The Texas Chainsaw Massacre – The Good, The Bad & The Bizarre – By Josh Samford

 As a twenty-something (well, I’m twenty one, does that give me the right to refer to myself as a twenty-something yet? Darn it, I want to be growns up), I guess I kind of came to the TCM series a bit later than some. I didn’t just discover it this year or something like that, but in my later teens probably around my sweet 16 – and for a kid who took pride in having seen every Friday and every Nightmare flick known to man at that time (just like every other kid of the nineties) – it seemed almost laughable that I had not witnessed one Leatherface extravaganza. I won’t lie, as a kid, the thought of a chainsaw killing psychopath was just about as extreme of a horror concept as my child-like mind could imagine. I remember vividly one Halloween night as a kid, as I entered my first ever “haunted house” and subsequently my last (not because I didn’t want to go to another one, but because people in Louisiana suck and never host them) – I remember making it all the way through the boring drivel of Dracula, fake guts and blood and coming unto the end of this maze of cheap horrors – where a noise was then heard. A sharp, LOUD, buzzing noise. My three friends and myself nearly jumped into each other’s arms when we realized that the sound was indeed coming from a real life chainsaw wielding maniac just ahead of us, guarding the entrance! We all tried to push ourselves backwards but eventually had to run forward into the night, bolting over the fence in the backyard of whoever’s house this was. At the time none of us had actually seen any of the TCM movies – but we could all imagine the horrors of that horrendous and loud weapon; and it scared the pants off of each and every one of us. So, I know all of that is a bit off-topic but I think the majority of most kids the world over could agree with me and my friends, and to think that Tobe Hooper actually had hoped to get a G rating with a film that even had this title. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, to be scary, doesn’t really even need a whole lot more than it’s name – but why oh why did we have the sequels that we did?

There’s no getting past the fact that the first TCM film is probably one of the greatest horror films of our time. People can deny it all they want, until they are blue in the face and technically it’s all opinion so who is to say what is right and what is wrong – but for the multitudes of filmmakers and films inspired and influenced by that one little low budget horror picture, as well as the massive fan base that grows every time the film is passed on even to this day – I think everyone who can think a little bit clearly can at least give it some credit as an innovator and a genuinely well produced feature film. So yes, I was actually drawn to the series a little late in life. Somewhere in my mid-teens I decided it was time to conquer my fears and deal with the film head on – and after having seen Dead-Alive (Braindead) about a million billion times I kind of figured I had a stronger stomach than when I was a child. Sad for me however, no videostore in my surrounding area – to this day – has a copy of the original film. Only the second film, which I refused to watch without having seen the original. Somehow through circumstance however, I ended up picking it out of a Cheap-O dollar bin on VHS somewhere along the way and was able to experience what I believe to be one of the single greatest horror films ever made and I don’t think I’m alone in that. I’d go so far as to put it over the original Friday and Nightmare films mainly due to the gritty realism of the film along with the total assault on the senses and otherworldly direction. Slashers at the time generally didn’t have a lot going for them as far as atmosphere (Nightmare was a definite exception, as was the first Friday) and for sheer innovation and horror by way of reality – not many features could hold a candle to Saw; then or now. There’s more to that first film than a body count, and the ambiguous attitude of it has a lot to do with things. Running at a blistering pace covering one night of horror, we never really get any insight into who these wicked characters are that torture our leading lady. We never find out what made Leatherface into the creature that he has become, only hints at his madness. This ambiguity actually lasted throughout the series – but therein lies much of the problem with these sequels. Where things could have become more detailed, where we could have become more informed at just what created these psychotic cannibals – we are thrown with essentially a new set of raving lunatics with no background or description with each concluding sequel.

 Starting with the second film, which is actually a favorite amongst many crowds – I was never drawn to it’s dark humor that so many seem to enjoy. I did enjoy the gory additions such as a chainsaw to the head bit somewhere along the way – the comedy felt tacked on and didn’t seem to fit in amongst the horror as the Evil Dead films were doing along that period so well. Things just never seemed settled to me, and having Leatherface and his gang take their insanity to the streets and giving the film an urban setting at times just didn’t work for me. There’s too much “hillbilly” in these characters and they’re just too dark and horrifying for me to accept them in a humorous light. Maybe this is my fault for just not “getting” the film, but hey, it’s my article and I can say what I want, sucka. The third film in the series, Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III, is another one of those that actually has a pretty sizable audience of fans – but once again, not my cup of tea. The horror is brought back into the series, some of the ultraviolence in lost a little bit and a new family is introduced. It has it’s moments overall, like the performance by Viggo Mortensen well before he became famous for Carlito’s Way… I mean, Lord of the Rings. He plays his role over the top as the lunatic “Tex” and does a fantastic job at chewing scenery in what is the most fun character at this point even in the series. He is loud, ruthless, psychotic and brash – a lot of fun to watch on-screen. Although Matthew McConaughey probably went even further than Mortensen in the next addition to the series – Mortensen’s performance can’t be downplayed. Probably the biggest draw to the film for me. Ken Foree also joins the cast as the main adversary of Leatherface once things get heated – but he pretty much calls it in since the part isn’t really the juiciest thing to sink your teeth into – but overall, TCM III is just another slasher flick but with a scarier weapon than most. I bet that might get me some heat.

 So, then I come to the black sheep of the series – Texas Chainsaw Massacre: A New Beginning. Now, I think I’d be the most hated man on interwebs if I came out and said I enjoyed this film but not the second and third feature – but does it deserve to be considered the worst film of all time? I’ve got to say no. Only for one thing, Matthew McConaughey’s performance. I’ve got to give it to ol’ Matt – he went WAY overboard with his role and actually took a rather straightforward slasher and made it something memorable. So many people seem to really disapprove of this entry in the series mainly due to the fact that, well, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. The ending of things takes some kind of weird twist where a satanic cult is in control of the family for no good reason and blah, blah, blah. Where this twist comes from or where it was going, the audience has no idea whatsoever. But what can you say, I guess I see it as part of it’s charm. Like that and the bad acting and dialogue. So don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to go out of my way and say it’s the best sequel of the bunch, I’d actually probably say the third film is a more cohesive and slightly all around better flick – but for what it’s worth – A New Beginning does not actually cause cancer despite many of the widespread rumors. I guess the world could have expected more from Kim Henkel, co-creator of the original film and head honcho behind New Beginning; but I don’t think even Tobe Hooper – especially given his post-TCM credits – could truly revive the story and give it life much less someone else no matter how involved. The series has seen totally innovate and new directions taken from one sequel to the next, with far too little cohesive narrative and continuity in terms of style. Now though, with the remake having made a million zillion dollars at the box office, no longer will we see a continuation of those stories involving our favorite Chainsaw wielding madman from the past – we’re going to be given prequels and sequels to this new breed of Texas cannibals and I guess all I can do is wish Hollywood the best but being that I was not a fan of the remake; I don’t really expect much from them either.

Now, if this one doesn’t get me at least two maniac stalkers I’m going to be shocked. What can I say people, I’ve got weird opinions. Overall I’d say I do enjoy the TCM flicks – if I didn’t why would I be watching; ya know – but with such a phenomenal beginning I guess anyone could have hoped for more along the way but that’s just the way the cookie crumbled. Some may like them, some may hate them, some may absolutely worship them – but there’s no getting past the mark that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and it’s legacy has left us with. Horror films haven’t been the same since and they never will be.