A new column examines the influences of horror movies & what has influenced them via side-by-side film frame comparisons.
A little more comedy this time around in the first sequel to SLEEPAWAY CAMP. And a lot more Angela!
The prequel to Tobe Hooper's classic, by French duo Alexandre Bustillo & Julien Maury, turns up new themes in the iconic killer.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation. 1994. Directed & Written by Kim Henkel.
Starring Renée Zellweger, Matthew McConaughey, Robert Jacks, Tonie Perensky, Joe Stevens, Lisa Marie Newmyer, John Harrison, Tyler Shea Cone, James Gale, Chris Kilgore, & Vince Brock.
Genre Pictures/Return Productions/Ultra Muchos Productions.
Rated R. 93 minutes.
As an avid lover of all things Texas Chainsaw Massacre, there’s only so far I can stretch my love for a franchise. Like Halloween it is a series that has its ups, big ones, and real low downs. As is the case with the previous movie, Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III, I first remember encountering this movie – then known as Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre – as a lurid looking bit of cinema staring down at me from the shelf of my local Allan’s Video. After seeing the original, this may have actually been the next one in the franchise I actually saw. Either way, when I did see it there’s such a distance in quality, and tone, from the original that it’s hard to even imagine these as in the same universe. Yet co-creator with Tobe Hooper of the original classic, Kim Henkel, considers this the true sequel to that impeccable, terrifying horror. With passing reference to the other sequels, The Next Generation picks up on its own grounds. A strange look at what Leatherface and his clan came to be. I can’t help wondering if Henkel even remembers the original. Because this movie is nothing but a gratuitous, jumbled mess of of slasher horror that takes us a beloved horror villain and turns him into almost a caricature of himself. Along the way there are a couple decent scares, in terms of disturbing subject matter. Overall, this is a hot mess. Emphasis on the mess.
One thing that really boggles me is the change in Leatherface. Now, I’m not saying that having a character like this whose mind gets lost in a fluid identity wouldn’t be good fodder for a horror character. What I don’t understand is how Leatherface went from the sort of mentally challenged, hulking young man from Hooper’s original, to this mentally challenged crossdresser. Just doesn’t make sense to me. And I know, we’re talking about The Texas Chainsaw Massacre here. Doesn’t have to make complete logical sense. However, there’s a point where things simply get lost. The horror of Leatherface was enough. We could’ve seen him here as an older version of himself, living such a fucked up existence that he got more vicious, more unfeeling, whatever. Instead, Henkel turns Leatherface into a sideshow. He is disturbing, no doubt. Not near as scary. In the first film when he slides that door open and smashes his unsuspecting victim with the big mallet, that image burns itself into your brain. Such an odd, quick shock. Here, the wailing and screaming sounds of Leatherface are creepy, they just don’t have any weight. If this were a completely new character I’d say it might work. Rather than do that Henkel only works off the existing character, taking him to new and inorganic places. Only one of the reasons this movie doesn’t work at all.
Not only are the characters awful, particularly our lead killer, the dialogue in the movie is atrocious. Along with some of the nonsensical ways people react to the situations at hand. I’m a seasoned movie watcher and horror lover – 4,200+ films deep, many of which are horror and thrillers. So I’m not entirely judgmental about how characters act in movies. Especially horror, as you need to really put yourself in the shoes of these people. How would you act if a massive mentally challenged man with a skin mask on his face and a chainsaw in his hand ran after you? Probably not with much sense. But even early on when McConaughey’s character breaks a neck, the other guy standing around doesn’t seem all that worried. I’d be shitting myself. There are so many instances of behaviour like this throughout. A couple are, I believe, purposeful, as Henkel sort of toys with subversion of the genre. Most of it is likely unintentional. The dialogue is weak, more and more as the time goes on. One character goes on quoting writers endlessly, as if this backwoods maniac killer belonging to a family of killers is a bookworm. He goes from Samuel Johnson to Machiavelli to any number of nonsense references. It’s poor writing and serves no purpose other than to try giving the family members quirks of their own, to make things weirder and more unsettling. Only thing it effectively does is make this sequel come off like a comedy. A bad one. Comedy that’s unintentional is not always a good thing, and here Henkel makes nothing funny in the right way, unfortunately.
When the Illuminati stuff starts coming in I can barely bring myself to keep watching. There’s no reason for any of it and the angle of the Rothman character was an awful decision to include. Takes this sequel to an entirely other level of crap.
I’ve seen the movie a bunch of times over the years. Because I marvel at how incoherently bad the whole thing is, and other than a couple unnerving scenes at most the movie is a trashpile. A burning pit of shame. Also, it’s the first of the series that really goes for any sexuality. While the second movie has a couple very suggestive moments, in particular one scene in the radio station, this one goes for outright nudity. So not only is the violence exploitative, as are a good many of the horror movies out there, this one has to go and join the shitty trend of adding breasts into the mix. For no reason, either. And again, Leatherface’s new transvestitism is another log on the fire for unnecessary sexuality; a ploy to make his character somehow more unsettling, as if that were needed in any shape or form.
This is most definitely the worst of the franchise. Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation brings together two different movies, one that Henkel wanted to make as a separate film and then the other he wanted as a sequel to the original Hooper masterpiece. What results is one of the messiest horror movies out there. Another sad bastion of the 1990s, instead of some of the better work during that decade. There are so many things going on by the end of this movie that the original focus of Leatherface is all but completely lost. Bringing in the character played by McConaughey, adding in new elements to the family, it only makes things feel out of place and disjointed. Perhaps if Henkel made a better effort to make these characters the original family, only twenty years down the line, then the story and its plot may have worked well, or better at the least. The performances here are all fairly brutal. The changes to Leatherface do nothing for the character or the whole Texas Chainsaw universe. From start to finish this is one bad movie, not even the set design is as good as any of the others in the series. I gave it a single star simply because there are a couple creepy scenes that actually weirded me out. Apart from that this is a write of. Watch it only if you’re a completist. If not, then just stay away. You’re not getting anything here that’s worth your time.
