From the Archives: Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation deserves to be a midnight movie

From the Archives: Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation deserves to be a midnight movie

In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it. 

Without further ado, I present to you: FROM THE ARCHIVES.

Originally posted on Cinema76.

Twenty five years ago we saw the release of Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation, the infamous continuation of the story of Leatherface and his cannibalistic cabal of maybe-relatives. Presently, I am tasked with determining just how well the film holds up a quarter century later. The thing is, the concept of “holding up” is inherently flawed, because this strange piece of cinema has received very little love from the moment of its inception, garnering almost universally negative reviews and a level of infamy usually only given to films where someone literally died on set, or at the very least went on to tweet something slightly unsavory. Heck, it was even shelved for a few years on account of the two burgeoning celebs in its cast feeling abject terror at even being associated with the project.

So no, Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation does not hold up. Not even a little. But it does, however, completely earn its reputation, because it is a uniquely terrible film — a uniquely terrible film that I’d kill to see with a rowdy crowd at a midnight screening. If ever “cult classic status” should be invoked, it’s here. Yet there hasn’t really been a movement for this to occur. Nope, instead we’re actively trying to turn Cats into the next The Rocky Horror Picture Show rather than forgetting about it entirely and electing a scant few to burn every copy and then enter witness protection.

But it is my hope that one day the film initially known as The Return of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre will receive what it is owed: universal contempt mixed with complete fascination at one of the most bafflingly conceived/executed turds in film history. Perhaps my following rumination can help get the ball rolling. Perhaps not. But let’s go there.

The film begins as all Chainsaw Massacre movies do: with a prologue in the form of a text block being read in a foreboding voice. Here, writer/director Kim Henkel (who co-wrote the original film) takes a poke at the previous two entries in the series (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 & Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III) by first re-capping the events of the original film, and then making reference to “two minor, yet apparently related incidents” which also occurred since Sally Hardesty first escaped Leatherface and friends. This is a fun little jab at the two oddball sequels that would have resonated better if the movie that followed wasn’t total crap. Then again, with the goggles of nostalgia firmly placed over my eyes, this shortsighted attempt at smack-talk just adds to the film’s clueless charm.

After the title card fades, we are thrown into what looks like the typical New Line Cinema teen slasher of the mid-90s. A group of high schoolers are attending their senior prom. There’s Barry, the cocky womanizer who seems only to exist to be the absolute worst at every moment. His girlfriend Heather isn’t as much of an asshole as Barry, but she definitely sucks for reasons all her own, namely that she’s dumber than a bag of gravel and twice as abrasive. Then there’s Sean, a blank slate upon which blood can be tossed. He’s attending the prom with Jenny (two-time Academy Award winner and star of Me, Myself, and Irene, Renée Zellweger), a nerdy girl who we know is nerdy because she wears nerdy glasses. When Heather catches Barry making out with another girl, she runs to Barry’s car and threatens to drive off. Barry gets into the car with her, and wouldn’t you know it, both Sean and Jenny are hiding in the back seat getting high or something.

The foursome drives off into the night for one reason or another (or perhaps for no reason at all), until they eventually get into a car accident with a random stranger. Stuck in the “middle of nowhere,” maaaaybe half a mile from their high school, they are soon terrorized by Leatherface and his clan, and by “Leatherface and his clan” I mostly just mean “his clan” because Leatherface is pretty much a non-entity in this film. Also registering as a non-entity would be his chainsaw, which only makes an appearance in three short instances, and never once cuts into anyone’s flesh. For the most part, people just slap each other and yell. The Texas Face Slap Massacre would be a much more fitting title.

Henkel’s script does follow some aspects of the TCM formula. The most notable being the implicit rule that if a character isn’t amongst the initial pool of victims, you can be 100% sure that they are in on whatever long-con is being employed to secure meat for the grimy cannibals. Henkel also follows the rule that the shift into “we’re fucked” should be sudden and irrevocable. When our group of doomed teenagers emerge from their unfortunate auto wreck, the find solace in a suspicious real estate office being run by a tawdry Designing Women parody. She seems a bit odd, but hardly dangerous. That is, until she calls a tow truck driver to pull the kids’ busted ride to safety. But when the tow driver shows up, he immediately snaps the neck of the incapacitated, anonymous other driver, in a moment that clearly wanted to be shocking but ends up looking very silly on account of it being poorly staged, poorly executed, and totally incongruent to the “cranked-to-eleven-no-actually-cranked-to-a-billion” performance of Academy Award winner Matthew McConaughey. Yes, that Matthew McConaughey.


Remember when I said that two of the stars worked to have the movie shelved? Well now you know why. In 1995, both Zellweger and McConaughey were celebrities on the rise, and their association with such a godawful film could have been career poison. At the time, Columbia Pictures saw fit to shelf the film so that they could push the release of another Zellweger vehicle, Jerry Maquire, without damaging its image. McConaughey’s agent then put pressure on the studio to avoid a theatrical release for similar reasons. Columbia ultimately released the film straight to video, with a theatrical release in just twenty cities, a decision that left Henkel more than a bit miffed.

For the record, McConaughey’s name is misspelled in the closing credits. While the Hollywood conspiracy theorist in me wants to say that this was some sort of slick way to distance McConaughey’s name form the final product, the “guy who literally just learned how to spell ‘McConaughey’” in me attributes it to the overall slapdash production. I truly believe they just took an educated guess at the spelling and then went with it. Outside of McConaughey’s performance itself, half-measures are what this film is made of.

