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Slasher Summer: The Texas Chainsaw Reviews

Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is second only to Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho in importance when it comes to understanding the massive slasher franchises that would follow. Shot with grainy film, a tiny budget, and a minimalist script, it set a high bar for realism and terror that would influence decades of future filmmakers. However, it wasn't until the likes of Michael Myers, Freddy Kreuger, and Jason Vorhees came around that the seminal horror film would see its first sequel and become a genuine franchise of its own. Plagued by dramatic shifts in tone and quality, the series never achieved the momentum of its contemporaries, but no review of the great slasher icons of the eighties would be complete without Leatherface.


THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE (1974)
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE (1974)
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

The Premise: A group of young adults run out of gas in the middle of rural Texas and come across a house of horrors featuring a chainsaw-wielding maniac.

The Verdict: Feeling more like a snuff film than a slasher flick, this certified classic is a painfully slow build up (especially by modern standards) to one of the most disturbing twenty minutes ever put to film. It was produced on a microscopic budget, but it influenced the horror genre for decades, from the twisted sensibilities of slasher flicks to the not-really-non-fiction of found footage movies. There's a surprising amount of depth to the filmmaking, and it deserves a lot of respect from an artistic point of view. However, for most modern audiences, it feels like a grad student's final project in film school, with terrible actors, one-dimensional stereotypes, and cheap camera work. In terms of servicing the plot, most of the movie is completely superfluous. Sure, characters are established and themes are presented, but as no characters go through any definable arcs and the theme is hammered home efficiently in the first and last ten minutes, it makes the meat of the movie nothing but boring, inedible fat. It's a must-watch for those interested in the history of film and cinéma vérité, but everybody else can safely give it a pass.




THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 (1986)
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2
THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 (1986)
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2

The Premise: An unstable police lieutenant hunts down those responsible for a series of chainsaw killings across Northern Texas, with the help of a radio DJ who quickly finds herself out of her depth.

The Verdict: While other slasher franchises like Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th take a gradual approach to the metamorphosis from serious to campy, watching the first two Texas Chainsaw films back-to-back will give you whiplash from the drastic shift in tone. Whereas the original film went for a terrifyingly realistic feel, its sequel is like a manic trip into goofy madness, a deliberate farce of itself and everything the original had created. It's not a bad movie, if you're into that sort of thing (like me), but it's extremely weird. It feels like the entire cast and crew were on massive amounts of cocaine, especially when you learn that the same man, Tobe Hooper, wrote and directed both films. As such, Dennis Hopper is perfectly cast as the male lead, and he plows through the movie with duel-weilding chainsaws and ridiculous dialogue. It's delicious fun, of course, but it's also unrelentingly insane, frankly unpleasant at times, and a bit too malicious with its satire.




LEATHERFACE: THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE III (1990)
Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III
LEATHERFACE: THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE III (1990)
Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III

The Premise: A couple on a road trip through Texas run into trouble when they meet up with Leatherface and his family.

The Verdict: A more straight-forward slasher sequel/reboot than its predecessor, Leatherface is a surprisingly good flick. It starts out a bit slow and has one of the most annoying major characters in slasher movie history (Ryan), but once things get rolling (and Ryan is killed, twice), the movie delivers everything you'd want out of a conventionally shot, bigger budget version of the original film. It has two bad-ass leads in damsel Michelle--whose tranformation in the final act into a delerious fighter is amazing--and Benny, the survivalist who manages to be one of the most intelligent and capable heroes to ever appear in one of these films. Also worth a mention is a young Viggo Mortensen as Tex, but more than the characters and the acting, Leatherface is disturbing and suspenseful, showcasing the sociopathic family in more vivid detail than ever before. It has its moments of dark humor, of course, but they are subtle enough not to break the spell. All in all, while it might not have the artistic sensibilities of the original, Leatherface is far more entertaining as a popcorn horror film.




TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: THE NEXT GENERATION (1994)
Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation
TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: THE NEXT GENERATION (1994)
Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation

The Premise: A quartet of teens leave their prom night and get into an accident on a backroad in Central Texas, where they come across a new family of killers that includes Leatherface in drag.

The Verdict: Despite some wonky editing, bad dialogue, and poorly realized characters, this movie starts out predictably enough as your standard, low-budget slasher movie about teens being hunted in the woods. However, things get increasingly bizarre and confusing as the movie goes on, with a narrative that is barely coherent, characters who change from scene to scene, and an overarching mythos that attempts to "explain" the entire franchise as some kind of illuminati-inspired plot to create horror and spiritual enlightenment... or something. I'm not entirely sure, to be honest. Matthew McConaughey's preposterously unhinged performance--as the psychopathic hillbilly with a remote-control robot leg who takes orders from the thousand year old power brokers behind the scenes who orchestrated the Kennedy assassination--almost makes the movie worth a watch, but be warned: this is one of the strangest and most incomprehensible ninety minutes of celluloid I've ever seen, and I've seen Godzilla vs. Hedorah. I suspect Texas Chainsaw: TNG was written and produced by aliens in human suits, attempting to either mimic a slasher movie or drive the entire human race mad.



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-e. magill 7/13/2017

THE UNAPOLOGETIC GEEK'S
SLASHER SUMMER:
  • The Halloween Reviews
  • Michael Myers' Top 10 Best Kills
  • Halloween's Top 10 Finest Moments
  • The Nightmare on Elm Street Reviews
  • Freddy's Top 10 Best Nightmares
  • The Friday the 13th Reviews
  • Jason's Top 10 Best Kills
  • Video Game Review: Friday the 13th: The Game
  • The Texas Chainsaw Reviews
  • Leatherface's Top 10 Most Intense Moments
  • The Child's Play Reviews
  • Chucky's Top 10 Best Kills
  • The Hellraiser Reviews
  • How to Make a Slasher Flick



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