Marilyn Burns, 65
May 7, 1949–August 5, 2014
Marilyn Burns didn’t win any awards for her role as Sally Hardesty in the 1974 film The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, but her bone-chilling portrayal as the lone survivor in a horror movie marked by several grotesque deaths earned her one honorable distinction: the title of Scream Queen. And it’s unlikely anyone will ever dethrone her.
Born in Erie, Pennsylvania, Burns lived in Houston for most of her life. Shortly after graduating from the University of Texas with a degree in drama, she auditioned for the role of Sally, the protagonist of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. It was Burns’s first lead acting gig, and while she wasn’t especially interested in it at first, director Tobe Hooper’s independent horror film—made as famous by its grotesque scenes as by its horrific shooting conditions—defined her career. She later starred in a number of other slasher flicks, including Helter Skelter and Eaten Alive, and made a cameo in Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation, the 1994 follow-up to her most famous role. She also served on the Texas Film Commission and attended horror conventions, where she entertained fans with stories about the set of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
Burns’s ear-splitting screams and horror-struck face remain unmatched even now, forty years after the film was first shown to terrified audiences all over the world. And the lung-busting screeches and squeals belted out by actors in scary movies today are but an echo to the Scream Queen’s legacy. –Hannah Smothers