Vern interviews a guy trying to make a movie about the filming of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE!!
Published at: Jan. 28, 2008, 9:21 a.m. CST by merrick
You might not have noticed this, but I’m obsessed with THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE. I consider it one of the all time great American independent films. I watch it over and over and I still keep noticing things I hadn’t before. I’ve read the book about how it was made, I’ve watched the documentaries, I took the fuckin remake personally like somebody had broken into my apartment and smeared shit all over the walls.
But I’m not the only one. I run into others like me every once in a while. I get contacted by them. We are everywhere, but you will not notice us. We have the power to blend in with our surroundings. You are probably staring right at us right now and you can’t even see us. We are invisible. Whoah – behind you! Too late. Nice try.
Anyway, I was intrigued when I heard that one of us obsessives is trying to make a movie about Tobe Hooper and friends actually shooting THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE. Not a documentary, but a drama, a re-enactment, I guess like BAADASSSS! or SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE, minus the vampire. The movie is called SOUTH TEXAS BLUES, and the director is named Christopher Garetano. I tried to get him to describe the movie in his own words, but as you will see he got a little abstract there, so you might want to check out this little featurette he made to explain the idea to investors:
I have no idea how good a movie that could be, or whether this guy can pull it off, or even if he will end up getting it finished. But he seems pretty tenacious and I know I’m hoping to watch this movie some day. So I got him to answer a few questions about it. Maybe we’ll check in with him again when he’s further down the road.
VERN: First of all, could you explain what SOUTH TEXAS BLUES is?
CHRISTOHPER GARETANO: SOUTH TEXAS BLUES represents the struggling artist’s state of mind. There’s a specific scene in STB that emphatically represents the title. It’s a fantasy sequence titled (in the script) “Beyond the Blue Wall.” Tobe’s line from the script (that he reads in narration during the scene) is: ”It’s a wall that separates the artists who suffer from the blues from the industry that despises them. It’s hard to bring the two camps together because they’re always fighting for different goals.”
That particular scene (visually) will be represented by one very long twelve-foot-high (guarded) brick wall. On one side of the wall is a cliché paradise right out of the most extravagant 1930s Hollywood movie set. It’s like David O. Selznick meets Shangri –la except for the heavily armed guards. On the other side is a murky dark blue circle of hell with one hundred or so vicious creatures called the “putrid blue artists.” They foam at the mouth, have razor sharp fangs, blue skin, black hair, and the blackest eyes. Voluptuous blue actresses carry (normal looking) headshots and expose themselves to the wall. Others carry cameras, scripts, etc. From out of the murky crowd comes Tobe wearing streaks of blue from head to toe.
Even his cigar and Panama hat are blue. Tobe fights his way (cigar in mouth) to the base of the wall. The putrid creatures claw at him as he scales the wall to the top. Some of the putrid blues make it to the top of the wall but are swiftly shot through the head by the guards. Once Tobe reaches the top, his body is bathed by the rays of the golden sunset (from the other side) and the blue begins to completely dissolve from his body. Tobe then jumps over into Shangri-la.
V: Of course. How close are you to shooting? Do you have all the financing and everything?
CG: I have been talking with a legitimate production company (about STB) since September of 07. I created a short film titled “On the Road to South Texas” for the purpose of pitching the project to them. It’s a promising situation and so far they seem like the right people to work with. I see so many new movie makers in dire situations of compromise… Situations that they (the filmmakers) allow to happen.
That’s not going to happen with this film. I’d rather make this film creatively for one hundred thousand dollars (my way), than allow somebody to screw it up just because they’re offering a million or two. I will make this film and it will be made the right way. I should have more specific news (about when we might officially start) in the coming months.
V: Have you cast the movie yet? How are you approaching that?
CG: I will find the right actors for these roles. The casting process is so important and if we screw that up, the film’s going to be weak. I seriously don’t give a damn about stars or names. I want actors for this film.
