Texas Chainsaw Massacre 4

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PNsgi_n-hro

Thoughts before I hit play: Hey! I actually remembered to do it this time! With the research necessary to ensure that this was, in fact, the next movie in the series, I found out that the screenwriter of the original movie is actually the director of this one. Not only that, but she’s a woman! Not only THAT, but it stars Matthew McConaughey and Renee Zellweger! Is it weird that those facts make me a little bit excited to watch this one? We have two professional actors at the forefront of the film, we have a female perspective on the whole thing, and not only that, but a female perspective that is familiar with how the original movie happened!

All the blurb says about this movie is that Renee’s character Jenny and her date take a wrong turn and encounter the evil character, Matthew’s character, in a hilarious, bone chilling remake of horror classic.

By that definition, I assume it’s going to be cheesy, campy, and just as strange as the others. I’m not sure the other films actually included the word “hilarious” in their titles though and thus far, have all labeled themselves as dark comedies without actually being anything close to hilarious in my opinion.

Synopsis: Jenny and her prom date are getting high in a random car in the parking lot when heather and her beau take the car out for a spin to get away from the party and deal with his infidelity at another location. Once they take a wrong turn, they get into an accident and have to ask for help, then are, of course attacked, maimed, and terrorized by a family of unhinged rednecks.


Main Meat:

I’m not quite sure how I feel about this movie. On one hand, it’s a homage to the original, almost a play by play with less running through the woods and more sexually charged scenes that leave you confused as to the motivations of the characters within. It was directed and written by Kim Henkel, a screenwriter that worked on the first film with Tobe Hooper. I think in the time I’ve had this blog, podcast, whatever, I’ve only encountered one other female director in a film that I reviewed. I had thought that maybe the fact that she was a woman might add a different tone to the film or add some kind of emotional element to it that the others seemed to gloss over when it came time to meet this film’s iteration of Leatherface. But as I later learn in this review, Kim is not a woman at all, so it’s all completely on brand.

In this film, We’re tossed into a world of confusing names, strange bionic legs, and a lot, and I mean a LOT of choking.

The film starts with a prom night scene. Jenny is getting ready, tempting her fate with some red lipstick before her big night, a scene I’m pretty sure was supposed to be mirrored once we see Leatherface in his female skin and mask, but didn’t land, at least for me.

Jenny is a social outcast. According to everyone in the film, she’s supposed to be a virgin, weird, and someone that’s never been interested in guys. I think it’s hinting that she’s gay, but they apparently weren’t ready to do more than that back in ’94.

So, Jenny and her beard head out to her friend Heather’s car to get high in the back seat. Once Heather finds that her boyfriend Barry has been making out with another girl for the entirety of prom night, she confronts him and for some reason gets him in her car and drives off to a non-descript location. After driving for a minute, realizing that Jenny and Sean are in the back seat and discussing the lies that Barry has told her about the cancerous side effects of not having sex, they get lost after taking a wrong turn.

They then get into an accident and ask a woman, alone in a real estate office for help. This, I surmise, represents the gas station of movies prior.

Pretty soon, the team is split up. Sean stays back at the scene of the accident with the other passenger who has completely lost consciousness but is still breathing. Heather, Jenny, and Barry head out to find help, but also split, leaving Jenny to fend for herself on the dark road full of people that don’t want to pick up hitchhikers.

Heather and Barry find as house as they walk through a strangely lit walkway that then leads them to a very familiar looking farmhouse. Here, we meet Leatherface and his…brother?

Allow me to pause here for a moment. Not sure if you all remember the confusion surrounding the narration from the last movie about someone named W.E. Sawyer. If you’re not sure what I mean, you can click this text to read the blog post for my last review, or look for my review of TCM 3 on your favorite podcatcher for the podcast episode.

What basically happened was that the text said that someone named W.E. Sawyer was the only member of the family to live to see the trial. The jury stated that he was the one that wore masks and had some kind of secret persona that then becomes Leatherface.

In this movie, however, the brother character, that is definitely NOT Leatherface because we, at one point, see them in the same scene, is called “W.E.” I am again, thoroughly confused. Clearly either Kim didn’t watch the other movies OR he didn’t care and that was a silent way to protest the fact that someone fucked with the characters he helped create in the first place.

The woman from the real estate office calls someone to go check on the accident and Sean, who is still just chillin’ with an unconscious dude.

Vilmer then shows up, snaps the victim’s neck, and chases Sean down until he kills him.

Then, some typical Leatherface-terrorizes-his-victims happens, all the while, the guy playing Leatherface screams his balls off. I thought this was because Heather was screaming. You know, Leatherface is confused because he’s not sure where this now screaming girl came from, he’s screaming because she’s screaming. It happens. I thought this until the rest of the movie then started happening and he FUCKING SCREAMS THE ENTIRE TIME.

