Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Monday, July 18, 2016

NO ENCORES: Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1994)

1. Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1994)
Director: Kim Henkel

Neither of the previous “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” sequels matched the original or even managed to make that much money at the box office. Yet when there’s a recognizable name, especially in a genre as sequel crazy as horror, financial backers can always be found. “Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation” was written and directed by Kim Henkel, the co-writer of the original film. It’s the only film he’s directed. Henkel and his producer raised the funds independently, leading to a difficult post-production. The film was reedited for American audiences, re-titled from “Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” and barely released into theaters. When horror fans did say it, most of them hated it with only a few defending the sequel’s quality.

Teenager Jenny has had a fairly unproductive prom night with her boyfriend Sean and friends Barry and Heather. Driving home after the party, they take a weird Texas back road. After finding a crashed car, the group encounters a tow truck driven by Vilmer, an eccentric man. Vilmer is part of a family of backwoods psychos. Among them is the chainsaw wielding Leatherface. While Jenny tries to survive the night, she discover that Vilmer and Leatherface’s insane family are part of a wider reaching, stranger conspiracy.

Kim Henkel has expressed his opinion that “Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation” is the true sequel to the original film. He intended the film to recapture that first movie’s tone and treats the other two sequels in broad strokes. Henkel seemed to approach this goal quite literally. “The Next Generation” is practically a remake. The film recreates several notable moments from Hooper’s original. Leatherface wallops a boyfriend with a sledgehammer before hanging the girlfriend on a meat hook. While chasing the final girl, Leatherface destroys the house’s door. Later, the same girl leaps through a window, the chainsaw wielding maniac taking chase. She escapes to a local business, which turns out to be associated with the backwoods lunatics. Another scene has her running through the underbrush, Leatherface sawing through the branches. The film climaxes at a mad dinner around a ghoulish table and concludes with the main villain swinging his chainsaw in the morning sun.

While “The Next Generation” outright copies the original’s story, it strays from the first film’s tone. The movie has a bizarre comedic streak, often seemingly going for laughs as often as it goes for scares. This is most evident in how the film treats Leatherface. Gunner Hansen’s Leatherface was oddly child-like and sympathetic without loosing a truly unnerving edge. He also, in one scene, dressed up in women’s clothing. “The Next Generation” seems stuck on that last detail. This Leatherface is a limp wristed, wincing transvestite. He constantly shrieks in a high-pitch, obnoxious manner. In the final act, he wears a dress, fake breasts, a long-haired wig, and lipsticks. Why would the sequel transform a genuinely frightening villain into such a bizarre stereotype? Even his regular human flesh mask looks kind of crappy. By treating one of horror’s most iconic villains so poorly, the film seems to be outright insulting fans.

In truth, Leatherface isn’t even the primary villain of the film. That honor falls to Matthew McConaughey’s Vilmer. The patriarch of the family, Vilmer has a hydraulic brace on his leg. Sometimes, the brace spasmodically twitches, beyond Vilmer’s control. More often, Vilmer just screams like a lunatic. He self-mutilates with a knife, puts a shotgun into his mouth, sweats, throws people across the room and stomps on heads. Matthew McConaughey’s performance is entirely unhinged. While the script still treats the character quite terribly, it’s fair to say that McConaughey honors the original’s truly demented tone. He really does seem like a crazy person. (McConaughey doesn't have very clear memories of the film.)

While McConaughey’s Vilmer is a totally bizarre if compelling villain, the rest of Leatherface’s family is not that interesting. In the original, Leatherface would dress like a woman becomes there was no mother in the family. “The Next Generation,” meanwhile, features Tonie Perensky as Darla, Vilmer’s girlfriend. (This makes the decision to play up Leatherface’s cross-dressing even more odd.) Perensky plays the part like white trash, shouting and screaming slightly less then the other characters. Joe Stevens plays W. E., who combines elements of both the Cook and the Hitchhiker. He pokes Leatherface with a cattle prod and peppers all of his dialogue with literary quotes. Both characters are fairly annoying. But that’s not nearly as annoying as changing the family’s nature. They are no longer cannibals. They even order out pizza at one point.

Infamously, McConaughey is not the only future Academy Award winner to star in “Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation.” Renne Zellweger appears as Jenny. While Zellweger shows a decent amount of talent, the script mistreats her. Sometimes the character is smart enough to simply ran away when given a chance. Other times, she willingly gets into the truck of someone who is clearly crazy. At least Zellweger’s Jenny is more memorable then her friends. Tyer Shea Cone is an obnoxious jock, who swears often and is always thinking about sex. Lisa Marie Newmyer’s Heather, meanwhile, says she defies bubble-headed blonde stereotypes. If she does, all those scenes got cut out.

There are many baffling scenes in “Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation.” Jenny gets wrapped in a garbage bag and dumped in Darla’s truck. Within full view of several cops, she has a conversation with her captor. Grandpa has a bizarre cameo, appearing briefly before literally wandering off. During the climax, Jenny jumps into an old couple’s RV. Meanwhile, a random crop duster appears to take out Vilmer. Yet no aspect is stranger then the family apparently being funded by the Illuminati. An agent of the secret order, who has piercings and strange symbols carved into his skin, gives the lunatics a bad review. He then licks Renee Zellwager’s face. In the end, he picks her up in a limo. He explains that the Illuminati wants to expose people to true horror, in hopes of creating life alternating experience. What is any of this nutty shit doing in a “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” sequel?

Despite co-creating that very first film, “The Next Generation” makes it clear that Kim Henkel had no idea what made that original movie work so well. His sequel is a bizarre, tonally inconsistent affair that seems to actively mock what people liked about the original. It feels very cheap at times, which is only emphasized by the incoherent script and the obnoxious characters. McConaughey and Zellwager, after becoming big stars, are rumored to have sued to repress the movie’s release. It worked, as the movie was only released in 20 theaters. Most fans hate “Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation” though a few appreciate McConaughey’s delirious performance. Either way, I can’t imagine this was a sequel that anybody was satisfied with. It’s not shocking Henkel never made another film. [4/10]

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