In the world of horror movies and final girls there are screamers and then there are screamers. Jamie Lee Curtis had a great scream. Remember that scream that Dee Wallace released just before her transformation in The Howling? That one was certainly chilling. In all my years of watching and inevitably writing about horror films I have heard and forgotten the countless screams of hundreds of final girls but I will never, ever forget The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the character Sally Hardesty and that scream.
It’s a Friday night in Spartanburg, South Carolina in the summer of 1980. I’ve got my driver’s license so I must have been 18 since my parents made me wait until that age to finally get the darned thing. I can’t remember if I’m driving my mom’s car or the blue Camaro they would eventually buy me; we’ll go with the latter since it comes off sounding way cooler. What I do remember is that my parents were out of town, all my friends wanted to do was get high and I was bored out of my mind. I’m all alone as I drive down Highway 29 and the marquee for the South 29 Drive-In Theatre reads, “NOW PLAYING-THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE“. I spent years going to horror movies with my cousin Ritchie and the one that got away, until that moment, was “Texas Chainsaw“. Needless to say I whipped my car into the parking lot faster than the Bandit leaves Smokey in the dust and bought my ticket, Pepsi and popcorn. I found a spot, shut off my engine, hooked that tinny-sounding speaker to my car door and I settled in for the fear and the fun.
Now, I’m not here to tell you the entire plot of Texas Chainsaw Massacre so let’s skip ahead a bit. There is a house, the inside of which is strewn about with feathers, bones-human and animal, and God only knows what else. At a dining room table a girl, Sally Hardesty, sits tied and surrounded by the weirdest and most all-out gruesome family in the state of Texas and quite possibly the world. There is the one called Leatherface, who Sally saw slice a chainsaw right through her invalid brother. That crazed hitchhiker that her and her friends kicked out of their van is there, also; as is the one they call the cook and an old man with skin as thin as tissue paper sitting feebly in a wheelchair. Sally is terrified. Her friends and brother are all dead because of these people and she just can’t take any more and that is when the scream is let loose. Sally screams for Franklin, for Jerry, for Kirk and Pam and for every unknown person to have ever been unfortunate enough to have crossed paths with these depraved sub-humans. She screams so long and so loud that I swear it split the speaker right down the middle. The movie soon ends as Sally gets away and Leatherface angrily cuts his chainsaw through the empty air. I pull my car onto Highway 29 with that scream still in my head where it has remained ever since.
The woman who portrayed Sally Hardesty was Marilyn Burns. Marilyn passed away on August 5th at the age of 65, way too young. Marilyn also appeared in the films Helter Skelter, Eaten Alive, Future-Kill and Sacrament, to name just a few. Her final film according to IMDb.com is In a Madman’s World and is in post-production. I was friends with Marilyn on Facebook (this is not bragging, trust me), but I tried not to bother her too much. I always wanted to ask her for an interview and now I wish that I had and regret that I never did. I pray that she is resting peacefully and that she realized the impact she had on me and millions of horror movie fans over the years. This may sound hokey as hell but thank you, Marilyn Burns, for Texas Screams and Chainsaw dreams. There will never be another final girl like you. Ever.