Texas Chainsaw 3D. 2013. Directed by John Luessenhop. Screenplay by Adam Marcus, Kirsten Elms, & Debra Sullivan.
Starring Alexandra Daddario, Dan Yeager, Trey Songz, Scott Eastwood, Tania Raymonde, Shaun Sipos, Keram Malicki-Sánchez, Thom Barry, Paul Rae, Richard Riehle, Bill Moseley, & Gunnar Hansen. Lionsgate/Millenium Films/Mainline Pictures/Leatherface Productions/Nu Image/Twisted Chainsaw Pictures.
Rated 18A. 92 minutes.
For anyone who doesn’t know me, or hasn’t read many of my reviews, I’m a huge fan of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. The original film is still, and always will be, one of the scariest movies to me. Always. Sheer terror and absolute chaos that rarely, if ever, lets up until the end of the last reel. It was a movie my mother even told me about before I’d seen it, likewise frightening her when she was young. So despite the varying quality of the series, I’m always interested in seeing any films bearing this title. Just to see.
Texas Chainsaw 3D begins with a great premise – to start with the events after the original film, then hop ahead a couple decades. But it’s the execution of the film that really draws my ire, and that of many other hardcore franchise fans. No longer is the horrific nature of Leatherface and his clan built on anything the first two original films had going for them. In this one, it’s all about sexy young bodies, a screenplay that doesn’t think hard enough to justify its aims, and above all else a plot that goes to a ridiculous extreme, so much so it destroys any of my interest in what might happen next. Because that’s the other thing – this semi-sequel to the original still can’t cut off and cauterize the Leatherface wound. It leaves things on a note that could quite possibly spawn a sequel, y’know, later on down the road when they need a quick buck.
Heather Miller (Alexandra Daddario) was taken as a baby from the Sawyer home, after Burt Hartman (Paul Rae) and a crew o men disobeyed the orders of Sheriff Hooper (Thom Barry) and laid siege to the infamous house of horrors.
A couple decades later, Heather’s grandmother Sawyer dies. She leaves an old Texas plantation-style house to Heather, on the strict orders she will not sell the place.
Well after Heather and some of her friends head down there for a housewarming expedition, she starts to understand why the house ought not be sold. That’s because down in the basement there’s a special room. And inside that special room there’s a really, really special person.
So put a smile on your face: the saw is back, and the saw is most definitely family.
This semi-sequel follows a Michael Bay-ish trend of making horror try to look sexy. Don’t get me wrong, there is a nice dose of blood and gore in this one. They didn’t sanitize anything particularly. But they did load the cast down with a bunch of late-20s-looking young men and women, the kind who wear tight and revealing clothes, the sort who look good from behind in a close-up, and so on. Some of the shots in the movie defy logic, as I don’t understand why they’re included, other than to make things tantalizing for dreary, mopey moviegoers who require ‘eye candy’. And then there’s the typical writing of boyfriends cheating with the best friend, just so Trey Songz and Tania Raymonde can get half naked, greased up with Crisco so all of their curves and creases show off well under the lighting. So I’m not knocking the main cast. In fact, Daddario particularly is a talent, she was good in her tiny role on True Detective (when she didn’t have to take clothes off). Even Songz isn’t that bad for the role he plays. There’s just a bunch of character fodder sitting around Daddario’s Heather; I can even let slide some of the nonsense shots of her here because she actually plays the character nicely. The only other person in the film that doesn’t come off as overacted, hammy, or downright stupid, is Thom Barry. His Sheriff Hooper is good, conflicted, and Barry gives us a nice performance for what little time he’s really in there. Mostly, though, the blame is on the writing. This is another Texas Chainsaw movie rushed into production, using the same formula, doing the same things, repeating history. Yes, there is a little twist to the story, and I dig the family angle. But so many things could be done better.
Let’s talk about the 3D. Totally unnecessary. Some shots really play up the whole format, such as the chainsaw getting tossed and moments similar to that. I’ve always hated 3D in horror. It’s gimmicky anyways, but even worse in the horror genre. Practical effects are always the last bastion of any mediocre to crappy horror flick. Even some of the worst written screenplays can come across as decent if practical makeup effects help the horrific elements look properly scary. There are scenes in this one where practical effects make the blood and the nastiness look rightfully gross, disturbing even now and then. But relying on ways to push the 3D, the filmmakers ignore the good effects. The worst part is that Howard Berger and Greg Nicotero, masterminds of horror for the past few decades with their shop KNB, do the special effects here, and they’re totally underused. They don’t get to really pull out all the stops. Some of the best stuff is when Heather flicks through old crime scene photos and we get a couple burned bodies, et cetera. Berger and Nicotero shine in these pieces. On the contrary, so many other moments are marred by the ugliness of CGI rearing its head and this does nothing to help the film overall.
