TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: THE NEXT GENERATION
Well in a serious bid to not hate the upcoming TEXAS CHAIN SAW remake prequel, I decided to mentally condition myself by rewatching the two bad sequels, parts 3-4. But I don’t know, maybe I’m getting soft in my old age, maybe the remake lowered the bar, maybe it’s some kind of Stockholm Syndrome deal, but this week I found out I really don’t hate these two movies like I used to. They’re not good sequels, no, but I was able to appreciate them a little more after all these years. The little fuckers are starting to grow on me.
I also realized the secret behind the failure of the sequels. Every one of them is basically a loose remake, but without all the elements that were in place to make the first one work. You can’t catch lightning in a bottle 4 times unless you’re really good with a bottle, and not even Tobe Hooper is that good with a bottle anymore. The sequels are all closer to the original than the actual remake is. They change the reason why the victims are in town, they have a different lineup for the family (and a different person playing Leatherface), and they add some new twists here and there. But they’re all basically some people come to town, get stuck at the house, they’re tormented in crazy ways, there’s the dinner scene, they escape, they battle, they get away. I think the reason part 2 is the only one that works is because it has more of the pieces in place: Tobe Hooper is still there so it has a more artistic execution than the others. Jim Siedow is still there as the cook and he’s better than all the other characters. Bill Moseley as Chop Top is new, but he’s a way better Hitchhiker substitue than all the characters in the other sequels. Leatherface doesn’t look as good as in the first one, but he looks much better than the other two (three including the remake). At the same time, part 2 has more drastic new twists than the other two: an underground amusement park instead of a house, Dennis Hopper as a protagonist as psychotic as the Sawyer family, a social satire/black comedy tone with ridiculously over-the-top gore that gives it its own feel entirely different from the original. The others don’t go as far to stand out.
I don’t know if it’s possible to make a good CHAIN SAW sequel after part 2, but if it is I’m guessing it would take the ALIENS/DEVIL’S REJECTS approach of taking the characters and putting them in an entirely different genre. Not just doing a loose remake, but having an entirely different type of story that happens to be in the same world. But that’s not what NEXT GENERATION is. It’s another remake. The only way you can tell it takes place after the original is because of the opening crawl about the first chain saw massacre and “two other minor incidents.”
NEXT GENERATION (originally titled RETURN OF THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, which is still the title on the end credits) I guess would be the third minor incident. But at least it doesn’t have the Hollywood feel of part 3. It’s low budget, shot in Texas, directed by the original’s co-writer Kim Henkel, and the (not particularly good) score is by Wayne Bell, sound effects guy and co-compsoser on the original. It actually has the most famous cast of any Chain Saw movie (Renee Zelweger is in the Sally slot, Matthew McConaghey is the hitchhiker type/lead tormentor) but this was their last pre-fame movie.
But if Henkel was trying to go back to the rawness of the original he kind of blew it. The opening immediately puts you in the mind of bad ’80s slasher movies, because it has twenty-somethings playing teens going to the prom. There is actually some pretty funny dialogue to establish what an asshole one of the guys is (he blames his girlfriend for him making out with another girl, and says that if he doesn’t have sex he will get prostate cancer) but this is dialogue for a B-movie, not for a CHAIN SAW movie. You haven’t even seen Leatherface but you’re ready to root for him because the other option is rooting for the funny-asshole boyfriend, the funny-airhead girlfriend and Renee Zelweger’s boyfriend who’s not in the movie long enough for you to remember anything about his character. Zelweger herself does fine (I remembered her being terrible, but my memory was being unfair) but even her character is given cartoony horn-rim glasses and a corny backstory to show that she’s a nerd who needs to come out of her shell. It’s like those movies where the ugly duckling takes the glasses off and becomes the most popular girl in school, except in this case she takes her glasses off and escapes Leatherface.
And Leatherface, I’m afraid, is another problem. At least Henkel gets that it’s not all about Leatherface, he’s just the enforcer for the family. But this is by far the worst Leatherface in any Chain Saw movie. The guy doesn’t even look tall, just chubby, and the mask is terrible. It looks like just some schlubby dude with a home made Leatherface Halloween costume. Toward the end of the movie they emphasize his gender confusion, which in itself is not a terrible idea. Alot of people don’t catch that he’s wearing a woman’s face with makeup at the end of the original. Here nobody’s gonna miss it – you not only see him putting on lipstick, but he has cleavage under his dress. Look man, I’m an enlightened guy, I don’t got a problem with transgendered cannibal movies. The trouble is I can’t buy how good Leatherface is at making himself up. He does way too good of a job here. So instead of Leatherface it looks like Divine chasing after her at the end.
