Sunday, September 23, 2012

[Series 31] THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE

You were warned, tipped that I would be skipping the "31 horror movies/31 days" of October which used to be so pure and underground but has been 100% debased through being co-opted by fat moms, like vampires, BDSM, and social networks.  Hordes of mom-locusts descend upon our rich fields, ruin them, then run on to new victims, and we must keep moving and moving to survive, like sharks or the Roma.  So this year I am doing something different. 

Basically, this is an excuse to revisit old gems and PUPPET MASTER myself to death.  I (and maybe some guest starz) will be watching and rating 31 horror franchises/series in their entirety.  Instead of each film getting its own review, they'll be smooshed into value-pack posts like this one.  No way am I committing to gorging down all the WITCHCRAFTs in a day or whatever, so this will consume more blog time than just October.  It will go as long as it needs to go, then we'll get back to talking about "masturbation side effects after 45" and "dang girl sex", as my search stats report.  Protip: these posts are going to be giant-size man-things.

THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE (1974)


SYNOPSIS: Five youths, including hippie hottie Sally Hardesty and her invalid brother Franklin, travel to the part of Texas where the wrong kind of white people live.  Ostensibly, they're there to check on a relative's grave in the wake of grave-robbing reports.  They learn why no one has ever said, "I am sure glad we picked up that hitchhiker!"  After failing to find gas, they decide to visit the abandoned house where the Hardesty grandparents used to live.  Unfortunately, the next house over is occupied by backwoods cannibals with no decorating skills.  If you haven't seen this, you're hopeless, why are you alive.

WHAT WORKED:
Almost everything.  I'd seriously rank TCM as one of the two greatest horror films of all time and, if I get around to watching Romero's DEAD movies this time and DAWN doesn't hold up (as I fear), I might be putting a tiara on my copy of the Seriously Ultimate Edition.

Lots of people wrote this off at initial release because it is named THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE, but Daniel Pearl's gorgeous cinematography and Tobe Hooper's skillful, supple direction belie the grindhouse sneers.


There is no film that is more perfectly cast than SAW.  Once you see Paul Partain whine his way into the skin of wheelchair-bound Franklin, you can't even imagine anyone else doing that role.  Ed Neal's hitchhiker makes the van scene one of the all-time creepiest, as tension just keeps racheting higher and higher until the inevitable happens.  Jim Siedow is king-size as The Cook and strikes the perfect balance between Grand Guignol comedy ("Look what your brother did to the door!  He ain't got no pride in his home!") and unsettling imbalanced menace.  Teri McMinn's ass is so immaculate that even cameras duck under swings to follow it.  And Gunnar Hansen IS THE DEFINITIVE LEATHERFACE, period.  It speaks volumes for his acting abilities that he's able to create this complete character without a single line of discernible speech.  Leatherface here veers between terrifying danger and this melancholy primitive childishness.  Hansen apparently studied kids with behavioral disorders to prepare for the role and, wow, it works so well.


The writing is pitch-perfect. It's become a cliche to note that a movie named TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE is really pretty restrained when it comes to bloodshed, but it's true. The film takes it time to deliver the goods, slowly cranking up the atmosphere and the impending dread. When it needs to let loose, though, CHAIN SAW is bold as hell.  That dinner scene has been copied and recopied by film after film, including many of TCM's direct descendants.  TCM isn't just a killfest, though. Character on both sides of the family feud line is handled adroitly and the film even includes solid elements of humor (the on/off car-washing at the gas station scene makes me lol every time!).


WHAT DIDN'T WORK:
I watched this specifically looking for errors or weaknesses and didn't really find anything notable. I am not trying to kiss the ass of the well-respected luminary here.  CHAIN SAW's just too legit to quit.

DID YOU KNOW?
According to Gunnar Hansen, the catering budget for the film was so limited that they could only get food from the local hippie caterer, so the cast was generally eating marijuana brownies for at least one meal per day and were sometimes stoned out of their gourds.  Also, people refuse to believe that it's not based on a true story, even when the people who made it tell them so!



RATING: 10


THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 (1986)


SYNOPSIS: 13 years after the original Texas chain saw massacre, an incredible chainsaw murder on a Texas road is inadvertently heard by a local radio DJ.  She soon joins with Texas marshal Lefty Enright, uncle of wheelchair cadaver Franklin Hardesty, to track down the perps—the murderous Sawyer clan, including a returning Cook and Leatherface.  Things come to a garish conclusion at a nightmarish amusement park turned human sausage production factory.

