Thursday, October 30, 2014

Cardboard Science: Michael Rennie Was Ill

Part of Popcorn Culture's October festivities is a crossover feature with my friend Hunter over at Kinemalogue. He will be taking on three Census Bloodbath titles while I face three artifacts from one of his regular features - Cardboard Science, which explores science fiction B-movies from the 1950's. I've previously reviewed 1953's Invaders From Mars and his recent review of My Bloody Valentine is an excellent discussion of the socioeconomic themes of that film as well as its place in the slasher pantheon.

Year: 1951
Director: Robert Wise
Cast: Michael Rennie, Patricia Neal, Hugh Marlowe
Run Time: 1 hour 32 minutes
MPAA Rating: N/A

There is perhaps no better example of the thematic potential of the B-movie than The Day the Earth Stood Still. The beauty of these tricky little films was that, since they were low-budget romps tossed-off on the back of a studio film to rake in a tidy profit, producers kinda didn't care about them. This allowed the filmmakers to pour all sorts of ire about the state of society (and in the 1950's what a society it was - rigid suburban families ignoring the plight of the urban folk, the imminent threat of nuclear disaster - it was a hoot and a half) into the subtext of surface-level tales about robots and ray guns and flying saucers.

We'll discuss the specific details of The Day the Earth Stood Still and its deeper meanings a little later in this review, but the sheer scope of this film's marriage of political sociology and science fiction tropes is nearly unparalleled and worth mentioning at every salient point of an analytical discussion.

Especially because the surface level isn't exactly Kubrickian spectacle.

One of the best things about the plot of The Day the Earth Stood Still is that it starts right away, no frills. After the opening sequence, an Unidentified Flying Object lands on the National Mall in Washington, D. C. And by the ten-minute mark, a robot is already disintegrating tanks with his laser vision. Talk about hitting the ground running!

After a bit, the film settles down into a more domestic plot that, while significantly less exciting, never ceases to entertain. Klaatu (Michael Rennie) is an alien visitor seeking to spread a message from his peaceful culture to all nations of the Earth. When the American Secretary deems this impossible, Klaatu escapes the hospital where he's being held and takes up residence in a nearby boarding house while the authorities are on the hunt for him.

Luckily for Klaatu he speaks English and looks exactly like Michael Rennie so he can blend in no problem. Through two neighbors - obligatory golly gosh gee whiz young boy Bobby (Billy Gray) and his single mother Helen (Patricia Neal) - he learns about the good side of humanity while the government and the military hasten to provide a counterargument.

Behold! The most hideous, vile alien creature to visit Earth! Pictured here with his friend Klaatu.

All this is pretty bog-standard material for films of this pedigree. The special effects likewise don't quite lift The Day the Earth Stood Still above and beyond its peers: Klaatu's robot pal Gort (Lock Martin, who not only wasn't a robot, he wasn't even an actor - he was just a conspicuously tall doorman at Grauman's Chinese Theater and if that's not the most Hollywood thing you've ever heard, please stop watching TMZ) looks rather wrinkled at the kneecaps and the spaceship itself looks culled from the papier mâché department of the 99 Cent Store.

But trust me, we're not here to mock the film. Special effects were not what they are now and the budgets for these things could hardly buy you a pack of crackers after inflation, so the craftsmanship is actually quite admirable given the circumstances (especially notable is the seamless way the ship's ramp emerges from its smooth side). And they must have blown quite a bit of their cash on a series of shots that depict the UFO's impact around the world, which gives the film a vitally necessary sense of scope it couldn't possibly have achieved otherwise.

Très scope.

But all of these trappings and pomp and circumstance serve a marvelous purpose, underscoring the film's major thematic through line that manages to be powerfully bold without tipping into the "annoyingly preachy" zone. There is an obvious Christ metaphor that runs along the whole thing (Klaatu preaches a message of peace, is destroyed by the people he seeks to save, and is resurrected to spread his final words), but even that plays second fiddle to the throbbing heart of the film's politics.

The Day the Earth Stood Still denounces the violence and warmongering of human society - America included, in an audacious furor perhaps unmatched by any film released under the Hays Code (a startlingly strict censorship code that applied to all movies between the 30's and the 50's - read more here.). Klaatu denounces American culture's reliance on violence and their substitution of fear for reason. When he approaches them seeking peace, their only response is to strike him down merely because they don't understand him.

This film is driven a powerful, timeless message that applies even in today's world. Xenophobia in America reached a peak following the events of September 11th, 2001, and we as a culture continue to tamp down on any coalition that seeks to advance the welfare of those who are different than the "average." Fear continues to fuel the workings of society and, according to Klaatu and his BFF Gort (who actually is kind of terrifying, the void behind his visor when he prepares to shoot his laser blasts is chilling to the bone), this will lead to our downfall. If we're not destroyed by ourselves, we'll surely be eliminated by someone else in self-defense.

Although political themes weren't at all uncommon in B-movies like this, it's utterly rare to find a film so fundamentally impactful that it rings true throughout the ages and provides enough food for thought to feed a family of four. My numerical rating of The Day the Earth Stood Still is but a matter of personal and aesthetic taste as a filmgoer, but the message that lives on through it is undeniably important and skillfully honed.

That which is indistinguishable from magic:
  • The aliens not only have a device that stops all electricity on the planet, but also stops cars dead in their tracks so they don't crash into each other. Either that or the whole world was in gridlock traffic before it happened. That really would be the Day the Earth Stood Still, amirite?
  • Through insurmountable witchery, two movies tickets cost Klaatu and Bobby only two dollars total. 
The morality of the past, in the future!:
  • When a single mother goes on a date with a man, it takes only the space of a cut for the film to explain that her husband died in the war. You know, so we know there's no funny business going on.
  • Somehow Tom and Helen are both totally OK with leaving Bobby to putz around Washington D. C. with a total stranger in order for them to go out. Even in the 1950's, the thirst is real.
  • When visiting the Lincoln Memorial, even Klaatu agrees that he must have been a great man. USA! USA!
  • After being brought back to life, Klaatu insists that only the Almighty Spirit can resurrect a soul. You can taste the producers' notes from here.
Sensawunda:
  • The Day the Earth Stood Still is the first movie mentioned in the classic opening number from The Rocky Horror Picture Show - "Science Fiction, Double Feature" - so we know it's hella legit (I use casual language sometimes! Engage with my writing!). If a sci-fi movie is not in that song, it's not real. That's the rule.
  • The alien phrase that calms Gort down - "Klaatu barada nikto" - was later used by Sam Raimi in Army of Darkness, which makes this film über hella legit. Rad.
TL;DR: The Day the Earth Stood Still is powerful and impactful beneath its cheesy special effects.
Rating: 7/10
Word Count: 1346
Reviews In This Series
Invaders From Mars (Popcorn Culture - Menzies, 1953)
The Day the Earth Stood Still (Popcorn Culture - Wise, 1951)
Them! (Popcorn Culture - Douglas, 1954)
My Bloody Valentine (Kinemalogue - Mihalka, 1981)
Pieces (Kinemalogue - Piquer Simon, 1982)
The Burning (Kinemalogue - Maylam, 1981)

