In 1974, a little known director by the name of Tobe Hooper gave birth to a Horror film that originally tanked at the box office, but would eventually be recognized as one of the most important Horror films of all time. The film was The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It was produced for under $300,000 with a cast of virtual unknowns. Two of the most notable characters in the film were “Leatherface” (Gunnar Hansen), the power saw-wielding maniac and the innocent, young “Pam” (Teri McMinn) whom he impaled on a meat hook in one of the most gut-wrenching scenes in Horror film history.
We spoke with Teri McMinn recently and discussed her role in the making of this historic cult classic.
How were you discovered for your role in Texas Chainsaw Massacre?
I was doing a play with Frank Sutton. He was in the Gomer Pyle Show and my picture was taken for the newspaper. The picture they had in the newspaper my eyes were closed. I thought this was the worst picture of me. So one day I got word that Tobe Hooper and Kim Henkel, who were doing a horror movie, had called St. Edwards and said that they wanted to meet me. Doing a Horror movie at that time was like doing soft-core porn. It was just one rung above soft-core porn.
All they had to go by at that time was a picture of you in the newspaper with your eyes closed?
Who did you read for at that time?
I was reading for Kim Henkel and Tobe Hooper. But I didn’t know them. They were unknown. They didn’t know me.
Did you know anything about the film? What did you know going in?
Very little. You know honestly I didn’t think much of it at the time and I hadn’t read the script of course. I had only read these very tiny little things that they had me reading. Anyways, my friend when I was waiting tables that used to come in all the time to see me, who was a big support for me in my acting said to me, “Teri, you just need to do this thing. You need to call them and you need to tell them you want the role.” I did. I went ahead and I called and I spoke with Kim Henkel the writer and producer and he said, “OK Teri. Come on over to blah blah blah.” It was like half a mile from where I lived in an apartment near campus at UT. He also said, “Wear a pair of short shorts.” I read for them and they had already seen over 500 girls. They had been to Dallas and Houston. They had been all over Texas to all the schools, different drama departments and they cast me. I got lucky. I got lucky. It was really fun.
What was it like preparing for this role?
Well I was pretty much in a fog about it. But when I met Marilyn Burns who was Sally in the movie and Kirk who played my boyfriend in the film, he and I especially bonded and we did all the background for our characters. Tobe was very, as one might imagine, consumed by the technical end especially. Kim was a little bit helpful in that he worked with us on some of the dialogued and helped with some of our ad libbing because we did a fair amount of ad libbing here and there or interjected some of our thoughts. So I worked with William Vail. He and I were buddies while we were filming especially. We were able together to make decisions. We kind of decided that we were secretly married because they never even had us kiss in the film. Which it would have been great to see Pam and Kirk have a big old smackaroonie , kissing scene at least. I think it would have been wonderful.
But at any rate. That’s pretty much what we did. We worked on that. As far as my meat hook scene, the day before we were going to shoot it Tobe took me aside and asked me, “Have you thought about the meat hook scene? What would you do?” I said, you know Tobe, what I thought of was that I believe if Pam wasn’t hooked in her back in a strategic point that if she was still able to move around that maybe she might try to get off the hook. He said, “Yea, I like that. I like that. Let’s go with that.” That’s what I did. I reached up behind me and struggled to get off the hook. That’s what I did.
I got to tell you watching your hand reach back and grab that hook just makes the whole scene really seem so real. That little detail I think really pulls the viewer into the scene unlike anything else you could have done.
Great! You know, I now love those scenes because I remember how hard we worked on it, particularly Leatherface chasing me out of the house. She almost gets away twice from him and those are, I believe the most compelling and exciting moments in the first half because she almost gets away.
He finally grabs her character there on the front porch if I’m not mistaken right?
We shot that from early in the morning to late in the afternoon until we lost the sun light and I lost my voice completely. I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t turn over.
I was cast in another play while we were filming because they had to stop filming during the second week and that was all we were paid for. I was paid $700 to do two weeks of work. They brought us all back in and said, ‘Look, its going to take longer that what we had expected so we are going to sign you for a percentage of the profits from the future.’ So we all signed these contracts. Mine was for half a point. I think Allen was for a full point. I don’t know the rest of the people what they got. Marilyn was one of the producers so she lucked out. But Bill, myself, the hitchhiker, Ed Neal none of us appreciated any of those profits because the first company was the Mafia company. They wanted to go legit so they bought the film. But they were a mafia company.
So you never saw any profit from the actual film?
No. Well they renegotiated that contract and left us out. The only thing that we were to get profit on, none of the merchandising. It was one of the most popular videos of the 80’s. We got nothing on that. We got nothing on anything except if it was shown on big screens. Of course once video came out, Texas Chainsaw was rarely shown on big screens. So no. I mean I might get $30 in a year or maybe $50. I think the most I ever got was once I got a check for $200 and I was stunned. I mean if Tobe had wanted us to really have a portion of the profits he could have certainly renegotiated that.
I understand you are still involved in different shows across the country. I guess your character Pam is one of the most sought after characters at these conferences. Can you tell me a little about that?
Yes. What happened was in the late 80s it became a cult classic. That’s when the Museum of Modern Art recognized it and put it in its archives. The Smithsonian and all that as I was saying. At that time, I didn’t go out to these conventions but Marilyn Burns, Gunnar Hansen and Ed Neal and occasionally the other character Allen, who drove the van, would go to conventions. Gunner would have me sign pictures so he could sell them. He would pay me five bucks each and then he would make the rest of the money. In 1990, I had started a flower business in Austin, Texas. Before that I had started On the Borders catering. I had leg and foot modeled in New York and worked in flower shops so I had done other things. I had a whole other life.
So anyways I kept getting stalked by people that were fans of the film and I had denied I was Pam for years and years. You would have never heard it from me. Then that year I was ready. So in 2008, thirty-five years after the release of the film I did my very first in-depth interview and they put it on Blu-ray. Simultaneously I went to my first convention in Cherry Hill, New Jersey called MonsterMania. It’s a wonderful big convention and I had lines of people that wanted to meet me. I could not wrap my mind around it. I was like, ‘What in the world is with these people’. They are like fanatics!
So I signed at least 500 autographs and made a boat load. I kept saying, “Wow! Can we do this every weekend?”
It sounds crazy but in one afternoon you can probably make more money signing autographs that anything you made shooting the film.
Forget them. They don’t care about us and when I came to that one. I was like OK, I’m going to get on this roller coaster with Pam and I’m going to milk it for all its worth because people love it and they love the fact that I’m engaged and I have fun with them. I’m just lucky. I’m lucky they picked me. I’m lucky I became famous. I like my scenes now. I’m very comfortable.