Stanley and Dell come together tenuously. The unthinkable happens to Penny at the hands of her father.
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 4, Episode 6: “Bullseye”
Directed by Howard Deutch
Written by John J. Gray & Crystal Liu
* For a review of the previous episode, “Pink Cupcake” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Test of Strength” – click here
Fittingly, the beginning of this episode see Elsa Mars (Jessica Lange) pulling out a big bull’s eye target wheel. She’s obviously bringing out a new, or old, act for the show after last time. I’m sure part of it has to do with her jealousy, she wants to make sure her act is the best, the most entertaining. Not for the show, but for herself.
But Elsa is still stuck on the idea of television. She believes the knife act will make it into her show. We know better, though. Ethel (Kathy Bathes) is slightly worried, yet Elsa assures they’ll all be brought out to Hollywood soon enough.
The Mott residence is zany. Gloria (Frances Conroy) tries to make sure Dandy (Finn Wittrock) is being safe with his new toys: Bette and Dot Tattler (Sarah Paulson). Dandy says he feels normal while with them and Gloria is only concerned for the Mott image, I’m sure. He plans on marrying them. Is there any fate worse than this for the twins? Almost wish they’d taken the cupcakes.
Over at the campgrounds, Elsa’s birthday is underway. Paul (Mat Fraser), Pepper (Naomi Grossman), Amazon Eve (Erika Ervin), Ma Petite (Jyoti Amge) and the entire gang line up to give her a present. When the gang asks about the twins, Elsa goes off and threatens to put someone up on the bullseye for a few throws.
Then back in Elsa’s tent, she beds Paul. They have a brief chat afterwards; Paul seems to be put off slightly about the way Elsa acts, though, they’ve still had fun.
Paul is later with Penny (Grace Gummer), whose time at the freak show obviously hasn’t left her fully. Although he’s got to hide under her bed when Penny’s father Vince (Lee Tergesen) barges in. He’s obviously a strict man, worried about her but being a little crazy over it all. The typical 1950s man with too much stress under the collar.
On another love front, Bette appears enamoured with Dandy. In opposition, Dot – the less naive of the duo – does not trust him whatsoever. Funny to see them, both in the same body, each with a highly differing opinion on the man who wants their hand in marriage. Watching them write in their respective diaries is a great sequence, you can see how vastly different they feel about Dandy so easily in these moments. And soon, Dot figures out their purpose for falling into Dandy’s lap: she will try and use his money to separate her and her sister. We get a little dreamy flash-forward to Dot, Dorothy that is, meeting Jimmy somewhere in a diner, after the operation which claimed Bette’s life. Then after the little dream scene, very brief, we’re back to the girls writing more in their diary. I loved this whole section! The music was perfect, the look and feel of the shots in those scenes were all excellent together.
Paul comes across Dandy in a pharmacy. He finds clues of the Tattler twins when Dandy drops a load of items onto the counter, clearly pointing to the fact the girls have been taken off to the Mott house.
Stanley and Maggie Esmerelda (Denis O’Hare/Emma Roberts) plot to get one of the freaks and kill them in order to take back for the museum. Esmerelda doesn’t want to hurt Jimmy, so she steers as much away as possible from suggesting him. Instead, she offers up Ma Petite – the easiest, low hanging fruit out of the entire group. A creepy, sad flash-forward happens showing them drowning her in a little glass jar. So tragic, poor Ma Petite! For now, though, she’s left alive. But for how long?
Things are breaking down, anyways. Paul confronts Elsa about the twins, after she smells another woman on her. He lets her in on the fact everyone believes she’s done something “nefarious” with them, so she calls them all out making a massively dramatic scene. Overacting all in the name of keeping herself out of the guilty spotlight. Still, Paul isn’t fooled at all, he knows the truth after running into Dandy.
When Paul agrees to be put up on the wheel of knives, Elsa throws one directly into his guts. With purpose, or by accident? The look says it all, right on her face.