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Mexico Star Theater

Year: 2014
Director: Jorge R. Gutierrez
Cast: Diego Luna, Zoe Saldana, Channing Tatum
Run Time: 1 hour 35 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG

Hollywood is making a change. Because it's Hollywood, it's not an enormous change and it's more than a little half-hearted. Because it's Hollywood, the change is driven by utterly mercenary motivations. But also because it's Hollywood, it has stumbled across a realization that, with a little polishing, could change the world of media as we know it.

That world-changing discovery seems like a simple one and it is: Latino people go to the movies. In fact, they go to the movies a lot. Not surprising, considering just how diverse the American population is, though Hollywood prefers to ignore this fact. But studios have finally begun to take notice of this heretofore unplumbed demographic, making movies that cater to - get this - audiences who aren't just white people.

One of the first truly high-profile movies with this demographic in mind was Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, the Latin-American spin-off of the decade's most popular horror franchise. But behind this film lie many others that have slowly been shifting the tides. Which now brings us to one of the first wide release Latino-themed kids' movies - The Book of Life.

Where was this guy when I was doing my Sexiest Animated Characters list?

Book of Life begins with a framework narrative that's essentially useless, but as it informs the aesthetic of the entire film - and oh, what an aesthetic it is - it's only fair to begin there. Mary Beth (Christina Applegate) is a puckish museum docent who takes a gaggle of detention kids on a field trip to a special secret room containing the Book of Life, which is full of stories and legends about Mexico. She uses a set of dolls to tell the kids one of the stories, so the bulk of the film is animated like wooden puppetry - more on that later.

SPOILERS FOR THE FIRST ACT - IF YOU SAW THE TRAILER YOU'RE FINE The chosen story centers around two mythical figures: La Muerte (Kate del Castillo) and Xibalba (Ron Perlman) - the rulers of the two underworlds, the Land of the Remembered and the Land of the Forgotten respectively. On el Día de los Muertos, they make a fateful wager. Xibalba is desperate to escape the realm of forgotten souls, so he proposes that each of them place a bet on Maria (Zoe Saldana), a young girl in the nearby town with two best friends/suitors. Xibalba bets on Joaquin (Channing Tatum), a cocky explorer who lives in the shadow of his valiant father, and La Muerte vouches for Manolo (Diego Luna), a sensitive musician whose father expects him to pick up his family's bullfighting legacy.

Although Maria is clearly smitten with Manolo's fumbling charm and put off by Joaquin's egocentric antics, she'd really rather hang out with her pet pig. But Manolo proves his worth, not quite soon enough after Joaquin proposes. After Xibalba pulls a devilish trick, Manolo is sent to the Land of the Remembered and must find his way back to the land of the living and reclaim his true love.

Although he did snag a great look just in time for Halloween so it's not all bad.

It's a children's film and a legend-based tale so once it settles in, it's quite simple to follow. Parents want their kids to be something other than their dreams, but individuality wins out and everyone learns the importance of being themselves. Boilerplate kid movie stuff, really. It's everywhere but the plot that Book of Life rises above the average family-friendly fare.

I've already mentioned the film's Latino themes, but the truly astonishing part is that it depicts a culture with customs, music, legends, values, and aesthetics much different from our own without being hideously offensive! There are some dubious elements that squeak by (including having only two actors of Mexican descent in the lead cast, a smattering white-culture signifiers for Mexico, and the fact that the entire story is framed by a puppet show put on for some dumb-ass white kids), but overall the film shines as a beacon of cinematic diversity with Mexican director Jorge Guiterrez and producer Guillermo del Toro preventing things from getting too out of hand. 

And even those rough patches are smoothed over with an ample supporting cast including Cheech Marin, Danny Trejo, and Plácido Domingo, along with strong cultural musicality combining banda and mariachi styles with modern pop-musical lyrics and themes. I can't tell you how refreshing it is to see a film presented by somebody other than fussy old white dudes. Their contributions are numerous, it's true, but it's time to let somebody, anybody else take the stand.

And now for something completely different: Protagonists who don't have the delicate complexion of a glass of skim milk.

OK, now that we have the boring but vastly important stuff out of the way, let's focus on how utterly fun this movie is. Regular kiddy movie tropes (an animal sidekick; a Greek chorus) are turned on their heads (an adorable pig is the sidekick; the chorus is a group of hilarious nuns), boisterous characters burst with vividly colorful life, and the music doesn't suck! The great thing about the soundtrack is that it so easily could have drained the vigor from the film but instead injects it with energy. 

The Book of Life tends to parlay in anachronisms, a risky venture that works more often than it should. A mariachi Mumford & Sons cover? Strange but it works perfectly. Acoustic Elvis on a Mexican guitar? Lovely. A Radiohead song? Not so much, but it made sense at the time. The three original songs likewise manage to match this tone of marrying children's musical standards with Mexican instrumentation to blissful perfection. On top of it all, Diego Luna's voice - while a tad rough around the edges - provides the perfect DIY kick to these lovably offbeat arrangements.

All of this rolls into a film that's tirelessly heartfelt and kooky while at the same time buoyantly reveling in Mexican culture to its fullest extent. This is portrayed nowhere better than the animation itself, which depicts rickety wooden figures with grace and artistry, pumping them full of vibrant, colorful, joyous life. The film's portrayal of the endless fiestas of the Land of the Remembered is an explosion of brassy, rich, eye-popping technicolor dreamscapes as far as the eye can see.

And the attention to detail in unmatched in modern computer-animated film. Once you notice how Xibalba's pupils are little skulls or the way La Muerte's candles delicately float around the train of her dress, the film will have you in its thrall completely - assuming you have the capacity for childish wonder necessary to take it all in.

And compared to Reel FX Animation's last feature film - 2013's Free Birds, the step up here is about the height of the Tower of Babel.

