Everyone who loves horror has a story about how they got into horror. All of them are great, and a lot of them seem to involve getting into the genre as a child. Maybe one of their parents was a film buff and it was a tremendous bonding experience. Maybe it was something forbidden in their household and they read Fangoria magazines or Stephen King books under cover of night.
That is not my story. I remember watching some horror at my cousin’s house as a child – Dead Alive and Evil Dead 2 are the two I remember – but they never really struck a chord with me. I don’t have a lifelong love for the genre. Watching a Friday the 13th film doesn’t recall memories of hiding behind a blanket with friends. I’m a somewhat recent convert; I’m 34 years old, and it has really only been in the past 10 years that I’ve fallen in love with horror. Because of this, I feel as though I’ve missed out on some great horror moments in my life. With as extreme as a lot of modern horror is, it’s hard to watch older horror and feel shocked by the images on the screen. While some of the special effects still hold up (the shotgun scene in Maniac, for example), others look pretty cheesy and can easily take me out of the film a little. I’m not watching these films through the horrified eyes of a child, because I didn’t have those experiences.
However, every now and then there’s a movie that still produces every bit as much horror now as it did when it was released. For me, the movie that holds up the best is the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and a lot of that is due to the performance of Marilyn Burns as the iconic final girl, Sally Hardesty. She’s tremendous for the entire film, but it’s the scene at the dinner table that really brings home the horror. I watch that scene and I still can’t help but cringe. Her screams are screams of true horror. It is one of the most affecting scenes in horror cinema, and it easily could have fallen apart in lesser hands. Sally’s crazed eyes will forever stick with me. I’ve watched that movie several times now, and I still get the same feeling of horror and dread every single time.
I never got a chance to meet Marilyn. Based on the experiences of those who have, it’s fair to say that she was a genuinely sweet woman who always had time for her fans. People talk about meeting her at conventions as the highlight of their time there. She was a genuinely beautiful person.
We’ll miss you, Marilyn.
Here are some words on Marilyn from people much more eloquent than myself:
Shawn Ewert of Right Left Turn Productions. He was writer/director on Sacrament, which featured Marilyn.
Stacie Ponder of Final Girl, one of my favorite horror blogs.