At the same time, Penny is trying sneak out of the house. Only her father emerges: with a shotgun. He’s not letting her leave. But Penny stands her ground and says she’s off to be with the man she loves. And if dear ole dad wants to stop her, he’ll have to shoot. Then she goes.
Out at the freak show tent city, Maggie goes into Ma Petite’s room and takes her out. She says they’re off to play a game, taking her to another tent and convincing the little lady to get inside a butterfly jar. As the scene cuts, Maggie is about to pour formaldehyde into the big jar with her.
Penny gets back to the freak show looking for Paul. He’s out back, basically dying, as Elsa smokes opium and telling him she wouldn’t care if he dies because he supposedly betrayed her. And Paul knows she didn’t call any doctor. Tragic, and hideous on Elsa’s part.
The next morning, Ethel ices a cake for Elsa’s birthday. Her son Jimmy (Evan Peters) is none too pleased, as he believes Elsa isn’t being upfront with her freaks, none of them; about anything at all. Amazon Eve is also worried, about Ma Petite. Then out of nowhere, she returns, alive, with Maggie chasing fireflies somewhere.
A change of heart comes for Maggie: she tells Jimmy they ought to run away together, but he claims he has things to do first. But to pack her bags. Only when Maggie gets back to Stanley, he is furious, and tells her there is only one way forward: to take Jimmy’s hands for the museum.
Back over to the Mott residence – Dandy is torn to pieces after finding Dot’s diary, in which she relays her disgust with him. When Gloria reads it aloud, he cries. “I was never destined to feel love. The desert knows no mercy. Anything you try to plant out there dies. I must accept this emptiness as a blessing, not a curse. I know why I was put here, Mother. My purpose is to bring death,” says Dandy.
Then, up shows Jimmy Darling at the door, saying he is a friend of Dandy’s and that he is there to look for the girls. He’s invited in, but what awaits him now?
Ethel brings Elsa a piece of cake. Elsa muses about a sister she had who died as a child; born two years before Elsa, she died in infancy and it damaged her parents about beyond repair. She says that Ethel is like her sister, that the freaks are the same as a family to her. Although, Ethel tells Elsa that if she finds out there are any lies, she’ll kill Elsa herself. The episode ends with Elsa blowing out her candles, lamenting all she wants is “to be loved.”
Excited to review the next episode. Freak Show is such an overall wonderful season full of grim, macabre delights. Stay tuned for the next one, fellow horror-ites!
The Collection. 2012. Directed by Marcus Dunstan. Screenplay by Marcus Dunstan & Patrick Melton.
Starring Josh Stewart, Emma Fitzpatrick, Christopher McDonald, Lee Tergesen, Tim Griffin, Andre Royo, Randall Archer, Shannon Kane, Brandon Molale, Erin Way, Johanna Braddy, and Michael Nardelli.
Rated R. 82 minutes.
My love for The Collector is strong, but I’m not so much a fan of The Collection. This sequel, though a good deal of fun, is not a great one in terms of doing anything smart.
What this sequel does is give us more of the evil Collector and his disturbing traps/kills, and it gives us more horror. All the while sacrificing good characters for amping up the scope of The Collector’s murder spree and his prolific status.
There were instances of characters lacking development in the first film, which I think carry over, even worse, to its sequel. Even further, The Collection is intent on adding more characters than are necessary to fill up the movie instead of maybe focusing on less characters that could have been fleshed out a bit more – a lot more, if I had it my way.
Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton essentially tried to go bigger with the scope of their villain, but instead of making things more interesting and intense, it mostly just made me roll my eyes.
There are a few things I did enjoy, they made the movie a decent bit of fun, but in the end Dunstan wasted the potential of The Collector as a new iconic horror villain in the sea of horror movies out there. While this movie absolutely makes The Collector into an even scarier sort, the creepiness in this sequel doesn’t come close to that of the original, trying to rely more on gore and increasingly intricate traps/set-ups within the villain’s hideout. Instead, there needed to be less reliance on new characters and stories and more focus on Arkin; he’s the whole reason things seemed to continue, he’s in the movie as a lead actor, I don’t know why they couldn’t have honed in more on him to make the whole story stay interesting.