Oddly enough, this film was my first experience with any Texas Chainsaw media. While it was the second movie in the series I had ever seen (I made sure to watch the original film before checking out any of the sequels), my fascination with all things Texas Chainsaw began as a child who stumbled across the VHS for this sequel-boot in the aisles of my local video rental store. On it, the imagery, pull-quotes, and plot description leaned very VERY heavily into this being a completely new look for Leatherface. Historically, Leatherface enjoyed wearing the faces of his victims as masks, but the new entry introduced an enticing queer angle: Leatherface was now a crossdresser! On the front of the box was an artist’s rendering of some ruby red lips behind a chainsaw arranged to visually suggest a tube of lipstick. On the back was a photo of Leatherface in full lingerie, thigh high stockings, and the highest of heels, brandishing a phallically positioned chainsaw. A pull-quote from Thelma Adams of the New York Post reads “Leatherface crosses Divine with Hannibal Lecter,” while the tagline reads “If looks could kill, he wouldn’t need a chainsaw.” The plot description even makes passing reference to the idea of strange costumes with the phrase “the prom night teens find themselves all dressed up… with nowhere to escape.” It’s fair to say that the marketing, insofar as the VHS box was concerned, was really leaning into the idea that this should be some sort of post-Rocky Horror, post-John Waters novelty flick. Heck, it even refers to itself as a “hilarious, bone-chilling remake of the horror classic” despite explicitly presenting as a sequel in its opening moments.

The box art certainly caught this young weirdo’s attention. With a nascent taste for queer cinema and gender-bending already growing in my young mind, this looked to be the exact kind of “shake up the squares” film I’d found my adolescent self gravitating toward. Hyper-violence, weird sex stuff, and modern updates of classic horror villains: this should be everything I need in a fright flick. Yet in execution, pretty much none of this promise is lived up to. Yeah, it’s a violent movie, but it’s pretty pale compared to most slashers. The deaths largely happen off screen, and as I said before, literally none of them involve a chainsaw. And yeah, Leatherface spends much of his scant screen time wearing a woman’s face and a house dress, but his new look barely registers as something different from his classic look (and its clear that the Leatherface on the VHS box is very much not the same actor anyway). What looked to be a deranged piece of outsider art ends up being the most mainstream-feeling entry of the entire series.

Another odd update they tried to introduce is the idea that this family (whose members have changed with each entry, effectively nullifying the connective tissue each sequel claims to have), is no longer interested in eating people (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre), feeding people to others in a chili cook-off (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2), or wearing people’s skin and feeding their blood to the corpse of the ever-decomposing Grandpa in a creepy ritualistic feast (Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III). Nope, this time it is revealed that the family is working at the behest of an Illuminati-esque organization who aims to give people a transcendent experience through physical and mental torture. It’s a nobly bold idea that is executed with all the care of a slap to the face (see what I did there), and amounts to literally nothing. Still, I respect it as an escalation of the “everyone is in on it” aspect of each entry in the series, regardless of the ham-fisted way it’s implemented.

And since I don’t know where to place this in terms of the larger piece here, let me just note that McConaughey’s character has a robotically enhanced leg that he uses to crush a head off-screen. We are told the he needs to wear it as a result of being shot so many times over the years. We are not told why it needs to be operated by a remote control, let alone by multiple conflicting remote controls that are eventually used to incapacitate him by fucking with his ability to walk. Then again, logic is very far from just about every plot machination on display. When I say that the characters behave in wildly illogical ways, it’s a huge understatement, and when it can’t be explained how a character enters or exits a scene without teleportation, the film simply chooses not to explain it at all. While a lot of the choppy nature of the plot can be explained away by the film having been re-cut prior to release, I imagine that, much like the misspelled name in the credits, this is a result of no one really giving a fuck. My guess is that the filmmakers figured that if they just delivered the standard Texas Chainsaw goodies, they could get away with wonky slasher logic.

But then they forgot to deliver on the standard Texas Chainsaw goodies. I’ll say it again: literally nobody is killed with a chainsaw. They do, however, sneak a small cameo in from our original final girl and her brother (Marilyn Burns & Paul A. Partain), but they’re both of the blink-and-you-miss-it variety. It might even suggest that Burns is playing the same character from the original film, but it’s hard to tell given the murky way the cameo is presented. And since she’s credited simply as “Patient on Gurney” we can assume that this is either not the case, or it was altered while the film was being re-cut. I don’t know. I also don’t care.

After this wall of text basically stating that there is almost nothing good about this movie, you’re probably asking why I feel like this should be a regular midnight feature. Well that’s an easy one: because it’s so much fun to watch. Be it the many failed attempts at updating a series that wasn’t in need of an update, the commendably committed performances, or the hilarity of a Leatherface that does little more than scream incessantly, the entertainment value is through the roof (with the concession that an altered mental state is the desirable baseline for consumption). I picture a theater full of similarly minded degenerates laughing themselves silly at this strange spectacle, parroting some of the more ridiculous lines back to the screen, and screaming gleefully in unison when an Illuminati-owned crop duster swoops down and uses its propeller to mangle Matthew McConaughey’s skull. Yes, that happens.

So theater managers, get at me. It’s been twenty five years since Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation kinda sorta hit theaters, and we are due for a new cult event that isn’t forced like Cats or played out like The Room. Let’s set it up. I’ll do what I can to help.

And finally, before wrapping this piece up, I must field the most important question of all: Does Matthew McConaughey say “Alright, alright, alright” at any point during the film?

Yes. Yes, he fucking does.

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