In one of the bonus featurettes on this new Scream Factory Blu-ray of the film, the production designer mentions that writer/director Kim Henkel intended TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: THE NEXT GENERATION to be a return to the tone, feel, and look of the 1974 original. If that is truly the intent, then the film is a failure to meet that vision. That said, just because it does not achieve such a lofty goal does not mean there isn’t some entertainment value to be had with it. But that entertainment only comes in fits and starts.
Opening with text/narration that serves as a shot across the bow of Tobe Hooper‘s THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 and the Jeff Burr-directed LEATHERFACE: TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE III that refers to them as “minor, but seemingly related” incidents to the events of the original film, it is clear that Henkel’s vision is closer to meta comedy than horror.
From there, the film becomes a real head scratcher as the first two acts play out like a remake of the 1974 original film, despite setting itself up as a sequel through the opening text. There is the required group of doomed teenagers, the deranged family of psychos who torture and kill, Leatherface (Robert Jacks) is on hand to slug a guy in the head with a sledgehammer and saw through the front door when he gets locked out. All of the elements are there for a pretty faithful retelling of the masterpiece that Hooper and Henkel wrote the first time around. What is missing here is the sense of relentlessness and a hard charging, terrifying third act. THE NEXT GENERATION turns on a decidedly different third act that is strange as all hell, but not even the least bit scary, let alone terrifying.
Despite setting the film up as part remake of/sequel to the original film, Henkel delivers something that feels much closer in tone to Hooper’s CHAINSAW 2. Certainly, he directs the film for dark comedy and gets broad performances from the clan of killers (Matthew McConaughey, Toni Perensky, and Jacks seem to be in a contest to constantly one-up each other in terms of eye-rolling and screaming) the same way Hooper’s sequel did, but instead of turning the violence/gore up to eleven as well, he goes in the exact opposite direction. I’m not saying that explicit gore is necessary for a successful CHAINSAW sequel, but unlike the implied nasty violence in the original film that is never actually shown, the implied violence in THE NEXT GENERATION is silly and awkward. Hell, there is not even a murder committed with a chainsaw in the movie and the family members aren’t cannibals. I suppose there is something to be said for upending expectations, but simply doing so for the hell of it is not reason enough to change the elements of a CHAINSAW movie so drastically.
Where the film flies off the rails—and finds its sporadic entertainment value—is with a third act that includes a pre-fame McConaughey doing battle with his malfunctioning mechanical knee brace, a pre-fame Renee Zellweger shouting, “You sit the fuck down!” to Leatherface who is dressed in full femme fatale drag, a member of The Illuminati showing up to provide (sort of) exposition, and the ultimate deus ex machina to wrap up the chaos. Does all the noise and lunacy add up to anything significant? Not at all, but at least it is funnier and weirder than the stale archetypes and lackluster attempts at scares in the first hour.
Given how low-budget the film was and that most of it was shot at night in the woods, the HD image of the theatrical cut is at times fairly unforgiving to some of the more hastily lit and shot scenes in the film, but overall, it is a better looking film than it probably should be. The added bits and pieces that compose Henkel’s director’s cut (which is six minutes longer than the theatrical cut) are made up of various sources, so the overall image is much rougher.
Henkel’s commentary track on the director’s cut is interesting as much for what he doesn’t say than what he does. Moderator Phil Nobile Jr. gets fairly detailed stories out of cast member Joe Stevens, but Henkel is vague about why he made the movie (saying many times that he didn’t want to direct the film) and what he was trying to accomplish with such an out-of-left field third act. Also on hand for the commentary is documentary filmmaker Brian Huberman who was on set for the entire shoot and is far more pointed in his questioning of Henkel because he remembers so many things differently from director. It all makes for a unique listen that is often much more interesting than the film on screen.
Of the other bonus features, the best is an interview with Tyler Shea Cone who played one of the ill-fated teens. Cone’s memories of the burgeoning Austin film scene, the down-and-dirty shoot, and how acting classes hurt his performance halfway through the film are often very funny and he is a charming storyteller who comes across as the exact opposite of the asshole character he plays.
Considering that this is probably going to be the best home video presentation of TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: THE NEXT GENERATION, members of its cult audience will find a lot to love here. For everyone else, it is an interesting look at a muddled, odd little film that tried to do something new with the CHAINSAW template and then fell flat on its face in the attempt.
TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: THE NEXT GENERATION Blu-ray from Scream Factory is available now.
–Matt Wedge (@MovieNerdMatt)
Tags: Joe Stevens, Kim Henkel, Matthew McConaughey, Renée Zellweger, Robert Jacks, scream factory, Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Toni Perensky, Tyler Shea Cone