With this week’s episode we’re back on the It’s All Connected trail. If you want to follow the threads from the beginning you can go back and listen to episodes 29, 31 and 33! This batch turned out to be a real wild ride through late 80s/early 90s horror! Oh, and here’s one more connection I forgot to mention: Bruce Glover is in both Night Of The Scarecrow and one of the movies-within-a-movie in Popcorn! Also, it’s Donald Pleasance in Prince Of Darkness, not Sutherland.
Last week, I showed you all a detailed view of half of the mostly-monsters toys I lined up in my office this year to get into the Halloween spirit. The first batch included a Masters Of The Universe Classics giant, one of Jack Kirby’s hottest creations, Buffy, a trio of Stranger Things characters, my guy Beetlejuice, a pair of Hellboys and horror icons like Frankenstein’s Monster, Freddy Krueger and Pinhead! Want to see who else made the cut [cue cleaver chopping sound effect]?
Here’s the funny thing about trying to tackle a big movie-watching project like this starting in September: the movies appearing on streaming change wildly when October finally hits. So, when it came to watching Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, I wound up running into a few problems. It wasn’t streaming anywhere for free, so I figured I’d buy a copy. The Blu-ray I grabbed on Amazon wound up not playing on my player, so I rolled over to FYE and got a DVD copy. This doesn’t sound like an epic journey, per se, but it took about a week! And now that movie’s streaming on both Hulu and Amazon Video.
This particular five pack of films all came out in 1986 and 1987 and features only one franchise kick-off accompanied by four part 2s. Only one of those sequels features the original director returning and only one could avoid the label of “bonkers” in my opinion. Let’s jump in.
I’ve officially kicked off this year’s attempt at tackling The Great Slasher Franchise Project. Feel free to read the whole post, but if you don’t here’s the gist. For the second year in a row, I’m watching a whole mess of slasher franchises in the order they were released. Since I watched most of the biggies last year, this one is filled with a wide range of films ranging in release from 1974 all the way up to last year. To see the full list, check out the Google Docs spreadsheet I made and click on the 2018 tab at the bottom.
I got the ball rolling and started with what will mostly likely remain the best film of the bunch, Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre, released in 1974. To my surprise, I’ve never written about this film specifically here on UM. That stems from the fact that I don’t actually watch it that often and also don’t know what I might add to the conversation when it comes to one of the most loved and effective horror films of all time.
Here are some quick thoughts about the film. Marilyn Burns put it all out on the field with this gut-wrenching performance. Franklin might be the most unlikable character in film history. I wonder if the film would hit for a younger audience with some of its more arch characters. I remembered the suffocating chainsaw sounds in the last third of the film, but was impressed with that additions when she met the old man. It’s interesting that there are no living females in this family. Jim Siedow’s turn as Old Man from kindly helper to bat-shit bonkers is chilling. With all due respect to Gunnar Hansen’s Leatherface, Edwin Neal’s Hitchhiker might be the scariest/craziest character in the film. Why doesn’t the truck driver haul ass out of there?
As it happens, I then jumped six years until 1980 where I encountered Paul Lynch’s Prom Night starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Leslie Nielsen a few years before he fully dove into the wonderful world of slapstick. This is another film that I’ve never written about her on the site before, but only because I saw it for the first time a few years before starting UM. I actually remember renting a really bad VHS copy with my buddy Rickey when we were roommates, but not much else about the film.
It turns out that, even when I’ve got a clean-looking version to watch on Amazon Video, it’s still a bit of a hard film to follow. This one’s about a group of kids playing a super creepy game where one of them’s a killer that tragically ends when a young girl falls out the window of an abandoned building. We then jump ahead to these kids in high school getting ready for the prom and falling prey to a masked killer. There are a few shots that clearly state which teen was which kid, but I was muddled on how JLC’s character fit in.
