You may not know this, because I’ve worked really hard to keep it on the down low, but Tobe Hooper’s THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE and THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 are some of my favorite movies. And although I don’t like any of the other chapters in the Texas Chainsaw Cinematical Franchise Property (TCCFP) nearly as much as those two, I know that for as long as they keep making them I will keep watching them and possibly kind of liking some things about them. That’s just my way. It’s what I do.
To date there are eight (8) official entries in the series:
• The two Tobe Hooper films (1974 and 1986) – Preeminent works of cinematic greatness.
• LEATHERFACE: THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE III (1990) – I thought it was laughable at the time, but kind of liked certain things about it on various rewatches.
• TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: THE NEXT GENERATION (1995 sequel to the 1974 original written and directed by its co-writer Kim Henkel) – I was sorely disappointed at the time, but liked it a little more upon my last rewatch.
• THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (2003 remake) – I violently despised this at the time, but may give it another shot some day as a gesture of grace and compassion.
• THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: THE BEGINNING (2006 prequel to 2003 remake) – Didn’t like that one either.
• TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D (2013 sequel only to 1974 original) – This one is so fuckin stupid, but I got a kick out of it the way I would a lesser FRIDAY THE 13TH sequel.
• LEATHERFACE (2017 prequel to 1974 original) – I liked this one quite a bit. Though it’s a different sort of thing (a criminals on the run movie) and makes a few choices that bug me as a CHAIN SAW purist, it’s probly the most worthy non-Hooper one.
BUT WAIT A MINUTE – did you know that I’m missing one on that list, a 2012 the-names-and-details-have-been-changed type unofficial sequel written and produced by Henkel? Somehow I never heard about it until very recently, when JK tipped me off in the comments for my NEXT GENERATION review.
According to JK, Henkel wrote the script in 1995 as a sequel to NEXT GENERATION. Years later he rewrote it as a non-Texas-Chainsaw movie originally called BONEBOYS. It was directed by Duane Graves and Justin Meeks, who had been Henkel’s film students at Texas A&M-Kingsville, and he’d produced their super low budget 2008 cryptid movie THE WILD MAN OF THE NAVIDAD, which I reviewed for The Ain’t It Cool News at the time.
Though this is not BUTCHER BOYS: A TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE STORY, it’s also not a WES CRAVEN’S MIND RIPPER type situation (that was a movie you would never guess had started as THE HILLS HAVE EYES 3). This one very much fits the Texas Chainsaw template, but with some… odd shifts.
The first 2 minutes or so actually have something resembling the original TCSM’s raw documentary feel, with a scene about a Mexican-American mother pulled into a van after ordering from a taco truck. Nice atmospheric sounds (a radio playing, traffic, cicadas), and it’s pretty scary!
The feeling of authenticity jumps out the window after the credits when it introduces what is supposed to be a super fancy rich people restaurant with a maitre d’ and a harpist, where our four casually dressed teen protagonists (who we’re later told are supposed to be rich kids) have a birthday dinner and don’t show any sign of feeling out of place.
I suppose the original CHAIN SAW doesn’t have the most likeable protagonists of all time, but I disagree with the choice to have two of the four leads in this work so hard at being grating and obnoxious. The Final Girl, Sissy (Ali Faulkner, Bianca from THE TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN PART 1), is nice enough, and we can put up with her doofus “baby bro” Mikey (Philip Wolf, “Playground Kid,” SPY KIDS), but I’m not sure why they hang out with the wildly punchable Kenny (Matt Hensarling, THE WENDELL BAKER STORY, FAST FOOD NATION, KABLUEY), who loudly tells them about the parking lot blowjobs he gets from his titty-flashing, currently-fucking-some-other-guy-in-the-kitchen girlfriend Barbie (Tory Taranova, EVERYBODY WANTS SOME!!).
Later Barbie somehow starts a fight with two bros at a convenience store and they’re chased through the empty streets, catching air across the train tracks (nice touch) before zipping past some Street Toughs hanging out by their cars. The pursuers hit the Street Toughs’ dog, stop to offer them money, and get stomped to death, chainsawed and put in the trunk of a Camaro. So these must be these Butcher Boys I’ve been hearing about in the title?
TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 (which Henkel was not involved with) also opened with obnoxious young people driving around, pissing off the chainsaw family and being followed by them on the road at night (even, in a nice homage, across the same bridge). But these kids end up on foot, running through alleys and abandoned buildings. And rather than bizarre rednecks they’re dealing with something much more generic – a gang of beefy guys with leather jackets and vests, some of them with a vague ‘50s greaser type vibe. And they have a leader who stands around calmly, smoking cigarettes, taking phone calls while his thugs break bones.
Look at these assholes. They wouldn’t be great villains in a DTV DEATH SENTENCE ripoff, and they’re much worse as substitute Sawyers. One apparently named Benny (Derek Lee Nixon, SUPERNATURAL ACTIVITY) chases Barbie while talking about her smelling like a Twinkie, which might work coming from a manic Cook or Chop Top type, but just makes you scratch your head when it’s a leather jacket dude with his hair combed up like he can’t decide between a pompadour and a mohawk.
I guess the traditional role of the “local who somebody asks for help not knowing they’re in on it” goes to the guy Barbie was getting it on with at the restaurant (Mike Davis, “Frat Boy #4,” SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR). He pops up while she’s being chased and she says “What are you doing here? You’re totally hot!” and throws herself at him. Only in a later scene where she tells her tormenters “I would’ve given all of you blowjobs, but forget it!” did I start to think maybe Barbie is supposed to be a funny character. I think the trouble is that Taranova’s performance is too good – there’s too much of a reality to her to think it’s funny what happens to her.
Sissy has about as much luck running around the city looking for help as Sally did in the middle of nowhere. An SUV full of “cholo” stereotypes pull up blaring their scary rap music and step out threateningly saying “What you lookin for, mamacita?,” but when she asks for help and they see the silhouette of the smoking dude credited as “Bossboy” (Johnny Walter, LAZER TEAM, uncredited bit player in BOYHOOD and SONG TO SONG) on the corner they get the hell out of there. It would be a good joke if they saw Leatherface and knew they wanted nothing to do with him, but the idea of “the streets” knowing about and being terrified of this particular guy is corny.
I was ready to write the movie off, but it does pick up when it gets to Henkel’s new premise that these dorks are killing and kidnapping people to cook as meat for the aforementioned fancy restaurant. Additionally there’s a concept that some of these guys are addicted to eating human meat and it turns them into “ampheads,” which at least means they can start acting like Texas Chainsaw characters. In one scene Bossboy suddenly accuses Sissy of being a vegan, like it’s a bad thing, and I’m now realizing that was confirmed by an earlier closeup of her salad during dinner. There’s also a line about “Boy, you really ate your spinach this morning. You must really like your veggies,” which seems to contradict the other implication of vegan weakness. But I’m not sure her not eating is meant as a positive contrast to them eating humans, because there are also scenes with buffoonish activists picketing the restaurant for, I guess, not being vegan? I think it’s supposed to be one of those hacky anti-vegetarian jokes I hate, but I’m really not sure, because I live in a world where almost all restaurants serve meat I’ve never seen any of them get picketed for that.
The restaurant is called “J. Swift’s,” and the movie opens with a quote from Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal, supposedly its inspiration. I wish it was a bigger inspiration. The essay’s full title is A Modest Proposal For preventing the Children of Poor People From being a Burthen to Their Parents or Country, and For making them Beneficial to the Publick, because its satirical proposition is for poor families to sell their children to the rich as food. It seems to me Henkel gets that backwards – the intended victims are specified as being from well-off families (“My parents are loaded! They love my sorry ass!” says Kenny while pleading for his life), whereas the Butcher Boys are literally on the wrong side of the tracks, their muscle shirts and cars shorthand for working class. I guess there’s the fancy lad maitre d’ guy (co-director Meeks I think?). And we can infer that the clientele are rich, enjoying their expensive food across the street from a tent city. (I couldn’t tell if human meat was supposed to be sold in the main restaurant or just the VIP room seen later.)
