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]?Enter, if you dare…
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.Continue reading The 2018 Slasher Franchise Project Part 2
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.
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
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 been a horror fan for a pretty long time now. Well, relatively speaking. For a brief history of my horror past click here. For reference this was in the mid 90s. So, while there weren’t a great deal of good, new horror movies coming out in theaters (many of which I couldn’t have gotten into anyway) I tried to catch up on the hits (and misses) of decades past.
There was a sense of exploration and newness to this whole new genre of movies that I had very little experience with. I scoured the internet for Best Of lists, bought Creature Features (my still-used guide book for all horror movies pre-1999) and rented just about every horror movie I came across (they weren’t organized by genre, just pure alphabetical).
Not having any fellow horror movie fans as friends and not being too keen on message boards (still not), my journey through the world of horror flicks was a mostly solitary one, with little to guide me but Creature Features (I still read the write-up on any movie I rent and put a dot next to the movies I’ve seen). I did have friends who had seen a lot of these flicks when they were younger and I was able to convince them and my less horror inclinde friends from high school into holding Friday the 13th horror movie marathons to varying degrees of success, but no one else was really on my same learning curve. Plus, when you try and get everyone you know to watch Sleepaway Camp, non horror fans start looking at your movie choices with hesitation.
By the time I went to college I felt like I had a pretty good knowledge of horror movies, more than most people I talked to and I did meet some fellow horror-philes in college, but it wasn’t until I met Rickey Purdin during my Wizard internship that it felt like I met someone who I was on equal footing with.
He and I have watched countless horror movies together and argued about even more (for instance he liked the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake and I did not), but, in the end of the day, we’re both pretty much on the same wavelength when it comes to likes and dislikes.
I guess the point I’m getting to in a roundabout sort of way is that my experience with other horror fans was limited and that I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into as far as fandom goes back when I was 14. When I started reading comics, I saw the kinds of people who read comics at the comic shop and read about my “brethren” in Wizard, distorted as either of those lenses may have been. But it’s not like I had to go to the horror shop to get tapes, it was my local video (yes video) store. Horror fans are truly in a league of their own. Sure they’ve got conventions just like most of the other “nerd” subdivisions and websites devoted to their very existence, but there’s one big distinction I’ve seen that only takes place with horror fans.
We’re kind of jerks.
The funny thing about horror movie fans is that you don’t really get any credit for watching the classics. It’s the equivalent of knowing how to read when it comes to comics. It really just puts you on the ground floor. You might think you’re big dog in the horror park because you’ve seen Halloween, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Jaws and Night of the Living Dead, but guess what? That just gets you in the door. Your mettle really gets tested in the longer franchises and the more obscure flicks. Sure, you’ve watched Halloween, but no one cares. That’s basic. Have you watched all the Halloween movies around Halloween? No? Well, have you sat through Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers? No again? Then sit down kiddo, the grownups are talking.
Okay, that’s a little mean, but it sounds about right, right? In the comic book world, you’re in pretty good standing if you’ve read Watchmen and Dark Night Returns. Sure, those are the basics, but you’re not really in the game until you’ve checked them out. From there you can move on to pedigree books like Sandman, Starman, Preacher, Authority, etc. Your fellow fans won’t give you crap because you haven’t read Extreme Justice or Guy Gardner: Warrior (though you should because it’s awesome, Ben agrees).
I guess you find some similarities when you get into music fandom. But it’s more along the lines of “Oh, you like Led Zeppelin IV? Awesome, check this out.” Sure you get your weirdos who are total snobs and only interested in talking to you if you’ve listened to Jimmy Page’s work with Paul Rogers in The Firm. But it seems like that kind of mentality is more the rule than the exception when it comes to horror. And I kind of like it. What other group of fans honors the good, the bad and the ugly with the same regard?
I’d like to think that if a young horror movie fan came up to me and told me they really liked Night of the Living Dead, I’d be able to nicely suggest they check out 28 Days Later or Return of the Living Dead without being too judgmental.
But, hey, who am I kidding? These damn kids should just go to their video store, or more likely scan the internet and Netflix, and check out all the horror movies they can stomach. Hey, that’s what I did when I was coming up.
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.