Having just watched TCM, I thought it was interesting that the kids’ “kill” chant takes on a similar feel as Leatherface’s chainsaw, wherein both felt anxious and suffocating. There’s also a motif of going out of windows that both films share, though with different results. Of course, the two films that Prom Night gets compared to the most are Carrie and Halloween. I feel like the former comparisons simply stem from the longstanding difficulties of being in high school, while the latter is actually used to throw people off the scent of what’s really going on as there’s an escaped killer on the loose who might be the one responsible for the current swath of killings even if that wouldn’t make much sense given the prank phone calls and year book pictures being cut out and taped up in lockers.
While not my favorite slasher, I do consider this one to be a solid entry in the genre. The escaped killer stuff felt tacked-on, but then again, one of the few memories I had of the film actually revolved around the killer’s identity. I also think it did a nice job of understanding the tropes of the still relatively young genre and playing with them, while also delivering on what fans wanted.
My travels then took me to 1982 where I became reacquainted with Amy Holden Jones’ Slumber Party Massacre. I actually wrote about this one a whopping 8 years ago when the DVD box set came out and had a lot of the same thoughts then as I did this time around (I guess I’m getting consistent in my old age).
The plot here’s pretty basic. A madman by the name of Russ Thorn just broke out and has decided to go on a rampage that coincides with a group of high school girls sleeping over at a friends’ house together. Calamity ensues.
A lot of the “problems” with this film — too many fake-outs in the the first third, the gonzo killer, the nods to other movies and the seemingly endless failed attempts to take out the killer — stem from the fact that it was actually written as a parody, but shot like a straight-ahead horror film. I had to remind myself of that when I would get a little bored here and there.
Actually, the more I think about it, the fact that Thorn — a guy who dresses not unlike Michael Myers and uses a power tool like Leatherface, but doesn’t bother with a mask — is just going nuts on whoever he can find is pretty enjoyable. When you think about it, he could have been caught at any moment. Unlike Myers, he’s not calculating. He’s not wearing a mask on Halloween, he’s just running around a school knocking off whoever he can get his hands on. He also shares Myers’ flair for the dramatic at times and you even get to watch him set up for a surprise kill which is something I can’t remember seeing in another slasher flick. Upon further reflection, his chaotic nature makes him even scarier, but I had to think on it a bit.
That brings us to the our November 1983 release, and one of my all-time favorite bug-nutty movies: Sleepaway Camp. Yes, I’ve waxed rhapsodic on this one already, but did have a few more thoughts on this Robert Hiltzik-helmed project.
If you’re not familiar, Sleepaway Camp revolves around a young girl named Angela who lived through the death of her father and sibling during a childhood boating accident. She moved in with her aunt and cousin and now, years later, the awkward young woman accompanies her cuz to a summer camp chockablock full of absolute scumbags who start getting killed in horrible, but still deserving ways.
What really struck me this time around is just how terrible the women in this film are treated, for the most part, both by lecherous or greedy men as well as other females. I’m sure I noticed those bits and pieces before, but this time they turned into a tapestry exemplifying all of the crap women have to deal with in the world and it bummed me out. I’d imagine this one’s trigger warning central and should probably be avoided. Still, I find it so odd and boasting a surprisingly deep context thanks to a few scenes here and there, that I like coming back to every few years or so.
Finally I moved to November of 1984 Silent Night, Deadly Night, which I wrote about here. Fun fact: I wound up taking possession of the Wizard library copy of the first two films in this series. Well, maybe that’s only fun for me.
Anyway, this time around, I found this one difficult to watch. Billy goes through so much terrible shit that you want to be on his side, but once he snaps, there’s very little defending him as he starts killing indiscriminately. At that point, I realized that, instead of trying to present a sympathetic character, this film and director Charles E Sellier, Jr. seem more interested in presenting a holiday-themed blueprint for creating a madman. That’s not generally the kind of film I’m interested in watching, but I will probably keep coming back to this film for the toy store scenes along. Where else can you see Mickey Mouse, the Smurfs, Star Wars characters and two wildly out of place and super creepy inflatable purple Easter bunnies all in one film?
