Friday, Dec 9 2022

Texas Chainsaw Massacre: An Interview with Todd Tucker


There’s just something about the word ‘chainsaw’ that really seems to get under your skin (pun absolutely intended), especially for us horror movie fans. Oh sure, most people probably associate the word ‘chainsaw’ with what the power tool was actually designed for: cutting wood. However, much like its quieter, manual-only cousin, the ax (and in turn, the ax’s little brother, the butcher knife), all it takes is a horror film using one, or all, of the aforementioned tools as a way to maim/kill their hapless movie characters and then, [snapping my fingers] just like that, words such as ‘chainsaw’, ‘ax’ and ‘butcher knife’, can take on much more sinister connotations. For example, when the typical horror movie fan hears the word ‘ax’, Jack Torrance in The Shining might spring to mind. ‘Butcher knife’? Michael Myers of Halloween, obviously! And in 1974, a little, micro-budget horror film made it to where the word ‘chainsaw’ would forever be associated with words such as terror…and blood…and cannibalism…and Texas! Of course, slapping the word ‘massacre’ right next to it didn’t hurt either! 

Directed by the late, great horror movie legend, Tobe Hooper, and filmed on a budget of just $300,000, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, a story about a group of teenagers inadvertently stumbling across a family of cannibals, with one in particular brandishing a chainsaw,  not only introduced one of the most iconic horror movie characters to ever grace the big screen, Leatherface, but it also would go on to gross $31 million at the box office upon release, garner three direct sequels and a prequel, a remake, a prequel to the remake,  a comic book series and a video game! Not bad for a film that at one time was labeled as a one of the ‘video nasties’ in Britain and deemed so horrifying by the ratings board that they insisted on an ‘X’ rating! Interestingly enough, Hooper intended for the film to be PG, which, despite its title, accounts for there being very little gore and just moderate onscreen violence throughout the movie’s runtime! 

It's safe to say that horror fans just can't seem to get enough Leatherface and on February 18th, our favorite face swapping, chainsaw wielding Texan will once again be terrorizing those who decide to tread in places best avoided at all costs when Legendary and Bad Hombre's Texas Chainsaw Massacre hits the Netfix streaming service! Produced and co-written by Fede Alvarez (2013's Evil Dead) and intended to be a direct followup to the events of the first film and completely ignoring the other sequels, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, set nearly 50 years after the original, will not only explore what happens when a group of young entrepreneurs disturb the, until now, reclusive Leatherface, but it will also see the return of the first film's only survivor, Sally Hardesty (Olwen Fouéré replacing Marilyn Burns, who passed away in 2014), out for revenge and intending to kill Leatherface once and for all! I was able to spend some time visiting with Todd Tucker of Illusion Industries, graced with the unenviable task of giving us a fresh take on our beloved maniac himself, Leatherface! 

HorrorHound: Since this is intended to be a direct sequel to the original, 1974 film, what changes, if any, did you make to the mask? 

Todd Tucker: We pretty much designed him from head to toe. We actually created his look, his size, his wardrobe, his hairstyle…everything. About two weeks before the [pandemic] shut down, I got a phone call from Legendary producer, Herb Gaines. I’d worked with Herb on G.I. Joe: Retaliation and Jack Reacher 2, he’s a really cool guy. He said, “Hey, I’ve got this project going on and I want you to do the design for the lead character”. When he told me [it was] Leatherface, I was like, “Are you kidding me?! Sure, absolutely!” Then BAM, two weeks later Covid hit, and we shut down! And I was like, “THAT’S why I got it because now we’re not going to be able to do it!” [laughs] So then I got another phone call from them, and they were like, “We’re moving everything forward, so you guys are good to keep going, let’s just do this” and I was like, “Hell yes!”

So, I grabbed Martin Astles, one of my key designers here [at Illusion Industries] for 15 years now, he’s my main guy. We got together, we got the script and read through it and Martin did the sculpture of the face. The directors at that time were here in town, right down the street from my studio, so we got to actually walk the face into Legendary and show the directors and Herb, the producer. That was great because to be able to do it in person is always a great way to be able to look at it from all different angles and everything. They flipped out! They loved it!