For the blood and gore we do get, and the terrifying savagery of Leatherface (he’s still got it even in this turd of a film), Texas Chainsaw 3D gets a 1&1/2-star rating. There isn’t a whole lot of anything to enjoy here. The unnecessary dialogue at many points, the dumb script and its many holes, the ridiculous need to try and flash Alexandra Daddario’s body (and others, too) – all this adds up to a movie that just can’t hold its own in a franchise that already has some stinkers. While it’s not the absolute worst of the whole series – that honour is saved for the entry graced by the presence of Matthew McConaughey and Renée Zellweger – this is one modern horror that can’t possibly cut the mustard. Not even with Leatherface’s big, bad chainsaw.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. 1986. Directed by Tobe Hooper. Screenplay by L.M. Kit Carson.
Starring Dennis Hopper, Caroline Williams, Jim Siedow, Bill Moseley, Bill Johnson, Ken Evert, James N. Harrell, Lou Perryman, & Chris Douridas.
Cannon Films/Golan-Globus Productions.
Rated R. 101 minutes.
Horror sequels are often unduly shit on. Many, in my mind, are actually worth their weight in blood. Some are most certainly worse than the originals, or they simply don’t bring enough to merit considering it as even a worthwhile sequel. But a lot are great, such as the often torn down Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, Psycho II, Exorcist II: The Heretic, and I’m sure there are a few more.
One of those oft maligned sequels is The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, from the director of the original, Mr. Tobe Hooper. Maybe part of why this sequel strays a little past where the original marked its territory is due to the fact Hooper only directs, and the writing duties are left up to L.M. Kit Carson (he did a great screenplay for Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas). Not saying this movie is poorly written. In fact, it successfully welds together the terrifying steel of Leatherface’s chainsaw with a good dose of backwoods Texas humour. One of the best aspects is the characters. Even Leatherface and his horrific appeal aren’t lost within all the black comedy, but rather we get doses of foolishness which lures us in, then the saw and the family do their work. Certainly not close to as nerve shattering as the original film, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 at least tries to do something different instead of emulating the same style, over and over; a technique studios nowadays use too often, trying to capitalize on the money made from particularly successful movies. In straight up opposition, Hooper switches things up and leaves it all on the table. What else would you expect from a Cannon Films production?
On the air during her radio show, Vanita ‘Stretch’ Brock (Caroline Williams) and L.G. McPeters (Lou Perry) overhear what may just be a brutal murder, when two young college age dude-bros encounter – unbeknownst to the DJ – Leatherface (Bill Johnson) and some of his clan.
In town is Lieutenant Lefty Enright (Dennis Hopper). He’s investigating yet another possible chainsaw killing. His brother’s kids were killed by the dangerous chainsaw family a decade before. For ten years, he’s searched for those killers. When Stretch finds Lefty at his hotel and brings him the tape that possibly contains evidence of the latest murder, he doesn’t seem too excited. But after awhile, Lefty wises up.
Only it may be a little too late. One of the other Sawyers, Chop-Top (Bill Moseley), goes to visit Stretch at the radio station. And he’s bringing along a nice dose of steel with him.
Can Lefty and Stretch hold their ground? Or will they become yet another set of victims to the killer Sawyer clan?
As I said, this movie is all about the characters. Whereas the original Hooper classic focused on the terror, putting innocent young people in the way of murderous psychopaths, the sequel keeps on with the killing, only it shifts towards giving us more of the demented maniacs in plain view. The original kept things in the dark, sorts of closing the family off from society. In this sequel, Hooper and Carson let the Sawyer family loose into the world, as if they couldn’t possibly be stopped. Therefore, we get to see more of Leatherface and learn different things of his character; for one, he’s a horny bastard, or at the very least sexually frustrated to the maximum. Plus, now he does this weirdly creepy and simultaneously funny shake while wielding his chainsaw; it kills me every time, a crack-up, but still there’s something scary about his enthusiasm. Then we’ve got Chop-Top, played magnificently and to cult status by the ever impressive Bill Moseley. He is always a creepy guy, no matter what character he plays (aside from stuff like Dead Air), but definitely amps up his eerie qualities to play this guy; he seamlessly becomes a part of the Sawyer world, adding eccentricity and further questions about exactly how completely maniacal this family is truly.
Aside from the family, though, we’re treated to both Lefty and Stretch. Hell, even L.G. is a decent character thrown in there. Well the stars of this show, aside from Moseley, absolutely are Caroline Williams and Dennis Hopper. Williams is not only a gorgeous lady, she oozes charisma, and having her play the on-air radio personality here was awesome casting. She really makes the character feel like a DJ, she talks like one and acts like one, so there’s an authenticity to her character, instead of that occupation feeling like a vain attempt at making her interesting. Add in Hopper, channeling both a renegade lawman and also some of his Blue Velvet craziness, and this whole thing is a ton of fun. Hopper’s character is a little campy, a little wild, but always interesting. He makes for a good showdown with the family, Leatherface in particular.
Note: the first scene between Leatherface and Stretch is one of my favourites, in any horror film. Because it’s dark and funny at once, then there’s this extremely disturbing sexual angle to it. Most of all, it brings some of the issues surrounding Leatherface to the forefront. He’s essentially a mentally challenged man caught in a murderous rampage, so he doesn’t know how to talk to girls, or impress them, except with his big, hard, long saw. Genius scene, incredibly well-written.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 contains a hearty dose of nasty blood and violence. One scene is just Chop-Top bashing a head in, over and over, cut back and forth with Stretch trying to get away from Leatherface. Just the sheer amount of blood spurting out onto the floor is enough to make some of the weaker, casual horror watchers uneasy. There’s something else about this though, as it calls to mind the first film where Grandpa tried to use the hammer; here, Chop-Top knows how to use that hammer, and he uses it well. Later, we revisit the Grandpa scene in direct parallel; not as good as Chop, though. Even early on in the film where two of the dude-bros in their car run across Leatherface, we see a nasty, beautifully executed practical effect – a head gets sawed through, a cut going down into the skull and the face. Very nice makeup effects. Not sure how much he did himself, but makeup legend Tom Savini is credited on this picture, so if he supervised this work there’s no wonder much of it looks gruesome, and perfectly horrific. You could never have a Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie with bad effects, or if you do then it’s sure to not live up to its predecessors. For all its faults, this sequel to the original at least matches its vicious brutality at certain times.