With the first five films of the project in the bag, I’m not sure I’ve found any mind-blowing coincidences or connections. All of these films are about mentally unbalanced people preying on young people or said young people developing their own murderous tendencies. They all seem to lack parental oversight, forcing the young people to fend for themselves. All five also kicked off franchises that had healthy enough lives throughout the decade to keep them going and even lead to remakes in three out of five cases. We’re still fairly early on in the genre and will jump ahead to the latter half of the decade with the next batch which kicks off with our first sequel Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. Now I just need to get my hands on a copy! And it’ll only get more wild from there.
Last year I found myself in a strange place heading into the Halloween season, which for me usually starts sometime in September. In years past, I’d written posts about various movies and franchises for the dearly departed Topless Robot/Robot’s Voice site. I loved poring over these films, taking notes and then figuring out the best way to present them to an audience.
If you’re keeping track, and I’m not sure why you would be at this point, I’m still muddling through Stephen King’s The Stand. And yet, I stray away from time to time to check out other books like Jason Zinoman’s Shock Value, which I stumbled across while looking for various horror films in my library’s database. With a subtitle like How A Few Eccentric Outsiders Gabe Us Nightmares, Conquered Hollywood, And Invented Modern Horror, how could I not bite, especially around Halloween! Continue reading Halloween Scene: Shock Value By Jason Zinoman
I’ve seen a lot of horror movies since I started getting into the genre around the age of 16. Like a lot of horror fans, I feel like I’ve become somewhat jaded over the years. Once you see enough of these things, you can see the Matrix a little bit and know when a scare is coming — if you can tell the difference between an impending jump scare and a legit one, you’ve got the super scardar. And yet, there are still the scenes that scared us when we started out and even though they’re fewer and farther between these days, the new films that still give us the willies or come out of nowhere to spook us. I figured with Halloween still in the air — and inspired by awesome horror blogger Stacie Ponder doing something similar over on her excellent Final Girl blog — I’d run down the ten movies that scared me over the years. I’m sure there’s more out there in the world, but these are the ones that came to mind, either because they entered my life at just the right time, scared me for a moment or created an atmosphere that still ooks me out to this day. So, in no particular order, here’s the ten movies the still spook me in no particular order. Consider yourself warned, spoilers abound after the jump!
When I got a press email about review copies of Texas Chainsaw DVDs being available for review, I almost didn’t respond. I get several of those a day and only reply back to ones I’m really interested in reviewing. First off, I only have so much time and don’t want to spend time watching things I don’t think I’ll like. Sure, I’ll probably miss out on some unexpected greatness doing this, but it leads into the second reason which is that I do feel a real responsibility to write a prompt, timely review when a company goes out of its way to send me a review copy. I don’t want to be that guy who asks for free stuff, but never fulfills his part of the agreement by actually reviewing the material.
Anyway, I gave Texas Chainsaw a watch and didn’t fall in love with it, but it definitely has some interesting idea kernels in there that kind of burrowed their way into my brain. Unlike the 2003 remake or its 2006 prequel The Beginning which worked with a new universe based on the original Tobe Hooper film, this version of the story is supposed to be a direct sequel to the original 1974 film. To let you know this, the film picks right up with a montage that pretty succinctly sums up that film and then moves right into a scene of the local sherif trying to get the Sawyers out of the house. Just as things look like they might end peacefully, in rolls Burt Hartman with his redneck posse, their own guns and a few Molotov cocktails. Soon enough, there’s a firefight and the whole house goes up in flames. Nearly every Sawyer dies except for a little girl who gets saved and goes off to live with another family.
Cut to today (or some mysterious time) when Heather (Alexandra Daddario) discovers that she’s inherited a house in Texas that belonged to her birth grandmother. What she doesn’t yet know, but soon discovers after travelling to the house with her friends, is that she’s actually a Sawyer and her cousin Leatherface is living in the basement. Leatherface winds up getting out and making short work of her friends. Heather gets away to the cops where she informs the hunky young deputy of what’s going on, but it turns out said deputy (played by Clint’s son Scott Eastwood) is actually the son of now-Mayor Hartman! Burt and his buddy try to go for some off the books justice against Leatherface which doesn’t work out too well for them.
