“Tobe gave me the rest of my life… The rest of my life happened after that film.”
It was over four decades ago that the ominous buzz of Leatherface’s chainsaw was first heard. What followed was a descent into a gruelling tale of terror beneath the baking Texas sun, which ended with a bloody Marilyn Burns cutting a dinner invitation short, in what became known quite simply as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
To mark ArrowVideo’s Blu-ray premiere of Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 (out now), Starburst put a call into DJ Vanita Brock, more affectionately known to the genre crowd as “Stretch”, to take a trip down memory lane and remember Tobe’s buzz terror sequel... or rather insane and deliriously fun buzz horror-comedy.
When Woody Allen famously listed his reasons for living: “Groucho Marx, Willie Mays, the second movement of the Jupiter Symphony, Louis Armstrong’s recording of Potato Head Blues, Swedish movies, Sentimental Education by Flaubert, Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra, those incredible Apples and Pears by Cezanne, the crabs at Sam Wo’s, and Tracy’s face” if he were living in the year 2013, he could add one more: ArrowVideo. Yes it’s true, what a difference thirty four years makes.
Chainsaws at the ready…
Starburst: Re-watching Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2, you forget just how crazy and how much fun it is! It’s a unique kind of insanity!
Caroline Williams: It turns the first film so thoroughly on its head. It’s jarring, and the tone and the mood are in many ways so different from the original. It’s actually got so many action adventure elements to it compared to the first one.
It’s often said that to make a good sequel you have to advance the story as Francis Ford Coppola did with The Godfather Part 2, or at least have the courage to do something completely different, which is what Tobe did with Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2. He doesn’t try to replicate the success of the first, but rather offers us a new and distinct experience.
Absolutely, it’s such a different movie. It’s got so much more comedy to it. As a matter of fact the movie to me is much more of a comedy. It’s sort of a satire and a parody of the first film.
How did you come to be cast in Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2?
Within the horror genre it is sort of a famous audition story. I got the call to go read for it from my agent in Dallas, and drove to Austin, Texas to read. I was sitting in this long hallway outside the casting room, and the piece of script that I had been given to read was not exactly dialogue rich; it was action rich. It was all about running through the radio station, running into the ice house, piling the chairs by the door and shaking and being fearful. That’s what the script was; it was not dialogue.
As I sat there reading this script I thought that’s what they want to see, they want to know that they have got somebody with the physicality and the action instincts to pull off the role. Stretch is very much an action figure, and she’s in motion throughout virtually the entire film.
I’m watching these actresses come and go; the ebb and the flow, and the room is incredibly quiet. They are coming out very cool and unruffled. I thought at the very least that if I’m not going to be cast I’m going to go down fighting. So I simply took the instruction and followed the directions. I ran screaming down the hallway. I ran into the audition room, slammed the door, and pulled the chairs right out from under Tobe Hooper and Kit Carson. I piled them in front of the door, and I backed into a corner, and I played the scene. Tobe and Kit just walked up incredibly close to me. They stood directly in front of me and then they just looked at each other, and I thought, I’d done this okay. Before I even left that day, I’d been hired. Great story!
Tobe Hooper is often described as being quite an eccentric character, a recluse. What are your memories of working with this master of horror?
He’s an unusual character; he’s very eccentric. When he’s working on a film there’s a computerised side to Tobe that kicks in, because he’s assimilating all of those elements, and seeing it play out in his own mind. He’s always so many steps ahead. One of the things that were unusual about working on Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is that whilst we were shooting each day, Tobe was editing Invaders from Mars at Night. So he’s the kind of guy… He’s like the eight armed God, the Hindu God with the eight arms, because he can multitask in a way that very few can. But it also lends a very pre-occupied air about him, because he is always thinking about things. He’s a guy who is always deep in thought and always formulating. He’s always creating in the corners of his mind, and he doesn’t have ordinary social relationships the way a lot of people do. There are people who are very close to him, but they are generally family members and very close associates. He is not a terribly sociable guy. The occasions that I have had the opportunity to be sociable with him were fantastic. He tells wonderful stories; he has wonderful ideas. He really is a brilliant man. His mind is just shooting off in so many directions at once that I think he just likes being alone with his thoughts, to assimilate them.
