DIRECTED BY: Kim Henkel
FEATURING: Renee Zellweger, Matthew McConaughey, Robert Jacks
PLOT: Teenagers leave prom, get in accident, get lost, meet cannibal slaughter family. 1
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: There are many ways to get onto the List of 366 Weirdest Movies Ever Made. Stir-frying the original movie in your franchise with some sprinklings from Robert Anton Wilson’s spice rack, alas, is not a sufficiently potent recipe.
COMMENTS: Nothing says “October viewing” like a TCM sequel! Let’s check the IMDB rating for this one: 3.2. The box office was $141K, on a $600K budget. Oh, this is gonna hurt. I might even have to use my safe word.
But for real, the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise was started by Tobe Hooper as a budget student project, a loose parody of the six o’ clock news circa 1974, which was—quote—“showing brains spilled all over the road.” Don’t expect Shakespeare. Ah, but twenty years later, an environment where a studio says “we don’t care what you do, as long as we release a TCM movie” is just the kind of liberating atmosphere that could allow weirdness to flourish, with the right strands of DNA.
How strange, then, that in 1994 original TCM co-scripter Kim Henkel decided to rewind through almost exactly the same story. Four random teenagers ditch a high school prom to drive off at night and get lost in the “extra foggy” woods, get betrayed by a seemingly helpful roadside flunkie who actually delivers them into the lap of danger, are pursued and menaced and even plugged onto a meathook by a family of deranged cannibals, and attend a gruesome dinner scene where many human fixtures are flaunted as home decorations by Martha Stewart’s evil counterpart. One final girl escapes, but the guy with the funny mask and power tool breathes free still. Why are we even doing this? The TCM franchise set one of the lowest bars in cinema history, just a couple steps above watching a tropical fish tank with a few predatory species mixed in. It takes a deliberate effort to screw it up, which is what this movie does.
The point here, it turns out, was to inject a note of conspiracy theory into the Leatherface mythos, by invoking the Illuminati, JFK, and other random nouns grabbed from some thumbed-over copy of “The Anarchist’s Cookbook.” It’s a justification for why the cannibal clan flourishes: there’s a global conspiracy looking out for them. The filmmakers dub in some NSA watchlist words and add a couple characters who barge in and hastily retcon the series, tying it into conspiracy theories. That’s it, you’re done. Oh, but remove any attempt at characterization. The hillbillies use the same vocabulary as anybody else. Wait, castrate the series, too, because the first member of the cannibal clan we meet is Matthew McConaughey. This man could suck the testosterone out of a monster truck rally just by attending it, changing all the trucks into Daimler-Benz Fortwos. Here, his tow-truck driver persona is a serial killer so apathetic that he offs his victims with a shrug after giving them every opportunity to get away.
To its credit, the movie seems to have been made with a laissez faire attitude that makes it more of a TCM parody, with the usual tropes of the genre turned into exaggerated cliches and stereotypes. It’s mildly stupid/humorous, like a Scary Movie installment. A few off-kilter moments happen (picking up pizza takeout for dinner when you have a struggling victim in the trunk, huh), but it doesn’t go far enough to make it into “weird”; barely “interesting.” If anything, your sympathy lies with the cast and crew at large; the whole movie is one big middle finger to itself, commiserating with the audience in a tone that says “We can’t believe you wasted money on this, and we can’t believe we’re getting paid for it either.” This style of franchising is most associated with The Brady Bunch Movie, released a year later. To have a TCM installment remind you of the Brady Bunch tells you all you need know about how scary or even gory it is.
TCM:TNG is a movie that begs you to hate it, so vilely does it hate itself. Instead, as is the case when reacting to any self-loathing moody snowflake, the only sensible reaction is indifference. There are hundreds of movies just like this one lurking behind long Roman numerals in horror franchise sequel hell. One might as well churn the bins at Dollar General’s DVD section with a pitchfork, because these horror franchise sequels are as indistinguishable from each other as straws of hay. The fact that one of them knows this and cynically reminds you of it doesn’t make it any better. It only depresses us for the lost opportunity as the movie gives up on itself in a peeved tantrum. Just look at Halloween III: Season of the Witch. It found itself in the same trash bin, but it seized the day and shot for the heavens and now we remember it, don’t we? That’s what you can do with the right strands of DNA.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“Henkel resorts to the infamously gonzo subplots that have made the film memorable despite itself. No longer content to let a crazy group of cannibals be a crazy group of cannibals, Henkel went and turned the Sawyer clan into agents for some ancient Illuminati that may or may not be space aliens in what is truly the most off-the-wall reveal in any of the major horror franchises. Such wackiness might be commendable if it were accompanied by any true thoughtfulness, but it just stands as a random, mystifying element that feels like a joke nobody could ever get… One of the truly horrific franchise misfires of all-time, The Next Generation has to be seen to be believed; I’d like to say that it lives up (down?) to its infamy, but that still doesn’t quite capture the breadth of its inanity.”–Brett Gallman, Oh, the Horror! (DVD)