WHAT WORKED:
The occasional macabre comedy of the original steps up 2 tha streets here, from Cook Drayton Sawyer (Siedow) winning a chili cook-off to the late, lamented Lou Perryman as boorish sweetheart engineer L.G. ("Look, darlin', I built you a little fry house!"). For the most part, if you're not too upset about losing the verité of the first film, it's pretty fun.



Usually, it's bad news when sequels introduce new characters (scroll down for examples!), but only a dingbat would deny that Bill Moseley's Chop-Top is one of the best things about TCM2. His performance is just so spastic and insistent! Think of any quote that you have heard from Saw 2 and it's likely to be a Moseley joint.




The aesthetic choices in terms of colors, sets, and makeup are glorious and Tom Savini, production designer Cary White, and returning director Tobe Hooper deserve big ups for creating this demented  Christmas town gone wrong and then using it to maximum effect.


Jim Siedow gets all the chains taken off and is off the chain in this, vying with Moseley for VIP honors. Imagine the door scene from the original expanded into a towering apartment complex of crazy, rife with bitching about the economy and the travails of small business. The Reagan eighties dissected with a satiric scalpel.  Holy fuck, I miss Jim Siedow. 


WHAT DIDN'T WORK:

Sorry, Bill Johnson, but Leatherface is a lot less compelling in this one. There's a skin-thin subplot about Leatherface's infatuation with DJ Stretch (Caroline Williams) and it promises to lead to laughs, but really just kinda hangs there (like a sad penis).  Hansen's Leatherface is a composite of aggression and monstrous simplicity, but TCM2 Leatherface is a full-on man-child, bossed around by his family, inelegantly fumbling at seduction.  Johnson's not to blame, since I'm sure that's what was demanded by the script and Hooper, but it's not a very good thing when Leatherface is the least interesting Sawyer in a TEXAS CHAINSAW movie.

I understand why they re-did the dinner scene, but it had already started to feel worn-out by this point, although it would get much, much more worse in time.  Likewise with the film-ending chase scene.


The scrapey-metals and banging-electric-screwdrivers soundtrack of the first film was replaced with actual music for this one. Some of it's electro-poppy, which should be right up my alley, but unfortunately none of it is particularly memorable nor as effective as the raw proto-industrial clatter of TCM.

DID YOU KNOW?
One of the versions of the script called for Dennis Hopper's Lefty Enright to be Stretch's dad.  It would have made for a cool continuation of the family-vs.-family motif of the first film, although you can understand why they jettisoned it.



RATING: 7


LEATHERFACE: TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE III (1990)


SYNOPSIS: A couple in the throes of breaking up is driving a car across Texas, home of body pits full of putrefying corpses and Jessica Simpson.  Also home to the world's most lady-friendly gas station, wherein lady Michelle (Kate Hodge) is ogled through a bathroom wall by Alfredo Sawyer (Tom Everett).  Thankfully, she's saved by gentlemanly Tex (Viggo Mortensen).  Thanklessly, their car crashes after they take a Tex-recommended road and the same thing that happened in TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE pretty much happens, only with a different family and inferior lighting/cinematography and more Lããz Rockit.



WHAT WORKED:

R.A. Mihailoff's Leatherface is much more vicious and intimidating than awkwardly-pubescent Leatherface from Part 2. This film, IMO, does a better job at balancing Leatherface-as-killer and Leatherface-as-functionally-retarded.  The mask is also far cooler this go-round.


LEATHERFACE ditches the funnyman stylings of the first sequel for pure horror. This is probably the CHAINSAW film most serious about scaring you from start to finish and any "light" touches are almost instantly tweaked into scenes of brutal horror.

New family members show up in this film and the ones who are made out of sugar and spice are pretty fab. I'm not sure how I feel about female members of what had hitherto been an all-male family, but Miriam Byrd-Nethery does a good psychotic job as the wheelchairin' Mama Sawyer (cool allusion to Franklin, movie!) and little Jennifer Banko is awww-inducing as "Leatherface's Daughter". Solid performances from both ladies, sisters are doing it for themselves!

WHAT DIDN'T WORK:

The new male members of the Sawyer clan are not quite as memorable as the girls and they unfortunately get a lot more screen time. The Tinker character especially bugs me, since he signals the dawn of SAWyers who are basically just weirdos with one quirk, like he's really into technology and talks about it A LOT. So basically saw murderers stop becoming complete psychotics and become Junos who eat people. No thank you.