And the acting is top notch, especially Diego Luna with a brave, limit-stretching vocal performance and Tatum in yet another pristine comic role and WHY AREN'T WE LETTING HIM DO MORE COMEDIES! Personally, I could do without Ice Cube in a comic relief part, but it's not as intrusive as you'd think.

All said, The Book of Life would be an utter masterpiece if it weren't for just a few minute stumbles. As I stated before, the story is a bit too wooden, overusing hoary thematic tropes. And the post-Frozen quasi-feminism doesn't ring as true as it could considering that Maria still tends to be a damsel in distress. But all in all, in the field of children's animation as well as that of 2014 cinema itself, you can hardly do better than this vivid multi-cultural extravaganza.

TL;DR: The Book of Life is an eye-popping experience of grandiose proportions that doesn't mistreat its cultural heritage.
Rating: 8/10
Should I Spend Money On This? Absolutely yes. Don't give Ouija the satisfaction.
Word Count: 1328

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Delta Theta Die

Year: 1992
Director: Jim Wynorski
Cast: Robyn Harris, Melissa Moore, Stacia Zhivago
Run Time: 1 hour 17 minutes
MPAA Rating: N/A

90's horror often gets a bad rap, despite enduring successes like Scream, The Blair Witch Project, Silence of the Lambs, and The Sixth Sense. But if there's any year that most fully exemplifies the post-apocalyptic bleakness that many associate with that period, it's 1990 (the year this film was produced, though it wouldn't receive its ignominious direct-to-video release until two years later). '89 was the year that the subgenre died its most unambiguous death (like supernatural killers and comic book characters alike, slashers would soon return from the grave afresh, but at the time it seemed like an outright impossibility), but slashers kept plugging along, unaware, dying off one by one in the following years much like their typical slate of victims. Even the strongest franchise icons petered out well before Scream's 1996 debut.

But where there's a will there's a way. And where there's a hormonal teenage audience there's Jim Wynorski. Perhaps best known for his terrifically campy Chopping Mall in 1986, Wynorski quickly found refuge in exploitation cinema in the waning light of the 80's. The discovery that altered his career rivals even Einstein's in cultural significance: Teenage boys will pay money to see boobs no matter how crappy your movie is.

So this is where we find him at the turn of the decade. At the helm of a sequel to a film that had no earthly reason to be revived, 1986's Sorority House Massacre, which, if you remember, was already an alarmingly shoddy piece of work buoyed only on the strength of one gut-splittingly hilarious dress-up montage.

The 80's are very important to me.

Sorority House Massacre II is a cash-in plain and simple, such a desperate little dirt grub that it was willing to rake in even the infinitesimal amount that could be garnered from following a film that was hardly a smash at the box office. Written in a week and filmed in probably less, SHM II is a triumph of slasher depravity. With a bucket of karo syrup, enough softcore actresses to fill out five lace nighties, and an empty house ready to go, Wynorski set out to make hisself a movie.

The plot goes like this. Five members of an unnamed sorority set out to spruce up a house in which a man murdered his family several years ago. These nubile young ladies are Jessica (Melissa Moore), a leggy blonde who is dating a guy named Eddie (Mike Elliott), who only appears in one scene when he drives the girls up to the house and yet receives an inordinate amount of fanfare in the credits; Janey (Dana Bentley), a mischievous type with a bob so large and thick it could only have been harvested from the Sheddings Bin at a Cher concert; Linda (Robyn Harris), an Australian girl who is marginally smarter than the rest; and Suzanne (Barbii) and Kimberly (Stacia Zhivago), two sets of breasts with women reluctantly attached.

After attempting to contact the man's spirit with a Ouija board (they do exactly zero work on the house during the course of the film - but with so many showers to take, tequila shots to drink, and shoulders to massage lovingly, can you blame them?), they begin to die one by one. Is it the ghost of Old Man Hockstedter? Or is it the creepy neighbor Orville Ketchum (Peter Spellos), who eats raw meat out of a bucket and likes to breathe loudly onto things?

Alright, I'm warning you now. I ask you humbly to please not take out your rage and anger on my blog or upon my person, but... I am going to spoil Sorority House Massacre II. The ghost did it.

Parker Bros. strikes again.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Sorority House Massacre II is that there is a distinct lack of sex. I know that's not usually a concern during in-depth analysis of cinema, but here it is certainly a curiosity. This is a film that performs the dazzling feat of displaying all five main characters' breasts in a span of less than three minutes, yet doesn't include a single male character that sticks around long enough for them to bang. In fact, it's almost distinctly asexual, its preferred mode of exploitation being watching a group of "pretty" girls going through the motions of a routine horror picture, but without the added protection of clothes.

For the entire second half of the film, the entire cast prances around the house in bras and underwear - or, in Janey's case, a gossamer jumpsuit so tight you can see her endocrine system.

Her body is so constricted, all the extra mass had to go to her hair.

In this regard, if you can overlook the sleaziness of objectification, the film is actually quite charming in its sheer desperation to titillate. The only survivor of the previous massacre is now a stripper and we are forced to sit through her entire dance before she gets a chance to speak. Girls flash one another as punchlines to jokes. A staircase is placed exactly right so we can see each girl's butt as she flounces into the attic. And - my personal favorite - when the girls realize they're in danger, dialogue along these lines occurs.
Vixen #1: "Oh no! We left our clothes upstairs!"
Vixen #2: "There's no time! We'll have to go without them!" 
They then proceed to do absolutely no escaping because it's raining outside and Wynorski certainly isn't paying them enough for that.

An actual photo of the SHM II casting call.

Overwhelming tawdriness aside, the film has absolutely nothing else to recommend it, at least from a technical standpoint. From a good-bad movie standpoint, however, it's almost inimitable. Each element of the film's mise-en-scène is crappy to a hilarious degree, though perhaps not an eminently watchable one. Let me explain the full spectrum of crapiness that penetrates Sorority House Massacre II to its very core with a quick breakdown.
  • Sound Design: Honestly, I wouldn't be surprised if the dialogue track for the film was recorded over the phone on a stormy night. Every character sounds tinny and about a mile away from the screen. And the foley work ranges from eminently unimpressive to cartoonishly absurd. My favorite moments are when the rambunctious sound effects collide with the gaudy exploitation to create such sterling moments as a girl soaping up her butt in the shower with the sound of someone wiping a squeaky window with a rag, or a stripper (yes, there are two distinct striptease moments that take place away from the main action) rubbing her breasts on a pole with the sound of two balloons squeaking together.
  • Gore: I think it's perhaps too much to ask of the film that it have its gore game together, but typically a slasher film is a showcase for the best FX artists and breasts in the business. The breasts here are so rampant that they form a massive conglomerate that dominates the film, eliminating the need for great gore to tantalize the already sated ideal audience. So what we're stuck with is an endless series of girls getting stabbed with a hook in silhouette. At least there's enough ineptitude to keep the less boob-concerned audience members going - notably the obvious shadow of a ketchup bottle squirting the blood onto the wall.
  • Acting: I won't spend too much time taking potshots. It's not like the performers were hired for their talent or asked to perform at any level beyond arching their backs and saying the words on the page. But as Robyn Harris gets going, she illuminates the screen like a firework with a spastic, volcanic display of over-the-top camp. She's like a marionette of Eva Longoria with the strings cut, flopping wildly around the screen with manic intensity and perfect hair.