Many of the problems with the film stem from basic writing and production choices. First off, the timing is all kinds of crazy. They make a big deal of saying the date of the events of the original, but then firmly set this movie in 2012. That’s tricky if you know that the original took place in the 70s and are then curious why Heather isn’t in her 30s or 40s as she was supposedly a baby in the events following the first film. I’ll be honest, this didn’t bother me much until I read Brian Collins’ review over on Horror Movie A Day and really realized how sloppy that made things. I was also really confused as to who all those extra people hanging around the Hewitt house were in the beginning. It’s great that they gave cameos to some of the original cast members — Gunnar Hansen (OG Leatherface), Bill Mosely (from TCM 2), Marilyn Burns (Sally) and even Grandpa himself John Dugan — but it added an extra layer of confusion for me. If they’re such a tight nit family, where were they before? How’d they hear about the troubles so quickly?
The script — which I assume was written and re-written several times by many different people — also suffers from some really corny bits. For absolutely no reason, Heather’s best friend Nikki (Tania Raymond) is constantly after Heather’s boyfriend Ryan (Trey Songz). Heather winds up never finding out about any of this and the only purpose seems to be to make you not like either of them and also get them out of the house for a bit, but it just comes off as rote, typical slasher stuff. Another problem that arose from this relationship is that Nikki gets Ryan out to the barn with the idea that something monstrous has happened, but it’s before they discover that someone is actually murdering their friends and acquaintances so it just comes off as overly meta.
My biggest problem with the movie involves pretty significant spoilers, so skip this paragraph if you want to stay pure. A huge part of the movie revolves around Heather discovering that she’s part of this murderous, psychotic, cannibalistic Sawyer family. One of the idea kernels that I was most intrigued by was how Heather would deal with the idea of being related to those folks. Is this an examination of nature versus nurture? Will Heather turn out to be evil because it’s in her DNA? Will she fight it and stay good? Those were the questions that started appearing in my bead Pop Up Video style. There’s a weird turn where Heather realizes she’s related to Leatherface and also finds out what happened to the rest of the Sawyers (also that she is one) and then instantly teams up with Leatherface. Who, I will remind you, is a man who killed her friends with a chainsaw (he cut one dude in half at the waist in a pretty great gore scene), tried very hard to kill her before seeing a particular birthmark and also sews human faces onto his own face (another pretty great scene, by the way). You get kind of caught up with this as the mayor is trying to kill Leatherface, but when he and Heather get back home and she tries to dab his face — the face he’s wearing on his face — you come back to your senses and none of it washes. I completely understand being adopted and how that can mess with your head, but if I found out that my birth parents were psychotic murderers, I’m 99.9% certain I wouldn’t instantly switch to their side. I also wouldn’t throw him a chainsaw and say, ugh, “Do your thing, cuz,” especially after he almost killed me with the same weapon.
And yet, the movie does a lot of things I like. It’s slick looking, though not as much as the remake. Nothing can really capture the look of the original, so I don’t have as much of a problem with it this time around. I also appreciate how much went into the gore scenes which all seemed to be at least mostly practical. In addition to those there are some legit creepy moments that got me a little twitchy like one where Heather’s looking at a picture of a relative and the reflection ghosts over her own face and the whole thing looked really great and weird and scary. I also liked how they played with some of the conventions associated with this franchise. There’s no dinner scene for one thing. And while it does include a hitchhiker who’s not exactly a good dude, they still do something different and fairly important with him, so it feels more earned.
And yet, there’s still so much goofiness and badness. I really wish they hadn’t used the same actors for the sherif and soon-to-be mayor in the past and present. They look exactly the same and it gets distracting. Same goes for naming the lawman Sheriff Hooper. I get it, you want to pay homage to the original’s director, but when you’re already dealing with so many elements that put horror fans out of the drama, don’t add another one like that.
While the movie itself comes up short, there’s a lot to love on this DVD. The special features are plentiful on this one and sure to please whether you really like this movie on its own or you’re just a fan of the original. Most of the features fall into either retrospective and practical sections. While all of the retro stuff features current footage from this film there are constantly references back to the original film and how this one was trying to pay homage to it in various ways. Take the one called “The Old Homestead” for instance. It’s about the house from the original movie which the crew scanned both in real life (the building is a restaurant somewhere) and the film and did their best to recreate it. Now, I noticed some of the more horrific elements were supposed to be homages, but my memory stinks, so I didn’t realize how far they went to recreate the scene. The coolest aspect of this featurette though was seeing the actors from the original who were in that scene I didn’t like at the very beginning come in and basically relive their experience as if they were transported back to 1974. You get even more from the original gang in “Texas Chainsaw Legacy.”
