“STEWED, ROASTED, BAKED OR BOILED”
“STEWED, ROASTED, BAKED OR BOILED”
Texas Chainsaw Massacre scribe Kim Henkel teams up with former students Duane Graves and Justin Meeks to deliver BONE BOYS, an ultraviolent take on Jonathan Swift’s pro-cannibalism treatise
It’s been ten years since Texas Chainsaw Massacre scribe Kim Henkel – who’s been involved with the franchise on and off ever since – first donned the hat of producer on Duane Graves and Justin Meeks’ Headcheese, a 22-minute partial homage to the iconic film written by Henkel, who was their instructor at Texas A&M-Kingsville (in Southern Texas about an hour from Corpus Christi). Since then he’s worked on their debut feature Wild Man of the Navidad (based on the regional Bigfoot legend) which premiered at Tribeca in 2008 and was picked up by IFC, and now re-teams with them as writer on their bloody and anarchic Bone Boys, which takes its inspiration from Jonathan Swift’s famous satirical essay A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People From Being a Burden on Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Publick (1729).
Kim Henkel couldn’t make it to the screening in person, but we were able to ask him a few questions about common themes in his work and what the Austin filmmaking community was like in the days of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Co-directors Duane Graves and Justin Meeks were your students, and then you worked on Wild Man of the Navidad- how did you come together again to work on Bone Boys?
I approached Duane and Justin with the Boneboys script. We were in touch—they may have read an early draft. Once I felt I had a shot at putting together a budget, I approached them. They’re dedicated filmmakers and accustomed to doing a lot with a very little.
What do you see as the relationship of the film to Jonathan Swift’s essay A Modest Proposal? Swift’s essay was a satirical appeal for population control through cannibalism and infanticide but the film seems like a grand departure from the text itself, most notably in that the film is a narrative.
Swift’s concerns regarding population control were not serious. The essays principal concerns were the plight of the poor, and the callous indifference of the wealthy and powerful. Swift facetiously suggests fattening the children of the poor for sale to the rich for Sunday fare. The Boneboys, inspired by his essay, turned his satirical proposals into reality, and into a lucrative business.
Tell me about Austin filmmaking scene in the 70s, about the crossover between films like Texas Chainsaw and Eagle Pennell’s films – it was a pretty insular scene at that time wasn’t it? Can you tell me a bit about the different personalities at the centre of that community?
Although the film scene in Austin was small, I didn’t know a lot the players. I worked on film crews from time to time, but most of the time I was writing. Lou Perryman and his brother Ron, a cinematographer and director, were around. Ron was a still photographer too. When Whitman started shooting from the UT tower in ‘66, Ron was on the scene. Many of the photographs published in Life magazine are his. Ron Bozman I knew from a film we crewed on. I asked him to be the production manager on Chainsaw. He’s worked with Jonathan Demme on a number of films, and has an Oscar for The Silence of the Lambs. Warren Skaaren was the Texas Film Commissioner at the time. He was supportive of local filmmakers, and later, as a script doctor, he had a part in several Tim Burton films, including Beetlejuice and Batman. Daniel Pearl was the cinematographer. He’s known for his work on music videos and feature films, including the remake of Chainsaw.
But Lou is the major crossover character where Eagle Pennel is concerned. Tobe encouraged Lou’s acting ambitions, but Eagle gave him the opportunity. I wrote [Eagle Pennell’s] Last Night at the Alamo with Lou in mind, but he was off and on crossways with Eagle, and refused to do it. But he was hanging out with me. We were casting at the Media Center at Rice and he was there, watching actor after actor botch reading the part of Claude. The more he watched the more upset he became. Finally he couldn’t take it anymore. He walked to the front of the room, snatched a script off the table, and began to read. Everything that had before seemed clunky and awkward was transformed. In no time the room erupted in sustained laughter. He nailed it to the wall.
Did this sense of a small society with an unconventional lifestyle extend to the mini-societies in Texas Chainsaw and Boneboys?