Pictured here, left, in a more sedate moment.

At least Sorority House Massacre II makes spasmodic attempts at humor, like in the house's address (6934 Langdon) or a series of funny newspaper headlines. It tries just hard enough to be funny that the more embarrassing elements (Orville uses a cop's gun to shoot a villain while he's still holding it; a fight scene plays more like an improv troupe pretending to sword fight) could conceivably be explained away by "oh, it's a parody." I don't buy this for one Karo syrup-soaked second, but it's a genius insurance policy.

Because the movie is far too cheap to even attempt to reach an average level of cinematic quality. This fact is belied both by the run time (of the 77 advertised minutes, 6 of them are credits) and, well, the rest of the film. A flashback of Old Man Hockstedter killing his family is just recycled footage from The Slumber Party Massacre with the names and situations changed. The facts that it's not even the same house, any person with enough love for slashers to watch this piece of crap has already seen SPM, and that they pretend two clearly different actresses are one girl are brutally ignored in favor of getting in more kills as swiftly and cheaply as possible. Nevermind that there's already a Sorority House Massacre to pull footage from. No, that's just what they'd be expecting us to do.

I haven't even mentioned the nonsensical cop subplot, which brings us to the aforementioned strip club in search of answers about the potential killer. What tipped these cops off about the new danger five years later and why they aren't actually going to the house to help the girls remains a mystery. Perhaps the filmmakers wanted to preserve ambiguity and ignite the imaginations of young home audiences, preparing them for the unknowns they will soon face in their own post-high school careers. 

Or perhaps the movie is just a piece of crap.

Sorority House Massacre II is a piece of crap.

Seacrest out.

Killer: Hokstedter's Ghost in Jessica's (Melissa Moore) body
Final Girl: Linda (Robyn Harris)
Best Kill: Jessica's death - getting stabbed in the neck - is the best both because it is an actual gore sequence and the fact that she sprays enough blood to fill a tub.
Scariest Moment: There are actresses for whom this film was their only option to have a career.
Weirdest Moment: Orville pulls the key to the basement out of his underwear.
Champion Dialogue: "No one puts a finger on my diviner."
Body Count: 8; including three kills repurposed from Slumber Party Massacre and not including Orville Ketchum, who is stabbed repeatedly, strangled with a chain, has his neck snapped, is shoved into a toilet, and shot multiple times before being possessed by a ghost.
  1. Coach Jana is gutted with a drill (SPM).
  2. Kim AKA "Cecily" is stabbed in the gut with a drill (SPM).
  3. Diane is impaled with a drill (SPM).
  4. Janey is hooked in silhouette.
  5. Suzanne is hooked in silhouette.
  6. Kimberly is killed offscreen.
  7. Jessica is knifed in the neck.
  8. Linda is shot to death. 
TL;DR: Sorority House Massacre II is not good at all, but genuinely hilarious in its straightforward chintzy depravity.
Rating: 3/10
Word Count: 1867
Reviews In This Series
Sorority House Massacre (Frank, 1986)
Sorority House Massacre II (Wynorski, 1992)

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Spellbound

Year: 2014
Director: Jason Bateman
Cast: Jason Bateman, Kathryn Hahn, Rohan Chand
Run Time: 1 hour 29 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

M A V E R I C K. Maverick. (noun) Definition: an unorthodox or independent-minded person. Used in a Paragraph: I doubt Jason Bateman ever intended to be a maverick when he directed and starred in a movie simultaneously. He's not a Tommy Wiseau, a disillusioned and quietly insane auteur who was forced to fund The Room himself because nobody else would. And he's no Lake Bell, who gave herself a starring turn in In A World... because Hollywood was incapable of appreciating her ample talents. No, his is the classic story. An actor who longed to direct but couldn't find someone to do it on, so he filled the role himself.

P R O W E S S. Prowess. (noun) Definition: skill or expertise in a particular activity or field. Used in a Paragraph: It's difficult to say whether this was the best choice for Bad Words or not. We all know that Jason Bateman is a capable comic actor (If you disagree, please watch Arrested Development and don't come back until you've finished. I'll keep an eye on the clock.), but his directing prowess remains unproven. Though there are people in this world who have accomplished great feats directing themselves, Bad Words has the inescapable aura of one man spread too thin, halfheartedly tacked onto a relatively solid screenplay.

G, J-son. R U O K?

H E D O N I S T I C. Hedonistic. (adjective) Definition: engaged in the pursuit of pleasure; sensually self-indulgent. Used in a Paragraph: The film revolves around one Guy Trilby (Jason Bateman), a hedonistic 40-year-old loser who enters a spelling bee through a legal loophole in order to pursue a personal vendetta. Accompanying him is Jenny (Kathryn Hahn), an intrepid reporter who is supporting his scheme in order to eke a viable story out of him. But Guy delights in alternately tormenting and banging her rather than giving her answers.

L O G O R R H E A. Logorrhea. (noun) Definition: The tendency of talking a great deal. Used in a Paragraph: When Guy meets an extroverted young man named Chaitanya (Rohan Chand) with a severe case of logorrhea, an unlikely friendship begins as the kid slowly begins to crack his tough shell. It's all pretty standard indie film blather, really. Guy slowly begins to change except that he really doesn't. Secrets are revealed but they're not that exciting. And an annoyingly vague and unnecessary narration slobbers over the entire thing.

It's telling when somebody this chipper ISN'T the most annoying part of a movie.

A R C H E T Y P E. Archetype. (noun) Definition: a very typical example of a certain person or thing; a recurrent symbol or motif in literature, art, or mythology. Used in a Paragraph: Perhaps the biggest problem for Bad Words is its utter reliance on Bateman as a bitter "antihero." We're supposed to root for him even though he's doing awful things, which is an interesting enough idea to base a film on, but is sorely fumbled here. The antihero archetype lifted into the stratosphere by TV shows like Dexter or Breaking Bad has been highly popular in this decade, but films like this and its closest filmic analogue - 2011's Young Adult - are the first omens of its inevitable decline.