Whatever thematic issues I may have with it, shit gets legitimately crazy after they’re dragged to J. Swift’s, in alternately upsetting and entertaining ways, which is appropriate for the series. They’re met by a guy in scrubs (Tom Byrne, TEETH) who’s the first genuine Cook/Hitchhiker/Chop Top type of weirdo to show up. He calls the Boys “shitbirds” and “shitears” and waves a cattleprod as they walk through a meatlocker to the cells where they keep abductees and a maskless-but-obviously-Leatherface-figure (I couldn’t figure out this character’s name or who plays him) who they keep strapped to a chair or in chains with a shock collar.
In the repulsive-without-being-graphic TCSM tradition, it’s indicated that this “doctor” gives Sissy some kind of forced gynelogical exam while the Boys stand around licking their lips. Not fun to watch or think about. The fun comes with Sissy’s impressively crazy McGyver move of building herself a duct tape suicide vest to free herself from them. And then when she encounters an old man wearing only a banana hammock and a holster who casually covers himself in Crisco as he explains that he’s looking for his daughter.
One of the Boys attacks and slips right off of him like he’s a greased pig, he yells “Every man for himself!” and runs off. I didn’t recognize him at first, but that’s Sonny Carl Davis, star of pioneering Austin indies THE WHOLE SHOOTIN’ MATCH and LAST NIGHT AT THE ALAMO, the latter of which Henkel wrote, produced, edited and acted in. (I have also learned from IMDb that Davis is in eight EVIL BONG movies.)
Like all Texas Chainsaw movies other than the remake, there’s a dinner scene. Sissy is forced to be at the head of the table as all these characters – some giggling maniacs, some not – bicker and rant and somehow eat from a live woman’s brain like it’s a fondue pot.
This builds to a climax that has a Hooper-esque, chaotic thrill to it. Like that great WTF moment near the end of THE NEXT GENERATION when a small plane dives down and nails Vilmer, it remixes the original CHAIN SAW with unpredictable abandon. Just like Sally, Sissy slips away from them and leaps through a window into the daylight. But instead of an empty yard she lands on a city street where police and a crowd of neighbors are watching a homeless man (Edwin Neal, the hitchhiker himself) acting crazy on the roof. The whole family emerge, the doctor (in a dress) cattle prodding people, the Leatherface guy knocking people around, “Amphead” (Greg Kelly, “Rapist #2,” PLANET TERROR) shooting a bunch of cops. As Buddy (Jack Lee, THE RETURN OF THE SOLDIER) runs behind Sissy slashing her Hitchhiker style, an unnamed and unexplained woman played by Teri McMinn (Pam from TCSM) briefly tries to intervene with a pick ax. Ed Guinn, the Black Maria truck driver from the end of TCSM, is also nearby (man, that poor guy has witnessed too much random violence) before Sissy gets picked up by self described “two crazy Mexican dudes” and escapes even though, I’m happy to say, one of the Butcher Boys fires a bazooka at them.
The budget is the only real detractor to all this welcome mayhem. The bullet hits and missile explosion look very digital.
I like the crazy spirit of what I’m describing here so much that I’m almost talking myself into thinking it’s a good movie, but I can’t deny how much of a chore the first half was to get through. Still, I do think it’s worth completist viewing for Chainsaw series fanatics like myself. If none of that works on you, you at least get to play spot the TCSM cameos. In addition to Neal, McMinn and Guinn it has John Dugan (Grandpa) as the convenience store clerk, Perry Lorenz (pickup truck driver) as a cowboy senator who eats at the restaurant, and Marilyn Burns (Sally) as a woman one of the Boys steals a chihuaha from. She still has to scream, but it’s stuff like “What the hell are you doing? Hey! Give me back my dog!”
And that’s not all! Original radio voices Wayne Bell and Levie Isaacks do news reports throughout, one referring to Sheriff Jesus Maldonado, mentioned in the original as investigating the grave robberies. Also, Bill Johnson (Leatherface from part 2) has a weird cameo as a crazy baker named “Mr. Grimm” who offers them cookies in the alley while being chased.
Anyway, the scholarship continues. Thanks for the tip, JK.