Actor John Dugan portrayed “Grandpa” in Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). The film stunned audiences worldwide and set a new standard in movie terror. Director John Landis (An American Werewolf in London) stated that “Grandpa” was the most disturbing and brutally funny part of the film. I spoke recently with Mr. Dugan about The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, later films, and his latest projects in development.

J.M.D: Did you know that Nick Wrigley of the British Film Institute reported that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was one of Stanley Kubrick’s favorite films?

J.D: No, I wasn’t aware of that, but I have to agree with Kubrick’s opinion of the film.

J.M.D: Talk to us about what was happening in America that influenced the film?

J.D: I’m not sure there was any political agenda at all that would’ve influenced the film. There were a lot of kids that took road trips in vans around that time, if that counts. LOL.

J.M.D: Talk to us about your work on the stage. Where were you when you were offered the role of “Grandpa?”

J.D: I was in theater school in Chicago and had been cast in several roles in school. At the time I was cast for Grandpa, I was working my first professional paid acting job in a children’s play called “Taradiddle Tales.” I was dancing around in tights, singing children’s songs from around the world. My brother-in-law at the time was Kim Henkel, the writer of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. He asked if I was crazy, and when I said, “Yes, of course,” he offered me the role of Grandpa.

J.M.D: On the commentary track of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Tobe Hopper commented that you were 18 and “Grandpa” was 104 years old. How did you relate to “Grandpa” as an actor since you were a kid at the time?

J.D: Actually, I believe I was told he was 113, and at the time I was 20. Seeing as I had no lines to speak, the characterization had to be completely physical. Kim Henkel told me he wanted “an embryonic old man,” which gave me the direction I needed to embody the character.

J.M.D: In the documentary, The American Nightmare, Professor Carol Clover of the University of California at Berkeley, finds the sequence of “Grandpa” being made to hit “Sally”on the head. “…kind of brilliant, to hit a woman on the head as he did in the slaughterhouse.” Your thoughts?

J.D: Many people find Grandpa to be one of the most disturbing aspects of the film, particularly women. To think that this small, shriveled man was actually the catalyst for the whole murderous family is very unsettling. Actually, I think it is kind of touching that the family is trying to let him relive his “heyday” so to speak, by letting him hit Sally with the sledgehammer.

J.M.D: How did the cast get along? Talk to us about being directed by Tobe Hooper?

J.D: The cast got along fine, except that everybody disliked Paul Partain (“Franklin”), excluding myself. He stayed in character all the time, and so he got on everyone’s nerves. I got along fine with him, probably because I had no scenes with his character, and was not around him on set all that much. As for Hooper, he seemed to know what he was doing. He concentrated more on how he wanted the film to look, and so most of our character direction came from Kim Henkel, who wrote them.

J.M.D: Tobe Hooper said, “You were the only one who understood that wearing the mask would free you, and that when a mask takes ten hours to put on, and you’re doing something unpleasant, no one will touch you.” How did you cope with the makeup process? What kind of makeup was it? Why did you decide to go limp on the staircase? Hooper said you announced you would not put on the makeup again. So, they shot 27 hours straight. It was the hottest day. Talk to us about those 27. Did you get sick from the smell of the makeup and heat?

J.D: I went limp on the staircase because I was told that, no matter what, I was to stay completely limp. As you can probably guess, a 113 year old man doesn’t have the greatest muscle tone. The 27 hour shoot was done because Jim Siedow (“Old Man”) had a job in Houston to get to, and they did not have another makeup application for me. The makeup was liquid latex, and it was extremely uncomfortable. It was untrue that I said I would not put the makeup on again, although I am glad in a way that we didn’t have to do it again. I did not get sick from the heat or makeup smell, although some cast and crew members did. Not only was it hot outside, being Texas in the summer, but there was no air conditioning inside, and the film lighting made it even hotter. It was not the most pleasant shooting environment, that’s for sure!

J.M.D: How did the success of the movie effect you?

J.D: Not much at the time, but in the last ten years I have seen the affect that the film has had on the horror fan community, in attending horror cons. The love and affection that the fans show me makes me realize what an impact myself and the film has.

 

 

J.M.D: Do people still swear the movie is bloody when it wasn’t?

J.D: Absolutely. I do several personal appearances at conventions every year, and at least one person always brings up the fact that they could either see the hook going into Teri’s (“Pam”) back, or see Paul (“Franklin”) being cut in half, even though it was totally untrue. Many argue, even after I set them straight. It only goes to prove what a great job we all did in getting into the fans’ minds.

J.M.D: My condolences on the passing of Marilyn Burns (“Sally”) and Gunnar Hansen (“Leatherface”). Would you care to share memories of your friends?

J.D: There are so many memories that I have of Marilyn and Gunn, it would be so difficult to pick out just one or two. The whole cast is like family, and we had so much fun together doing both the film and the con circuit. I miss them both dearly.

 

J.M.D: Talk to us about your experience on the shoot of Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1994)? Did you see the talent in Renée Zellweger and Matthew McConaughey?

J.D: I have never seen the film all the way through. I did not have any interaction with Matthew because we had no scenes together. Renee was just starting her film career and was a very sweet and professional young lady.

J.M.D: Talk to us about playing “Grandpa Sawyer” in Texas Chainsaw 3D (2013)

J.D: It was very surrealistic, actually. For one thing, the makeup was much more comfortable in this film, and to me it was a more realistic portrayal of what I myself would look like as an old man. I had an air-conditioned trailer and got paid very well and on time! LOL

J.M.D: Talk to us about your upcoming films: William Froste, The Mangled, Book of Ash, Rock Paper Dead, Deviant Behavior and Belly Timber. Congratulations.

J.D: Thank you! Deviant Behavior and Belly Timber are the only two which have completed filming and are in post-production. I had a great time doing both of them and look forward to their release. The others are still in development and I look forward to participating in them all.

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