The actress Marilyn Burns, who made an indelible impression as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre's final girl in 1974, has died at her home in Austin, Texas. She was 65. The timing is particularly sad, since it coincides with the 4k re-release of Tobe Hooper's infamous horror classic. As a cheerleader for the film on the festival circuit in the decades since its gruelling production, she'll be a sorely missed part of the festivities.
Burns was born in Pennsylvania, but grew up in Texas and remained there her whole life. Involved in amateur dramatics as a child, her first role on screen was a bit part in Robert Altman's Brewster McCloud in 1970: it was filming locally so she made sure she was involved. She almost worked on Sidney Lumet's Lovin' Molly too, but lost her role to Susan Sarandon.
As a student Burns was a member of the Film Commision Board at the University of Texas, and was therefore well-placed when Hooper began plundering the campus for cast and crew. Landing The Texas Chainsaw Massacre's lead as the beleaguered Sally Hardesty, she threw herself into what was often a truly punishing performance, forced into impromptu stunts and more than once injured for real.
"I ran through dark woods chased by someone holding a live chainsaw," she laughed in 2004. "Where was my head?!" She always claimed that her hysterics at the end of the film were only partially a performance. Her screams stay in your head long after the film has ended.
Dodgy distribution deals meant that Burns and her fellow cast members never saw much of the Texas Chainsaw money, but she worked with Hooper again in 1977's Eaten Alive, and returned for cameo appearances in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (2004) and Texas Chainsaw 3D (2013). She only made sporadic screen appearances otherwise, but had a notable role as Charles Manson acolyte Linda Kasabian in the 1976 TV movie Helter Skelter, and also featured in Kiss Daddy Goodbye (1981), Future-Kill (1985), Bone Boys (2012) and Sacrament (2014).
Original Leatherface Gunnar Hansen had remained in regular touch with Burns over the years, and says she had been in obviously declining health recently. But she had continued to be involved in local Austin theatre until her death last Tuesday, when she was found "unresponsive" by family members.
The horror community was quick to pay tribute. Rob Zombie called her "a cool lady in a masterful movie"; Bruce Campbell praised her "great pair of lungs"; and Bill Moseley observed, "If the Saw is family, we lost a sister."