I N S O U C I A N T. Insouciant. (adjective) Definition: showing a casual lack of concern; indifferent. Used in a Paragraph: The bulk of the comedy is derived from this insouciant antihero being homophobic, racist, rapey, criminal, and just about every kind of terrible thing that could conceivably have a Tumblr blog written about it. This formula has worked before, but when you center it around Jason Bateman's competent but uninspiring performance and throw in a crop of spelling bee contestants as just about the only side characters (Allison Janney has a forgettable turn as an administrator and several parents are involved, but other than that there's not many additional bodies), Bad Words turns into naught but a one man show about terrorizing children for an hour and a half. As an audience member this is positively battering.

R A N C O R O U S. Rancorous. (adjective) Definition: characterized by bitterness or resentment. Used in a Paragraph: All in all, thanks to Bateman's being distracted by his directing duties, his failure to bring a spark of humanity to his rancorous character mires the entire film in unpleasantness. Luckily Kathryn Hahn picks up some of the slack, showing off her chops as what is by far the film's brightest comic light. She really seizes her role, giving her character edges but sanding them off in all the right places - reaching the exact tone the rest of the movie fails to access. I've never noticed her in anything before, but she's one to watch if this performance is any indication. But one great female role doesn't make up for the 90 minutes of baseline competence surrounding her.

Get ready for the best segue you've ever seen.

I M B R O G L I O. Imbroglio. (noun) Definition: an extremely confused, complicated, or embarrassing situation. Used in a Paragraph: I want you to look up at that screenshot of Kathryn Hahn again. Please notice the beam of wood obscuring the far right portion of the frame. This is but a minor example of a major imbroglio within the film. Bateman has a tendency to frame his characters behind other objects, sometimes creating an entirely distinct frame within the film's natural frame. I'm going to stop saying frame now. The point is, this technique can be used to great effect in pursuit of a thematic goal, but here it merely distracts, drawing attention to how threadbare the plot is. One gets the sense that Bateman knew this was a thing that happened in movies, but hadn't quite pieced together why. Kind of like the truly mortifying amount of slow motion I lathered into my homemade films in high school.

S O P H O M O R I C. Sophomoric. (adjective) Definition: of, relating to, or characteristic of a sophomore; juvenile. Used in a Paragraph: The film isn't all flaws though. I've already mentioned Hahn's terrific supporting performance. And a brief scene with Marzipan the Prostitute (Kimleigh Smith) is hysterical - yet another woman killing it in a small role; if we gather enough of them, maybe we can join forces and beat Hollywood into submission to finally give them leads. And the third act finally reaches a blissful balance between saccharine charm and acrid humor in the movie's best sequence. It's quickly derailed by a moment of sophomoric humor, but hey. At least anything worked out in this lumpier-than-my-grandpa's-disgusting-quinoa-barley-wheat-blend-oatmeal movie.

P L A T I T U D I N O U S. Platitudinous. (adjective) Definition: used too often to be interesting or thoughtful; hackneyed. Used in a Paragraph: Also, the music and cinematography come alive for exactly one pristine moment. So it's not a total bust. But with such a great crop of talent behind it, Bad Words has no excuse to be as platitudinous, bland, and sour as it is.

TL;DR: Bad Words is a disappointment, but it has some lighter moments and a couple great female performances.
Rating: 5/10
Word Count: 1235

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Texas Toast

Year: 2006
Director: Jonathan Liebesman
Cast: Jordana Brewster, Matt Bomer, Diora Baird
Run Time: 1 hour 31 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

Here we are folks. At the time of this writing, this is my final review in the extant Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise! As we all know, horror franchises never truly die. I'm sure we can expect Texas Chainsaw 4D: The Leatherface Tapes by the end of the decade, but for now we can lay this series to rest with a surprisingly pretty good prequel to a surprisingly pretty great remake - The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning.

It's nearly unprecedented in this day and age for a remake to have a legitimate followup. The only even tangentially related films of the past ten years that come to mind are I Spit On Your Grave 2, Quarantine 2: Terminal, and Fright Night 2, all largely tangential direct-to-DVD sequels, as well as the planned 2015 Friday the 13th re-reboot, which I guess wouldn't even count. Only those sequels stand among the dozens of horror remakes that have been inflicted upon the world since the genre's Renaissance, kickstarted by 2003's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

It is a testament to how groundbreaking that film was that it received any sort of franchise connection at all, let alone a prequel with most of the same cast signed on to reprise their villainous roles. And thanks to the short hiatus between the two movies, the presence of Platinum Dunes at the helm, and the wild success of the remake, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning is actually the one film in the entire franchise to have more or less airtight continuity.

It's far from a masterpiece, but the fact that it doesn't require any mental acrobatics to clumsily shove Leatherface's daughter or Matthew McConaughey's Illuminati cyborg leg into the potential trajectory of a previous entry allows The Beginning to go down smooth as silk.

Or rough as steel wool, but we're talking about continuity, not content.

Set several years before the events of the remake (which was inexplicably set in the same year as the original), The Beginning takes place in 1969 during the height of the Vietnam war. Two sexy brothers, Dean (Taylor Handley of the under-appreciated gender-bending sci-fi-rom-com Zerophilia) and Eric (Matt Bomer, this film's requisite future celebrity), are taking a final road trip from LA to Florida before they ship out. Only thing is, Dean has no intention of following through, instead opting to dodge his way down to Mexico with his beautiful sexy girlfriend Bailey (Diora Baird).

After a car crash and a run-in with a man (R. Lee Ermey) impersonating the recently deceased Sheriff Hoyt (he passed away quietly in the road after a brief gunshot wound to the head), the kiddos are dragged away to a secluded home by the closed-down slaughterhouse. Left behind is Eric's girlfriend Chrissie (Jordana Brewster), who was thrown from the vehicle and hid in the bushes during the ordeal. Now she must find a way to save her friends from Hoyt, his cannibalistic family, and their enormous be-masked son who will soon find himself a relaxing hobby that leads to his new name - Leatherface (Andrew Bryniarski).

"Dusty Chainsaw Man" just doesn't quite have the same ring to it.

