Variety is reporting the death of Marilyn Burns, an actress best remembered as Sally, the most resilient of the terrified road trippers in Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974). She was 65. Chainsaw was Burns’ first credited movie role—and she truly suffered for her art. The long, climactic scene with Sally at the mercy of a family of psychotic cannibals was filmed over the course of a full day, in a room filled with rotting meat, in the triple-digit temperatures of a Texas summer, all of which contributed mightily to the atmosphere of hysterical dread. At one point, Gunnar Hansen, who played the looming monster Leatherface, surprised Burns by actually cutting her finger on camera, after becoming frustrated with a malfunctioning special effect. Somewhere, Lars Von Trier is slow-clapping.
Burns studied acting at the University of Texas in Austin and served on the campus film board. The same year that Texas Chain Saw Massacre was released, she worked as a stand-in for Blythe Danner on another, very different made-in-Texas production, Sidney Lumet’s Lovin’ Molly. After Chainsaw made her one of the original “scream queens,” Burns played the Manson family cult member Linda Kasabian in the TV film Helter Skelter (1976) and the female lead in Hooper’s Eaten Alive (1977), where Neville Brand tried to feed her to his pet crocodile.
After Eaten Alive, Burns largely stepped away from the film business, aside from the occasional low-budget horror picture like Kiss Daddy Goodbye (1981), with ’50s rock star Fabian, and Future-Kill (1985). She also made brief cameo appearances in the sequels Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1994) and Texas Chainsaw 3D (2013), as well as Butcher Boys (2012), written by Texas Chainsaw scribe Kim Henkel. Earlier this year, she had her first starring role in almost three decades in the horror movie Sacrament.