McConaghey is decent at over-the-top menace. His part is a little more creative than Viggo’s in part 3, but still a little too traditional-evil. The craziest touch to his character is that he has some kind of cyborg attachment to his leg that sometimes gets out of control. Kind of a funny idea but never seems believable, especially with the sci-fi robot sound effects they use whenever he walks. The other guy, W.E., is apparently supposed to be the cook, and at one time he’s referred to as an old man, but he looks about 35-40. He constantly quotes Ulysses S. Grant, Voltaire, Machiavelli, etc. Another funny idea but made cartoonish because he doesn’t say much of anything else.
Probaly the thing that made me hate the movie so much the one time I saw it before was the HALLOWEEN 5 style twist that the family are actually part of some weird conspiracy. Something to do with Illuminati types who control the world. At one point a dude in a suit and tie shows up to scold McConaghey. At the end, he picks up Zelweger in a limo and brings her to the hospital. The only explanation he gives is something about “showing people what true horror is.” This is probaly meant also as a dual meaning, that Henkel is showing people what true horror is, which is a little overconfident. I don’t know, if some weird conspiracy of rich people was behind maniacs in some other movie it might be a cool idea, but in a sequel to TEXAS CHAIN SAW it implies things about the original that are just plain stupid. So I’m against it. Nice try Henkel, but we’re not buying it.
But since I already knew that was coming, this time I was able to better appreciate the goofy touches here and there. There’s a funny scene where Leatherface stands behind Renee and keeps touching her hair. There’s a female member of the family now who brags about her breast implants, and complains about an implant allegedly in her head that could cause her to explode. She has a pretty good scene where she picks up pizzas with Renee in the trunk. A cop almost sees what she has in the trunk, but she flirts with him to get away.
And there’s a chase that’s better than any in part 3, where Renee runs upstairs, jumps through a window (GLIMMER MAN style), runs across the roof. Leatherface goes onto the roof too and starts sawing at the chimney, dropping bricks down onto her. The best part is that she leaps off the roof, grabs onto a wire and starts shimmying across. I never seen that in a movie before.
I gotta admit, I kind of hate Renee Zelweger. I always see her on awards shows, she wins an award and she has that phony “Me? You’re giving me yet another fucking award? This is such a surprise that I may faint and cry at the same time, I can’t believe award number thirty seven for little ol’ me.” Plus, that first BRIDGET JONES movie bugged the shit out of me. That Colin Firth guy is a fuckin grouch through the whole movie and then at the end oh no, turns out it was all a misunderstanding, he’s actually a sweetheart who just happened to have a pinecone up his ass for the entire movie. And Renee Zelweger is supposed to be British? And fat? I don’t get it. So I kind of hate her, but I have a new respect after seeing that wire move again. Good job on that one Zelweger. And this was years before the Yamakasi were doing that “parkour” shit.
In the original the hitchhiker got run over by a semi, and Henkel’s twist on that is enjoyably weird: a small prop plane (connected to the Illuminati dudes?) swoops down and hits McConaghey with its propellor. (Or with something – he’s not as bloody as you’d think if it was the propellor that hit him.) This is pretty random and unexplained. I like it.
And I gotta tell you, there’s one little moment that probaly didn’t even register with me when I saw this years ago, but now it struck me as brilliance. When Renee is seated for her traditional Texas Chain Saw dinner, this time they have a whole bunch of dead people propped up in chairs to enjoy the meal. But later in the scene one of them, a weird old guy with long hair on the sides, bald on top, gets up and wanders away, confused. I thought he was dead because he wasn’t moving, but really he was just old. Maybe a family member, maybe a derelict, I got no idea. That’s good stuff.
So I don’t know, maybe this means my bar has been properly lowered for viewing the sequel, but I don’t hate RETURN OF THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE anymore. I forgive it. Leatherface sucks and that Illuminati business is bullshit, but that’s water under the endless bridge that Chop Top and Leatherface drive across when they’re sawing the football fans up in the beginning of part 2. I don’t want to fight anymore, let’s be friends. We’ll team up against the remake.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.