With that said I’ll give you a few details of what I have been thinking about in terms of familiarity. I have talked with Edwin [Neal, who had the second most memorable role as “the hitchhiker” in the original TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE --Vern] about playing the role of Jim Siedow.
It occurred to me that Edwin would be perfect for the role while I was writing the script. It started with simple images. Ed just kept appearing to me as Jim or as the cook driving the old truck and chain smoking cigarettes in between takes.
Edwin knew Jim very well. He knows his personality, his humor and nuances. Ed’s also one of those ex-movie monsters that can actually act really well and he’s full of creative energy. Just think about how damn surreal this shoot is going to be for him. For example there’s a scene in STB where (take after take) Jim is smashing Edwin on his skull with that hardwood broom handle. It’s parallel to that dusty scene in TTCM which appears to be backlit by the Cook’s pick up truck headlights. In theory, (if Edwin officially takes on the role) he’ll be smashing himself in the head with the broom handle.
As for the rest of the cast a few names have been rolling around but the only other person that I seriously spoke with about playing a role is director/actor Jim Van Bebber. I intend for him to play the Kim Henkel character in the film. He’s a few years older than Kim was but what’s important to me about this film is its story and message. It’s ok if a few things are not exactly like they were in real life. Unless someone really knocks my socks off, the rest of the cast will be chosen from open casting calls.
Somewhere out there is a group of hungry and talented actors who will put in their one-hundred percent along with me and my crew.
V: How are you gonna do the house?
CG: We aim to shoot in the real house. It’s been my intention to shoot there since I learned the house was refurbished.
I visited Texas in 2005 to partially scout some shooting locations for STB.
It’s an old (1920s) Victorian Sears Roebuck kit house that was moved from its original location on Quick Hill in Austin, Texas to a rural area in Kingsland, Texas.
I shot a good deal of footage while I was there and I really thought of how (logistically) we could dress the set and shoot there. So my goal is to to shoot most of the interiors and some (if not all) of the exteriors at the actual house where The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was filmed. We also (for exteriors) might find a similar Sears Roebuck house in a more isolated location.
The idea is to get it as close as possible but (again) it’s ok if a few things are slightly different. My goal is to make a great movie. This isn’t a documentary.
V: Isn't it still a restaurant?
CG: Last I checked The Four Bears restaurant was out of business, the house was empty and the lease was open. It’s still configured for a restaurant (in terms of a fully equipped kitchen) but the interior is very much a house and from where I was standing I could certainly redress the restaurant into the STB set.
Their restaurant set up can be easily rearranged. As long as there’s no major reconstruction (from now until principal photography) we can pull it off. My production company would just have to work out a deal with the owners so we can commandeer the location for a week or two.
V: When you shoot the shooting-the-dinner-scene scene are you gonna go all night and try to capture that same intensity they had? Do you think it's possible to do something like that on purpose?
CG: My main focus in the story is the shooting stages. SOUTH TEXAS BLUES actually ends during post production of TTCM, so (a large portion of) my third act is mainly comprised of that particularly long and harrowing shoot.
The dinner scene was sort of a celluloid mimicry of the emotions on the set and the extreme location conditions. I’ve learned that the actual set was equally intense and miasmic than what was ultimately on screen. It’s so important that we do create an intensity similar to the dinner scene.
The entire third act of the STB script is like Alighieri’s Inferno and it ultimately leaves the other divine comedies out of the mix. We never reach Paradise.
The only true payoff (after TTCM was filmed) was for us as an audience. We were left with this incredible piece of art. So there’s no triumphant ending to this story. It ends with exhaustion, anger and resentment. It ends with a filmmaker who is unsure of the future of his picture.
Because of the nature of how the film was later handled in distribution (by the notorious Bryanston Pictures), the triumph was sparse and was limited to very few people. Thanks to the notoriety of TTCM people like Tobe Hooper, Mary Church, Dottie Pearl, Daniel Pearl and Ron Bozman went on to make incredible careers for themselves. In my film we simply don’t go there in the timeline.
