Interview: Steve Merlo, Writer And Director Of The TCM Fan Film, ‘The Sawyer Massacre’

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and the character of Leatherface have become titans in the genre since their inception in 1974. The small-budgeted movie made in the heart of the Lone Star State continues to earn fans as new generations discover its greatness. It’s surprising, that despite the popularity of the TCM franchise, no one attempted a feature-length fan flick paying homage to the Southern cannibalistic clan. Enter Steve Merlo, a longtime TCM fan and filmmaker who gladly took on the challenge of creating such a film, The Sawyer Massacre. Merlo’s ambitious unofficial prequel – which is available to watch on YouTube for free HERE – has garnered over 130,000 views and praise from fans. 

We were pleased to have the opportunity to ask The Sawyer Massacre writer and director some questions where he discusses the genesis of the idea, scouting the perfect locations, and what he wanted to bring fellow fans.

PopHorror: Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre has a longstanding, passionate fanbase. That little horror flick shot outside of Austin, Texas in 1974 really changed the landscape of the genre. Do you remember your first time seeing TCM and what you felt while watching? 

Steve Merlo: I do. I believe I was around 12 years old. At the time I thought most of the film was boring but
the ending truly felt terrifying. As I got older, I learned to really appreciate the first half of the film.
and grew to understand its subtle context and themes. In my twenties it became my favorite
horror film and still is to this day.

PopHorror: I read before that the catalyst for you creating The Sawyer Massacre – the first feature-length Texas Chainsaw Massacre fan film – was a trip to the theater when you checked out the 2003 remake. How did this viewing experience specifically spark your drive to begin brainstorming The Sawyer Massacre

Steve Merlo: For me that theater experience was very polarizing because there are aspects of that film that I
absolutely loved but then other aspects that I hated or felt let down by. I thought about what I
would have done differently and soon after I had an idea for a movie. Nearly 20 years later I
was able to make that happen.

PopHorror: To help fund your film, you had an Indiegogo campaign that successfully raised over $11,000, which I feel helps demonstrate the popularity of the TCM franchise and how fans believed in your vision. Did you ever put a significant amount of pressure on yourself? 

Steve Merlo: Over four campaigns we raised over $50000, and I must admit that it did put some pressure on
me. Mostly because the majority of that funding was on the basis that I film the movie in Texas. Going to Texas for the first time to film with people I had never met was a lot of pressure, but I knew I could get the job done. We had every loss production issue you could think of and early into it I had some real doubts that we were going to get it finished. The cast and crew really rallied together though and we managed to pull it off in just nine filming days.

PopHorror: You and your team did a wonderful job of creating an aesthetic that matches the original. The isolated farmhouse, the set design, along with the editing and cinematography really lend to making this a solid salute to Henkel and Hooper’s brainchild. How long did it take you to scout your locations? How exciting was it to create the interior of the Sawyer’s homestead? 

Steve Merlo: Location scouting proved to be a real challenge from Canada. The house we used was very different than what I had in mind. I really wanted a very tall stucco exterior house that was a little reminiscent of the house at the end of The Blair Witch Project. Interior wise I was wanting some very narrow corridors and small rooms to almost make the house feel like a maze. I really wanted it to have a very claustrophobic feel to it. I think we made the best of what we had though thanks to our set dec and props team. The basement was closer to what I was wanting than anything else but even that wasn’t perfect. I really wanted it to feel far different than the
Sawyer house from the original. This was Grandpa’s house and it needed to stand on its own. I
hope we achieved that but definitely not to my standards.

PopHorror: You not only directed The Sawyer Massacre, but wrote the screenplay, produced, and co-composed. What was it like to perform all these roles? 

Steve Merlo: I’ve been writing music for nearly 30 years now so that’s always fun for me. Writing screenplays
is something I’ve really only gotten into over the last 10-15 years and that’s what got me into producing and directing. I still feel like I have a lot to learn in all of these roles but enjoy each one. It is definitely a challenge to do each one for the same project but that is indie filmmaking! If you don’t wear multiple hats the film won’t get made.

PopHorror: What were you most adamant about bringing to fellow fans with The Sawyer Massacre

Steve Merlo: I would have to say a proper interpretation of Leatherface that was true to the original but still
had something new to get excited about. One thing that I dislike about the majority of the films in the franchise is that the masks don’t have the same meaning as they did in the original. Leatherface is meant to be void of personality and the masks give him his personality. The only sequel that did that was the 4th film but even that just did it exactly like the original and didn’t add anything to it. In our film I thought it would be very interesting if he took the faces of characters he’s killed throughout the film and took on their personalities. This ultimately ties to our main plot which is for Leatherface to create new Sawyers. The final mask he wears is the face of Henry who was the husband and father and the hair of his with Mary Ellen. This was to signify that Leatherface is taking on a parental role.

PopHorror: If you could program a double feature at your local theater, what two movies make your bill and why? 

Steve Merlo: That’s a tough question. There are many choices, but I think no matter what they need to be two
films that go back-to-back nearly perfectly. I would probably say Return of the Jedi and Jaws. My biggest reason would be nostalgia. Those two movies I watched religiously when I was eight and nine years old and have probably seen those two films more than any other films.


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