Two Texas Chainsaw Massacre flicks in one day? Maybe something’s wrong with me. But, I’ll be honest, I didn’t find much wrong with this flick. Consider this movie the Year One of TCM movies as we get to see the birth of Leatherface, how his uncle played by R. Lee Ermey “became” a cop, Leatherface’s first kill, chainsaw, chainsaw kill and his first human flesh mask. And it’s all done very well by director Jonathan Liebesman who stays as far away from cheesy as possible, even when rehashing the same old TCM tropes you expect: the dinner scene, the girl jumping through a window and getting chased by Leatherface.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. The story starts in 1939 where we see Leatherface born, abandoned and found by the Hewitt family. I thought this was an interesting plot point because maybe Leatherface (aka Tommy) could have had a fairly normal life although his apparent facial disfigurment might have prevented that. It’s kind of nature/nurture thing that isn’t really touched on again, but it put an idea in my head and I like that. The main part of the story takes place in 1969 as two girls drive with their brother boyfriends as one plans to re-enlist for Vietnam and the other says he’s going to join up, but really plans on heading to Mexico with his girlfriend. Meanwhile we see the meat packing plant that Leatherface works at getting shut down and R. Lee Ermey kills the last sheriff in town and puts the uniform on. Basically the Hewitts, lead by R. Lee, decide they’re going to take over the abandoned town. Oh, they’re also going to eat human flesh, starting with the the previous sheriff.
In a pretty great scene, the kids are getting hassled by this biker chick, the driver (the marine) is struggling to get his gun out the glove box when they smash into a car, wrecking it in the process. That’s when they get caught up with R. Lee. The effects of the cow-explosion and all the later death scenes look gruesomely real. Just wait until Leatherface starts hacking people up.
From there it’s a lot of what you’d expect and some things you wouldn’t. Like I said above, the directing is fantastic as is R. Lee’s performance. Unlike Matty M in TCM TNG, R. Lee plays the role with the same amount of brutality, but a lot more subtlety. And this Leaterface puts the TNG one to shame. He’s a huge, beast of man mountain. And the filthy chainsaw really looks creepy.
My one complaint about the flick is how utterly stupid Chrissie (Jordana Brewster). First she tries looking around the destroyed truck she was in instead of getting on the biker chick’s motorcycle and rolling away. Now, she does get points for going for her boyfriend’s gun, but come on. It’s just foolish. So, she ends up at the house with the rest of her friends and instead of making a break for it she spends the rest of the day and night trying to find a way to save her friends. I respect her sticktoitivness, but for cripes sake take the hint. There’s one point where she finds the biker girl’s boyfriend on the road, he wants his girl, so he ditches Chrissie. Again, she doesn’t take HIS motorcycle and get away, she ends up in Leatherface’s basement butcher shop. THEN she’s making her escape when she hears the other girl screaming upstairs, so she goes back upstairs to try and help her. She was at the freaking door when she turned around. Ugh. By this point I was rooting for her to get iced. If any of my friends are reading this post, take note: don’t come back for me if I’m being held captive by a family of psychopaths, cause I’m gonna steal the first motorcycle I can find and get out of there.
One thing I noticed about the movie is that I really really wanted the kids, especially the marine, to kill the entire family, I knew it wasn’t going to happen due to its prequelness, which added a kind of hopelessness to the whole thing. Sure some of them could have gotten away SPOILER (no one does), but they weren’t going to kill the bad guys. I do love the scene when dean smashes R. Lee’s face into the porch a few times. It felt cathartic. It was also cathartic in a weird way when Leatherface popped up in the back seat of the car that Chrissie stole and chainsawed through her seat, killing her. Man she was dumb.
Wow, I haven’t been this torn between liking and hating a movie in a while. I remember seeing the box for this movie at my nearby Family Video (my main source for horror movies), but for some reason it was ALWAYS in the new release section and I was too cheap to rent those movies, I was more a fan of the 2 for $1 VHS rentals. So today was the first time I’ve watched the flick which stars Renee Zellweger and Matthew McConaughey.
There is a lot wrong with this movie. First off, the kids all end up in one car driving for a few minutes away from prom and yet, later in the movie when Zellweger is running away NOTHING IS AROUND. It doesn’t make much sense. Another huge negative for me is this version of Leatherface. Instead of behing this huge, imposing, terifying mostly silent force of nature he’s a yowling little wuss and as far as I can tell he’s not actually wearing a mask of a human face but a wooden one in the beginning.