What sense of small society? Both The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Boneboys are reflections of our larger society. Boneboys depicts a society that feeds on its citizens, literally and figuratively. It’s about self-interest as the only rational course of action taken to its ugliest extreme—Ayn Rand and her philosophy of Objectivism in all its glory. In the world of the Boneboys civilization is for the faint of heart. It’s a dog eat dog, every man for himself world. It is the world we inhabit. It’s life on planet Earth. As a result of our corruption, our greed, our unchecked appetites, the monster—the monster that is us—has emerged from the darkness and taken to the streets in broad daylight.
Both films (and also Eaten Alive to some extent) specifically revolve around culinary culture and cannibalism – how much of an inherently Texan interest is this? Is it related to Texas BBQ culture at all? Where does the food obsession come from?
It’s a metaphor. Other than superficially, it has nothing to do with Texas, BBQ, or cannibalism in a literal sense. It’s about what we permit ourselves as individuals and as a society.
How much of Bone Boys’ extreme violence is in the script?
67.86% from the script. 29% from other sources. 3.14% unknown.
What is the 3.14% unknown?? The violence in the film increased beyond what was in the script? Did any of the actors have a hard time with it?
3.14% is a joke. A percentage of the pi(e). It’s difficult to quantify such things. The script’s one form, the film another. There’s never a precise translation. Most significant differences grow out of need or circumstance. Budget’s a biggie. And the individuals involved. One of our car crashes was less violent than in the script, another was more violent. Our stunt guys persuaded us they could pull it off. Did actors have a hard time with violence? It was tough on bodies for obvious reasons. But the emotional side was more grueling. Especially for Ali Faulkner [who plays the lead, Sissy]. She’s in virtually every scene, and her life in immediate jeopardy 80% of the time. That’s draining.
Other than the recognizable faces from some of your past films, where did the cast come from?
Austin, Dallas, San Antonio, the Philippines, the states of Virginia and California. Ali, Justin Meeks knew. I’ve known Sonny[i] for 30 years. A couple of others we knew. But most were new to us. Justin and Duane hadn’t filmed in Austin much and I’d been away for years.
How often do you see your cohorts from the original Texas Chainsaw? Ed Neal, Marilyn Burns and John Dugan all have cameos here. Are you all still in central Texas?
Occasionally. Ed’s in Dallas, Marilyn in Houston. John Dugan lives in Louisville, Ky. We talk from time to time. Teri McMinn is in Austin. She has a cameo in Boneboys too.
I know this is an unpleasant subject to bring up , but I met Lou Perryman briefly when I lived in Austin, and he was a lovely person. I always thought Austin was such a safe place to live until that horrifying incident. I read online that you’re working on a documentary about him – can you tell me a bit about it?
My collaborator on the Lou Perryman film is documentary filmmaker, Brian Huberman. If you know Lou, you know what a character he was. Of course his death was shocking. It stopped us cold for a while, but we hope to complete the editing this Fall. Fortunately we began filming some years before Lou was murdered, so there’s no dearth of footage.
I can’t wait to see the film, I remember reading an interview with Lou and Sonny Carl Davis online, and Lou was totally bashing Chuck Norris, calling him a useless wimp and stuff, saying he had no right playing a Texas Ranger!
Lou always loved a good rant and couldn’t resist. He’d done a number of Walker, Texas Ranger episodes and didn’t care for Norris. But more than anything I think it was an opportunity to perform. Lou drove a cab in Austin for many years and when you entered his cab you entered his world and it was definitely SHOWTIME.
BONE BOYS has its World Premiere on August 4th at 11:55pm in the Hall Theatre with co-directors Duane Graves and Justin Meeks and producers Bob Kuhn, Ian Henkel and Pat Cassidy in person. More info on the film page HERE.
[i] Sonny Carl Davis played the lead alongside Lou Perryman in the Henkel-scripted Eagle Pennell film Last Night at the Alamo (1983)