Meanwhile, there’s a lot of interesting technical stuff expressed on the screen. One called “Resurrecting The Saw” focuses on the producer and writers talking about actually bringing the franchise back and the 3D cameras involved in shooting. The writers straight up say they wanted to go for a vibe where Leatherface is the hero and this lynch mob is the bad guy, partially (I’m extrapolating a bit here) because the mob goes against our sense of fairness and the justice system in this country. Not sure if they nailed that one, but it was interesting to hear where they were coming from. The writers also talked about how much bigger the original script was with more kills and more 3D but a lot got changed. I think a lot was left unsaid here and would love to hear what all four credited writers thing about how this movie turned out.
You’ve also got “Leatherface 2013” which focuses on Dan Yeager and his super-intense experience while playing the renowned crazy person, something that might have made him go a little batty himself. “Lights, Camera, Massacre” gets into some of the complications of shooting in 3D (which seems a bit moot since you’re watching a DVD without that option) and “It’s In The Meat” gets into a lot of the gore special effects. So there’s really a lot to sink your teeth into as a TCM, Leatherface or horror fan.
I think my opinion of the move might have changed a bit after watching the behind the scenes stuff. You can really tell that most of the people involved with the film really had the best intentions and there are a ton of good things going on from the gore and Yeager’s performance as Leatherface to the set design. But then you remember something like “Do your thing, cuz,” and wonder if there wasn’t a producer or studio person sticking their head in a bit too much and making changes.
I think Texas Chainsaw might be the kind of movie that I can enjoy a lot more the second time around. I try to keep my head clear of bias when watching anything, but that’s not all the way possible, is it? You can’t help but let your memories sneak in while watching something referring to old favorites. Now that I know about the Sawyer’s hanging out at the beginning and what happens with Heather, it will be less of a shock to watch again. I find when some things are blunted like that, you can enjoy them more on a second watching.
I’ve watched a LOT of horror movies this week, but this commercial creeps me out more than all of those put together. It’s like Leatherface is hanging out in the grocery store. Thanks to the missus for telling me this thing was FINALLY up on YouTube.
So, I watched Leatherface yesterday and have already forgotten a lot of stuff about it, but it was a pretty decent flick, even though it generally ignores the second movie and I’m usually a fan of continuity. But let’s be real, none of the TCM movies can ever really live up to the original, it’s a true classic that can’t (and shouldn’t) be replicated, though I’ve got no problem with new stories being told in that world. Which is kind of the route they took with TCM3.
This time, you’ve got a couple driving across country who get rerouted while the cops excavate a mass grave full of corpses. This brings them in contact with a creepy gas station owner who, you guessed it, has ties to Leatherface’s family. This time, though you’ve got a mother figure along with grandpa, a little girl and maybe some other people, I got pretty confused and I wasn’t really paying a lot of attention for different parts. Anyway, the couple end up in the woods with Ken Foree (from my favorite zombie movie of all time, Dawn of the Dead) who’s a survival dude who just happens upon the craziness.
You get the basic running through the woods, dinner and chainsaw scenes in this flick. Oh and a great performance by Viggo Mortensen who SPOILER plays Tex, a guy who fakes getting killed and then turns out to be part of the family. At one point he gives Leatherface this crazy chrome-plated chainsaw with “The Saw Is Family” carved into the blade. It’s kind of hilarious, but still creepy. Speaking of Leatherface, we get a pretty good version in this flick as he cuts a woman’s face off in the opening, nails a girls hands to a chair and just generally looks like he wants to murder you.
There’s some pretty cool gore effects in this one and the performances are all pretty solid. A higher death count would have been nice, but what are you gonna do? Worth checking out for slasher and TCM fans.