The Collection begins after Arkin O’Brien (Josh Stewart) has been taken by The Collector, following the events of the previous film.
We see a young girl and her father, Mr. Peters (Christopher McDonald) sitting in the back of a car as they drive. The father promises to always be there for his daughter – right before they’re t-boned and the camera cuts away.
We also see some newsreel footage of different television stations reporting on the murder spree of The Collector, even brief descriptions of his M.O, et cetera.
Skip ahead to the young girl from before, she is now grown: Elena Peters (Emma Fitzpatrick).
One night Elena goes to one of those real hip parties where it’s in a seemingly abandoned warehouse, or some other equally dubious place (I don’t know why any real people actually do this sort of thing but in reality – they do). There, everyone dances and parties and has a great time.
Then, once Elena goes to the bathroom, there it is: the antique trunk. Inside, of course, is Arkin – the newest addition to The Collector’s collection. On release of Arkin, this triggers a foolishly elaborate trap killing just about every last person inside the building, shredding flesh and bone to bits as it works through a drunk and ecstasy’d crowd (no doubt) dancing their hearts out.
Arkin manages to make it out of the building alive, but unfortunately Elena gets taken by The Collector.
Once in the hospital, Arkin realizes his family is still in danger. He tells them to stay away awhile. Then, a man named Lucello (Lee Tergesen) comes looking for Arkin, asking for help to track down the man who took Elena; her father, Mr. Peters, is wealthy and has a team assembled to find where the man brought her.
Reluctantly Arkin goes along, and once they find The Collector’s lair, he is forced to head inside with Lucello and a team of mercenaries. Within those walls, they have no idea what to expect, and things devolve into nothing except chaos, blood, and death.
My problem with The Collection, as opposed to the first film, is that there’s too much going on. Already in The Collector, Dunstan and Melton focused too little on developing the characters of the family; while Arkin got proper treatment as a character, they did not. It’s a little worse in this one, sadly. Dunstan and Melton opt to include the new characters of Mr. Peters and his daughter Elena, even with a heavy backstory as they have, yet they’re not given as much depth as Arkin was in the first film.
The part that makes this such a downfall is the fact that Arkin is still a huge part of this film; he is the basic reason for the sequel, as the first movie ends with an excellent scene after the credits that pointed all signals go for a potential sequel. And it wasn’t like a cheesy, post-credits plea to say “we really want to do another movie”, it was just a great, disturbing finale to a movie. It came off unsettling.
But Dunstan and Melton passed up a great opportunity here. They clogged up the sequel with too many characters and Arkin suffered for it. Ahem, SPOILERS AHEAD! TURN BACK NOW OR FOREVER BE SPOILED: at the end of this movie, again, we get a great finale – again, setting up the possibility of another film to make this a trilogy – and it once more involves Arkin. So I just can’t help feeling the writers wasted an opportunity to let Arkin’s story grow. Sure, he is featured in a ton of the film’s runtime, however, it isn’t as if there’s much to him in this one. He’s residual here, when they should have amped Arkin up further; it’s probably Josh Stewart’s best role, to me, and they could’ve let him run more and more with it here. I’m not saying I know what would have been best/correct to do with the character here, I just know that what they did hasn’t done any justice for the character. It might’ve been just as interesting to have Arkin stuck in The Collector’s hideout, then somehow include his wife’s debt predicament in the whole matter.
That brings up another problem I have – his wife was in serious debt with loan sharks, the money was due at midnight the same night Arkin went to rob the Chase house, and yet there she is on the television giving interviews, hoping her husband will be spared by the murderer out there with him taken hostage. I mean, maybe the sharks didn’t come because of all the cop activity around Arkin and his family after he’s been taken by The Collector – I don’t know. It bothered me, though. Just feel like there was a good foundation for Arkin as a character built up in the first film and The Collection blew the potential it could have had.
