Thursday, November 29, 2012

Leatherface and Family


I’m back again kiddies for another franchise that could have been easily skipped.  Say, did you know the early 70’s really ushered the serial killer movement?  Thrillers like the 1973 Black Christmas, the quadrilogy of The Blind Dead series from Italy but none had quite the impact as the 1974 Tobe Hooper classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.   So gather your friends, have some car trouble and by God investigate like the Scoobies.   This is the Texas Chainsaw Massacre Collection.

Spoilers are people!!!

Now before we dive into this unbridled insanity, let me be clear that this write-up will not be including the remakes.  The original Chainsaw film was loosely based on the exploits of real life serial killer Ed Gein formerly of Wisconsin.  So we change locations and build a bizarre family of cannibalistic, graverobbing nutter butters tormenting teens and making spare ribs.  Doesn’t that sound keen?  Director Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Eaten Alive, Salem’s Lot, Poltergeist, Lifeforce. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, Body Bags and Night Terrors) claims in articles and interviews the thought behind his horror Mecca was being swarmed by mass loads of shoppers in a department store during the holidays and the first thing he spied was a chainsaw and how ideal that tool would have been to cut a bloody swath to the exit.  I think we all have had days like that. 

 Five teenagers go on a road trip because their friend and her brother want to pay respect to their grandfather’s grave.   This time it was desecrated with a human skeleton perched on top of the headstone posed like some sick joke. The teens are systematically rubbed out of existence by our villain Leatherface and his demented family.  Only one survivor makes her way from the loony tunes and we assume went into hiding.  Enter a decade of abject silence other than did you see that warped film on the drive-in or Beta-Max.  
1986 we have a less primal and bleak sequel The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2.  This film is still incredibly graphic and gory but infused with dark comedy and we now know Leatherface’s family surname is Sawyer and you better whitewash their fences right.   A radio host ‘Stretch’ (Caroline Williams of Stepfather II, Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III, Love and Lies, Leprechaun 3 and Halloween II remake) gets a prank call over the airwaves. As the little pond scum makes vulgar remarks they begin to scream in pain and agony (probably had to see Oingo Boingo in concert) as a chainsaw revs in the background.  Lieutenant ‘Lefty’ Enright, a former Texas Marshall (Dennis Hopper of Hang ‘Em High, Easy Rider, True Grit, The Last Movie, Apocalypse Now, Speed and Land of the Dead) is uncle to Sally Hardesty of the first film and knows all about the Sawyer family and he is determined to catch the lot of psychos.   Now because this film does not follow the same formula as the Friday the 13ths and Nightmares sequels, most of the horror fans overlooked this cult film.  Admittedly the acting is a bit over the top in some characters* coughs Bill Mosely’s Chop Top* but overall it is a dark and demented flick of absurd proportions.  Leatherface is apparently dispatched by Lefty and Stretch deals with Chop Top.  The End…or is it???   

Due to the infamous standing Chainsaw 2 had New Line Cinema wanted to beat this dead horse yet again.  1990, Hooper presents a treatment and New Line was not interested so we bring in Director Jeff Burr (Stepfather II, Puppet Master 4, Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings, Puppet Master 5: The Final Chapter and Night of the Scarecrow) This film was almost a prequel to TCM 2 and left folks a might confused in that regard but heck any flick with Ken Foree (Dawn of the Dead, Knightriders, From Beyond, Terror Squad, Dawn of the Dead remake and Halloween remake) in it can’t be all that bad, right?  Right?  So the Sawyer family has bred some more and honestly the gene pool is not improving, with the exception of Viggo Mortensen.   Yeah that is not a joke.  First real paycheck as he put it.  The MPAA had a field day with this movie and tried to get it an X-rating due to the level of gore, of which there was quite a bit but settled on NC-17.  So inbred hillbilly cannibals match wits with plucky goodie two shoes, horror ensues and Leatherface is allegedly killed…or was he? Dun dun dun!  

Well if you thought that could destroy a wild and warped legacy of terror then I guess you better get under the magic covers because Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation will leave you scratching your head, force you to Kirk shoulder roll from the plot holes and make you ask” Hey isn’t that Matthew McConaughey and Renee Zellweger?”  1995 co-writer of the original The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Kim Henkel decided to take a whack at the series with her interpretation that would explain why the Sawyer family does what they do oh so well.  Four teenie boppers zip away from the high school prom and end up taking the wrong short cut, maim a poor driver and have to find a tow truck.  Fortunately the forest they are in is so backlit they could skip wandering armed only with a flash light.  That’s right folks it’s all the Illuminati’s fault.  The Sawyers dispatch and eat people because…there was a giant plot hole the size of Kansas and no one could plug it.  Two other comments about this little stinkburger is the actress Lisa Newmeyer (The House on Todville Road, Rolling Kansas, Sin City and A Scanner Darkly).   Her death scene felt like an eternity.  They drag this one scene out making Zellweger’s character watch the torturous scene and frankly I was going bonkers hearing this girl shriek on and on.  Oh, and for some completely unexplained reason, Leatherface because a transvestite in a mask made of human flesh.    Yeah guess Henkel saw Silence of the Lambs and went, “That’s the direction for Leatherface.”

What can we all take away from this?  Well good intentions and a few story ideas does not a film make would be one.   I do not feel in this modern age we can recapture that same terror the original mastered.  Eerie sounds and sets, rotten meat, human and animal bone strewn about offers a sick vision.   But don’t get down folks.  There’s another fricking Chainsaw being made.  Huzzah.