STB is specifically about what happened on that set. It’s also a fantasy about a movie maker (Tobe) and his odyssey with the dark forces that are driving him to make a motion picture.
V: What would you say is the central theme of SOUTH TEXAS BLUES?
CG: The central theme is simply the lone and sad journey of the artist. To fully understand that, you must allow yourself into the mindset of an unknown group of inexperienced Texans. In 1973 Tobe Hooper wasn’t Tobe Hooper, the horror movie maker. He was a barely known local Texas filmmaker.
At that time The Texas Chainsaw Massacre didn’t exist. To most of the cast and crew it was simply a summer job on a film that many thought would never go any where. It wasn’t until the film made a ton of money that certain people cared or realized its true value. STB tells the tale of a character who (for a while) was one of the only people involved that actually believed in his project.
V: Is Tobe Hooper the main character, or is it more of an ensemble?
CG: Hooper was once described (and I’m paraphrasing) as a Dr. Pepper-addicted Eric Von Strohiem like entity pacing the set and smoking Montecristos.
South Texas Blues is mostly about what’s going on in that character’s head while he’s pacing. We hear his voice (in prose like narration) and we see his daydreams manifested. For example, there are moments where he’s very uncomfortable around some of the (UT Austin) film school students that comprised most of his crew.
When Tobe’s discomfort level rises, we’ll see certain members of the crew as a pack of hyena-like creatures with a predatory gaze reflecting in the Texas moonlight. They circle Tobe with their distrusting eyes. There’s also this God’s Eye POV of all the factual stuff.
It’s the God’s Eye POV that pays respect to the variety of talent that contributed to TTCM… moments like Gunnar Hansen preparing for the role of Leatherface by spending time in the Austin State School for Retarded Persons or (the amazingly talented) Robert A. Burns scraping up dead animals off the road and later teaching himself taxidermy to fabricate the most macabre props for the film.
This God’s Eye POV is a major character in the film as well. It’s a malefic entity that’s driving everything. It’s suggested throughout the story (astrologically) that the ship is truly being driven by a great dark and powerful force. It will be visually represented in the film by both reoccurring images of the planet Saturn, the cosmos and the sun. We never even hear the title The Texas Chainsaw Massacre until the very end of the picture in an epilogue. The title of the film that’s being made in STB is called Saturn in Retrograde.
V: How the hell are you gonna find a guy to play Edwin Neal?
CG: It can be done!
One actor for instance (and I haven’t made an attempt to contact him yet) is Ray Mckinnon who played the role of the Reverend H.W. Smith on “Deadwood.” If you pay attention to his performance on “Deadwood,” you might see a bit of Edwin/Hitchhiker in there. Even if I don’t end up working with Ray, it’s still proof that I can find the right man for the job. I think we need to look outside of the obvious circle of the one hundred most commonly used indie actors and realize there is an ocean of talent and (most importantly) undiscovered talent.
V: I understand you have some of the real people from the original movie involved, the movie will kind of freeze and then they will be there and it turns to sort of a documentary, is that right?
CG: That’s how it was for STB in the beginning but I have since written alternate moments in the script in case those scenes don’t work out.
Unfortunately there are a lot of sensitivities in regards to who lost money after TTCM was a big hit. Some of those good folks still feel cheated and aren’t ready to participate in anything chainsaw related unless it means a big payoff for them. I respect that but my film has absolutely nothing to do with money or greed.
My story ends way before TTCM made any money at all. I’m not telling the dirty little tale of a scandal or who was or was not ripped off. I’m just not interested in that part of the story. South Texas Blues (for me) is a total obsession and a labor of love and I fully intend to keep those old hard feelings off my set. Also I have nothing but respect for all who were involved with TTCM and I hope they all ultimately decide to support my picture.
V: So you did this documentary, HORROR BUSINESS. Have you worked with actors before? Are you nervous about that?