This one feels as if it’s really a Saw rip-off, whereas I felt The Collector was distanced enough from its influences to be something on its own. Even just the opening sequence made me go “oh brrrrrother” and roll my eyes into the back of my head a-la-Liz Lemon. Things got more and more silly. At least in the first one the scope wasn’t as wide; the house was big, but it wasn’t massive like an old abandoned warehouse. It reeked to much of a Jigsaw-like situation. Other than the fact The Collector set traps in the first movie, I didn’t get that Jigsaw knock-off vibe. Here, I really do. Not in the character, in the way his lair is setup. I mean, he basically had homemade Dahmer-style zombies running around in there, and that was way over-the-top, I couldn’t handle it. The part with that one girl who he’d essentially Stockholm Syndrome’d I didn’t find so far fetched, especially when it comes to serial killer territory. But the wild drugged up people he had going on, the massive pile of bodies in the basement – it got increasingly desperate and derivative of Saw to the point where I realized Dunstan and Melton obviously ran out of ideas for this movie and fell back into their Saw formula (I guess that’s the danger when you’re involved with two or three of the movies in that series – maybe it stuck to them like the stink of shit).
Some of the traps here really bugged me – there’s one part where these cylindrical, spiked tubes come down and impale one of the mercenaries whom Lucello brought, and it just feels so god damn nonsensical. Even in the first movie there were a couple moments I thought “Man this is a bit much”, but none of them blew me away to the point I almost laughed. The Collection ends up with too many little bits that made me feel like laughing, or just made me want to shake my head. Too bad.
A part of The Collection I thoroughly did enjoy was the score. Again, Dunstan works with a Trent Reznor collaborator: Charlie Clouser. What a choice. The style of these movies really goes well with that industrial sound. Clouser opts for a more synthesized sound than Jerome Dillon did with the score for the first film, all the while still adding some real heavy riffs into his compositions. There are excellently ominous moments where Clouser goes for the synthesizer – bellowing, low tones almost shiver in our ears while The Collector stalks the halls of his hideout, looking for his prey – and then there are a few awesome guitar tracks.
There’s one part of the score from Clouser which starts with just short of 20 minutes left to the film that blows me away. It’s a great little guitar part with pounding drums, the foggy voices “ahhh” “ohhh” overtop, not too loud, and it sort of drones on in the background, making things feel epic. Leads up to some badassery on the part of Elena (Fitzpatrick) and Arkin (Stewart). Makes the big climactic moments feel all that much more intense. Amazing instance of Clouser’s power as a composer.
I can only give this sequel a 2.5 out of 5 stars. That’s honestly being generous.
A lot of my problem has to do with the lack of Arkin’s development into a more significant character. I mean, by all rights they could do a third film. Perhaps it could be a prequel, I don’t know, (SPOILER AHEAD RE: ENDING) but it might be interesting to see a movie that starts off with Arkin after the events of The Collection. We could pick up with Arkin surveying all the things in The Collector’s actual home, where he’d tracked the killer down and taken him hostage in the same antique trunk where Arkin had once been locked up. Even if the movie got part of the way through and The Collector turned the tables on Arkin, getting loose – we could then have an almost action-thriller mixed with horror, as Arkin takes off after The Collector, intent on finding him before the killer either finds him, or begins to take more victims, or worse – vanishes into thin air. Whatever happens, another film or not, I think Arkin was downgraded in this movie, even with all the screen time he gets; he could have been turned into something better.
You’ll have a bit of fun watching this, but it’s nowhere near as good as its predecessor. I hope to see another movie in the series, though. I love The Collector as a villain. I didn’t find him as creepy here as in the first either, however, I did think there were some interesting bits going on. Mostly, Dunstan and Melton tried to take their near-iconic villain to a level he wasn’t meant go. I liked The Collector as a villain who did elaborate things, yet on a small scale, not only ensuring better invisibility to law enforcement but also in terms of the film world – it made things more plausible, and easy, for the filmmakers while things stayed on a limited scale. Bringing this sequel to a bigger, wider arena in terms of The Collector’s hideout and the innovation of new traps for him to use, did the movie no favours. I can’t recommend it, other than for the completist, or fans of The Collector who just want to see a bit more of the villain in action; even if it’s lacklustre.