With a lot to live up to, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is a 3&1/2 star horror. Never will it come close to its original. But Tobe Hooper crafts a nice, campy horror romp out of L.M. Kit Carson’s darkly comic, brutal screenplay. On the shoulders of Hopper, Moseley, and Williams, the characters come alive, and they’re able to carry much of the plot themselves. Maybe comedy isn’t exactly suited perfectly to Hooper’s creepy backwoods Texas world. But again, if anything you’ve got to applaud Hooper for not trying to carbon copy what he did previously in the original. If he simply slapped together another rehash, we’d all be complaining about that. Instead, be glad for his dare to be different, no matter the costs. This is still a lot of fun, has a fair share of blood and guts, as well as the fact Leatherface is weirder and wilder than ever. Make sure you toss this on next time you’re looking for a horror with comedy that’s not an outright comedy-horror flick. This can satisfy the need for kills and the need for some laughs in the right sort of way.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning. 2006. Directed by Jonathan Liebesman. Screenplay by Sheldon Turner; from a story by Sheldon Turner & David J. Schow.
Starring Jordana Brewster, Taylor Handley, Diora Baird, Matt Bomer, R. Lee Ermey, Andrew Bryniarski, Lee Tergesen, Terrence Evans, Kathy Lamkin, Mariette Marich, and Lew Temple.
Rated 18A. 91 minutes.
As I’ve mentioned time and time again, I will always consider The Texas Chain Saw Massacre one of the scariest films of all time. That original Tobe Hooper movie is just terrifying to me. It’s fine if others don’t agree, but something about that horror movie absolutely gets to me right at my core. The whole family and Leatherface himself, they’re creepy. Almost the definition of macabre. Plus, there’s the fact Leatherface is VERY loosely based on serial killer Ed Gein, whom I’ve read a ton about. So I think my own interests play into part of why the movie scares me so deeply.
I’m not a fan of the 2003 remake, but honestly I do dig Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning. It is nowhere near being a perfect movie, however, I found it a hell of a lot scarier than the remake to which this is a prequel. While there’s still a little of that flashiness from the 2003 film which I complained of in my recent review. Luckily for this movie, it doesn’t try to focus too much on the sexualized females as that one, either. I’m not saying there isn’t any seemingly obligatory sexualization from serial culprits Platinum Dunes – there are bits of half nudity and such, focus on the gleaming wet bodies of young people – but compared to the remake in 2003 it is nowhere near as foolish in that sense.
What I do like is a peek into the history of Leatherface, here named Thomas “Tommy” Hewitt, and his adopted family. This is a nasty bit of horror, that’s for sure. While there are some problems, I think it’s a more interesting movie than the one to which this acts as a prequel, and the script is much better, as well.
I found the whole Vietnam War angle pretty intriguing. Brothers Eric (Matt Bomer) and Dean (Taylor Handley) have an intense dynamic, as the former – the oldest – clearly cares about his country, in the sense he’s willing to go back over after already clearly experiencing horrors his first time. On the other hand, younger brother Dean burns up his draft card, knowing the post traumatic stress his brother suffers having already served in the army over in Vietnam. So I like how they clash, as well as the fact the climax of their situation comes right at the biggest moment of tension when a biker is chasing them down, gun drawn, and they end up smashing into a cow crossing over the road.
Furthermore, it plays a bit into the brothers’ confrontation with Charlie Hewitt (R. Lee Ermey), a.k.a Sheriff Hoyt after he killed the last bit of law enforcement in their tiny, dying Texas town. When he finds the burned draft card, things get super intense.
What I love about this one, as opposed to the 2003 remake, is that the four main characters on the road trip kicking everything into gear feel genuine and real. There’s still a bit of that ‘sex sells’ nonsense here like the previous movie, a couple beer ad-like moments. But overall I feel we get to know and care for these characters, as opposed to the 2003 film where it’s just a bunch of sweat glistened young people who have little to no personality, and the whole tired pot angle played into things making it worse. Here, I honestly feel – for all its flawed bits – Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning gave us a nice dose of character, both in terms of the victims and the Hewitt family themselves, a.k.a the bad guys.
Almost more than Leatherface, I really wanted to see more about Sheriff Hoyt after the first remake in 2003. Most of that movie is pretty mediocre to crap, but R. Lee Ermey does such a terrifyingly fantastic job playing the character he drew me in. Then, of course, with this sequel to the remake we’re finding out deeper, even darker secrets about Hoyt. So while I love Leatherface, Hoyt – or Charlie, whatever you want to call him – is a huge part of the interest I have here. To my mind, things get way more disturbing after the opening events of this film, once we find out what Hoyt is really all about. Watching his mental state sort of go from ‘dealing with things’ to ‘scorched earth’ is pretty chilling.
Several parts of the screenplay make this Texas Chainsaw entry better than others. First, I like how there’s an inclusion of different themes from war – what people will do in one while they’re fighting, or what they’ll resort to in situations simply to survive (which further leads into the cannibalism aspect of the story) – to staying true to one’s roots and holding on to one’s culture, to the bonds people people whether blood and family or not. Between all those elements there are so many things happening. Not a groundbreaking work of art, this screenplay, but I think compared to its predecessor this movie has great stuff going on. Because ultimately, we know what’s going to happen – this is a prequel, we get that part. So the writers did a few neat things in order to make the journey more exciting.