CG: I’m looking forward to it. I’ve worked with actors before on a bunch of different short form projects over the years and I’ve learned what not to do.
The idea is to find and cast good actors and not to cast for any other reasons. If you hire actors because of an amount of fame, nepotism, or because of their look then you’re making the wrong choice.
Casting that way is analogous to (when principal photography begins) trying to shoot a bull’s-eye in the dark. If you interview actors you should spend some time with them and really make sure they have the goods to pull off the role. It should make for a much better directing situation.
V: Is there a making-a-movie movie that's an influence on yours, or that's your favorite of that type?
CG: Well, I loved how Ingmar Bergman and Alejandro Jodorowski both addressed themselves as making a movie in The Holy Mountain and Hour of the Wolf. Those two films are a huge influence on me. Tim Burton’s Ed Wood is fantastic. Fellini’s 8 &1/2 was about a filmmaking dreamer and that is sort of an influence on STB.
The inspiration for STB is mostly about things I could personally relate to. There are specific parallels to my own life that inspired me to write much of the script.
V: What do you think of the TEXAS CHAIN SAW sequels?
CG: I’m turning thirty two this year. The first sequel came out when I was about ten years old so I grew up with these movies.
My feelings about them now are that they’re entertaining as long as you can separate them from the original. In my opinion they have nothing to do with the original film.
That movie is untouchable. Most of these modern day goofballs couldn’t reproduce the tone of TTCM if they had all the money in the world. Great filmmaking is not about a large sum of money or who has the latest toys.
V: Brad Shellady, in his excellent documentary TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: A FAMILY PORTRAIT says that Leatherface in part 2 has no personality. I disagree - I think it's a different take but I like how he's portrayed as a timid, horny teenager. Who's right?
CG: I enjoyed the sequel for what it was. I have no problem separating them. Hell, it had some hilariously satirical writing (LM Kit Carson) and Bill Mosely was great. Jim Siedow almost made me piss my pants… Tom Savini and Dennis “maniac” Hopper! What more can you ask for in a movie?
Bill Johnson’s Leatherface was perfect for part 2. It totally fit the mood and style of the picture. Nobody’s right about anything anymore. It’s all subjective. I met someone a few days ago who tried to convince me that Night of the Living Dea was a “bad movie.” I wanted to take her life.
V: Let's say a magic genie or some shit makes you a deal: cut off one of your pinkie toes and the TEXAS CHAIN SAW remake is erased from existence forever. Which toe would you choose?
CG: I’m keeping my toes Vern. What’s done is done. I would instead talk the genie into lending me Javier Bardem’s big cattle air gun and I would threaten the clueless benefactors of filmdom until (next time) they put their money to good use and do something original.
V: Do you follow Tobe Hooper still, the one's he's made in recent years like TOOLBOX MURDERS and MORTUARY?
CG: I still check out everything he does. I even saw Crocodile for God’s sake! I saw his “Masters of Horror” episodes but there is nothing even remotely like the original Chainsaw. It was so influential and so goddamn unique. Sir Ridley Scott even described Alien as his sci-fi version of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It had a huge influence on Scott and so many others.
V: Why do you think he's fallen off the map for most people?
CG: When you debut with a film like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, how the hell do you follow it up? Eaten Alive didn’t have the same mojo. The planets were aligned for TTCM. I suppose the gods wanted it to happen. They moved on after that.
What was left was a talented director who made some very entertaining films (Funhouse, TTCM 2, Lifeforce, Poltergeist.) Watch out though: Tobe may surprise the hell out of everyone soon with a new picture.
V: What is it about TEXAS CHAIN SAW that makes it worth making a movie about?
It’s the mysterious way of the cosmos. I believe that when those silver halide crystals first exploded back in 1973 there was a divine spirit that was burned into the film emulsion. The cosmos was the true maestro of that film and it’s that same celestial entity that’s driving me to make this film. It’s just meant to be.