One note, one pitch, every two seconds. I swear to god.

I would have rather seen the return of the mask from the second movie and watched this dude sand-people his chainsaw in the air again before listening to this new dude scream at everything for the entire movie.

While Heather is thrust upon a meat hook and Barry is killed, the scene then shifts to Jenny still looking for a ride with a flashlight that no longer works. She’s picked up by Vilmer, headed back from his hunting trip by the car accident. With her friends strung up in the back of his truck, she freaks out and jumps from the moving truck and runs into a forest of trees through which the car won’t fit.

Of course, this is Leatherface’s cue to come out of nowhere and chase her through the woods, a creek, the murder house, to the roof, and then through a greenhouse type thing. Long story short, she gets captured and there is then a torrent of strange scenes that these movies seem to be famous for. It seems like, in every movie, there is a point at which nothing matters. There’s little to nothing revealed, we don’t learn anything, and it’s this amalgam of strange scenes that only sometimes serve to pay homage to the original.

This is the point at which this movie does that. Between scenes where Jenny is strapped to a kitchen chair, slapped, choked, and spit on, we learn two things that are fairly important to the rest of the movie

  1. That Vilmer has connections to an association that kills people for a living. We learn this in a scene that takes three seconds to unfold in a bathroom between Jenny and that real estate woman who, of course, was part of the redneck family the entire time.
  2. Vilmer has a bionic leg that can be controlled by remotes. Any remote. Literally, they have hundreds of them all over their house and he often keeps multiple remotes in his pockets with varying levels of charged batteries in them.

That’s it really, until a man in a black suit shows up to move the film forward, that’s all we learn in those strange scenes.

That man in black is strange, mysterious, and we really don’t know what he’s doing there until he faces off with a terrified looking Vilmer and states that he was supposed to have shown these people “the meaning of horror.”

This dude has some weird scars and piercings all over his torso that are never explained and then proceeds to start licking Jenny all over her face as she’s still tied to a chair.

He leaves, Vilmer crushes Heather’s skull under his bionic leg while the camera closes in on his O-face that was extremely strange to watch, and Jenny, after nearly being decapitated, grabs a remote and sends Vilmer’s leg into convulsions, giving her the split second she needs to run away.

She runs as fast as she can toward a main road and stops before an RV that decides to pick her up as they can see Leatherface who, by the way, has been wearing the face and breasts of a woman this entire time, is weilding a chainsaw and running after her.

Once she’s safely in the RV, Leatherface attacks the driver from the bed of Vilmer’s truck and sends the RV flying. Jenny escapes from the wreck and continues to run as Vilmer and Leatherface chase her on foot. From out of literally no where, a small plane appears and decapitates Vilmer as he’s hot on her heels. Leatherface, still on foot, continues to chase her until a black limo shows up and she climbs right in.

Turns out, the limo is owned by the man in black and he explains to her that what Vilmer did was wrong and that what she went through should have been more of a spiritual experience than what actually happened.

He then takes her to a hospital/police station where she sees Sally, someone we thought to be dead thanks to the narration from the last movie, is actually fine and out of her coma.


Year Released/Director: 1994, Kim Henkel

Rating: Meh

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Favorite Death: The addition of that small plane at the end for no reason other than to decapitate Vilmer was not only the best death in this film, but the best thing that has ever existed in cinema.

Funniest Part: Though this movie was touted as a dark comedy, there weren’t many parts of it that landed as funny for me. that might have been because some of it was lost to the ultra low budget of the film, but it could also be that, because I don’t see psychological afflictions as elements of comedy, a lot was lost on me. That being said, the part I actually laughed at happened soon after Darla brings Jenny home with her pizzas and food for the boys. As Vilmer is doing his thing, Darla gets upset and yells at him for making her look bad in front of company.

How I Would have Done It: I’ve been toying with what to write in this space for a while now, because this movie was so close a remake of the first, I don’t have specific changes I would make that I wouldn’t have made to the first. They seemed to lend more screen time to Leatherface, including some scenes in which he readied himself with the face of a woman or ran around screaming with another mask on. He was three distinct characters and that was pretty neat to see executed as well as he did.

I think this movie paid homage to the original in a new, exciting way that gave us a but more closure, made more sense, and even replicated the filming conditions that the first did, so the actors were even on par for representing the film’s essence in the same way.

I don’t know that I would have made any changes because this film was so clearly Kim Henkel’s way of making the story he worked on with Hooper his own. Who am I to stand in the way of that goal?