Stretch is one of the iconic “Final Girls”. Women’s studies have attempted to contextualise the Final Girl as the product of a misogynistic genre. However, there is a strength to the Final Girl, an enduring spirit, independence, ingenuity, physicality that are sadly dismissed in favour of perceiving these characters as empty or shallow. All these years later how do you look back on the Final Girl?
I always disagreed with certain aspects of feminism, especially around the seventies where women were encouraged at the same time to be society’s victims and society’s heroines. I just didn’t trust that sort of cultural schizophrenia that was emblematic of feminism in the seventies. I could see that women were being sold a bit of a bill of goods. You are supposed to make yourself extremely promiscuous and sexually available, and then when you get dumped by the guy or something awful happens to you, then you get to say that you’re a victim.
Being a southerner where women were as good as any man, and where women had to be able to hold their own alongside of men, and were compatriots and companions of men, I just grew up with a distinctively different view of what women were like. You could be as sexy and as sexual as you wanted to be, but within certain perimeters drawn by yourself. Giving a fair exchange, having a give and take between men and women is what I grew up with. So I didn’t recognise a lot of that animosity towards men that seemed to be the foundational principle of feminism in the seventies.
One of the things that was great about Stretch was that her best friend was a guy, and the guy might have a crush on her and all that, Lou Perry’s character L.G, but they were basically equals and friends. They shared a very deep caring love that was completely exclusive of anything romantic or sexual. That was one of the things that I loved about that screenplay. I understood that angle on that character completely, and then you get into that crazy family who have no mother but have the crazy dad figure. I never bought into that stuff.
The saw between the legs, although it gave me pause at the time, I really understood the statement that Tobe was trying to make. He was tweaking and deliberately antagonising all those women’s studies majors who were so mad at Jamie Lee Curtis. I think that was Tobe giving the finger to the conventional wisdom.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 has been contextualised as Tobe’s shot at capitalism, especially the way the family become incorporated in the sequel. If it was relevant in 1986, then it seems just as relevant now.
A lot of that was largely lost on me. At the time that we made the film in the 1980s it was go, go, go. There was almost a gluttony and a greed principle at work. I think he was trying to offer some… It was a lifestyle in a way, but at the same time that is something that is never going to die. The fact that they were killing human beings and eating them as the creation of their food franchise was the irony for me. That people were literally eating it up was a wonderful, wonderful irony.
Is the memory you have of Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 the Stretch character and specifically the way she shaped your future, or are there any other memories you hold dear?
It was just for me… It was so close to my own personality. There’s nothing about Stretch that isn’t already a part of me. That’s why the role suited me so very, very well, and I think that is why I was an obvious choice for Tobe. I was a perfect fit.
Those are the style of characters that I like to play most of all. I like being an action figure, whether I am an antagonist or a protagonist. I like that the plot pivots on the actions that I take, and that I’m not incidental but primary to the storyline. I think because I do have strength in that area, traditional male roles could possibly be a fit for me, and I think it’s why a lot of the actresses in horror who have played similar roles: Amy Steel, Adrienne King, Heather Langenkamp and Jamie Lee Curtis. Those characters provided that wonderful template going forward.
What are your personal favourite horror films?
I am always going to have affection for The Exorcist, The Omen; the late seventies and early eighties stuff, and of course the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre. I watch that on Christmas day every year, partly because I am still very close to and have a very lovely friendship with Marilyn Burns. It’s sort of an absurdist way to spend Christmas day, and it started everything for me. If it hadn’t been for that film, we wouldn’t be talking on the phone right now. That’s my annual Christmas ritual.
THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE PART 2 is available now on Blu-ray.