The best I can say about The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning is that is is remarkably distinct from its predecessor - in equally good and bad measures. That which it improves upon is very much to my tastes, but its failures as a piece of cinema are certainly more numerous. But to start off, let's kick it into context with perhaps the single most important horror film of the 2000's - Saw

The effect of that grubby 2004 shocker and its cadre of sequels on the landscape of horror in the 21st century was immeasurable. Elaborate traps and unflinching gore sequences became all the rage in the likes of 2005's Hostel and Wolf Creek, among a spattering of others. This cinematic phenomenon was practically tailor-made for Platinum Dunes, who found that they could easily fit their newly viable Texas Chainsaw franchise into this generic model - which would become colloquially known as "torture porn."

The gore of the remake certainly made a strong statement, but in the post-Saw world the new slogan was "more is more." So The Beginning trotted out the big guns - a sexier cast (a feat I would have deemed impossible before seeing this film, but lo and behold - Platinum Dunes must have some kind of Stepford Wives jig going on), more grimy gore effects (including a disgusting birth sequence on the floor of a meat packing plant), more chainsaws, and - a first for the franchise as long as we're pretending TCM III doesn't exist - a heaping helping of traps and twisted games.

Trappier. Sexier. Matt Bomier.

Overall, it's much more grim and bleak, perhaps the most depressing entry in the franchise since the original, though it by no means has that film's raw power. But it comes into its own with some utterly strange moments of humor that I would be loathe to spoil here, should anyone actually be interested in watching it (and, no matter how inept some of them might be, a Texas Chainsaw movie is generally always worth a watch for the morbidly curious bad cinema connoisseur.)

Along with it's newfound post-Saw energy, The Beginning separates itself from the remake with a grubbier aesthetic, more closely matching the original's grainy, yellowed, and decrepit visual style, removing the slickness that covered that film in a too-glossy sheen. And the film is far more political, covering topics as far and wide as draft dodging in the Vietnam era, the dangers of blind patriotism, the economic decline of the early 70's, and the burgeoning biker and hippie movements as well as their tensions with the older generations.

It misses more than it hits, but The Beginning has its heart in the right place, spilling over the brim with thematic fervor. And the exploitation meter finally hits both genders equally as we get firsthand knowledge of just how hot Matt Bomer can be in any given situation.

Covered in blood.

Taking a swim.

Driving a car.

This is literally his first shot in the movie.

The perfect image to represent this film's incessant amorality and gleeful exploitation. But tell me - wouldn't you put on Matt Bomer's face if you got the chance?

So this is all fine and good, but the unfortunate fact remains that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning is a just plain average mid-2000's horror picture. Call the Texas Chainsaw movies anything you want (and I absolutely have), but they have never been average.

This film is saddled with a truly unfortunate plague of shaky cam that makes the whole thing feel like it was filmed in an earthquake, and just about every major character decision is the single dumbest possible outcome. I mean, for crying out loud, Dean burns his draft card in the car while he sits two feet behind his soldier brother and doesn't think that he'll notice. Next time you want to be discrete, maybe don't light a flame behind somebody's head in a moving vehicle.

And the cannibal family is utterly lackluster in this go-around. I've never been a big fan of Bryniarski's Leatherface, but he at least gets the job done. And R. Lee Ermey still pulls out all the stops as Sheriff Hoyt, but the weight of the entire film rests on his shoulders as the man who tries to convince his family to turn to cannibalism. He himself seems to have little to no motivation other than that he's just a big old psychopath. Yay prequels!

The fact that he is doing this against their will completely undermines the terror of the piece. Sure, a man trying to get his family to eat people would make a good feature on its own with more time to explore the psychology, but here it's hardly a subplot. If the family is resisting their urge to be evil, it's just not scary. I mean, I know it's supposed to be a prequel and all, but all this moral waffling gets in the way and even actively impedes what is a decidedly grotesque film.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning is noncommittal, and that's the worst sin a movie this grubby and exploitative could have committed. But it's still a competent film with some major improvements on the remake. Though its overall net worth ends up somewhat lower than its forefather, The Beginning is yet another in a surprising run of decent Platinum Dunes remakes and you won't catch me complaining about that.

TL;DR: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning improves on the remake in some aspects, but doesn't quite have the quality to back them up.
Rating: 6/10
Body Count: 11; Not including a cow that literally explodes when hit by a car.
  1. Sloane dies in childbirth.
  2. Meat Plant Owner is bludgeoned with a sledgehammer.
  3. Sheriff Hoyt is shot in the head with a shotgun.
  4. Alex is shot in the chest with a shotgun.
  5. Holden is sliced in half with a chainsaw.
  6. Eric is chainsawed in the stomach.
  7. Bailey has her throat sliced with scissors.
  8. Dean is chainsawed in the back.
  9. Chrissie is chainsawed in the back.
  10. Motorist is hit by Chrissie's car.
  11. Police Officer is hit by Chrissie's car. 
Word Count: 1564
Reviews In This Series
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (Liebesman, 2006)
Texas Chainsaw 3D (Luessenhop, 2013)

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Come Back To Texas

Year: 2003
Director: Marcus Nispel
Cast: Jessica Biel, Jonathan Tucker, Andrew Bryniarski
Run Time: 1 hour 38 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

In the past decade, the horror community has been inundated with remake after remake after remake. These types of films have always been around, even in the 50's and 60's and back, but since the mid-2000's there has been an overwhelming glut of the tepid things. Just on this blog, I've covered a small army of them including Carrie,  Evil DeadFright Night, The Last House on the Left, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Prom Night, and The Wizard of Gore, and there's easily ten times that amount on the market today.

With most cinematic movements, it's hard to tamp down a true ignition point. There tends to be several films around the same time that coalesce into the beginning of a new wave of filmmaking, like how the proto-slashers The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Black Christmas came out within weeks of one another in 1974. Luckily for us, the remake boom has one clear culprit.

In 2003, Michael Bay's new production company Platinum Dunes released their first of many many many low budget remakes - The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. As if you couldn't have guessed that already. 

I really shouldn't bury the lede in reviews where I stick the poster on the top.

The film was such a sterling success that other studios immediately hopped on the bandwagon and began pumping out updates on their long dormant horror franchises, prominent and obscure alike (and if anybody has any insider information on how the hell Mother's Day got remade, please contact me immediately). What most of them seemed to miss was the fact that Texas Chainsaw was actually pretty good.

But we're not here to talk about the tsunami of crappy remakes. We're here to discuss their pretty good progenitor and the influence it has - for better or for worse - over the narrative and aesthetic stylings of the ensuing decade.

