Don’t let her IMDb page fool you, because despite roles in such scary properties as “Happy Death Day 2U,” the witchy series “Motherland: Fort Salem,” and the zombie comedy “Eat Brains Love,” actress Sarah Yarkin’s personal tastes don’t tend to naturally run toward horror. That’s fine when it comes to comedy (“The Good Place,” “Single Parents,” or, well, also “Happy Death Day 2U”) or singing, but when it comes to something like a lead role in the new Netflix sequel to the classic chiller “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre,” Yarkin knows she’ll have to get out of her own head.
The multi-hyphenate stars in David Blue Garcia’s “Texas Chain Saw Massacre” as Melody, who — along with pals Dante (Jacob Latimore), Ruth (Nell Hudson), and her little sister Lila (Elsie Fisher) — travels to tiny Harlow, Texas, to turn it into an influencer’s paradise, only to find that the ghost town is hiding plenty of secrets. Namely, the existence of Leatherface, who has spent decades hiding and is suddenly reminded of why he so adores killing people with his trusty old chainsaw.
“I’m not a horror person,” Yarkin said in a recent interview with IndieWire. “I’m scared of everything, so I had never seen [the original film]. But I obviously knew it was a big deal, and such a cult classic. I said to myself, ‘I’m not going to make myself sit through the movie, the original, unless I get the role.’ And then of course I got the role, and I was like, ‘Oh my God, I have to do this. I have to watch this for research. I need to know what I’m getting myself into.'”
Yarkin watched Tobe Hooper’s 1974 original alone one night — “I don’t know what I was thinking!” — and was taken with what she saw. “It was a lot more psychologically demented than I expected,” she said. “I didn’t know what to expect, but I was like, ‘Oh, it’s a horror movie. There’s going to be a girl running and screaming who’s going to die.’ But the original, the grit and the grain and the family aspect that’s so creepy, I just was not expecting that at all.”
Despite a bevy of other “Chainsaw” titles on offer — Hooper’s film has so far spawned seven other films of varying success; Garcia’s skips over all of them and is styled as a direct sequel to the first feature only — Yarkin only watched the original film, all the better to keep herself grounded.
“I wanted to be clear about what I’m doing and the real focus of my script,” she said. “I approached it like I would any other role that I’ve been given. This character, who is she? What are the given circumstances and how do I make her a human being, and how do I connect with her? How do I make her a real person who’s grounded in reality that people don’t want to die? Because any good horror movie, you have to care about the people, or else it doesn’t matter.”
From the start, Yarkin wasn’t interested in taking on a role that would be the usual “horror porn”; instead, she wanted something with a little more nuance. “What I really loved about this script is that Melody isn’t the normal cliché of the final girl,” Yarkin said. “She isn’t some hot, tall blonde running around in a miniskirt who gets brutally killed, or overly sexualized in these ways. There’s no nudity, you don’t see Melody in relation to any other person in a romantic or sexual way. The real love is just for her sister, and I found that really refreshing.”
That doesn’t mean that Yarkin didn’t have to get down and dirty in service to the film’s thrills and chills. The film is dripping with blood and guts (and yes, of course, a very large chainsaw), but Yarkin didn’t flinch at the gross stuff. Well, until she had to shoot it.
“There were a lot of days when you read it in a script, and you’re like, ‘This’ll be so fun!’ And then when you’re really doing it for 10 hours that day, for three days in a row, you’re kind of like, ‘Wow, this is a whole other experience,'” she said. Case in point: the crawl space scene.
About midway through the film, Melody tries to escape Leatherface by pushing through a filthy, tight basement crawl space. Above her, the demented killer wields his iconic chainsaw, intermittently plunging it into the floor just inches from Melody’s head. Yarkin filmed that single scene for days.
“They built this whole crawl space in the sound stage, and it was incredible. You had to climb up a ladder to get inside of it, and they covered it with tons and tons of dirt and dust,” Yarkin said. “Once you’re in there, you’re in there. I had knee pads on, and I was crawling in there for two or three days straight, all day, crying. I’m wet and covered in blood. I can’t imagine what head space I was in, and I never want to go back there. Thinking about it now, I’m thinking, ‘Yeah, that is horrifying,’ but I think my body was like, ‘You just have to keep crawling. You’ve just got to go.'”
Yarkin may not personally prefer the scary stuff, but she’s certainly got a knack for it. That might be part of the reason why a certain subset of the internet is eager to see Yarkin in another terrifying property: “Yellowjackets.” When series star Liv Hewson posted an Instagram with Yarkin from the series’ premiere party — Yarkin and Hewson are close friends, and the pair often bring each other to their big events — the picture set off waves in the series’ dedicated fanbase.
Now, a Reddit thread about the ‘gram is one of the top hits when you Google Yarkin’s name, filled with fans trying to untangle her relationship to the show and if she might appear in it. The actress had no idea about the thread, and quickly pulled it up while she was talking to IndieWire. And, by her own admission, it turns out those Redditors might be on to something.
“You know what? I did audition for the show, and I thought the script was phenomenal,” she said. “I did not get it. But when Liv told me they were in it, I was so psyched, because I was such a fan of the pilot that I read. I watched it all quite quickly. I think the show’s one of the best I’ve ever seen.”
Perhaps there is still a chance for Yarkin to get her “Yellowjackets” wish, and we briefly ran through some possibilities for an appearance next season. “As someone’s daughter that we haven’t met yet who is still alive?” she said. “Okay! I mean, I love the show. Yeah, let’s get the rumor out there. I love it!”
Netflix will release “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” in select theaters and on its streaming platform on Friday, February 18.