Secondly, most of the Texas Chainsaw films – good or not – tend to see one group of people fall into the trap, ending up at Chez Leatherface and then they’re killed. Part of why I enjoy this movie as much as I do is because we see the brother duo and their girlfriends have an altercation with bikers, leading to a crash and that leads into the meeting with Sheriff Hoyt. All the while, this allows for the story to flesh out the backstory of Tommy Hewitt and his adopted family. I’ve always found there was a fun mixture in the plot, which allows for interesting developments – leading to prequel bits filling up/bridging the gaps to the previous remake – and some wild characters + situations.
This is a 3.5 out of 5 star horror film, for me. It could’ve definitely improved on a few things, mainly losing the glossy 21st century remake look so apparent in many Platinum Dunes productions. However, I can honestly say this is much better and more worthy of your time than the 2003 remake. The acting is better, the characters are more developed and less hateable, as well as the fact you’ll find it cool to watch how things evolved from Leatherface’s meager beginnings to where he horrifically stands now. You can do far worse in terms of remakes, though, it still could’ve done Leatherface and the legacy of Tobe Hooper more justice. But I’ll take what I can when it comes to prequels. I love them, they just don’t turn out the best all the time. This one is good enough to make me recommend it to those wanting more TCM.
FX’s American Horror Story
Season 2, Episode 6: “The Origins of Monstrosity”
Directed by David Semel (Hannibal, The Strain)
Written by Ryan Murphy
* For a review of the next episode, “Dark Cousin” – click here
* For a review of the previous episode “I Am Anne Frank: Part II” – click here
“The Origins of Monstrosity” begins as a voice tells a 9-11 operator there are bodies at Briarcliff to be found. This may be the answer to when we saw a present day Bloody Face attack the young men in Bloody Face masks. I know the voice already, but won’t spoil it. We’ll wait and see together, shall we? Either way, it’s good to know the character of present day Bloody Face – whoever that may be as we’ve recently discovered Dr. Oliver Thredson (Zachary Quinto) is the true original 1960s Bloody Face – will be handled by a fun actor.
Sister Jude Martin (Jessica Lange) meets a a woman named Mrs. Reynolds (Amy Farrington), whose daughter Jenny (Nikki Hahn) is brought in after suspicion she may have terrible, violent issues. Jenny’s mother discovered a lock of hair in daughter’s belongings: it’s the hair of a friend Jenny supposedly saw murdered; the little girl tells of a man who killed her friend, telling her to stand perfectly still or else she would be, too. Yet there’s obviously something sinister about little Jenny Reynolds. Jude tells her, there is no children’s ward at Briarcliff unfortunately.Meanwhile, back at chez Thredson, Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson) wakes up to croque-monsieur frying on the stove. At first it’s nice, until she realizes again where she is; chez Bloody Face. He serves up the sandwich saying it’s the “perfect mommy snack.”
What becomes clear through his discussion is the fact Oliver has mommy issues. Oh yes. He’s got problems with women. He has been searching for a woman, a mother, as the one he had at birth abandoned him to the system where only his “basic needs were met.”
Oliver “Bloody Face” Thredson dubs Lana THE ONE. He recounts his sordid history with the female body, his “breakthrough” as he calls it coming after encountering a luring woman in medical school; except this woman was dead, cold, on a colder metal slab. This is one DISTURBING scene, which I love. It’s straight up Ed Gein, but adapted Ed Gein; if he were a scholar instead of a farmboy with no education. This is Bloody Face, instead of Leatherface – a maniac, yet a calculated, intelligent, damaged maniac.
Also love how we get a dose of Psychology 1000, as Dr. Thredson talks about rhesus monkeys and their attachment to the cloth of a simulated mother monkey, the skin essentially. This relates to his love, his need, for the feel of warm skin on his surrogate mother.
Sam Goodman (Mark Margolis) calls Sister Jude, who tells him not to worry anymore, she was wrong. In direct opposition, Mr. Goodman informs her the fake Anne Frank (Franka Potente) was right: Dr. Arthur Arden (James Cromwell) was in fact, IS in fact, Dr. Hans Gruber, a former Nazi and member of the S.S. In shock, Jude asks what can be done; she must be a fingerprint in order to confirm for sure, then they can move ahead.
This will set off serious repercussions. Eventually.
As Monsignor Timothy Howard (Joseph Fiennes) goes to the hospital in order to see a dying Shelley (Chloë Sevigny), we get an incredible flashback explaining perfectly the wonderful title of this episode, “The Origins of Monstrosity”.
The first meeting between Dr. Arthur Arden and Monsignor Howard, several years prior, occurs as the latter is first moving in to the building. Arden introduces him to his ideas – he claims to be developing some kind of ultimate, super vaccine that would stave off even the most serious, deadly illness and viruses should humans be subject to them. This is a perfectly grim example – his wanting to do human trials – of the Nazi doctors and their insane ideas of eugenics, et cetera. The stuff going on between Howard and Arden, both in present day and the flashback scenes, goes to show how serious of a mess Howard has gotten himself into, allowing Arden to basically have free run of Briarcliff in order to further his “work“, if it can be called that.
