Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation – Collector’s Edition
Directed by: Kim Henkel
Run time: 95 minutes
The Lowdown: First things first, yes, this is that movie, the one where Matthew McConaughey and Renée Zellweger scream and run around and over-act their young Hollywood asses off.
And by that movie, I mean 1994’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation, which is actually the fourth film in the now eight-films-and-counting franchise, which was written and directed by Kim Henkel, the co-writer (with Tobe Hooper) of the original, 1974 The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Henkel’s film, which has been widely jeered, was originally titled The Return of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which is the title on the restored director’s cut print presented in this worthwhile collector’s edition by Shout! Factory.
Has time been kind to Henkel’s effort, which was originally shelved and later released once McConaughey and Zellweger broke big?
The Next Generation is still a terrible movie, but age has allowed for some perspective, namely that unlike so many other horror franchises, the early efforts to recreate the visceral success of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre at least displayed a fearlessness that is sorely lacking from today’s template-happy follow-ups, prequels, reimaginings and revisionist overhauls.
For one thing, surprisingly, I now feel confident stating publicly that The Next Generation is not the worst of the eight TCM movies, even if, at the time of its release, it probably felt to fans like the death knell for their beloved Leatherface.
For another, Henkel’s film is a fascinating example of what can happen when a filmmaker known for a huge hit gets creative license to let his or her freak flag fly in whatever direction he or she wants.
To that end, The Next Generation is a shining example of the often juvenile tendencies and influences that invaded horror cinema in the 1990's, and it stands as a well-preserved time capsule of pre-#MeToo misogyny, so much so that even 24 years later, you still might feel the need for a shower after enduring dialogue like this:
Heather (Lisa Marie Newmyer): I saw you kissing her.
Barry (Tyler Shea Cone): Once! I kissed her once. What’s wrong with that? It’s like I can’t even talk to my friends anymore. I can’t believe how possessive you are.
Heather: Oh, right. You were feeling her up!
Barry: I wonder why. What am I supposed to do, jerk off for the rest of my life? It’s not my fault if you’re frigid.
Heather: I am not!
Barry: Look, guys need sex okay?
Despite his tin-ear for realistic teen-aged dialogue, Henkel still manages to sneak some wry observations and some genuinely entertaining sequences into what is essentially a wholesale re-do of his original work with Hooper, which – apart from the Hooper directed sequel, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 – is basically the plot of every TCM movie to date.
Heather and Barry are traveling away from their high school prom with mousy friend Jenny (Zellweger) in the back seat. Somehow, Heather gets lost leaving her school (!?!) and proceeds to strand the threesome on a dark, secluded rural road following a crash.
Heather is obsessed with death, which she expresses in near-giddy terms as they walk to find help, imagining some shadowy serial killer about to leap out and attack. “They’re going to show pictures of us naked with our hearts torn out on A Current Affair!” she proclaims.
Eventually, they stumble across an office occupied by Darla (Tonie Perensky), who oozes slutty sex appeal when she’s not clapping her hands to turn on and off her lights.
Later, when Heather and Barry reach the Slaughter house (the TCM canon offers three last names for the famed family of cannibals, Slaughter, Sawyer and Hewitt, depending on the movie), Henkel does a solid job introducing Heather to Leatherface, the man of her morbid dreams. And he still manages to wring some laughs amid the carnage.
“Heather,” Barry shouts, oblivious that his girlfriend is being hung on a meat hook, “there’s a crazy guy outside with a shotgun. I locked him out, though. You should have seen me!”
As envisioned by Henkel, in his self-created scuzz-trash Texas hellscape, nearly every male figure is an exaggeration of society’s worst impulses. Leatherface is a volatile child and frequent cross-dresser who inexplicably resembles Bea Arthur. Vilmer (McConaughey) is an angry abuser with a mechanical piston leg brace. Mr. Rothman (James Gale) is a pain freak who secretly funds the Slaughter clan’s efforts to terrorize society. “I want these people to know the meaning of horror,” he explains.
According to Darla, Rothman is the leader of a secret cabal, and Vilmer’s employer. The cabal has been around for more than one thousand years and helped orchestrate the worst events in history, such as killing both Kennedy brothers.
It’s moments like that where you get a glimpse of the bat-shit crazy genre freakshow that The Next Generation could have, and should have, been.
