Monday, June 06, 2022

Rondo and Bob: The Creeper and his Texas Chainsaw Fan

Rondo Hatton honorably served his country in WWI, but his name became synonymous with villains and monsters. Due to his acromegaly, his was often cast as hulking brutes, including “The Creeper,” in a few late classic Universal Monster movies. The pathos of Hatton’s life fascinated several young fannish future filmmakers, including Robert A. Burns, who is best known as the art director of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes. Joe O’Connell tells both their stories in the dramatic-hybrid documentary Rondo and Bob, which releases tomorrow on VOD.

Although Hatton’s acromegaly started manifesting after he was admitted to a field hospital, it was unrelated to the mustard gas attack he had been caught in. Eventually, his first wife left him, but he went back to his work as a Tampa reporter. He met his second wife while on assignment at a local society function. She would have been the obvious choice to be a movie star, but the studio saw Hatton as a possible replacement for Boris Karloff.

In addition to being one of the foremost authorities on Hatton, Burns was also the guy who put all the creepy stuff in
Chainsaw Massacre, like the bone furniture and the chicken in the birdcage. Unlike Hatton, he was apparently somewhat standoffish around people. One family member diagnosed on the spectrum speculates Burns might have been too. Regardless, O’Connell’s subjects contrast greatly, with one looking menacing, but being a wonderful person inside, while the other looked like anyone else, but was hard to get to know.

As a result, the Hatton segments are dramatically more compelling. Yet, probably more time is devoted to Burns, because there is more available material (including his unreleased proto-found footage microbudget horror film,
Scream Test). Unfortunately, that makes the film feel somewhat unbalanced. We want to spend more time with Hatton and his second wife, Mabel Housh, because O’Connell and his cast humanize them so compellingly.

Joseph Middleton and Kelsey Pribilski really are terrific as the happily married Hattons. However, Ryan Williams hardly looks like a younger analog of the older Burns we see in home movies and his own ill-fated films. On the other hand, it is cool to see the documentary illustrate the contributions Burns made to horror cinema through his art and design work.

Frankly, Hatton deserves a film all to himself, but this is probably the best we’ll get for a while. At least O’Connell’s black-and-white Hatton sequences are rendered with both style and sensitivity. Recommended mostly for fans of Universal Monsters and the
Texas Chainsaw/Leatherface franchise, Rondo and Bob releases tomorrow (6/7) on VOD.