Netflix’s new sequel Texas Chainsaw Massacre has had the horror community all abuzz (pun intended) for months now. Particularly after the release of the trailer, everyone was talking about it, and, of course, deciding ahead of time whether or not it would be an acceptable follow-up to the beloved original, 1974’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
What most people agreed on was that the look of the film was pretty intriguing, particularly the sunflower field and party bus gone wrong sequences, at least based on that trailer. I had the opportunity to talk to the film’s cinematographer Ricardo Diaz before the film made its debut on Netflix.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre interview with cinematographer Ricardo Diaz
1428 Elm: Hi, Ricardo! I was thrilled to be able to watch Texas Chainsaw Massacre a little early, but before we dig into that one, tell me a little bit about how you became interested in cinematography.
Ricardo: I grew up in South Texas in a small town and growing up there, there’s a lot of orchards and groves, and not a lot else to do. The cinema was kind of a sanctuary for me. On top of that, my entire family, my parents especially, are movie fans, they all kind of enjoy their own individual genre of movie, so I feel like I got a really good taste of a bunch of a lot of different kinds of genres of film.
That was kind of what started my love of filmmaking, and then cinematography specifically came about for me when I started noticing the tricks and the magic of cinema. One of the biggest contributors to that was the cinematographer, and one of my favorite movies growing up, Superman the movie, is dedicated to the director of photography, Geoffrey Unsworth, and that was the first time I became aware of who that person, and what that role was. I just really enjoy the collaboration of that position and creating images.
1428 Elm: Looking at your resume, I saw you also worked on the new season of Stranger Things. Tell me a little bit about that experience.
Ricardo: Oh, working on this season of Stranger Things was one of the best experiences! I’m a fan of the show. I love the tone of the show, I love all of the creators on that show; all of the creative people who write, and have shot on that show. I love the cast, everyone’s fantastic. It was truly one of the times where I got to be a fan and also a collaborator, just like I was on Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Obviously, growing up in Texas, you can’t not have gotten an education in Tobe Hooper and Kim Henkel’s original film. It was just one of those really great opportunities to be not just a collaborator, but also a fan.
1428 Elm: Of course, I’ll have to binge the entire rest of the series again before, so I can feel completely caught up!
Ricardo: Yeah, you have to, just like if I’m gonna watch Chainsaw, you know I’m gonna watch the original film. And I’ll even watch a few of the others just to really get me in the mood. But I’m definitely going to watch the original film before I see it again with everybody on February the 18th.
1428 Elm: Of course, the original film, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, is very iconic for fans of horror movies. Had you watched it when you were younger or was it a newer film for you? I ask that because it dates back to the 70s.
Ricardo: Texas Chainsaw Massacre has come in and out of my life quite a bit. My older sister is a very big horror fan, and it was really her who introduced me to a lot of the amazing 80s horror franchises. Once you dip your toe into some of those films, you’re like, “Oh, well I also need to see The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.” It scared the pants off me.
Then, I’m applying to college, and I go to the University of Texas, and I want to study film and cinematography, and you can’t go to UT and not get an education in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Obviously, Tobe and Daniel Pearl, who shot the original film, and many of the crew members who worked on it were recent UT grad and undergrad students.
So, you study the film, you learn about the circumstances, and you learn about the filmmaking, and the creativity because of those circumstances. Flash forward a few years later, I get to meet Kim Henkel because I was working in the area, and we got to work together on something, and then flash forward again, and here we are, Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I’ve seen the movie numerous times, and at different stages of my life, so getting an opportunity to do this really felt like going full circle, you know?
1428 Elm: I can imagine. It’s kind of a unique film, because I think now…especially people who haven’t seen it before have this image of it being a super bloody and gory movie, and really, the original one is not. It’s really intense, and it has a really gritty feel, but it doesn’t have a lot of blood. Of course, this one does.
Ricardo: I’m not going to talk any spoilers at all, but it was very evident to me when I watched it, that you included some homages to the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre film.
1428 Elm: Can you give our readers a few examples of the nods you gave to Tobe Hooper’s film, or are you allowed to talk about that right now?
Ricardo: I’m not really allowed to speak on that quite yet, but yes, suffice it to say that there are some great organic callbacks to the original film. I don’t think the fans will be disappointed. At the same time, I also don’t think they will be distracted by them. They’re going to feel natural in the moment that they happen.
1428 Elm: That’s a great way to put it. Because it didn’t at all feel like those scenes were set up; it was just a flash, and me going, “Oh, yeah, I remember that type of moment from the original film!”
