It is perhaps the most iconic scene from one of the most iconic franchises horror has ever known. Yet the lasting wound inflicted upon TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE audiences forty-four years ago had more to do with a meat hook than a chainsaw.
While director Tobe Hooper and stars Marilyn Burns and Gunnar Hansen have enjoyed most of TCM’s notoriety since 1974, the most indelible images (and sounds) came not from Leatherface, but Pam, a character created by a then 22-year old actress from Houston, Texas named Teri McMinn.
What McMinn was able to accomplish in less than one minute is by any standard, underrated. McMinn went from sheer dread at the sight of Leatherface (Hansen) to crazed desperation in efforts to escape his clutches, before the horrified recognition of what was to come and finally (and as odd as it may seem to say), the subtle performance which followed Pam being plopped onto a hook designed for slaughtered animals.
That fleeting minute offered much to digest, and because its intensity was so unrelenting, it felt like a landed sucker punch that to this day, still takes this writer’s breath away.
Rather than over-the-top writhing shrills, McMinn communicated what our collective imagination was too frightened to conjure—incomprehensible pain—and as such, her reaction was almost one of disbelief.
Disbelief of what was happening to be sure, but also the agony that would have undoubtedly been coursing through Pam’s body. Truly study McMinn’s face and the whimpers which emanated from her throat and you won’t witness a contrived portrayal of misery, but rather an honest performance from an actress who dared to take a momentary glimpse at torture.
Hooper’s decision to deliver a quick, almost home movie style shot of McMinn’s feet as they hovered above a bucket to collect droplets of blood, then quickly panned to capture Pam’s excruciating and immobilized terror served as the icing on the proverbial cake.
It was heart-pounding and almost too real, and we have McMinn to thank for that.
For as much as Leatherface means to horror, memories of McMinn’s minute are what flood through this writer’s mind when conversations turn to THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE.
That we’ve lost Hansen and Burns over the past few years is all the more reason to embrace the fact that McMinn owned a scene like few before or since.