Now there’s a real, palpable tension between the doctor and Monsignor Howard. Of course, there’s a terrifying aspect to Arden. Not only is he a tall and imposing figure, he is a sinister man. Furthermore, now we know through other events going on simultaneously HE IS A NAZI! He was in the death camps, just as the fake Anne Frank discovered somehow. This is scary enough. But then he has to go and show Howard more of his other work, the latest being on local tough inmate and pervert Spivey (Mark Consuelos). Savage, just as was done to Shelley. More supposedly in the name of the human race; yeah right, Nazi.
Saucy little scene between the devilish – or straight up Satan – Sister Mary Eunice McKee (Lily Rabe) and the equally devilish little girl Jenny, whose mother left her at Briarcliff and ran.
What we get here, though, is a heartbreaking flashback retro filmed scene as Mary Eunice recounts a story of when a bunch of girls tricked her into going naked under her robe then stripping, jumping into the pool; so sad and it made my heart both break and ACHE for her. At the same time, the devil is inside Mary. Right up in there. She’s both actively bad, as well as bad via extension, playing her influence over the young, impressionable, and pretty much evil little Jenny.
The tension between Monsignor Howard and Dr. Arden – more so Howard’s worry he’ll be caught out helping Arden – has led the Monsignor to removing Sister Jude from her position at Briarcliff. She knows it is Arden whose influence is turning Howard, which we know. But the childish and misguided Howard, worried for his own sake, sends her off anyways. I actually feel bad for Jude, no matter how bad she’s been on her own, because this is all out of her hands. She knows the truth about Arden above all else. Worse, Howard is being manipulated. Even more than that, the devil in Sister Mary Eunice is working full-time.
Kit Walker (Evan Peters) uses his one phone call to ring up Thredson. Naturally, it’s the worst time for Oliver; he’s got Lana downstairs, trying to escape. We can see a bit of the breaks at his seams, the little boy in Oliver escaping from time to time. Kit knows there’s something wrong with it all, he realizes now Dr. Thredson lured him into confessing on tape, falsely, then gave it to the police.
Sadly for Lana, getting all worked up has Oliver feeling crazier once he discovers her sweating, her pulse is rocketing, and she’s been trying to escape. Or as he sees it, trying to abandon him. Oh those MOMMY ISSUES! They’re a real bitch, at times. Pretty damn bad when you’re a psychopathic killer who wears the skin of women for a mask, teeth, hair, the whole she-bang-a-bang.
AMAZING SCENE with Lily Rabe. Sister Mary Eunice sings and dances in a red negligee she stole out of Jude’s dresser along to “You Don’t Own Me” performed by Lesley Gore. The best part, surprisingly, is not seeing the beautiful Rabe, but it’s the fact the devil inside is raging, singing the lyrics right at the cross on the wall.
As Sister Jude gets a useable fingerprint from an unsuspecting Arden, unfortunately Mr. Goodman reached Mary Eunice on the phone – pretending to be Jude.
At Goodman’s hotel later, Jude finds him with his throat cut, blood everywhere, now the jig is up. On the bathroom floor she pulls close to him and he tells her it was one of her nuns. BAM!
Simultaneously, Sister Mary Eunice, or Satan – whatever – brings all the research Goodman had back to Arden. She also kept some stuff for backup, in case Arthur decides to turn around and double cross her. This is the first time we see him BLOW UP, the Nazi Aryan piece of shit in him exploding in front of us as he rants to Mary about the “money grubbing Jews”. I mean, whoa, Arden! I knew you were a Nazi, but that was… direct. At least for his sake he’s got Sister Mary Eunice, whose devilish side loves the doctor and his own evil ways.
Then there’s Jenny, whose latest situation involves another dead girl. Naturally influenced by Sister Mary, as well. What a bad, bad nun she is. I love this little subplot, having a creepy little kid – pays homage greatly to some of the killer kid films from the 1950s-70s era. Lots of disturbing bits of fun in here.
Worse and worse is the situation for Lana. Dr. Bloody Face is crawling on top of her, ready to cut in and have some fun. A flashback reveals when he first saw her as fit to be MOM, back when Kit Walker – supposedly Bloody Face – had been brought into Briarcliff.
But the kicker is when Oliver says “Baby needs colostrum“, which is downright sickening and twisted. Blew me away in a terrifying way. He sucks on Lana’s breast and it trips me out. Yuck.
Very end sees the police in present day show up to Briarcliff, as they find a phone – current day Bloody Face, whomever he may be, tells them he’s up to no good.
In fact, he’s got Teresa Morrison (Jenna Dewan Tatum) captive – Leo’s (Adam Levine) wife from the framing narrative beginning at the season’s start – and who knows where they are, or what exactly he’s doing with her.
Looking forward to reviewing the next episode, “Dark Cousin” directed by Hannibal regular Michael Rymer, an excellent television director as of late. Stay tuned for that one, should be another creepy chapter in the Briarcliff diary!
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. 2003. Directed by Marcus Nispel. Screenplay by Scott Kosar; based on the 1974 screenplay by Kim Henkel & Tobe Hooper.
Starring Jessica Biel, Jonathan Tucker, Eric Leerhsen, Mike Vogel, Eric Balfour, Andrew Bryniarski, R. Lee Ermey, David Dorfman, Terrence Evans (R.I.P), and Lauren German. Platinum Dunes.
Rated 18A. 98 minutes.
Now before I get into anything about this film specifically, I want to start by saying I’m one of the most staunchly loyal fans of the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre. I saw it when I was about 12 years old and it totally frightened my balls off. It still does because, ultimately, can you say you’d stand emotionless, cool and calm as a six and a half foot man dressed in the skins of others, wielding a chainsaw, ran at you screaming like a lunatic? No, you’d shit yourself, or run for your life. It’s putting myself into the positions of the characters which gets me scared and what makes the suspense and tension feel real and palpable to me. Putting myself into that position, trying to imagine how I would feel and react, there’s a more visceral response to a horror film. But that’s just me. It doesn’t always work, as some horror movies are plain terrible. However, that’s the way The Texas Chain Saw Massacre continues to strike me up to this day, and each time I watch it there’s that visceral mounting fear inside my chest and throat I got the very first time I’d seen it, on a scratchy VHS tape.