Thoughts from Interviews:

 

I was really curious to see what the heavy hitters like Matthew and Renee had to say about their roles in this movie. At this point in his career, Matthew’s biggest claim to fame were roles in the films Dazed and Confused and Angels in the Outfield so he was still fairly new and I couldn’t find many interviews from him around that time. Thankfully I was able to find an interview with him from 2017 in which the interviewer talks about the TCM franchise.

He had been offered a side role, but after his audition, he realized he wanted to audition for Vilmer as well.

“We looked around, there’s a secretary behind the desk. And [the director] goes ‘alright’ and went in the kitchen, grabbed a spoon, and he goes ‘scare the shit out of her.'”

And he did! Based on that audition alone, he landed the role. I can’t imagine how terrified that receptionist must have been.

One thing I found interesting was that, in a few of these interviews and videos that I came across when searching for content, this movie was referred to as the sequel to Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I suppose I’ll have to dig further into that once the summary rolls around. For now, I found an interview with Renee!

She said it was the best workout of her life, running from a live chainsaw.

Before landing this role, she had done a few films, but none made her the star of the movie or “trusted me with a role before to carry a film.”

I really tried to find an interview with the director, but sadly I was unable to. thankfully, I found an entire documentary about how the movie was made! Enjoy the highlights:

let me first start off by saying that the intro to this documentary took 3 and a half minutes to get into. In that time we see some slow shots of the house they used to film in, a snippet of behind the scenes footage of the dinner scene, and then….

I don’t know.

you know the narration that plays at the beginning of the film? Okay, so that was projected onto this person sitting in a chair. They wore a white shirt folded up at the sleeves, they held their arms like they were a mannequin, and they wore and orange wig and white face mask.

The entire intro narration played as the camera zoomed in and the figure in the mask and wig raised their head to stare straight into the camera. Then the camera pans down to show you that the shirt their wearing is for the movie, it’s actually the thumbnail if you can see it on the site here. I have NO idea what I just watched or why it exists.

If you’re curious to see what I’m talking about, it starts around the 2:36 mark.

THE FUCKING INTRO MUSIC IN THIS DOCUMENTARY IS ALL DIGITAL BANJOS OMG

the intro ends at 5 minutes into the movie. What is this.

Okay, first of all, I’ve just learned that Kim Henkel is not a woman and I got all excited for nothing. By now you know that because I went back and edited every time I called him a woman. I apologize for my sexism, folks. I should have Googled the name before making assumptions.

His interview started with a very stressed-looking Kim talking about how frustrating it was to work with the budget he had, with the people he had with him, and on the schedule necessary to make this movie the way he wanted to within the restraints of the other people.

Kim Henkel was so upset with how this movie turned out that he said “I’ve never been able to watch it really. I mean, within a kind of perspective. To me it just looks like some crude backyard movie a bunch of kids slapped together. There seemed to be, on one hand, a class of people or a group of people who were strictly horror fans who venerated it and only over time has it come to occupy a very peculiar position and I still don’t really have any concept of what that is. I think we just want to hang a bunch of people on meat hooks and chop ’em up and sell a bunch of tickets at the theater.”

He thought the beauty of the film was that he scared himself with what humans were capable of.

Kim did talk about Ed Gein and how he was an inspiration for the film, but didn’t go into a lot of detail. However, he did mention another case that had an affect on him as he made this movie; that of Elmer Wayne Henley.

This is not a true crime blog, so I’ll spare you the incredibly gritty details of the case and let you Google that yourself if you feel so inclined.

I’m paraphrasing this next part about what inspired Kim Henkel from Elmer Wayne. “There was one day I happened to see on television, that Elmer Wayne was being tried here and there about the countryside to point out the place that the bodies had been dumped or buried. At one of these sites, there were television news cameras on the scene and they somehow got close to Elmer Wayne and asked him a few questions, one of which was something to the affect of ‘now what are you gonna do?’ or ‘what are your feelings about this?’ And Elmer Wayne who was a kind of slight, slender fellow kind of sticks out his chest and said ‘well, I did wrong, now I’m gonna stand up like a man and take my medicine’… We often hold up things as ideal….giving tongue to those things is one thing and believing that you’re acting in accord with those things, it’s quite different.”

They even interviewed the owners of the house they used to film. They are clearly incredibly nervous and anxious to have their home back by the end of filming. It’s pretty funny and can be found at the 23:38 mark.

“We really had not intended for it to be used as movies, but as long as they sell, well that’s fine I guess.” said the male owner through nervous laughter.

“They’re sort of different…not our lifestyle at all, but if they leave it like we had, well that’ll be alright.” said the female owner through more nervous laughter.

Kim mentioned that he preferred directing this film to writing the first one. “Actually, I enjoyed making this thing. I directed it…it’s a hell of a lot easier than writing. I mean, it’s grueling, it’s time consuming…if I had any hair left, I probably would have pulled it all out…there’s nothin’ worse than that god damn solitude. Sittin’ closed up in a room…anything’s better than that.”