The recycling of elements continues here apace. It feels like at least half of LEATHERFACE is a chase scene through dark woods, which does not exactly make for compelling viewing. Ditto the dinner scene, which is admittedly much more savage than previous entries, but it still feels like a retread.

David J. Schow's script has some good ideas, but fails to capitalize on them. Ken Foree shows up as a survivalist character, which would have been potentially great if he'd utilized his Turner Diaries/Bear Gryllis skills to combat the Sawyers, like setting traps or making weapons out of the forest, but that doesn't really happen. Likewise, the body pit that the movie very carefully informs us is composed of adipocere, dead bodies which turn into poison as they decompose, would be a great place to have a finale! But it doesn't happen. Instead, the movie ends in a lake full of bodies that is apparently not poisonous or dangerous at all.  Even Leatherface's Daughter's tea party table would have been a great place to stage a miniature version of the dinner scene from every CHAINSAW movie ever!  I kind of wish that studios would be dying to remake Part IIIs, because this one would benefit from the treatment.  Plus it's never really explained how we got from the end of Part 2 to this, given that events in the second film are mostly ignored.  It seems unmanly to claim to be a Part III in order to gin up box office sales, but shy away from answering the tough questions.

DID YOU KNOW?
The DVD of this film will not play in my computer, so I couldn't get screenshots.  Luckily, it has one of my favorite trailers ever.  Also, this is the only one of the original CHAINSAWs that I saw theatrically.  I made my mom take me and she started crying when a hobo shot up in front of us three rows down.  Son of the year!



RATING: 5

TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: THE NEXT GENERATION (1994)



SYNOPSIS: The worst narrator yet tells us the story of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre and basically blatantly says that they're ignoring the two prior sequels.  Then a group of teenagers escape their prom only to have a car crash in the woods after bantering for twenty minutes and the same thing that happened in TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE pretty much happens, only with a different family and inferior everything.  Renee Zellwegger and Matthew McConaughey are (terrible) in this!


THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE!!1!

WHAT WORKED:

It's pretty evident that the makers were shooting for a campy comedy here, much moreso than TCM2 tried to do. Some of it gets so ridiculous that it nears the orbit of stuff like THE ROOM, when you can't believe that beings from Earth actually made it. Parts of this work in that fashion, especially the early dialogue from Heather (Lisa Marie Newmyer): "Wait, wait, wait, I just thought of something so cool. What if we got into a wreck and we crashed into a car in front of us and we all died? They could write a song about it!"  She unfortunately turns into a whimpering hook-pierced victim, but I could see an alternate universe version of this built around Heather's inane dialogue being just wonderful.

This won't matter to the straight-lady viewers of this blog, but Tonie Perensky as the latest female addition to the clan is totes gorgeous and her after-work home clothes are incredible in an acid-trip kind of way.


WHAT DIDN'T WORK:


Like Part 3, this much-maligned film actually has some good ideas, but refuses to exploit them. I can't believe this myself, but the last 15 minutes or so suggests that TCM: THE NEW CLASS was intended to be a sort of proto-CABIN IN THE WOODS! Fucking real-talk! A guy in a tux shows up in a limo and demands that the crazy family work harder at producing "real horror". There are also suggestions of conspiracy theory, which would theoretically be amazing! Can you imagine if there was a TCM that incorporated the original film and people like Tobe Hooper and Gunnar Hansen denying that it was a true story, BUT IT REALLY WAS AND THEY WERE PART OF THE CONSPIRACY???

Leatherface is, for the first time, a problem. He's a butt-of-jokes transvestite here and he screeches incessantly like a bird with bad digestion challenges. His choice of weapon already makes him a poor stalker, but the nonstop shrill screaming just wrecks him as a menace at all.


Again, the new additions to the family are pretty poor. One guy's "thing" (because murderous cannibals have to have a thing now) is that he quotes literary and historical figures. Wow. Why not just have a guy constantly eating asparagus or wearing a bowler derby? Less character hooks, more meat hooks, pls. The characters in general are fairly unmemorable. Lady Sawyer is easy on the eyes, but none of them have any personality and Renee Zellwegger is the absolute worst of TCM's final girls.

DID YOU KNOW?
This film was completed and sat on the shelf for many days until Zellwegger and McConaughey suddenly developed careers.  It is THEIR Y Kant Tori Read?!  Zellwegger won't even discuss it, lol.

RATING: 2

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