCM by day, and playing Lizzie at night, living my dreams!! To this day, it’s my favorite stage role and best theater experience I’ve ever had. We shot the chicken room scene first where I injured my shin, to the point of bleeding and bruising, caused from the sharp edge of the steel bucket I had to kick over. After reshooting it so much, it was very painful. Next we shot my scenes where I fight Gunnar for my life. That was a long, full day and I’d love to see all the film on the cutting room floor for that day! By the time we finished I couldn’t talk or scream and they gave me Jack Daniels to sip~ to numb the pain. I had to cancel Lizzie for 2 nights, which killed me to have to do. I was unable to walk, talk, or even turn over in my bed. Truth. That’s what happens when you fight a 300-pound man for 10 straight hours.
I was smoking a cigarette in that freezer to cook up the smoke that the dry ice we didn’t get was supposed to do. It felt silly at the time, but it worked because the audience comes unglued when I pop out. I now say to everyone who asks, “Pam” actually never died. She snuck out of that freezer while Sally was being tortured at the dinner table. After all, she was a fighter and, I believe, a survivor. You never see her dead, do you? She just went into years of therapy and underground~ Really!
I’ve written a short story about it – it’s a riot. Did you know Pam’s last name? “Fullahooey” That’s right… it’s “Pam Fullahooey”!
Stay tuned… I’ll blog it soon on MySpace!
EL: I have heard that you are now on the horror convention circuit along with Marilyn and Caroline “Stretch” Williams (from TCM2). What do Chainsaw Chicks talk about?
TM: We are the best of pals and get along so well. We giggle all the time. We are very close at the conventions and when we go home.
Marilyn and I were roomies after Frightmare, and just had a bundle of fun staying at the Hilton on Lake Ray Hubbard outside of Dallas. We all support one another and talk all the time. I love them both. They are the sweetest and best of people, and fans all adore them.
EL: What sort of fan reception are you receiving at these conventions? And what is the #1 question people ask you? TM: Overwhelming love and adoration. TCM fans adore Pam~ many still haven’t realized I’m even ‘out’. I get Happy Surprises every day on Spacebook!
They ALL ask me where I went and what I did. I decided to cover that, so I refer people to my March 22, 2009 My Space Blog. It’s called: “Back On The Hook, And Talkin’… A-Lot~”. It’s a wordsmithing thingy-doo, and has received kudos, even from old boyfriends! I think pretty much everybody can relate to it.
EL: What do you think about horror movies today, compared to movies like TCM? And are you a fan of any horror movies?
TM: I like the old ones better. They really require that you use your imagination. I’m a bit squeamish., but there are some terrific ones out there. IFC has the Japanese Horror Nights. Wow, those are something.
EL: What is your most vivid memory from shooting TCM?
TM: The heat.
EL: In addition to the convention circuit, what else are you up to these days?
TM: Writing, cooking, traveling, and considering some Indie projects that are being offered since ‘coming out’. There are some absolutely terrific directors out there, and I am looking forward to doing some meaty projects. My passion for acting and film has never ceased. It happily lives in my soul today.
TM: My ass! I wish I had the red shorts or the chastity belt contraption. EBAY!!
EL: Is there anything you would like to add that I haven’t mentioned?
TM: Just to to give credit to fate, and being in the right place at the right time. I also feel very grateful and fortunate that Tobe and Kim chose me to play “Pam”… and that I had the courage, to take a leap of faith into the unknown, and did it. It was a real. gamble for all of us. We all paid our fair share of dues, not only while filming, but through the many years after.
Mostly, I want to thank my loving and devoted fans for their understanding and patience waiting for me to reappear. I always enjoyed my anonymity through the years, and now, I am committed to being ‘out’ and that now, I make myself available to them as much as I can, and still have a private life. 99.9 % are very appreciative and respectful. I am having a complete blast now.
EL: What is one thing no ones knows about Teri McMinn that you think they should?
TM: I’m a Court TV junkie, LOVE Live Testimony. It’s my favorite hobby, er ah, addiction. And, that I have read about or studied almost every murder case, since Cain killed Abel! Plus, I love photography, and love to see beauty. I also adore gardening.
EL: Thank you SO much, Teri, for taking time out of what must be an insane schedule to speak with Dread Central.
TM: Thank You, Elaine… for all your great questions! I can’t wait to see you down the road at one of the conventions. Thanks for finding me on “SpaceBook.”
Order yourself a copy of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre Blu-ray (review here) below!