Then it was time to move on creating the whole look. I brought on a really amazing illustrator, Miles Teves, who’s worked on a million things, and another guy named John Donahue. What we did was, we took the face that had been sculpted, then put it into the design and then designed the whole look from [Leatherface’s] body shape and his hairstyle, his whole overall look with the apron. At one point in time in the storyline, there was a thought that he might actually wear the clothes of the loved one of whose face he is now wearing. So, we get to meet this loved one and then tragedy hits, and now he [ends up] wearing that. After that, Mark Burnham, who plays Leatherface, came in and we did a head cast on him, we did teeth cast, we did everything. Then we sculpted the face, sculpted teeth. At that point we were actually putting together old age make up for a potential actress that might need it [during] shooting, but we weren’t getting in to see her. We were also told the shooting was going to be in Bulgaria. So now we had to put shipping into the mix, and this was during the absolute height of Covid, when everything was shut down.

So, it was a task to get everything over there and they were going to only allow one person from here to go. Martin Astles is by far, one of the most Texas Chainsaw/Leatherface, nerd, knowledgeable guys I’ve ever met! [laughs] He sculpted the face, he designed it and I’m like, “It’s gonna be you, dude. You’re going to go do it and knock it out of the park” so he went to Bulgaria and did everything Leatherface. They hired some local guys there to do some of the other gore effects and Martin kind of oversaw everything on set. Kind of a one-man show there.

It was a great experience and I think the fans are going to love this new look. It is so creepy-cool [while] staying in the vibe with what I believe the fans would want. But I think we gave him a little bit of a different look that I think they’re going to really dig! It’s all based on the storyline, it’s all based on stuff that’s happened, so it’s not just thrown in there. It’s what it is because of how the story unfolds.

HH: I know I’m very curious to see how the mask looks and how Leatherface has aged from the time the original ended up till now. 

TT: There’s some things I don’t want to give away that I want you guys to love! So, the director came in who ultimately directed the film, David Blue Garcia, came in and he had a very big movie vision. The movie looks fantastic! It looks like a big, big studio film! And it’s got action in it [that] I don’t know that we’ve seen before in a Leatherface movie. Leatherface hauls ass! This guy is a powerhouse! He’s not a lumbering guy, he’s got some skills. The kills in this are just enormously over-the-top fantastic. You’re not going to be disappointed with the kills, I guarantee that! They really wanted to take this up a huge notch in the film aspect of what this was but still have all of the nods and everything in there that is the first Texas Chainsaw Massacre only. There’s no mention of anything other than the first movie.

One of the hardest things that Martin had to deal with when he was on-set was continuity because as the movie goes on, Leatherface is just a wrecking ball but he’s also getting the shit beat out of him! [laughs] And that face is just getting torn up so what is the final version of that face by the time the movie is over is not anywhere close to what it was when we started! There were so many evolutions, and different faces laid out that were at time periods that had to be matched. One of the hardest things on this movie was blood continuity. You’ve got to make sure, because if you go directly from one angle to the next angle and it doesn’t match, your audience is going to see it, I mean, that blood has to be exactly perfect every time. You’re not getting the exact same moment of shooting. If you’re shooting later in the day, or if it’s a re-dressing or whatever. I know that was a really tough challenge because there’s a lot of blood in this movie! [laughs] To be honest with you, it’s kind of a pain in the ass! [laughs]

HH: I’ve always thought it would be! [laughs]

TT: It’s fun the first time when you get blood everywhere and get it all over, but then to match it, to make it perfect every time while you’re maintaining the character makeup … I know Martin on set had help and everything, but he had mentioned that was one of the toughest things. One thing that we came up with that was really, really cool was that we actually glued tabs to Mark’s [Burnham] face and then had Velcro tabs that matched up on the inside of the Leatherface mask. So that, rather than glue the whole thing to his face, it was kind of Velcro-ed on, and at times we could Velcro it down a little bit lower to slightly change the expression, so that there’s little subtle bits of his face kind of shifting a little bit based on what’s going on. There’s some cool little things that I don’t know has been done before, just giving that face a tiny bit of emotional movement.