But it’s not all bad. McConaughey is pretty scary and completely gives himself over to the character of a complete psychopath, though I’m not sure why he has a robot leg brace. Many of his scenes are even pretty scary as the camera doesn’t cut away from his lunatic behavior. I also like the performances by the actors who play Barry and Heather. Barry’s a total asshole who I loved hating. His lines are hilarious as many of them star with “Everybody knows you’re…” “It’s not my fault you…” or “My father is a…” He actually sounds like a character that Danny McBride would play today. And Heather is the dumb blonde girl who actually knows the score saying “There’s people in the woods who are going to chase us down and kill us and lock us in cabinets.” It’s actually funny later when she tells Barry that she doesn’t really believe any of the things she says, she just does it because she’s bored and then all those things happen. Funny stuff.
Another character I really like is Darla who seems normal at first but (surprise surprise) turns out to be related to the Sawyer family. She’s McConaughey’s girlfriend or wife or something and she really does a great job of it. It’s hard to explain her role, she’s kind of frank and logical, seems like Renee but also loves the insane McConaughey, but hates his brothers (Leatherface and the quote-spewing and attributing W.E.. She’s the funniest part of the movie.
And I think that’s why I couldn’t get a good grip on the movie, I had trouble figuring out if it was taking itself seriously or not because there are some seriously crazy parts. The best scene that Leatherface is in is his first where he grabs Heather and it’s very physical and real-looking. But he’s screaming the whole freaking time like a woman and wearing a jerry curl wig/pelt of some kind that just looks stupid.
As you’d expect the whole end of the movie involves a dinner scene with Renee trying to escape from the house over and over again. There’s a bunch of scary-ish scenes, but it could border on torture-porn for some folks. At one point Darla confides in Renee that Matthew works for the Illuminati (the people who make the world go round). I kind of expected it to just go nowhere, but later on a dude shows up and says he’s disapointed in Matthew for not spreading enough horror (or something). I have no idea what this means. The dude disapears, some more craziness happens and then Renee gets away and into an RV as Leatherface runs behind her dressed in a woman’s suit with what looks like a large woman’s chest skin under his jacket. It looks RIDICULOUS. Anyway, you think she’s okay until they show up in a truck with Leatherface swinging his chainsaw at the RV until it goes off the road and flips over. Then, Matthew’s chasing Renee and is just about to get her when a plane you saw a few minutes before and just assumed was a crop duster shoots him in the head. Then she turns around and there’s a car right behind her with the weird dude from before in it. Leatherface seems freaked out and does a stupid chainsaw dance when the car pulls away. Ridonculous.
I’ve read that this is some peoples’ favorite TCM follow up. I can’t say if I even have one. I’ve got to watch 2 again and Leatherface (aka TCM 3) for the first time. I’ve also got the TCM remake’s sequel ready to watch from Blockbuster so look out for that.
Finally, I have to put a call out to all of you folks who are so good at re-cutting movies into trailers like Must Love Jaws or 10 Commandments I Hate About You NEED to recut TCM: TNG into a romantic comedy trailer. PLEASE! I’ll give you a dollar and link the crap out of it.
Hey gang, we’ve got a new feature here, Dueling Reviews. A few years back when I first got to Wizard a rad dude named Rickey Purdin and I became roommates and started watching movies all the time. Mostly horror movies. So, we’ve got pretty similar tastes when it comes to those kinds of films, but not always. This is one of
those cases as he likes the 2003 Texas Chainsaw Massacre and I don’t. So, to give a fair and balanced perspective I asked him to jump on and offer up his opinion on the flick. So, here’s the basics before we get into it:
Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)
Written by Scott Kosar
Directed by Marcus Nispel
Starring Jessica Biel, R. Lee Ermey, Eric Balfour and a bunch of other folks with narration by John Larroquette
No offense to my friends from Texas of which Rickey is one, but it seems like only bad things happen when you drive through the state in which everything is bigger. Like getting killed by freaks. The original Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one of my top two favorite horror movies of all time, so I was pretty surprised when Rickey recommended this remake. So how did it hold up?
First, the story though. The flick opens with a cold case-like explanation telling you that these are based on true events and even shows “archival footage” from the 70s (which is when the movie is SUPPOSED to be set). We then switch to the actual movie which follows five kids as they’re on the way to a concert and stop to pick up a female hitchhiker. This woman has been terrorized by the Hewitt family (Leatherface’s peeps) and is just trying to get away, but it turns out that the kids are actually heading back towards the Hewitt’s headquarters. She freaks out and shoots herself in the head in the van. So the kids stop and try to deal with it responsibly by calling the local police and all that. From there they split up and find out just how crazy the Hewitt’s are and start getting killed. Pretty standard horror movie stuff.