In 2003, Platinum Dunes gave director Marcus Nispel the reigns to tackle a remake of Tobe Hooper’s indie horror classic. Though not modernized, there is most certainly a modern look to the film. Simultaneously flashy and also gritty, this new Texas Chainsaw Massacre does have a nice set of vicious teeth. Problem is, so much of what could’ve been excellent in this remake turned out to be just a cash grab. There’s no real interest in the original, there isn’t much care to preserve anything significant outside of the bare bones and structure. Mostly, this remake is a needlessly sexualized film which substitutes young glistening bodies, mainly Jessica Biel with her tights jeans hugging and hanging on for dear life against her hips, for anything either really innovative or overly impressive. Boasting some fun horror and well-executed gore, as well as general nastiness, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre isn’t a total waste of time. Just don’t head into this expecting you’ll find the greatness of Hooper lurking anywhere significant.
One thing that truly bugs me to no end about this remake is how Platinum Dunes seems to want to try and teleport cinematically back to the 1980s. What I mean is not in a good sense. The whole angle of DRUGS/MARIJUANA = MARKED FOR DEATH becomes a tired cliche. In the remake of Friday the 13th, an incredibly misfired piece of horror, the same type of trope comes into play. I get that part of the whole subplot between Erin (Jessica Biel) and Kemper (Eric Balfour) is the fact she didn’t know about his smuggling pot along the highways in their van, neatly packed into a piñata. However, having Erin be the only left at the end – just so happens to be the only person who didn’t wanna join in and smoke some weed in the van – is a dumb touch. Maybe intentional, maybe not. Someone along the line should’ve said “This feels too much like old and outdated horror tropes we have to write something better”. They didn’t, and Platinum Dunes seems to want to keep repeating that whenever possible.
It’s like the old slasher movies: if you drink, have sex, smoke, do drugs, you DIE! Frankly, I’m done with those cliches. Worked well for the slasher films of the ’80s, I love so many of them, but now unless it’s a meta-like situation, or postmodern commentary on the sub-genre, I’m just finding it tiring. New films need to find new ways in which to operate. Plus, the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre never went by any of those rules, preceding all the ’80s slashers by a half dozen years almost, so I don’t see why they felt the remake needed to lean in that direction.
Even further, it’s as if the screenwriter wanted to make this version of the movie into a world where the travelling group of young friends somehow deserved whatever they found. At every turn there’s a way to make the group out to be a bunch of city folk coming into the rural communities, acting bigger and better than everyone else. In the original, it was just these regular young guys and girls who ran into absolute horror at the hands of Leatherface and family. For the remake, we get the scene where they stop their van at a gas station in order to call local law enforcement so they can report the girl who killed herself. In this bit, the guys are pushy and they get heated when the woman seems a bit too laid back over everything. Although this might be slightly realistic, there’s still this need for the movie to point and say “THESE ARE THE ONES WHO WILL BE KILLED”. In fact, the only one who cares about not dumping the dead girl like a piece of trash is Erin – and though this does end up drawing them further into the world of Leatherface, it’s still screaming of a dumb morality the remake tries to impose on us.
I’ve griped quite a bit now about what I don’t like, so let’s electric slide into something I’ve enjoyed about this film.
The gore stands out as being fairly vicious. A few amazing horror movie kills in this one and I don’t think anyone would disagree. While not all the aspects of this remake hold up, I do think they seal the deal with a nice amount of blood and guts.
And it isn’t only the gore, I find there were a few truly unsettling moments. For instance, one of the parts in the original which terrified me is the hammer to the head, then Leatherface wails his creepy voice into the air and slams his metal door. I thought that was SUPER CREEPY! In this one, there’s a very similar bit that makes me feel almost the same. As Kemper (Balfour) walks around the house they’ve come across looking for the sheriff, he knocks something off a door. While bending to pick it up, Leatherface slides in behind him looking so depraved and then he sledgehammers Kemper to the floor – he drags the body away, out to where a big sliding metal door is fixed on the wall. Disappearing inside with the body, Leatherface quickly comes back and slides it shut. So reminiscent of that scene in the original and it’s a genuinely scary bit. Dig it, so hard.
Even further, once Erin (Biel) goes back to the house with one of the other guys looking for Kemper who, of course, has disappeared, there’s another pretty wild and jumpy moment when Leatherface finally and fully reveals himself to the young people. I thought it worked great, as the addition of wheelchair-bound Uncle Monty (Terrence Evans) made it extra weird and creeptastic. His pounding on the floor with the cane, almost a call to action for his little/giant creepy nephew Leatherface, it gives things a real nasty excitement.
Not to mention, the whole hitchhiker scene was subverted from the original in fine fashion. They found a way to make that whole scene fresh for their remake, as well as extremely grim. I couldn’t believe it the first time I saw it. One of the biggest things the movie has going for it is the shock you’ll receive during that scene. Disturbing bit. Plus along with that comes some a good little bit of blood and brains, all around nastiness.