It was interesting because when we first came on, we were brought on by Legendary and Herb and we were dealing with the directors. Then when it switched over [with] a new director, which was David, [and] Bad Hombre had come on and they were a huge part of this, and we were dealing with Fede Alverez and man, he came in and just had a really, really strong vision of what he wanted this to be. They did some great work! I mean, the Evil Dead remake was amazingly cool! Bad Hombre are badasses man, those guys are making some great stuff! We were really excited that they were part of this project, and they were a huge part of this project. I know Mark [Burnham] took a lot of direction from what Fede had said and when we were designing everything, we made sure that they were happy, that Legendary was happy, that the director was happy. We were making sure that all parties were on board, and I think, at the end of the day, I’m pretty sure that everyone was really happy with the final results. And I’m pretty sure that this isn’t the only one that’s going to happen. I believe that we did it justice and it’s creepy as hell.

Mark was really cool too because Mark played Leatherface and really studied Gunnar’s [Hansen] movements, and really tried to embody Gunnar’s spirit in playing this character. I think he killed it! He made a really good Leatherface, he’s a big, big dude. When he walked in here and did the head cast, I was like, “Yeah, man, I  totally get it why you’re Leatherface, you’re intimidating as hell, brother!” [laughs] 

HH: Which TCM is your favorite out of the eight previous films?

TT: The thing is for me is that, when I saw the first one, I was really confused, because I was a little kid, and I don’t even remember where I saw it. I remember I saw it around the same time that I saw Night of the Living Dead, and The Exorcist, I think. It was all kind of around the same time as a kid. And I remember it messing me up because it felt like a documentary. I thought I was watching something more like something real. So, it was a different kind of scary. It was like watching somebody being attacked as opposed to watching a movie about a monster. It was pretty horrifying and of course that opened the door for so much stuff. You can’t really compare anything to that movie in a lot of ways. 

I enjoyed [Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2] because it was kind of so different from the first one. They didn’t try to do another version of it. It was kind of silly fun; it was almost like what they did with going from The Evil Dead to Evil Dead 2. They just made it a little bit more humorous I guess is the best way to put it. I enjoyed it!

The most recent ones were pretty violent, pretty cool but I gotta tell you man, I think this one is going to be something else! [laughs] I haven’t seen the whole movie but what I have seen, I have a feeling that people who aren’t necessarily Texas Chainsaw fans, might become one. I think it’s going to knock them on their ass! [laughs] 

HH: How cool was it to find out you’d be designing the latest version of his mask? 

TT: In my career, I’ve had a lot of phone calls where I just pick up the phone and don’t expect anything at all and instead I get floored by something, and it literally takes me a couple of minutes to process it. It’s kind of weird. So, when [Herb Gaines] said, “Hey, I need you to do this character”, I thought maybe he was talking about taking the lead actor and breaking his nose or something. I was expecting something different for some reason. We had just done some stuff for Jack Reacher 2, and I was not expecting him to say he was part of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie because that just wasn’t the type of stuff that he had been involved with. So, it knocked me on my ass, man! When he said that, I thought he was kidding! I was waiting for, “Naw, I’m just kidding! You wish!” [laughs] but that didn’t happen, and I was like, “You want us to make Leatherface?” and he said, “Yeah, from scratch. I’m going to need you to come up with a really cool design that just knocks everyone’s socks off!” And I was like, “We can do that!” [laughs]

HH: How challenging was it to work on this film with the Covid restrictions?

TT: We did it totally safe. We did all of the designs remotely, which was tough, I’ve got to be honest with you. Because at that point, the two directors were in Ireland, and the producers were here, and we were here and we were doing Zoom calls, which was right when Zoom calls started. And I had never done a Zoom call before Covid knocked everything down. So, trying to design this whole thing and have the conversations over Zoom was a little bit of a challenge. That was probably one of the hardest parts of the job, was just getting through the barriers of Covid. And when they got [to Bulgaria], everybody had to be tested. It was such a different system and way to get the movie made. Martin [Astles] really ran with this, he really understood what this was. I kind of got to just sit back and be the gatekeeper for all of this stuff! [laughs]

We had a great crew, and it was not easy to find a crew to come in when no one wanted to leave their house. I promised them all that I would keep everyone separated, I would keep everything totally clean, we had masks on everyone. I had a crew of about 10 people, and no one got sick. Everyone got through it great! Martin went over to Bulgaria and no one over there got sick. Everything was as smooth as it could possibly be, on that front. Shipping was a nightmare! Shipping during Covid was really, really tough.

It was a really great team and the experience I got working with everybody at Legendary and Bad Hombre, working with Mark [Burnham]; it was like a weird, cool dream come true, in a horrible pandemic kind of way! [laughs]

HH: What are your favorite horror movie remakes/reboots?

TT: I am a huge Michael Myers fan! I love Freddy … I’m an '80s kid, I love all of those! I went and saw every damn one of those movies; Pinhead, Chucky, Freddy … all of them! I saw every incarnation of all of them so, it’s kind of hard when they do remakes. But you can either hate on it or just enjoy that [the stories] continue on. I actually liked the [Nightmare on Elm Street] remake, I thought that was pretty damn good! I thought The Evil Dead remake that Bad Hombre did was really good. I enjoyed the new Halloween that came out two years ago, I thought that was really cool.

I went with my daughter the other day to see the new Ghostbusters [Afterlife] and here’s the thing; it’s nothing like the [original] Ghostbusters movie, it was more like Stranger Things. It kind of felt like watching an old Spielberg movie! I’m a huge Spielberg fan so I loved it! It felt like old school '80s Spielberg! My daughter, who wasn’t a Ghostbusters fan, really, loved this one because it had this Stranger Things vibe about it. The '80s was the greatest damn decade ever! [laughs]

HH: What do you think it is about the character of Leatherface that’s kept audiences wanting to come back again and again?

TT: To me, Leatherface feels like a giant kid, who never mentally grew up. And literally, [he] doesn’t quite understand the level of what’s going on. His rage is what’s driving him in this one, and [laughing] it’s almost justified! He’s relatable, that’s what it is! You can relate with the idea of being so pissed off and you might just become Leatherface and go on a rampage! But there’s a certain innocence to Leatherface, there’s a certain naiveness to him. He’s like a giant kid who doesn’t understand what he’s doing, he’s driven by emotion, and he can’t control it. That’s somewhat relatable.

There are other characters that aren’t as relatable. Freddy Krueger is amazing but it’s harder to connect with him. He’s kind of on another level of intelligence because of how he maneuvers. Whereas there’s no maneuvering with Leatherface, he’s a bull in a China shop. He knows what he’s doing, he’s not an idiot. I just think that’s what people respond to; in that giant, scary character there’s a little tiny kid in there who doesn’t understand what’s going on. You can say that Jason [Voorhees] and Leatherface are kind of a product of what happened to them throughout their life.

HH: What do you think works best for a film such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre as far as gore goes? Do you think less is more or should a film that has the words Chainsaw and Massacre in its title should show copious amounts of blood and gore?

TT: The thing is, this is a brand where I think the fans expect to see some pretty graphic stuff. That’s what this brand is known for. But there’s also a point where you linger on it too long, the entertainment value can actually lose its power. So, you’ve got to be careful. There are a lot of movies where they’ll spend a long period of time to just continue trying to gross you out. Which is fine, there’s an [audience] for that, for sure. I think what’s different with this one, than any of the ones I’ve seen, is that this has got some movement. There is some violent stuff and then you’re moving on to the next scene. It’s not like you’re just sitting there, getting a close-up and a close-up! [laughs] 

In my opinion, [gore] starts to get boring at a point. A lot of times, movies that don’t show as much, when you’re thinking about it in your mind, your mind takes it to a further place. Much like reading a book, or something like that, your mind can fill in the gaps. There’s a point where too much can almost slow things down, and you kind of start to lose a little bit of the impact.

HH: What’s your favorite horror movie monster?

TT: I’m such a huge fan of John Carpenter! When I saw the first Halloween at the movie [theater], it was the first time that I saw a movie where my heart was pounding so hard, I asked my stepdad who took me, if a 12 year old could have a heart attack! [laughs] And he was like, “Shut up and watch the movie!”[laughs] It scared me so bad that I literally had nightmares about Michael Myers for three or four years after that! That movie scared the shit out of me! 

Check out Texas Chainsaw Massacre on Netflix this Friday!