It’s almost Halloween, and this special movie week starts with a gory bang by courtesy of the original four The Texas Chainsaw Massacre movies.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
(USA 1974, director: Tobe Hooper)
Five young people make a road trip to visit the grave of a sibling’s grandfather in Texas and end up in the hands of a psychopathic family of cannibals.
It takes a special kind of director to create a movie that is still as disturbing and difficult to watch today as when it was released. Of course there have been many imitators and more violent ones, but the first The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is almost too much at times, especially with the finale that consists of constant screaming and sick laughter during physical and psychological torture. Add in a minimalist soundtrack and camera work that focuses on everyday details, e.g. spiders spinning their web or the retina of an eye turning red from strain, and one won’t be able to to call it entertainment anymore.
Obviously, it’s a movie not many people can sit through, as it shows sadism in its purest form, although it includes a memorably twisted cast with Leatherface wielding a chainsaw and an almost dead grandfather trying to hit his victims’ heads with a hammer. However, despite all the cruelty on display, it’s not a particularly inventive movie, as the annoying main characters (especially the invalid) make it hard to feel sympathy for them. There isn’t much of a plot to speak of, either, with the first 30 minutes that can mostly be skipped.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2
(USA 1986, director: Tobe Hooper)
A radio host is captured by the cannibal family, while a former Texas marshall tries to take revenge on them for the death of his brother.
After over a decade, it’s difficult to recapture the same sense of terror the first movie evoked, especially with so many slasher movies released in between. The sequel is less frightening and more entertaining to watch, but it’s also less intense and more forgettable. If it weren’t for Dennis Hopper’s and Bill Mosely’s maniacal performances (the former being more or less good and the latter a complete nutcase), one won’t have a reason to watch it again.
With more comedy elements, sometimes intentional and sometimes not, one never feels any true horror, which is all the more surprising with almost the same finale at the dinner table re-enacted. The main survivor girl swinging a chainsaw in the end almost looks silly, compared to the first movie’s iconic ending. This is probably the most problematic thing: It’s a sequel that tries too hard to be the same, but rarely steps out of its predecessor’s shadow with memorable scenes, e.g. a chainsaw fight. As it is, the cannibal family is much less frightening and the victims are just as forgettable as the plot that is also a bit too long for what little there is.
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Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III
(USA 1990, director: Jeff Burr)
Two young Californians and a survivalist find themselves terrorized by Leatherface and his cannibal family.
What started out as a tale of terror with the first movie and then somehow introduced comedy elements in the second one, is now caught somewhere in the middle. The third instalment isn’t scary and not suspenseful, but just entertaining in a sick kind of way. One doesn’t care for any of the victims and for the first time one controversially finds the cannibal family less frightening and more like a dysfunctional group of individuals who simply love their traditions, even if it means the chainsaw and cutting people up.
Seeing Viggo Mortensen of The Lord of The Rings fame in his basket case role and a twisted little girl introduced into the family business is probably the most memorable thing. While it’s never really boring, one starts to wonder why 80ies heavy metal music accompanies some of the last fight scenes, as these don’t look any cooler and certainly don’t add anything to the tension.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation
(USA 1994, director: Kim Henkel)
A group of prom night teenagers experience a car crash and are soon picked up by Leatherface and his insane cannibalistic family.
After the former movies became less concerned with terror and torture and felt more like a teenage slasher flick with Leatherface being the only distinctive feature, the newest entry is certainly the logical conclusion. It again presents characters one couldn’t care less about and a dysfunctional family that might once have been scary but isn’t anymore. Leatherface becomes a transvestite, the top of the family food chain is a psychopath whose legs are held together by a contraption with remote controls, and the woman of the house is just as psychotic as her male counterpart, but somehow manages to evade the police with a body in her car’s trunk while picking up pizzas.
Add an ending with a sort of conspiracy and you have a travesty of the original, but strangely a very entertaining one. Renée Zellweger and Matthew McConaughey have already expressed their grudge against being part of it and want to wipe it off their portfolio, but especially the latter’s performance is worth watching it alone. It’s a derivative, but also a very fun movie, even if its comedy elements don’t quite gel well together with the torture sequences.
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