A MESSAGE FROM STEVE MERLO:
Hey Chainsaw Fans! The Sawyer Massacre is a feature-length fan film an unofficial prequel to the iconic horror film, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. We have already raised funds to make this film but our goal is to raise enough to shoot it in Texas where it should be filmed!
Because it’s not only iconic but it’s scary as hell!
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is the film that inspired director, Steve Merlo to become a filmmaker! It’s also the first film to truly give him nightmares. It’s just simply the most realistic horror film ever made and there are moments where you actually forget that it’s just a film. It’s incredibly inspiring how subtle the filmmakers were able to display such strong messages and themes on the state of the social climate of that time period. In no way could that be duplicated but our script has small reflections of many similar themes happening today, paralleled with the social issues of the mid ’60s, which is when our film takes place.
It is our intent not to copy what the original did, but to use it as an influence in a stylistic way. Our film will have more blood and kills but will still be very subtle in it’s delivery.
An interview by Jordan Pressler with Steve Merlo (director)
Jordan: Hi, Mr. Merlo, my name is Jordan Pressler. Before I begin with my questions for you today, I would just like to exclaim how much of a diehard fan I am of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and I am stoked to be speaking with someone making their own contribution to the legacy in a way that pays tribute to the low-budget, gritty filmmaking style that solidified Tobe Hooper’s 1974 film as a true masterpiece of horror.
When did you first decide on making a feature-length prequel to Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw? I understand that it’s the film that inspired you to become a filmmaker in the first place, but what specifically encouraged you to make the leap into crafting this particular project? After all, there have already been two prequels within the franchise’s history – one from 2006 that served as an origin to Marcus Nispel’s 2003 remake, then in 2017 as the official prequel to the 1974 classic. However, I’m all for a third one, no question.
Steve: It was actually after watching the remake from 2003 in the theatres and I felt like it was really missing that disturbing factor that got me so hooked on the original. I had very high expectations on the remake and ultimately felt underwhelmed so I just began with ideas that eventually lead to a rough script and now to where I have a pretty good script that has the potential to make a very disturbing film. When I was coming up with ideas, they seemed to fit a certain mold that works before the original. Mostly with the characters and how they could possibly be different people many years prior but also with a mid 60’s setting being the dawn of a big war for the U.S. and a major turning point in American society. I wanted to make a film that could reflect on these struggles and not be an origin story to the Sawyer Family
Jordan: What exactly do you feel your prequel will bring to the table for the infamous Sawyer family? As I mentioned previously, two prequels have been made in an attempt to clarify just who Leatherface is, and offer some unique insights into the events that transformed him into the cold-hearted, identity-confused, chainsaw-wielding madman he’s known for today. How do you intend to distinguish your project from those that have preceded it?
Steve: By keeping it grounded in reality and not exploring what I don’t think needs to be explored. This will not be an origin story! Leatherface is a simple character but in some subtle ways, he has a complexity that makes him unique. My goal is to be subtle with my delivery so that everything isn’t spoonfed to the audience and maybe they’ll have to take a moment to think about certain aspects. I can tell you that there is a very interesting layer to the Sawyer family that will make sense with the original and make them more disturbing than they already are. However, this layer will be executed in a very subtle way.
Jordan: Tobe Hooper and Kim Henkel conspired 46 years ago to tell a story so grim and shockingly grotesque for its time, while subtly incorporating some overlooked subtext on the state of the youth culture of the 1970s pitted against the forgotten, downtrodden working-class American family unit. Can you elaborate on the similar themes “The Sawyer Massacre” will be tackling? What are the social issues of the mid ’60s that you intend to shed light on?
Steve: The mid ’60s was a time of major change in the U.S. and I think it was unexpected for many people. The Vietnam war is probably the biggest as well as Bloody Sunday. I definitely want my film to reflect on these issues at that time but also find parallels with today’s social issues because I think that was also something important in the original being product of its time which our film isn’t but if audiences can make the subtle connections, it will feel more relevant today.
Jordan: You made it strikingly clear that one of your many intentions for this feature-length slasher film is to serve up an abundance of memorable, gruesome slayings with all the gooey good stuff – all while remaining true to the original movie’s subtle delivery. How exactly do you intend to strike that delicate balance of providing modern audiences with the high-energy, all-out gore we all salivate over, without straying too far into conventional schlocky exploitation? Will certain kills be displayed in brutal close-up, while others are left more to the imagination to fill in the gaps?
Steve: Our film will likely be gorier than the original and will definitely have more kills but if I execute it the way I want to, it won’t be as bloody as most people would think it is. Some kills will be off-screen and implied more so by sound or other character reactions. I believe it’s a very powerful thing if you can see what happened through another character’s facial reactions. The acting will definitely be key for executing that. Our teaser really didn’t have that much blood but people think it looks very bloody!