Kim leaves us with this quote that, in some way, I’m sure any artist can relate to: “No artist is ever going to be satisfied, even if it’s the simple matter of a brush stroke not having the sensitivity that one would like it to have. Maybe it could have been something as simple as a gesture that went somewhat awry. It’s no different than…a filmmaker or seeing a performance of a cast and knowing that take two was really the best take but the film comes back from the lab with a scratch on the negative, so you have to use take 7 instead. You know that there was something exquisitely right about that one shot, that take 2 and it forever haunts you.”

Though that documentary was long and winding, I think the thing I most got out of it was that Kim Henkel wasn’t pleased with the film once it was finished, but the process of making it was a personal one that he enjoyed even more than writing the first film with Tobe Hooper. It’s devastating to find out that he wasn’t as thrilled with his work as he could have been, but I suppose that’s just what happens when you’re a creator.

 

Trivia:

According to Robert Jacks, this movie was such a low budget film, there were bruises, injuries, and whatnot to the point where they complained to the director.

The girls in the movie had to learn to keep their distance from the chainsaw so they wouldn’t get nicked by it.

16 hour days in 150 degree heat.

The film was so low budget that the entire cast shared a Winnebago that belonged to the director

Rather than being hinted at like in the first film with masks and furniture, this film leaned heavily on it’s inspiration from Ed Gein.

The bionic leg that Vilmer wears was controlled by a remote from behind the camera as they filmed. I honestly thought it was all sound effects and acting, so that was a cool thing to learn for me.

The hospital scene at the end features three actors from the original The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974). John Dugan, who played Grandfather in the original film, is the cop. Paul A. Partain, who played Franklin Hardesty in the original film, is the orderly. Marilyn Burns, who played Sally Hardesty in the original film, is the patient on the gurney

This one isn’t really trivia, but it speaks to my level of snark: Despite the title, absolutely zero people are massacred via a chainsaw.

The film has been noted for its implementation of a secret society subplot driving Leatherface’s family to terrorize civilians in order to provoke them to a level of transcendence; in a retrospective interview, Kim Henkel confirmed that the basis of the subplot was influenced by theories surrounding the Illuminati. Commenting on the film’s ominous Rothman character, Henkel stated: “He comes off more like the leader of some harum-scarum cult that makes a practice of bringing victims to experience horror on the pretext that it produces some sort of transcendent experience. Of course, it does produce a transcendent experience. Death is like that. But no good comes of it. You’re tortured and tormented, and get the crap scared out of you, and then you die.” Other references to the Illuminati are made in the film’s dialogue, specifically in the scene in which Darla tells Jenny about the thousands-years-old secret society in control of the U.S. government, and makes reference to the Kennedy assassination. Critic Russell Smith noted in discussion of this plot point: “Could the unexplained “them” be an allusion to the insatiable horror audience that always makes these gorefests a good investment, or is it a cabal of governmental powermongers

Summary:

I’m really on the fence with this one. Since there’s not much of a difference besides some stylistic choices, it’s the same movie as the first, but with different characters. I appreciate that this is the fourth movie in the series rather than the second because it definitely wouldn’t have worked as the second movie even though this is touted as the proper sequel to the first. I would have been annoyed to watch something that was basically a clone of the first right after the first had happened.

Henkel put his heart and soul into this film, but thanks to collaborators’ conflicting schedules and an extremely low budget, he wasn’t able to make it the movie he wanted it to be, so I think he was overall displeased with the final product.

As opposed to the first movie, which Gunnar Hansen had stated in an interview was only tangentially related to the stories of Ed Gein, this film leaned heavily into the narrative that Leatherface was indeed a clone of Ed. He was in three different sets of makeup, including one that consisted of a set of female breasts, and he channeled different characters through those makeups.

That’s fine and all, but it doesn’t seem to reflect the Leatherface from the first movie in my opinion. The first Leatherface was innocent, confused, bumbling, oafish, and under the thumb of his father. In this movie, he’s competent, still a bit clumsy and under the thumb of Vilmer, but he kills for a reason in this one, rather than out of sheer confusion about there being strangers in his home. The way he approached Heather on the porch tells us all we need to know about how Leatherface operates in this film; he’s curious, not scared, but gets scared once he realizes the people in his home aren’t keen on his lifestyle.

The movie was solid, it’s thus far made the most sense to me plot wise. The scenes that confused me turned out to make sense the more I thought about them, and every character had a role in the film. It felt more scripted, but less organized if that makes sense. I don’t know that it could replace the original as far as what Leatherface as a character was, but I do think it had the same energy as the first and carried through the themes of the first without deteriorating completely like the second film did.


Last Post: Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3

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