I know I’m supposed to look at this TCM as its own independent flick, but it just doesn’t work for me. It’s impossible to not compare a remake with the original, especially when you’re so familiar with the original. Which isn’t to say that I hated all the changes these folks made. I have problems with the hitchhiker girl that I will get to, but it doesn’t stem from changing her character from the original. But I really did like the opening credits and the old footage because it implies that the real world actually got involved at some point to try and stop these people. I’d like to see that movie actually.
So, what didn’t I like? Well, first off, I didn’t buy for a second that this was set in the 70s. Maybe it’s because they were going to a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert and you can still do that. Plus, I see crappy vans like they ride around in all the time. I’m not sure if that’s nit picky or not, but it bugged me.
I also wasn’t all that scared. Sure, part of that is because I’m desensitized as hell by now, but watching the original TCM still freaks me out and I just don’t get that here. I think part of it is the style they used to shoot/edit the movie. I don’t know what it’s called but it’s been used a lot since this one came out. It felt tired to me because I’ve seen it in so many flicks, but that’s not this movie’s fault so I can’t blame them. But, it did feel to “movie” like and completely lacked that “I’m right in this with them” feel that the original had due to the film quality and what not. I guess what I’m saying is that it looked too slick. It should have been dirtier like the Hewitts themselves.
And speaking of the Hewitts, man are they creepy. I had no problem with the restructuring of the family or the lack of the infamous “dinner scene.” In fact I found that to be pretty brave. But, what bugged me was when they showed Leatherface’s ugly mug. I don’t want an explanation for what he does (as they give later on in the movie). I don’t care how badly he was made fun of as a kid or what’s wrong with his actual face. There’s no reason for me to feel sympathetic towards a character that murders and tortures people with hooks, chainsaws and bathtubs full of blood or whatever that was. He’s bad, that’s that. Get on with the maiming.
Speaking of the chainsaw for just a second, it wasn’t scary at all in this remake. Well, it was scary in the sense that all chainsaws are scary, but what made the original so terrifying was the looming threat of those teeth tearing into you, which was mostly achieved by its place in the sound mix. It was right there, always right behind you, always loud, always ready to attack. In the remake it just doesn’t sound as good. It feels buried like a regular old sound effect and that really takes away from the looming scare factor.
But, hey, the movie wasn’t all bad. There’s this scene where Leatherface chases one of the dudes through a huge maze of hanging sheets (it was a LOT of sheets) that really captured what I was talking about above with the impending doom factor. There’s also a scene where Jessica Biel has to kill one of her friends because she can’t get him off of a set of hooks. That was pretty crazy too. I also like the cast for the most part. R. Lee Ermey’s as over the top as always and the kids are all good, even though Jessica actually seems to fit and strong to be running around so scared. Not that I’d expect even Hulk Hogan to turn around and try to fight a psycho with a chainsaw, but you get my meaning. I hope.
But now, on to my biggest problem with the movie: its ending. So, Biel gets away from Leatherface’s Saw-like torture chamber with the help of the youngest Hewitt, a kid who later gets punished for helping her and one of her friends escape. She gets chased through the meat factory by Leatherface and at some point decides its a good idea to hide in a locker with a meat cleaver and then GETS LEATHERFACE’S ATTENTION. Brilliant! She even lets him walk by her and calls out so he’ll come back and look for her. She jumps out of the locker and ends up cutting his arm off with the meat cleaver. So she’s in the clear right? He’s freaking out so she runs away and gets to a road where a nice trucker picks her up even though she’s soaking wet covered in blood and probably smells awful (but hey, she’s hot). So, he’s driving her away when they pass by the sign for the gas station where all of her troubles started (when they pulled over to call the cops about the dead hitchhiker who freaked out in the back of THEIR car). So what does she do? She freaks out and tries to grab the wheel. So, the truck driver does what any normal person would do, he stops and tries to get help at the gas station. I understand freaking out. Hey, she’s had a pretty crappy day (though at least she didn’t get gummed by grandpa at dinner), but the driver made no indication of stopping. She just went nuts and he stopped because of her. You’d think if you were getting out murdertown safely, you’d take whatever you could get.
Okay, so the driver’s out of the truck and what does she do? Nope, not just grab the keys and say “sorry dude.” She sneaks around and grabs a baby that the family is fawning over while they’re distracted (it’s a tacked on plot element that was mentioned earlier in the movie, I think the kid was actually the hitchhiker’s child, or something) and then hotwires R. Lee Ermey’s police car and drives away in the rain. Though not before she repeatedly drives over Sherrif Ermy a few times and Leatherface gets one last jump at the camera in. The whole ending felt like it could have ended better a few times and just kept getting more and more ridiculous which took away from what, otherwise, was a pretty good last 20 minutes.