Jordan: Having watched the teaser trailer for your upcoming passion project, I say without hesitation I am all in for this movie. However, it appears one of your actresses, Nika Louw, has been tasked with recreating the iconic dinner scene from the original. She’s tied to a chair, covered in blood, stating that whoever is near her is “crazy”. Hell, she’s even got the blue shirt. It’s immediately obvious that she’s evoking Marilyn Burns as Sally Hardesty (and doing a fine job to boot). Was it your goal to deliver a hearty helping of fan service to the audience? How much material in the movie is intended as a reference to what’s come before, and how hard did you work to help your product stand on its own?
Steve: I definitely think that there needs to be some but even that scene doesn’t play out quite like you would expect. Nika is actually wearing a blue dress and there’s a purpose for her wearing that dress that has nothing to do with Sally but strictly for her character. I don’t think she had even watched the original at that point. I just told her exactly what was happening and she delivered that performance! There will be some fan service for sure but it’s important to me that this is its own film and can stand on its own without relying on the original references. That is however original Grandpa, John Dugan providing the voice responding to her in that scene. Could that be Grandpa before he lost his voice?
Jordan: I read that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre stands as the first horror movie to ever truly give you nightmares. Would you be willing to disclose some of those? I completely agree that it’s one of the scariest works of art ever concocted, what with its documentarian camerawork, bone-chilling performances from Edwin Neal and Gunnar Hansen, and authentically unnerving atmosphere. The potential to give people nightmares is practically guaranteed. Are Leatherface and his brothers chasing you onto the street with a chainsaw and straight razor? Did you wake up to find yourself trapped at the dinner table with the Sawyers staring at you and mimicking your cries for help? Please indulge me!
Steve: A lot of the nightmares I used to have were coinciding with similar experiences. Definitely not as horrific as what happens in that film but the realism of it made those experiences more frightening. There was definitely a nightmare I had where I was being chased by Leatherface and no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t move fast enough. It’s as if I was numb and had no control over it. I still have that one from time to time. These types of nightmares will definitely play out in my film.
Jordan: After completing your work on The Sawyer Massacre, do you have plans to make any other feature-length horror films? Is there another legendary slasher property that you revere enough to get your hands on, such as Halloween, Friday the 13th or A Nightmare on Elm Street? Or maybe there’s a brand new idea you’ve had cooking that would make a scary good addition to the horror genre. If so, I’d love to hear about it. Personally, I wrote my own remake of Friday the 13th because it’s one of my favourite films of all time, followed by a sequel to conclude my vision. Subsequently, I spent the next couple of years writing my first original genre piece. Would you say that’s the direction in which you yourself are headed?
Steve: I don’t plan on doing any more fan films at this time. I have a few other screenplays that I want to explore and see if I can create my own popular horror franchise if possible although I think the majority of my ideas fit a more one-off type of film but you never know. My short film, Unseen was fairly well received and I have a feature-length script for it now that would be my next ambition after The Sawyer Massacre. If The Sawyer Massacre is a success, then getting funding for that project could be much easier..
Jordan: How many days, weeks or months do you intend for the movie to shoot?
Steve: At my minimum budget, about 2 weeks but with my ideal budget, about 2 months. It would be great to have as much time as possible to shoot the film but I can do it in 2 weeks if I have to.
Jordan: Do you plan on shooting the outdoor scenes in hot weather? One of the unforgettable facts about the original is Hooper chose to film the movie in extreme humidity to the point where Gunnar Hansen reeked so appallingly from sweating into his costume that nobody could stand to be around him. The infamous dinner scene was difficult for all to film without gagging from the stench and the heat. Will your film follow a similar path of putting your actors through sheer hell to conjure that repulsive, genuine ambience?
Steve: As much as I love that aspect of the original, the last thing I want to do is put my cast and crew in any danger of heatstroke. I have opted to shoot the film in mid September when it’s still hot but not so hot that the cast and crew will hate me for it!
Jordan: What was the audition process for Scotty Parkin? What was it about this 6 foot 7 inch actor (besides him being 6 feet 7 inches) that made him stand out to you as the number one choice for Leatherface? Did he have to make any frightening noises like squealing in joy or panic? Was there something intimidating about his physicality or gestures?
Steve: His Audition process was pretty simple actually. He was the only person big enough to play him in our teaser so I essentially auditioned him with his performance in that. If I liked what I saw and he took the directions well, I felt this would make casting him easy. I think it’s fair to say that he did a great job in our teaser. He played his physical movements exactly how I pictured them in my mind that feel like his own version of the character. There are some subtleties of course that most people won’t pick up on from a short teaser but it’s there.
Jordan: Where would I be able to watch this movie in full once it’s finished and ready to be experienced?
Steve: It will be free for everyone to watch on Youtube but you can also order it from our Indiegogo campaign page. It’s available on Blu Ray, DVD and VHS.
Jordan: Thank you so much for your time, and I look immensely forward to the night when I can finally sit down in front of this computer and bear witness to the insanity and carnage of your creation!