Riding in the back of a white van as the infamous hitchhiker from Texas Chain Saw Massacre attacks Warbeast bassist Lyric Ferchaud is another dream come true for lead singer Bruce Corbitt. It’s a moment that has taken him eight years to make happen and one he’s not going to forget as he prepares to undertake radiation treatments to combat stage 3 esophageal cancer in the coming weeks.
The band is traveling down a two-lane blacktop road outside a town that looks like a prop from Kevin Bacon’s Footloose movie on a Saturday afternoon in early June. It’s a secluded area, overgrown in some parts but mostly a wide-open range in the middle of nowhere — and the perfect place for an infamous hitchhiker to persuade some saps, like a thrash metal band in need of weed, to pick him up on a ride that quickly descends into nightmare less than a quarter of a mile down the road.
The hitchhiker goes by the name of Edwin Neal when he’s out of character. Neal, a Dallas-based actor and screenwriter, found success as the voice of Killer Croc, Two-Face and Harvey Bullock in the Batman DC Universe online game, but he got his start playing Nubbins Sawyer, the hitchhiker in the 1974 cult horror movie classic Texas Chain Saw Massacre. It’s a part he’s decided to resurrect more than 40 years later as part of Warbeast’s music video for the song “Hitchhiker,” from the band’s magnum opus and final album, Enter the Arena.
Corbitt, who’s been a fan of Neal’s since long before the singer's Rigor Mortis days in the mid '80s, compares Neal’s decision to star in a Warbeast music video to when Bela Lugosi returned to his famous Dracula role for the 1948 horror comedy Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. He points out that Neal has never appeared again as the hitchhiker in the dozens of reiterations of Texas Chain Saw Massacre over the years.
“It will be fun, but also bittersweet,” Corbitt posted to Facebook shortly before they headed out to film. “It’s so cool to finally see the dream happening, but this will also be the last time Warbeast does anything together as a full band with all five members. At least we will have this video to capture this moment in time.”
Corbitt was 12 years old when he first saw Texas Chain Saw Massacre and found himself walking home in the middle of the street after he left the theater.
“That was a different type of scary,” he says.
It was a type of scary that led him to pay homage to some of Neal’s most memorable lines in Rigor Mortis’ song “Slow Death” and later to pen the song “Hitchhiker,” based on Neal’s character from the cult classic.
On this Saturday afternoon, filming on the side of a county road in Venus, Corbitt has ditched the Texas Chain Saw Massacre T-shirt for a black 1960s Batman and Robin T-shirt in honor of Batman actor Adam West, who died earlier in the morning at the age of 88. Corbitt found out about his childhood hero’s death shortly before meeting the rest of his band at the jam room in Arlington.
“It hit me like a ton of bricks,” says Corbitt, a known fan of the Dark Knight, his namesake. “He’s been a big part of my life. The first album I ever bought was the soundtrack from the [Batman] TV show.”
Standing next to the band’s white van, Corbitt looks like he’s been hit with a ton of bricks. He’s been battling esophageal cancer, which is linked to smoking and much more prevalent in men than women. The news came at a time when he’d been battling heart disease with a better diet, a change to his onstage routine and surgery.
“When we lost Mike Scaccia" — who died onstage at the Rail Club during Corbitt’s 50th birthday party — "the bright side of it is that we can say that he went out doing what he loved to do,” Corbitt told the Observer in early March before he learned of the cancer diagnosis. “But I don’t want to die singing onstage even though it will kill me — not in that way but hurt me really bad and be a devastating moment if I have to retire.
“I would rather not be the tough, cool guy saying I’m going to go out doing what I love to do,” he added. “I don’t know, I want to be around and watch my daughter grow up and get married. I want to see who wins the Super Bowl in 10 years.”
The esophageal cancer diagnosis in late May forced Corbitt to announce his retirement and the end of Warbeast in Facebook live video. He made his final appearance onstage at the Rail Club the weekend after his Facebook announcement. He’d planned to sit on a chair onstage and sing only one song, but he says the love he felt from fans and family at the Fort Worth club gave him the strength to sing three songs, including “Hitchhiker” in honor of Neal, who showed up to watch his final performance.
“I’d do anything for him,” Neal says.
Only a couple of weeks have passed since Corbitt learned about the pecan-shaped tumor in his throat, and he says he feels as if he still hasn’t really had a chance to recover from his hospital stays. Somehow he’s managed to tap into an unknown source of energy this Saturday afternoon to direct his film legend, who re-creates horror movie magic on the side of this county road outside of Venus, about 32 miles southwest of Dallas.
It took only a night for Neal to learn his lines. He’s a professional and a veteran actor of thousands of characters he can channel in a blink of an eye. He channeled 26 of them in 1978’s “Battle of the Planets,” four more for The Lord of the Rings game and one for Oliver Stone’s 1991 conspiracy thriller film JFK.
Neal received a bronze star for valor in Vietnam in 1969 and was a theater major at the University of Texas in Austin in the early '70s when he landed the hitchhiker role in Texas Chain Saw Massacre. He says he accepted the role, in part, under the assumption that not many people would see the slasher flick. He and other actors didn’t tell anybody that they had starring roles. He says that at the time, they were serious thespians.