And now, Rickey will surely show me up:
“Well, I gotta admit that while the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre is definitely one of the most terrifying movies I’ve ever seen (the kind that creeps back into your mind at the most inappropriate times like when you’ve just laid down for bed in a newly lightless room or when you’re walking home from the bar in the dark all alone), no movie has ever been untouchable for me when it comes to a remake (except The Goonies and Monster Squad). That’s why I was more open to the idea of the updated version when it was released back in 2003 than TJ – but that’s not to say I prefer the remake; I just find a different kind of enjoyment in it. I may also have had a better viewing experience than TJ, which probably also increased my enjoyment of the film. It was Halloween and a bunch of my friends rolled down to the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas to check the film out. We had a bucket of beer between us and were sitting in the coolest theater in the world, ready to wet our pants with fear.
“That being said, though, I think the new TCM had a million and one things going for it in 2003. The Saw and Hostel film franchises had yet to open (that’d be 2004 and 2005, respectively), so the gorier, funkier takes on the slasher scenes in TCM were still fresh wounds on the eyes of the audience. TCM was also one of the few times that the MTV style of hip, beautiful, crisp images worked for me in a horror film. Sure Jessica Biel was gorgeous. But there was something creepy and crouching behind that massive metal door in that middle-of-nowhere mansion that whispered, “What do her insides look like?” and all I could do was stare at the screen.
“When looking at remakes, I mostly keep myself from trying to compare the remake to the original. I think you have to sometimes because the two films, while similar on the surface, almost always have a different intention. With the original TCM, director Tobe Hooper basically scared the audience sh_tless by showing what many actually believed to be a snuff film with a docu-style cinematography. It was a look into a world so horribly shifted from ordinary life that it was easy to see why the surviving girl had lost her mind by the end. With this remake, though, director Marcus Nispel wasn’t necessarily trying to pass off a rehash of the original, so much as update it with a more twisted look into the Hewitt family and a visual palette that, by itself, was extremely discomforting.
“From the start, you feel the heat in this small Texas town and the flies, sweat, blood, tears, saliva, fingernails and goo covering every frame maintain that constant anxiety. And the more the film continues after the genius R. Lee Ermey arrives on screen, the more your stomach hurts with the anticipation that something just god-awful will jump out and grab you. That’s not to even mention the real-world oddness a backwoods southern family can ooze. The last thing you want to run into after a girl shoots herself in the back of your car is a redneck cop eye-balling your ladyfriend and threatening to shoot you. I thought the look on the stoner kid’s face was legit. And don’t get me started on the little Hewitt who helps out Jessica. That kid was creepy enough in The Ring, but toss some hillbilly teeth on him and take away his shoes and…I just need a bath thinking about it (He’s tolerable, though, in the intolerable Drillbit Taylor)
“As for Leatherface, I thought the remake’s version employed a less unpredictable demeanor in the hulking madman, but there was some palpable terror in that Xanax-ed portrayal. Like a quiet, blood-covered dog whose steak you just pulled away. The unknown terror you know he’s about to unleash just continues to scare. For that matter, all the Leatherfaces in all of the various TCM films have all been fairly separate from each other and instigate their own, respective types of unease.
“And as for the ending, I thought it was rad that she chopped off Leatherface’s arm! I love when a movie tosses me a curveball like that because it leaves me thinking ANYTHING can happen. Especially when that type of thing creates a deviation in a remake from the remake’s source material. Just when you think the move will just follow the ending of the original, now there are NO rules. And that she kept getting stuck back in that backwards town just upped the tension for me. It was the “Don’t go in that room!” scenes for me. And that she got to take one final revenge on R. Lee Ermey’s kidnapping, rapist, misogynistic perv of a villain made me want to cheer. And it had me asking, “What would I do in that situation?” I like to believe I’d go back and help that baby. And I’d like to believe I could work my cathartic anger out on the man who created all this horror for me in the first place.
“So, it’s not better than the original – just different. But it did excite the horror genre at a time when horror was a little dead at the box office. Coupled with The Ring, the new TCM pointed out a sudden and promising new dawn on the horizon. I’m not sure it’s been a great day since that dawn, but it was still some scary sh-t in 2003. Plus, it has me excited for Nispel’s next remake; the 2009 New Line film Friday the 13th. Which, despite all out differences, TJ and I will be at on opening night.”
He’s right! We’ll definitely be there. Hope you enjoyed this extra long, extra dueling review.