Ricardo: And I think the one thing I can say, obviously is from the original film, that’s not a spoiler is the inclusion of Sally. I think the minute you see her onscreen, even though it’s not an Easter egg in so many terms because you’re aware that she’s gonna be in the film, you just can’t help but feel like you’re getting some closure. By closure, I mean, this is where she’s been, this is what she’s doing. That immediately puts you right back into the atmosphere of the original film.
So much of the film talks about the old and the new, and how those two things kind of co-exist, and we really tried to bring a sense of that to the visual language of the film too. We went with something that David and I kind of dubbed “elevated grindhouse.” It’s gritty, it’s humid, it’s sweaty, and it’s Texas, and it’s hot…you feel all that.
1428 Elm: Gritty is always the word I think of when I think of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and the look and feel of it. And I love the way your film was shot.
Ricardo: Thank you. And we definitely tried to apply that real grindhouse aesthetic. At the same time, we wanted to try and invite new eyes and new viewers into the franchise, and, again, blend the new and the old.
That’s the theme in the original movie as well, you have the city slickers and the rural folks sort of clashing. And we thought we wanted to visualize that a little bit too and bring in our own sensibilities as filmmakers to that.
1428 Elm: Now that the trailer has broken, and people have seen the poster, I don’t think this is a spoiler; but the outdoor shots in that sunflower field were so spectacular. What did you have in your mind when you decided about how you wanted to shoot Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and how did you go about accomplishing that?
Ricardo: As I said, the guiding principle for us in terms of the aesthetic was how can we maintain that sort of grindhouse aesthetic of the first film, in all its beautiful and gritty forms, but also bring our own sensibilities to it? I think for us, that meant shooting as much of the film in broad daylight as possible. So much of the first film takes place during the day! The sequence with Leatherface in the sunflower field…we just wanted to remind audiences that Leatherface doesn’t just lurk in the dark, his presence and what makes him so scary is, he’s right outside your door. He’s on the road, he’s in the sunflower field, he’s in the house somewhere.
And just like in the first film, it wasn’t nighttime. Most of the fatalities in that first film happen during the day. In order to bring that level of elevated grindhouse, we did try our best to do as much practically as we could, both in the gore and in the photography.
During the daytime scenes, I tried to use as little artificial lighting as possible and tried to rely on natural light and bouncing sources instead of artificial lighting, because it would be much closer to what they did for the 70s horror movies. It was a mix of that and a mix of how we added humidity, and the color to the film to give it that sense of very brutal surroundings. That’s how we tried to connect it visually for that film, but also give it a little fresh blood.
1428 Elm: Do you enjoy the horror genre as a whole, and do you think you’ll continue working in it?
Ricardo: I love everything, I’m a fan of cinema. I grew up in it, and my Dad loved action and buddy comedies, my Mom loved romance and romcoms, my sister is the biggest fan of horror, my little brother is a huge fan of Asian cinema. I’ve learned so much from them, and I have such an appreciation of all of it, that I just want to tell good stories. And there are great stories to be told in the horror genre, it’s just such a wonderful vessel for ideas big and small. I am extremely happy to work in that space because I do enjoy it.
1428 Elm: I think it’s finally getting a lot more respect than it used to. It used to be that people sort of turned their noses up at horror, like it’s not real cinema. But I think people are finally starting to appreciate it more.
Ricardo: The truth is, I think horror has sort of been doing that since the beginning. There were always conversations about social, political and cultural issues in horror films. The original Texas Chainsaw is an amazing example of that; Candyman is a great example of that. It’s always been there. Even Child’s Play! There’s a conversation there about consumerism in this country and theology in that one.
It’s finally getting its due, because there’s a new generation of filmmakers who grew up on those films, and loved them more than just for the thrill of them, but because they are part of our early cinematic language. We grew up with it, and all we want is the best for it.
1428 Elm: Do you have anything coming up in the near future that you’re allowed to talk about?
Ricardo: Yes, but I’m not allowed to talk about it at the moment (laughs). I wish I was. Right now, after Texas Chainsaw Massacre, I’m sitting back and I am as excited as everyone else to see the work we did on Stranger Things, so keep your Netflix subscriptions, folks, because Texas Chainsaw Massacre is going to be a ride, and the new season of Stranger Things is really going to blow people away. It’s very intimate, and also large in scope story that I think people are gonna really dig.
1428 Elm: Well, obviously I haven’t seen the new season of Stranger Things, but I do think people are going to respond to Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Ricardo: I hope so! We put all of our Texas blood, sweat and tears into that one, it was a real thrill ride, and it’s gonna be one I think the fans will really enjoy.
What were your thoughts on Texas Chainsaw Massacre? Tell us what you thought about it in the comments section.