In fact, the last 15 to 20 minutes is pure, unadulterated drive-in greatness, punctuated by a crazy, crazy, crazy chase sequence featuring an RV, a limousine, a tow truck and a crop duster, during which Rothman tries to calm Jenny by telling her she was supposed to have a “spiritual experience,” which concludes with Jenny being taken to a local hospital where she sees none other than Marilyn Burns (Sally, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), on a gurney and catatonic.
No matter how many years pass, or how many sequels are made, no amount of time can rewrite the script or buttress any argument that Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation is pulp cinema at its finest.
But, buoyed by sweet hindsight, this collector’s edition firmly makes its case that Henkel’s solo chainsaw outing should no longer be dismissed or forgotten.
The Stuff You Care About:
Hot chicks – Yes.
Nudity – No.
Gore – Considerable.
Drug use – No.
Bad Guys/Killers – Oh, you know who.
Buy/Rent – Buy it.
Peppermint (Universal, 101 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): Here’s the thing – if you’re going to make a brutal-as-eff revenge thriller, go balls-out and don’t hold anything back.
Because, if you do that, if you throw caution and the conventional filmmaking rules out the window, you might capture lightning in a bottle, a la John Wick.
But, if you hesitate, if you lack the confidence to go elbows-deep in carnage and then push deeper, you end up with something like Peppermint, which wastes a deliciously good logline – soccer mom assassin obliterates a drug cartel – on a half-baked plot that fails star Jennifer Garner at every turn.
Peppermint isn’t even so bad it’s good. It’s just bad.
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Now on Video-on-Demand:
Scarecrows (Uncork’d Entertainment, 80 minutes, Unrated, Video-on-Demand): I’ve never understood the appeal/scare potential of scarecrows, but then again, I’ve never lived anyplace where rolling farm hills and scarecrows were an everyday reality.
And while there have been more than a few horror films dedicated to the titular creature, the best in my book, at least from my childhood recollection, was the 1981 made-for-TV chiller, Dark Night of the Scarecrow, which did give me nightmares.
Jump forward 37 years, and director/co-writer Stuart Stone has taken the idea of a scarecrow and turned it into something far more sinister in his delightfully unnerving second feature, Scarecrows.
Stone’s film opens solidly with a scarecrow writhing on a mounted cross in a vast cornfield. As the camera zooms closer, you realize that the creepy scarecrow face is actually a mask covering the head of a terrified young woman who can’t scream but watches in horror as crows descend, their beaks aiming directly for her eyes.
From there, Scarecrows does a bit of back-tracking to bring the audience up to speed. Two couples are on a road trip. Ely and Ash (Hannah Gordon) are the nice ones. Farbsie (Mike Taylor) is the loud asshole and his girlfriend, Devon (Maaor Ziv), is the stereotypical slut. The foursome are trying to find a secluded spring to go swimming, and – of course – the spring is located on a patch of property with a prominently displayed No Trespassing sign. If you think that deters them, you obviously have never seen a scary movie.
Early on, Scarecrows is marked by some above-average acting, a genuine chemistry between the four young leads and some solid laughs thanks to a well-written script.
Once the crew finds themselves in a cornfield, however, Stone really turns the screw. There’s a hulking man-mountain of a bad guy who owns the property, and he does not take kindly to visitors. In fact, if he catches you, he will take you back to his primitive workshop in his barn, where he will go about turning you into a scarecrow, complete with a sewed-shut mouth and a creepy hood to hide your face.
As long as you don’t go into Scarecrows expecting some unbelievable spin on a well-established genre, odds are that you will wholly dig the gory delights that Stone has in store for his unfortunate protagonists.
And, for me, it’s refreshing to discover a film that isn’t afraid to go pitch-dark with its ending, a la Jeepers Creepers, and actually stick the landing.
Christmas Blood (Artsploitation Films, 104 minutes, Unrated, Video-on-Demand): I love Christmas-themed horror films.
That said, maybe I should clarify to say that I love Christmas-themed horror films that I can see to actually enjoy.
Christmas Blood, the latest holiday slasher, this one hailing from Norway, is filmed in such a way that nearly all of the action takes place in the dark or in darkened homes where no one ever thinks to turn on a light.
Is there no fucking electricity in Norway?
Christmas Blood also stumbles right out of the gate with an a ridiculously long sequence packed with too much backstory. Suffice to say, this flick is basically Halloween if Halloween had been titled Christmas instead.
There’s even a psychiatrist who states that Santa is a manifestation of pure evil.
Fans of Silent Night, Deadly Night may dig Christmas Blood, but for me, personally, I found it to be too much effort with not enough payoff.