‘The Texas Chain Saw Massacre’ actress Marilyn Burns dead at 64
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre actress Marilyn Burns, the one cast member who manages to survive Leatherface in Tobe Hooper’s low-budget 1974 horror cult classic, was found dead on Aug. 4 at her home in the Houston area. According to her manager, “she was found unresponsive by a family member.” The cause of death remains unclear. Burns (born on July 5, 1950, in Erie, Pennsylvania) was 64.
The Houston-raised Marilyn Burns began appearing in films in the early ’70s. She had a bit part in Robert Altman’s Houston-filmed Brewster McCloud (1970), starring Bud Cort, Sally Kellerman, and Shelley Duvall, and was later cast in a supporting role in Sidney Lumet’s Austin-shot 1974 drama Lovin’ Molly; however, Burns was ultimately replaced by Susan Sarandon, reportedly remaining in the production as a stand-in for both Sarandon and Blythe Danner.
Also in 1974, Marilyn Burns landed the key role of Sally Hardesty in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. About her experiences making the eventual cult classic co-written by director Hooper and Kim Henkel, Burns would recall for Terror Trap in 2004: “Afterwards, I was just so grateful it was over. I probably was the happiest girl alive. During it, I was 100 percent focused and I probably wasn’t a joy to be around. It was an interesting shoot for sure.”
Marilyn Burn’s other horror movies
As is usually the case for stars of low-budget slasher movies, Marilyn Burns didn’t have much of a film career following The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, remaining basically a featured actress in cheaply made horror flicks. Three years after surviving Leatherface, Burns was cast in another Tobe Hooper horror entry, Eaten Alive; in the film, she plays a vacationer who ends up at a backwoods hotel whose owner (Neville Brand) uses his guests as fodder for his pet alligator. Among the other unlucky guests and passersby found in Eaten Alive were former Oscar nominees Carolyn Jones (The Bachelor Party) and Stuart Whitman (The Mark), in addition to veteran Mel Ferrer (Lili, War and Peace) and a pre-Freddy Krueger Robert Englund.
Marilyn Burn’s other horror movie roles included those in Patrick Regan’s Kiss Daddy Goodbye / Caution: Children at Play (1981), Ronald W. Moore’s Future-Kill (1985), and, more recently, Duane Graves and Justin Meek’s Butcher Boys / BoneBoys (2012). Burns also had cameos in John Luessenhop’s Texas Chainsaw 3D, released last year without causing much of a stir, and in screenwriter-turned-director Kim Henkel’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1994), featuring two actors who succeeded in moving on from the low-budget horror movie genre: future Oscar winners Renée Zellweger (Cold Mountain) and Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Cowboys Club).
‘Helter Skelter’: The Charles Manson murders
Also of note, Marilyn Burns had a small role in the Robert Redford star vehicle The Great Waldo Pepper (1975) – which coincidentally also featured Susan Sarandon – and played Charles Manson follower Linda Kasabian, who testified against the cult leader at his murder trial, in Tom Grie’s 1976 television miniseries Helter Skelter.
“It was a great experience,” Burns would tell Terror Trap about getting cast in Helter Skelter, “and it was pretty awesome because of the subject matter. And nobody really wanted to touch it. It was kind of like … who wants to be in that picture? Who’s actually gonna do that picture?” Steve Railsback played Manson, whose followers were responsible for the 1969 massacre of actress Sharon Tate (Roman Polanski’s pregnant wife at the time), businessman Leno LaBianca and his wife Rosemary, and others.
According to the IMDb, Marilyn Burn’s most recent big-screen efforts were Shawn Ewert’s horror drama Sacrament (2014) and Josh Varga’s biopic In a Madman’s World, about serial killer Elmer Wayne Henley (played by Chris Binum), which is currently in post-production.
In 2009, Marilyn Burns was inducted alongside Judith O’Dea (Night of the Living Dead) and Casper Van Dien (Starship Troopers) into the International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival Hall of Fame.
Note: Neither Brewster McCloud nor The Great Waldo Pepper is listed on the Marilyn Burns IMDb page, even though she does talk about her brief roles in these films in the Terror Trap interview.
Marilyn Burns photo via the International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival.