TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE
The Allen Danziger Interview
by Lee Sobel
THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974) is nearly 50 years old and birthed a franchise that is still going strong. Its fanbase is as big as ever. In my opinion, it is the second scariest movie of all time, second only to THE EXORCIST. It launched the career of Tobe Hooper who directed many movies, including Stephen King's SALEM'S LOT (1979) and the hugely successful POLTERGEIST (1982). I don't mean Hooper any disrespect but I don't think he ever made another movie as visceral, original and frightening as CHAINSAW.
Before CHAINSAW, Hooper directed a hippie-dippie feature length movie called EGGSHELLS which, frankly, I can't even sit through. It's talky and slow and feels like a
very long student film. And...there's no horror. The only actor to appear in both EGGSHELLS and CHAINSAW is Allen Danziger, who didn't consider himself an actor
and instead of making more movies, he worked as a social worker and started his own entertainment company. So Danziger never made another movie after CHAINSAW and doesn't seem to care. He's happy to have been a part of one of the most notorious movies in horror movie history because as he puts it, "Where can you go from there?"
Sadly, we have lost not only director Hooper but numerous cast members who have passed away. Born in the Bronx, Danziger still resides in Austin, TX where he met Tobe Hooper and was cast in CHAINSAW and he remains very youthful and vigorous for his age. He seems like someone who not only appreciates that he was in this movie, but is having a blast connecting with fans of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE.
Lee Sobel: Before you made THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE you were in Tobe Hooper's first feature, EGGSHELLS.
Allen Danziger: Yes, that's how I got cast in CHAINSAW. They kept
adding scenes for me in EGGSHELLS and I guess they liked what I did so when they were casting CHAINSAW they came to me with the script and wanted me to play the wiseacre driver, Jerry. I didn't have to audition for CHAINSAW. I remember taking the script home and reading it and being enthralled with it and I said, "I'm there." Originally they were thinking the movie would have more comedy. For instance, one of the original titles they had for the movie was "Headcheese." This fellow Warren Skaaren was the head of the film commission and he was the one who came up with the name of the movie: THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE -- which I thought was brilliant.
Lee Sobel: The harsh shooting conditions for CHAINSAW are well known - what are some of your memories of the difficulties of shooting the movie?
Allen Danziger: We started shooting the movie in July 1973 and July in Texas is brutal. It was very hot and we were shooting in a van that had no air conditioning. So it was 100 degrees and the sound and lighting people are in the van with the actors so it was a nightmare. Every couple of takes the girls would come out of the van and go into the makeup trailer which was air conditioned. Dottie Pearl was the makeup person and she would then make the girls look beautiful again, but after one take when I ran ahead of the girls and went into the makeup trailer, Dottie said, "There's nothing we can do for you." (pause)
Lee Sobel: Okay.
Allen Danziger: Lee, that was a joke.
Lee Sobel (confused - thinks "Oh I guess Allen meant the makeup person couldn't do anything to make him look beautiful?")
Allen Danziger: I didn't have it as bad as the others though who had to do a lot of shooting in that house. The only time I was in that house was when I get killed. So, for me, I really had a ball. I had a great time making the movie.
Lee Sobel: I heard you were genuinely scared when Leatherface killed you in the movie.
Allen Danziger: Yes, I was frightened. Prior to shooting that scene I had not seen what Leatherface looked like and right before we shot that scene I had them blindfold me. I went outside and prepared for the scene using the Stanislavski method as I like to tell people. When I was ready I came into the house to shoot the scene. I see Pam on the
hook, which was scary enough, and then the freezer starts shaking and I open up the lid and she pops out and I'm scared already and as I turn to run that's the first time I saw Leatherface and I let out a bloodcurdling scream. I was so frightened that I took off and then I heard Tobe yelling "Cut! Cut! Cut!" He came over to me with his Erich von Stroheim type of voice with the cigar and he said to me, "Allen that was a great scream but you have to wait for him to get into the frame of the shot," so we had to do that several times before they got it right. As you know, I get killed with a sledge hammer and 47 years later I'm still getting headaches.
Lee Sobel: Really?
Allen Danziger: No, Lee. That was another joke.
Lee Sobel: Oh...why didn't you make another movie after CHAINSAW?
Allen Danziger: Because I really wasn't an actor. My background was as a social worker. I was born in the Bronx, in New York, and I came down to Austin to go to graduate school and I ended up staying here. I had my son here and I started my own business. Austin was like an oasis for me. I was living in a duplex and I met Salye Richardson who worked on EGGSHELLS and was the co-editor and assistant director on CHAINSAW and through her I met Tobe. My background was never in acting so after the movie I went back to social work. But I'm so happy to have been a part of the movie and I have my own website in which I promote the movie and I have my own tee-shirts and right now I'm working on the prototype for a "Chainsaw Jerry" bobblehead.
Lee Sobel: I want one. So, tell me about your relationship with Tobe. Were you friends?
Allen Danziger: It was hard to be friends with Tobe. He wasn't a "life of the party" kind of guy. He had that cigar and was a pretty serious guy but he was very nice to me. He would take me aside and we would discuss a scene but if I felt that the dialogue didn't seem like something my character would say, he would tell me to do it the way I felt I would say it. So a lot of my lines were ones that I came up with. Like, "Hey guys, quit
goofin' on me," that wasn't written - that was me ad libbing. Other people have said things about Tobe but I have no bad feelings and nothing bad to say about him.
Lee Sobel: When you first saw the movie, what did you think of it?
Allen Danziger: Tobe called me in to show me some of the dailies and he asked me what he could do to improve the movie. I told him to have the seats facing away from the screen. He didn't like that. That tells you how much I knew about what was going on in the movie. Before the movie came out, I went to see the trailer at a movie theater in Austin and as soon as I saw myself in the trailer I ran out of the theater screaming. I was
freaked out. Then I took my son to see the trailer so he could see his dad in the trailer. He was about four or five years old. And he's been in therapy ever since. But he's getting better. When it opened, my friends rented a limousine and we went to see it and the audience loved it. People recognized me, which was cool. My parents went to see it in a porno theater in Florida. It was on a double feature with DEBBIE DOES DALLAS. When my mother saw the movie, she stood up and started shouting in her native language for me not to go into the house. When they got home they called me to make sure I was still alive. So they bought it.
Lee Sobel: Favorite scene in the movie?
Allen Danziger: My favorite scene in the movie is at the gas station where we pull in and Jim Siedow comes out and says they have no gas. This troll fellow comes out and he starts splashing the windshield with soapy water. During one of the takes I inadvertently hit the windshield wiper and it splashed all the soapy water on Jim Siedow's face and he was trying to deliver his lines with this soapy water coming down his face. Bill Vail and I just broke up and we couldn't finish the scene. Tobe got upset and stormed off the set and Kim Henkel had to finish shooting that scene.
Lee Sobel: Did you imagine that almost 50 years later you would still be talking about this movie?
Allen Danziger: The first time I realized what this movie meant to people was at my first horror convention in 2004 in Cleveland at a place called Cinema Wasteland. I saw all these people who I thought would be serial killer wannabes and were actually the nicest people. They greeted me and were so sweet. I guess I was fresh meat for them. That's when it hit me that people love this movie and people love to be scared. This movie provides that kind of thrill. Once it gets going, it's relentless. I think it's the same reason kids love rollercoasters -- they like to scream but if they can do it safely, it's okay. Also the movie is set in Texas and people believe that this kind of thing could only happen in Texas. I think people believe it's real. I know after the movie came out, I never picked up a hitchhiker again.
Lee Sobel: The movie was very successful and made a fortune but nobody who worked on the movie saw any of that money from its original release.
Allen Danziger: Yes, the real massacre happened after the movie came out. The sad thing was that the filmmakers were all young people who didn't know much and the original distributors of the movie were mafia. I was getting Variety and watching how well the movie was doing. It was moving up with a bullet and I thought I'd hit the brass ring. We all started getting these checks that were so small you could get maybe a McDonald's sandwich with it. It was disappointing but everybody on the movie got screwed. When they say "That's show business," I think that's what they mean. Over the years, the movie finally got back and we got some residuals. After 50 years I'm still getting checks so I'm happy. I'm much more grateful for the fans and I enjoy seeing how much they love this movie.
Lee Sobel: Tobe and a number of the cast are no longer with us which I would imagine to be very sad for you since you probably got to know everyone so well by doing conventions and personal appearances.
Allen Danziger: Yes. A fellow who was a big fan of the movie bought the gas station that we filmed at for the movie and turned it into a destination. Now they have a memorial bench and it has the names of the people who worked on the movie that have passed on. Under coming attractions is my name. So, that's what I have to look forward to. I'm just happy to be vertical right now.
Lee Sobel: You look great for your age.
Allen Danziger: Lee, I'm at that age where "a quickie" means a short nap.