The first of these is immediately apparent. Though the characters in this film have no obvious analogue with the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre, they are exponentially more attractive. In fact, if we view beauty as the equation x=log2(3^10) with x being the proportional attractiveness of the current cast over the classic cast, the results would be math.

Sexy, sexy math.

Our Meat for the evening, and by any definition, the film doesn't view them as more than that, are Morgan (Jonathan Tucker, also from The Ruins), a sexy nerd-stoner who combines the most annoying traits of both stereotypes and whose every line of dialogue sounds like vomit dribbling from the gaping maw of a mad drunk; Andy (Mike Vogel, the sexy outlaw from Under the Dome), the sexy rebel - a real stretch, performance-wise; Pepper (Erica Leerhsen of Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2), a sexy hitchhiker whose thirst for Andy rivals Leatherface's thirst for blood; Kemper (Eric Balfour of the first episode of Buffy), the sexy hick with a chip on his shoulder; and Erin (Jessica Biel of The A-Team), the sexy girlfriend of said sexy hick - soon to be his sexy fiancée if he has anything to say about it.

The kiddos are driving through the countryside to a Skynyrd concert in Dallas. As if that wasn't tip-off enough, Texas Chainsaw is set in 1973, the same year as the original film. On their way they pick up another Hitchhiker (Lauren German), who blows her head off after shouting about her friends all dying. They pull off at the nearest gas station and are sent to a mill to await the Sheriff. As they wait and wait, they soon realize the nearby house will become their final resting place as Leatherface (Andrew Bryniarski), the Sheriff (R. Lee Ermey), and their family send them one by one to the basement workshop to be chainsaw massacred.

To be fair to them, how could this lovely home seem like there might be killers hiding inside?

The great thing about The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is that it can be taken on its own. Its plot intersects with the plot of the original at so few points, it actually becomes a distinctly separate movie. This is greatly to its favor, because comparing any single horror film to Texas Chain Saw is like flinging spaghetti at a dartboard and hoping for a bull's eye.

And there are even some cases where the film - I wouldn't say "improves on," but it... extrapolates certain sequences from the Chain Saw structure to great effect. It is debatable whether this film's increase in gore improves the horror (I personally don't find it to do so - it's suitably disgusting and wet, but I find the whole film to be a little too slick to get under the skin), but something must be said for a girl watching a hulking killer attack while wearing her boyfriend's face. And a sequence with a meat hook and a piano is delightful in a sickening kind of way.

The film isn't afraid to up the ante and in today's world of anonymous studio horror, that is a quality to be much admired. Texas Chainsaw allows us to explore the entire deranged town, visit the nearby slaughterhouse, and see just how far gore prosthetic technology has come since the last entry in the franchise in 1994 (or 1997, once Matthew McConaughey got his way).

This gleeful excess is mirrored in the deliriously drippy and wet production design, which seems to have been inspired by that time I walked to class on a rainy day and forgot an umbrella. That or the filmmakers' fervent desire to keep Jessica Biel as soaking wet as possible. It's hilarious. No matter where she goes it rains on her, whether it be literal rain or the inexplicable flooding of Leatherface's workshop. At one point she manages to find a refuge but Leatherface triggers the fire sprinklers because the teen boys in the audience would likely implode if she spent one second without her sopping bosoms flapping about.

And yet this guy keeps his shirt on. Wasteful.

Joke all I might, I do enjoy my share of needlessly exploitative horror. It's always delightful to watch the filmmakers' obvious desperation to sexify even the most harrowing of scenarios. There's enough hot dudes around to not feel particularly misogynistic. But let me expound my theories on sexuality and exploitation in its own essay, I don't want to bog down this post like so much rainwater.

Here comes the part in the positive reviews where I dump all the negative things I have to say. Because, succeed as it might in distancing itself from Texas Chain Saw, this film is a remake and is thus beholden to comparisons. I've already mentioned the movie's distancing slickness, but the cold grey "gritty" aesthetic just doesn't do it for me in terms of this franchise's narrative universe. I associate Texas Chainsaw with oppressive heat and claustrophobia and that is just not the feeling this film gives off.

It's altogether shallow, and the film follows suit. Gone are the first films intensely angry political sentiments. It's understandable. 2003 was a wildly different societal climate than 1974, though the original time period has been needlessly retained (in fact, Erin's irritating moralizing stances, the fashion, and speech patterns actively disagree with the time period). 

There's more gore but less personality, and it's not necessarily a lesser movie because of it. It has different aims than the decades-gone original. But it's certainly a more superficial one.

But in spite of these shortcomings, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is certainly worth its salt. Its ability to be genuinely tense and creative paved the way for the battalions of remakes to come. Unfortunately but predictably, other studios followed the route of "slick and grey is cool" rather than "good horror movies make money" but what are you gonna do?

Watch Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The rest, as they say, is history. Let it confine itself to the books while you enjoy one of the most interesting reboots modern cinema has to offer.

TL;DR: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is obviously not as good as the original, but is wonderfully intense and fast-paced.
Rating: 7/10
Body Count: 8
  1. The Hitchhiker shoots herself through the head.
  2. Kemper is hit in the head with a sledgehammer.
  3. Pepper is sliced with a chainsaw.
  4. Andy has his leg sliced off, is hung on a meathook, and stabbed in the chest.
  5. Morgan is hung on a chandelier and chainsawed in the crotch.
  6. Sheriff Hoyt is run over with a police car. 
  7. Officer #1 is killed with a chainsaw offscreen.
  8. Officer #2 is killed with a chainsaw offscreen. 
Word Count: 1449
Reviews In This Series
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (Hooper, 1974)
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (Hooper, 1986)
Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (Burr, 1990)
Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (Henkel, 1994)
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Nispel, 2003)
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (Liebesman, 2006)
Texas Chainsaw 3D (Luessenhop, 2013)

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Everything's Weirder In Texas

Year: 1994
Director: Kim Henkel
Cast: Renée Zellweger, Matthew McCounaughey, Robert Jacks
Run Time: 1 hour 35 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

In the days since the turn of the century, classic horror franchises have been rebooted left and right. Because of the increasingly bizarre and gnarled nature of 80's horror sequels and their withered early 90's fruits, a fresh start tended to be the only option for those interested in continuing a series. Friday made it through 10 films before getting the remake treatment, each more incomprehensible than the last. Nightmare cartwheeled its manic way through 7 and Halloween solemnly marched through 8 before they were swept up in the craze.

And what of Texas Chainsaw? That beloved 1974 Tobe Hooper magnum opus? The illegitimate spawn of that franchise only lurched their way through a scant 4 before crashing and burning in despair. The film that put the final nail in that coffin is the inoperably perplexing Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation, which would lay the series to rest until its ignominious resurrection in 2003.

After Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III, I didn't think any single film could possibly be more incomprehensible and irritating than that entry's indiscretions in the face of continuity. I was dreadfully, horribly wrong. For, you see, The Next Generation begins in a terrible, putrid place and goes even further downhill with every minute that ticks by. But let's start at the beginning. That fetid, rotten, terrible terrible place...

High school prom!

Even worse, the classic "flash photos of a corpse" opening is recreated while a mom takes prom pictures. If there's a better way to smear feces all over the legacy of the original Texas Chain Saw, it's... well, it's the rest of the film.

After a prom sequence so brief it feels more like a Vine than exposition, four teens set off unnecessarily on a drive through the Texan wilderness. This slate of queasy Meat includes Heather (Lisa Marie Newmyer), a whiny, jealous girl with an obsession for the macabre; Barry (Tyler Cone), her boyfriend and an overwhelmingly colossal douche, the type of person who'll feel up his girlfriend's best friend right in front of her; Sean (John Harrison), a bland stoner; and Jenny (Renée Zellweger, the first of two inexplicable future celebrities in this turkey), a nerdy, virginal waif with the personality of a paper bag.

This is all established with dialogue as subtle as a meat hook, including - I wish I was kidding - "everyone knows he's a pothead and you guys are just friends!" After they get into a crash in the woods (echoing TCM III, though once the movie settles comfortably into a groove, it opts for a beat by beat riff on Part One), the kids wander their way through the First Act - a veritable avalanche of teenybopper horror tropes.

Including, but not limited to every single character being so venomously obnoxious you actively root for them all to die.

The woods are so foggy, it feels like a forest fire is raging just offscreen, the soundtrack could be sold as Now That's What I Call 90's Alt Rock Garbage - Volume 5, and the only even semi-effective scare involves a plastic garbage bag blowing in the wind. I'd say it's a metaphor for this film, but that's not being particularly fair to the garbage bag.

So the friends get picked off and - shock of shocks - Jenny is brought to dinner with Leatherface and his new family. At this point I am reluctantly resigned to accepting the fact that every time a Massacre is finished, a new cannibal family sprouts around the chainsaw-wielding killer like kudzu. At least his Family of the Week is fairly easy to keep track of.

There's Leatherface (Robert Jacks), of course; W. E. (Joe Stevens), who incessantly quotes famous authors because why not, even deranged cannibals can pick up a library card; and Darla (Tonie Perensky) a trashy realtor who flashes passersby for kicks and is dating into the family to fulfill her monumentally kinky S&M desires with Vilmer (Matthew McConaughey, who has since endeavored with all his might to make you forget this fact), a crazed tow truck worker with a remote-controlled robot leg. I assure you that wasn't a typo, although I pray it started off that way when the script was being written.

This is pretty much what McConaughey will do to you if you bring up this film in mixed company.

Once the teens reach the house, the film kicks back in, repeating the scares and kills from Part One with voracity. One might think that director-writer Kim Henkel, the co-writer of the original film, would manage to provide some unique insight or twist on the formula, but one would be wrong. One must learn sooner rather than later that it is not wise to grasp at straws when it comes to horror sequels. Or else One will wallow in an endless swamp of bitter disappointment.

The second act is saved only by the efforts of McConaughey, who fully commits himself to the role with the then-unpolished but ample talent that would later earn him his Academy Award. He shines among his drab family and at least he draws attention from the least powerful Leatherface performance in franchise canon - Jacks all too frequently falls back on shrieking in terror in lieu of a physical performance. 

And, yes, Zellweger too has since won herself some accolades, but here she is a wet mop, though admittedly she does bring an Every Teen quality to her unconfident performance. But you know who is a fan of Every Teen? Nobody, that's who. Not even other teens.

Not even Cher. But she's just mad that Jenny stole her dress.

The set design is, in a word, depressing. Gone are the rooms filled with animal bones and macabre skeletal furniture in favor of... a few overturned chairs? This is a horror film, not the Big Lots showroom. And the makeup is disheartening. The 90's were a treacherous, neutered time for horror films in general, but one would think the designer could have provided Leatherface with a mask that looked less like a slice of bologna. And don't even get me started on the Grandpa makeup!

Oh yes, he's back, and undeader than ever!

The only viable comparison I have come across is this kid at the Days of the Dead convention whose head was too small for the Michael Myers mask, puckering it into an absurd smirk.

Behold, the face of true evil.

Luckily the third act ramps up the garish absurdity to 11 and snaps off the dial. Between the leg remote fight, the abrupt appearance of an Illuminati leader with three nipples who licks Jenny's face, and the prim elderly couple drinking Bloody Marys in an RV, this film has to be seen to be believed. I was told going in that the film was unpredictable, but it delivers far more ludicrous plot development than any film could possibly contain within the known laws of physics.

It's loud, messy, over the top, and Leatherface is decked out in Rosie O'Donnell drag.

I told you. Unpredictable.

But the sheer insanity of the whole thing is the only element of the entire film with a whiff of originality to it. The film's watchability owes a great debt to its camp factor (aside from the two pre-celebrities, nothing else recommends The Next Generation) as it skyrockets, aiming to top each and every moment with yet another and another and don't forget the cherry on top.

It's the film that killed the series, but I can't say it didn't do so in style. I couldn't possibly ask anyone in good conscience to watch The Next Generation, but at least it earns its keep as a delightfully bad romp through one of the strangest horror franchises in the annals of cinema history.

PS: It delights me to no end to think that somewhere out there, it was someone's job to provide the sound for Vilmer's robot leg as he whirred around the room. Hollywood is a beautiful place.

TL;DR: Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation is shrilly bad, but delectably wacky.
Rating: 5/10
Body Count: 6; not counting the copious audience brain cells that withered and died while watching this.
  1. "I'm Not Hurt" Boy has his neck snapped.
  2. Sean is run over repeatedly by a tow truck.
  3. Barry is hit in the head with a mallet.
  4. W. E. is hit in the head with a sledgehammer.
  5. Heather is impaled on a meat hook, set on fire, and has her skull crushed with a robot leg.
  6. Vilmer has his head split open with a plane propeller. 
Word Count: 1448
Reviews In This Series
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (Hooper, 1974)
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (Hooper, 1986)
Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (Burr, 1990)
Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (Henkel, 1994)
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Nispel, 2003)
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (Liebesman, 2006)
Texas Chainsaw 3D (Luessenhop, 2013)