As we start to fill-up up our Netflix queues with classic horror flicks in preparation for Halloween, we realize the greatest villains of the genre still hold power over our adolescent selves. We still can't say Candyman in the mirror and clowns will always be scary, but what about the average joes who play the leading men in our nightmares? Sometimes it helps to disassociate and think of Freddie Krueger waiting in line at the DMV. Spurred by the recent release of Gunnar Hansen's (a.k.a Leatherface in Texas Chainsaw Massacre) memoir titled Chain Saw Confidential, we decided to "pull off the mask" of our favorite villains of horror.
Leatherface — Gunnar Hansen
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We skipped a lot of early morning classes in college, but perhaps we would've be scared straight if Leatherface was our English professor. The actor turned professor quit the biz to teach freshman English at University of Texas. Can you imagine the strapping six-foot three Hansen discussing the thematic resonance of Don Quixote? While Hansen spends most of his days in a small coastal town in Maine, he recently ventured back into acting, playing bit cameos in such classics as Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers and Texas Chainsaw 3D.
Jason Vorhees — Ari Lehman
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Ari Lehman looks like a mix of street magician and the sexy sax man — the stuff nightmares of made of. He also holds the distinct honor of playing the first Jason Vorhees in the original Friday the 13th. As it turns out, creeping out generations of children is not his only talent, as he is accomplished jazz musician and studied classical music and jazz piano at both Berklee School of Music and NYU. His passion for pounding the keys led him to tour with prominent reggae and African music groups and eventually led to him starting his own band — "First Jason," whose sound "hits you over the head with an anvil being swung at 1000 miles an hour by the metal gods."
Michael Myers — Tony Moran
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After slashing his way through a couple of teenagers as Michael Meyers in Halloween, Tony Moran found himself making mincemeat out of high mortgage rates as an actor-turned broker. He shared his passion for acting with his actress sibling, Erin Moran of Happy Days, and did a number of guest appearances in The Waltons and CHIPS and then quit at age 30. Turns out, Michael Myers had such emotional depth it required three actors to play him, including Nick Castle and Tommy Lee Wallace. Since Moran wasn't anxious to wear the Michael mask again, his footage from the first film was used again in the sequel.
Freddy Krueger — Robert Englund
Robert Englund is the Kevin Bacon of horror villains. The man has literally worked with everyone in the business and has an IMDB credit list longer than our tax return. Before he donned the striped crewneck and switchblade gloves, he was briefly considered to play the part of Han Solo in Star Wars and even had Mark Hamill bumming on his couch. After playing bit parts on various shows and a recurring role on V, he took on the role of Freddy for three consecutive films and continues to work steadily today.
Chucky — Brad Dourif
It takes a Golden Globe winner and Academy Award nominee to truly capture the demonic essence of a possessed doll. Character actor Brad Dourif has worked with some of the directing greats over the course of his career. He got his big break on One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, worked with David Lynch in Dune and Blue Velvet, played a slimy villain in the Lord of The Rings trilogy and appeared in several Werner Herzog films. Like Hansen, Dourif also dabbled in teaching, leading acting and directing classes at Columbia University before becoming the voice of Chucky in all of the Child's Play films. Which leads us to wonder if there's a connection between playing psychopathic villains and academia.
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Good news everyone! The first terrible movie of 2013 is in theaters in both 2D and barely 3D and it's called Texas Chainsaw! The special effects are terrible the plot is riddled with holes and it's unintentionally funny. The upside is that it's funnier than Parental Guidance and Leatherface is looking at least as rough around the edges as Billy Crystal. The downside is that any horror fan will be disappointed by its cheap tacky-looking effects and people who shelled out the extra money for 3D are being taken for a ride.
As fans of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre know you can make a bloody great horror movie for not a lot of dough. Part of the charm of the first was its gritty sleazy aftertaste and the crazy family dynamics of an all-male clan whose most-bullied member is a giant freak who wears other people's faces on top of his face. It was a fairly simple set-up loosely based on Ed Gein's propensity for digging up corpses decorating his home with their body parts and wearing the skin of dead ladies. Unlike other horror movies there wasn't a great formula that could be replicated over and over again — no Crystal Lake with horny teens or endless nightmares to invade — so most of the follow-ups have tried to untangle the Sawyer family tree. As the wonderful/terrible Drayton Sawyer says in the wonderfully bonkers Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 "The saw is family!" Would that filmmakers would just leave it at that.
The latest Chainsaw tries to add another branch to its tree with the arrival of Heather (Alexandra Daddario) a young woman who finds out that she was adopted if you can call being stolen from the arms of her dying mother after hicks burned her house down “adopted.” Heather is part of the infamous Sawyer clan and a cousin of Leatherface and she's inherited a strangely fancy old house somewhere in Texas from a grandmother she never knew she had. She also inherits Leatherface who lurks in the basement but she doesn't realize that until after he's killed all of her friends because she forgot to read her grandmother's letter until it's too late. But by then the mantra "Family is family" has been drilled into her and the script has been flipped; the monster that killed her friends and countless others is the victim of cruel townspeople who killed her family. (To be fair Heather's friends were stultifyingly dumb and boring and deserved to be killed.)
What makes this iteration so puzzling is that it features footage at the very beginning from the original movie which leads longtime fans to believe it will fit into that particular family configuration as opposed to later movies that added in random family members. Instead Chainsaw veers crazily in another direction and actually creates an entirely different family history that doesn't make sense on its own terms or in the original first two Chainsaw movies.
Texas Chainsaw had no less than four people involved in its script (the story was by Adam Marcus Debra Sullivan and Kirsten Elms while Marcus Sullivan and Stephen Susco are the credited screenwriters) which could explain why it's such a mess. The 3D is a joke; occasionally Leatherface will thrust the chainsaw at the screen or even better someone will throw the chainsaw. While the gore will definitely be too much for the squeamish it looks like bargain basement Halloween effects to the eye of an experienced horror movie fan. The cast isn't much better; Bill Moseley who appeared in the second movie plays a young Drayton Sawyer since the original actor Jim Siedow died in 2003. Marilyn Burns who played the final girl in the original movie shows up briefly as Heather's grandmother in a flashback. Daddario isn't given much to work with so it seems almost unfair to judge her based on this performance; her co-stars especially singer/songwriter Trey Songz are uniformly terrible. Even Leatherface played by Dan Yeager seems exhausted by this whole ordeal. The original Leatherface Gunnar Hansen appears in the beginning as one of the Sawyer clan. One can only imagine what he and Burns talked about around craft services.