One thing I both hate and love is the way the film looks, the whole aesthetic in general. While there’s this gritty, dirty feel to the cinematography (courtesy of Daniel Pearl who coincidentally did the work on the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre), it also has that overall glossy edited style Platinum Dunes like to force on its remakes. It focuses more on the sweaty bodies of the muscles of the guys, the exposed and glistening midriffs of the women, than truly trying to make the entire atmosphere and tone of the movie into something dark, something nasty. It’s as if everything is working towards that grimy feeling – they almost want you to feel the grit in the back of your mouth on your tongue – and yet still, there’s a television commercial-like quality to so many of the scenes that it’s almost embarrassing at times. I think a lot of that comes in the exterior scenes – especially when the camera rides along right behind Biel’s ass in the purposefully low low cut jeans. Inside the house itself, so much of the scenes are extremely dark that it becomes hard to give it that glossy look. Though, it is still there in certain parts and it bugs the hell out of me. If they’d gone totally head first into that dark and filthy atmosphere, I’d be sold almost 100%. Instead, there’s this weird quality to the cinematography where it balances on this thin edge, often coming too far down on the wrong side for me to fully enjoy the movie.
Overall, I give this a 2.5 out of 5 stars. It’s by no means a great movie, not even close. There were elements of the script I felt added something fresh to this remake, however, what ultimately hurts this as a movie is that it confuses the gritty atmosphere and tone at which it aims. Coming out of the Platinum Dunes remake machine, this looks too flashy at times and throws itself off course. There’s nothing that bad about the acting – especially when you throw the fascinatingly creepy R. Lee Ermey into the mix. So mainly, I find it’s the weird and off-balance feeling of the entire film that detracts from this becoming a good movie. Moreover, the focus on Jessica Biel’s ass and body parts, as well as the implication that DRUGS ARE BAD KIDS MMKAY, make so many scenes in this movie laughable. Especially if you compare it then with the first. There’s not near enough to make this a fitting tribute, so if you’re looking for a good remake look elsewhere – Platinum Dunes haven’t got any of those.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. 1974. Dir. Tobe Hooper. Starring Marilyn Burns, Allen Danziger, Paul A. Partain, Wiliam Vail, Teri McMinn, Edwin Neal, Jim Siedow, and Gunnar Hansen. Vortex. 18+. 83 minutes.
Between a mix of Tobe Hooper’s raw filmmaking style, and my ability to empathize fairly well, I was absolutely shaken when I first saw The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. It’s the reason why horror filmmakers are perpetually fascinated by that same recurring plot of “murderous cannibal family lives in the woods and kills people off who wander into their home”. It’s one of the reasons I love horror films in general. It influenced, and continues to influence, a number of generations of horror fans and filmmakers alike. I remember my mother, who isn’t a stranger to horror (she read most of Stephen King’s work when I was growing up and passed all the books of his she owned onto me), telling me about the first time she watched The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and said it’d terrified her; quote unquote, the scariest thing ever. Of course, being a young male and thinking my mom couldn’t possibly offer me any insight on the horror genre, I went ahead and watched it anyways.
Needless to say, my mom has a fairly accurate opinion about what a scary film is. The first time I saw the movie is forever imprinted in my brain.
There’s something never right even from the very start of TCM, as we get the cringe-worthy sound accompanying the camera flashes while viewing macabre images. Then of course it kicks up a notch after the gang we’re going on a trip with along the Texas highway picks up a hitchhiker who turns out to be far beyond stable. Hooper works in a lot of suspense, and an absolutely unparalleled air of dread before finally letting Leatherface loose for the first time. I remember first watching this when I was 12 years old (I was only born in 1985, so it would have been around ’97 somewhere), surely not supposed to be according to my parents. When Leatherface first blows through that door with that shriek of his, attacking the unsuspecting victim, I was absolutely terrified.
Even 20 years or so after first scaring audiences in the mid-seventies, it was still working its magical horror on people on my sorry ass. Today, I can still throw it on and be shocked when first meeting Grandpa; the scene where they try to get him to take some of her blood is at once horrifying, and also darkly comic. After all the years of desensitizing myself with horror of all kinds, I can still find a creepy thrill from TCM.
I put myself in the shoes of these people- imagine encountering something like Leatherface. You’d be petrified. The whole family are disturbing characters in their own right, and they bring some black comedy to such a wild horror film. Hooper’s raw way of filming TCM brought a whole new element to the idea of horror, and people for years to come (and still continuing on into the foreseeable future) would try emulating its feel, but nothing can ever top it for the gritty terror it induces.
You can pretend all you want, but if Leatherface burst out from some shut-up door in an old house where you were looking around, you’d not only be terrified, you would most likely die. Along with letting loose most bodily functions. Isn’t that terrifying enough? Hooper didn’t have to add much to make this terrifying for me except the script itself, and the performances that came out of it. I feel a lot of it, if not all, was very natural, and very much how I would imagine people might really react.
All in all, this movie gets a full 5-star rating. Hands down. One of the best, and continually most frightening horror films I have yet to see. It always makes me wonder when I am deep in the woods camping somewhere, or hiking, if there really may be people out there living in a big creepy house, killing whoever they can manage to get through their doors. Any film that lingers in your mind, making you wonder the impossible is a solid film to me.
I also love how Hooper was partly inspired by the tales he heard of the infamous Ed Gein, whom always played Muse to some of other very famous horror icons including Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs, as well as the iconic mommy’s boy Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 Psycho; Gein used to make things out of skin, including a ‘woman suit’ he apparently used to put on and howl at the moon. You can clearly see where the inspiration for dear ole Leatherface came from while peering into the dark world of Gein. Not that he was like Leatherface much more than at face value (get it – face?), or any of the other characters, but there are bits and pieces of Gein littered throughout them. The most outrageous, of course, are here in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and I love every last second of it.