Tobe Hooper's LIFEFORCE isn't great, but its themes make the whole thing eerie enough for a dark night alone.
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.
Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III. 1990. Directed by Jeff Burr. Screenplay by David J. Schow.
Starring Kate Hodge, Ken Foree, R.A. Mihailoff, William Butler, Viggo Mortensen, Joe Unger, Tom Everett, Miriam Byrd-Nethery, Jennifer Banko, David Cloud, Beth DePatie, & Toni Hudson. Nicolas Entertainment.
Rated R. 85 minutes.
In the 1990s, I was growing up. By the time I was 10, which would put us at ’95, horror movies were already a staple in my life. To the chagrin of my parents, who lovingly tried their best not to corrupt my young mind. Yet my grandfather let me watch a ton of stuff before I should’ve been able to, after that my best friend’s parents let us watch whatever we wanted, as long as they knew what we were watching. So around 10 or 11 I first saw things like A Clockwork Orange, The Shining, and far less majestic stuff like Leprechaun, Dr. Giggles, and so many other horror flicks. Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III is a movie I still remember seeing on the shelf at my local video shop, Allan’s Video. Before I’d ever seen the original of the series I remember wanting to pick this up and watch it. When I finally saw Tobe Hooper’s classic it rocked me. Then I went about seeing the series.
This is definitely not the worst of the series. Nor is it close to being best. But it’s a far cry from a couple of the real rough efforts. The third chapter in Leatherface history at least has legendary Ken Foree. Plus, there’s a really terrifying quality to the entire story. As things play out you’re almost sweating right alongside the main characters. The story also opts not to go the route of having a big group of people who meet up with the crazed cannibals. Instead the group is smaller, as well as the mix of personalities is interesting. And as always there’s at least a bit of hack and slash for us to enjoy. At least it’s not Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation.
On the Texas highway travels a fighting couple, nearly separated but still somehow together, Michelle (Kate Hodge) and Ryan (William Butler). As they go, news reports of mass graves out in the desert circulate; putrefied corpses rotting underneath the sandy ground.
After a run in with a crazy gas station attendant, Michelle and Ryan meet a man named Tex (Viggo Mortensen). He helps them out, though, they end up losing track of him after the gas station lunatic wields a gun and runs everyone off. Afterwards out in the desert, the couple end up running into survivalist Benny (Ken Foree).
But worse than all that, the three of them later run into Leatherface (R.A. Mihailoff), whose family is big, weird, and really, really hungry.
Far from being unique, the scene where Michelle can’t kill an armadillo, twitching and dying on the roadside, is poignant. Yes, that trope has been used time and time again, many of those being in slasher or horror movies in general. But juxtaposing the maniacal ways of Leatherface and his clan which come out later is a perfect way for us to begin understanding the division in mentality between normal people and cannibal nutcases. Y’know, like we need a lot of convincing. This scene, right near the beginning, lets us in on her character as someone who, at that point, is unwilling to even put a dying animal out of its misery. And it sets the tone, in a way. From there we see Leatherface carve up bodies. And there’s almost a wish, a longing to return to the moments where all we knew was the roadkill.
I love that Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger were both involved with this one because they always bring great authenticity to horror with their practical effects. Right from the beginning, these are on display. Then once we move inside the Sawyer home, of course things get even more macabre. There are a number of truly gruesome moments in the last 35 minutes or so. However, that’s only if you’re watching an uncut version. The original one that ran in theatres lacked much outright gore, all in order to satisfy the MPAA. So if you do watch this one, please do so with an unrated copy that holds so much more. Otherwise you won’t get the Berger/Nicotero genius, and Leatherface suddenly isn’t so violent or scary anymore.
On top of nice effects there’s also Kane Hodder; another legend. Well he lent his hand to the stunts for Leatherface, which allowed for Mihailoff to play the bulkier figure while Hodder pulled off the few more trying bits of action. Always a treat for Hodder to be involved in any way. He is a true classic of the genre.
Having Viggo Mortensen in there is a nice touch, though, he was relatively an unknown at the time. His performance is okay, and he doesn’t go completely over the top as you might expect in a film like this one. Along with him and his subtle creepiness, R.A. Mihailoff does a fine job with Leatherface. When playing a role that doesn’t require actually speech there might be a tendency to do other emotive things that can render a performance into pure ham – such is the case in the previous film, and even though I like the sequel to the original a lot the Leatherface role comes off highly cheesy. Here, Mihailoff is more unsettling. He lurches around with a heavy presence and his guttural sounds are more primitive than mentally challenged, as they were in the performances of others who’ve played the role. With Foree in the mix it’s usually a good thing, depending on the material. Not much to use, but Foree does well with the tough nice guy character, and certainly his size helps give the character himself an honest quality. For a mediocre horror flick the acting definitely could have come off worse.
There’s not a ton to offer here, but enough so that Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III doesn’t come out bottom of the barrel in the series. Once again, you have to check out the unrated version. If not then you’ll be getting a terribly edited, cut to shit piece of horror cinema, and the nastiness of the franchise will not come through. That theatrical release does the film a grave injustice. While it isn’t a great movie, it is especially terrible if you’re watching it that way. Stick to the unrated material and this entry is half decent. Enough to give you a little thrill on a dark night, when you’re by yourself, or a couple of friends want to watch something creepy.
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.