Texas Chain Saw Massacre, credited with establishing the slasher genre, was banned in several countries upon its release in the early '70s, including France, Ireland and West Germany. Neal says he went to watch the release at an Austin theater filled with local sororities. More than 40 years later, he still recalls a few of the women throwing their popcorn and drinks and rushing out of the theater screaming when he leaned forward and asked as his hitchhiker scene played on the big screen: “How do you like this movie?”
The hitchhiker role led Neal to the convention circuit where he’d sign posters and other memorabilia. He met his wife, Theresa, at a Hollywood collector show in the early '90s, and Corbitt and the Rigor Mortis gang at the Texas Frightmare Weekend horror convention in the early 2000s.
Corbitt and Neal ran into each other a few times at horror conventions over the years and developed a friendship. Corbitt invited Neal to set up a table at a Warbeast show at the Rail Club. He also told him about his idea for the “Hitchhiker” music video.
“It’s not going to involve chainsaws, but it might center around a bong,” Corbitt told the Observer in March.
Corbitt and the rest of Warbeast — guitarists Scott “The Son of Thor” Shelby and Drew Shoup; Ferchaud, Corbitt’s bassist and stepson; and drummer Joey “Blue” Gonzalez — filmed their live performances for the video at Gas Monkey Live in front of what appeared to be a sold-out crowd. They had planned to film their scenes with Neal at the Texas Chain Saw Massacre museum in Bastrop, but the owner wouldn’t approve their request to film.
Instead, they're roaming the back roads of Venus, hoping that local law enforcement ignores the metal head stereotype for a day. Shelby says it's similar to what he felt when they were filming the scene of the Rigor Mortis corpse mascot holding a large glass bong in front of a grave at a local cemetery in Arlington earlier that day.
“I was hoping nobody would show up and pay respects, especially when we were standing all over the graves [to film the scene],” he says.
Standing on the side of the road with his right thumb extended for a ride and windblown, shaggy gray hair, Neal looks more like a deranged old hippie on one too many drops of acid in a tie-dye Black Sabbath T-shirt that Corbitt had slipped him earlier at Sonic in town. The look simply adds to his performance as he spends the next couple of hours channeling the hitchhiker from Texas Chain Saw Massacre with Corbitt’s unique twist, one he’d rather you learn when the band showcases the video July 14 at its album release show at the Rail Club.
Michael “Scratch” Huebner and Greg Hitchcox from 12 Pound Productions filmed the music video and used two cameras to capture Neal’s performance. Huebner has been working on short films and music videos for years. He spent the last eight years working with Corbitt on Rigor Mortis’ documentary, Welcome to Your Funeral, and has known Corbitt and Shelby since the Joe’s Garage days in the ‘80s.
“Trying to make everybody look natural is kind of hard because they are bass players and guitarists, not actors,” he says.
But Neal is a natural in front of the camera and falls into the character of the hitchhiker whenever Huebner and Corbitt say "action."
“I was just visiting grandpa [the corpse with the bong] back there at the cemetery,” the hitchhiker tells the band as he approaches the van. “Can you take me over to my house? It’s just down this road about 10 minutes, OK?”
The band claims that the van is almost out of gas and asks if there is a gas station nearby.
“Yeah, there’s a gas station right down the street from where I live,” the hitchhiker says, holding a burlap sack similar to the one he held in Texas Chain Saw Massacre. “I can show you where it’s at.”
Then Gonzalez, one of the band members, asks if the hitchhiker knows where to find any weed.
“We have so much weed at my house,” the hitchhiker replies with a strange glint in his eyes. “You can buy some. It’s good. The weed is family.”
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He says the magic words, and the band invites him into the van.
Back at Sonic later that day, band members thank Neal for his time and professionalism. He plans to reunite with band members onstage to sing “Hitchhiker” in honor of Corbitt at the band’s album release and benefit show for Corbitt on July 14 at the Rail Club. Philip Anselmo from Pantera and Superjoint fame and Wayne Abney of Hammer Witch and Life Of Scars will be filling in for Corbitt, who will be in the midst of his radiation and chemotherapy treatments. It will be Warbeast's last performance.
Corbitt looks worn out, and he still has the final band scenes to film before he can head back to the house for some much-needed rest. One of his friends made a comment about his willpower on Facebook, and it had been on full display for most of the day. Corbitt took to Facebook later that night to share his thoughts from the day:
“Today Ed Neal played a role so extraordinary that it will make up for all of our bad acting from the members of Warbeast,” Corbitt wrote. “Scratch Huebner did a spectacular job filming this video. I can now say I wrote a silly script for a music video and co-directed it from start to finish. So if it sucks, you can place all the blame on me... haha!
“But I'm just happy I mustered up enough strength today to do this final project with my brothers in Warbeast,” he added. “You can tell how bad that I was feeling when you see it. But damn man, we had a great time, and I really needed that. This is pretty much a short film, that will end about 12 to 15 minutes long. I'm proud of it, and glad we will always have this time capsule to remember this band. HAIL WARBEAST AND HAIL TO THE HITCHHIKER VIDEO!”