I've written, and attempted to find the good (even the great) in almost 50 films to date. Some films have been harder than others, I won't lie. Defending Monster A-go-go was, by far, the hardest, and, no doubt, the least successful defense. Raw Force needs no defense...it's cinema perfection. But, I don't think there has been a film I've written to defend with such fervor as the film discussed in this essay - Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation. Stick with me on this while I attempt to explain why this very under appreciated film may just the the gem in the rough you've been looking for. If you've watched in the past, I can't encourage you enough to give it another view.
Just to be a completest, I feel like a bit of a history of the TCM franchise is needed...but I'll be brief. Of course, the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre is not only a horror classic, but, quite simply, an irreplaceable moment in American cinematic history. Few films have so successfully captured sheer terror on film the way the original TCM did. I count myself fortunate enough to have seen it in it's natural environment of the drive-in theater. A life changing moment as important in the development of my interest in cinema as Halloween, Star Wars and Baghdad Cafe. 13 years later, Tobe Hooper managed to entirely out do himself in the biting horror comedy sequel, Texas Chainsaw Massacre part 2. Different in feel and tenor, the film managed to be every bit as frightening, but, with a satirical wit as an under current that amplified the humanity of the film in such a way that has allowed it to resonate as both a horror film and a cultural commentary ever since. And, I still believe it is one of Dennis Hopper's greatest roles. The third film in the series, while poorly received by critics and fans alike, deserves more credit than has often been bestowed upon it. While not as unnerving or horrifying as the two previous films, it is an earnest and sincere attempt to capture the feel of the first film.
As the film opens we are introduced to Jenny (Rene Zellweger) as she prepares for prom night. While she prepares, her stepfather enters the room. His sexual advances are disgusting and angering. The scene is jarring and painful. As both a father and human the scene is hard to watch. I can't put myself in the characters shoes, but, I can recall a time in my youth when you couldn't always see that escape was closer than you thought. The pain in Zellweger's eyes perfectly captures the angst and pain of Jenny as her high school point of view seems a bit bleak.
However, she is saved by the bell as her prom date Sean (John Harrison) arrives. The standard prom tradition of photos takes place, but, with each flash of the bulb comes the haunting spent flashbulb sound from the original film reminding us these photos are the last happy moments for this couple. Life and death intend to interfere with the a night that is often considered the apex, the zenith, of high school life. Perhaps more so than the graduation itself.
As prom night gets under way, Barry and Heather, friends (or former friends) of Sean and Jenny end up in a fight and Heather takes Barry's car. Barry convinces her to stop, only to find out Sean and Jenny are in the backseat.
The die is cast.
What happens from this point on is both horrific and haunting. But, I have to point out a few specific things which I believe entirely make this the best film you think you hate.
1. Female empowerment. Prior to the meta Scream series, with the possible exception of Cameron's Aliens, the female protagonist may survive, but, almost by simple happenstance. Yes, I know the Friday the 13th you're thinking of right now, but, let's face it...in general the female lead survived by sheer luck. Not so in this film. Zellweger's Jenny is plucky, strong, smart and, in the end, not taking any shit from anyone. Whether it has been the perversions of her stepfathers, the endless grief in high school, her tenacity and grit..or a combo of all of them, the heroine of this film is playing for keeps. She says and does the things you wish everyone would do in a horror film, including not simply rolling over and taking it.
2. Yin and Yang. Henkle brilliantly includes Jenny's absolute opposite in the character of Darla. While Jenny has appeared outwardly weak her entire life, she is, in the end, the superior in strength. Outside the insanity of WE (Matthew McConaughey), Darla appears strong, but, is ultimately weak. That these two woman have, through happenstance or fate, ended up orbiting the world of the Slaughter family is a brilliant touch by Henkel.
3. Rothman. When reading others views on this film, perhaps nothing divides more than the appearance of Rothman. Is he a member of the Illuminati, an agent of the Federal government, a psycho yet urbane billionaire? Is he all of these? Clearly this is not the family of the first two films (although research indicates Henkel intended this to be the "true" sequel). Stop and think about the last 25 to 30 years. Several wars fought for little more than political gain, a President elected just prior to this films release who skated into office on the memory of a President murdered a generation before, the perpetual dumbing down of a country from asinine MTV shows to Mili Vanili, Jeffery Dahmer, OJ Simpson, the list goes on - how far fetched can a family of murderous cannibals sponsored by the government or the Illuminati really be? In the end, Rothman asks Jenny if she would like to go to the hospital or the police station? A bold statement from a man who knows he has absolutely nothing to fear from the events that have transpired.
That should frighten the shit out of everyone.
Don't get me wrong. I take off the rose colored glasses often enough in regards to this film to understand some flaws in logic that could be seen from space. But, what I'm asking is for you to ignore those and watch this for the bigger picture. Many of you hate this film based on the title. This film, while giving obvious "shout outs" to the original is entirely unlike the original (or even the almost superior sequel). That is alright.
Watch this film again. You'll find it is the best film you've been told to hate.
Miss you Pops.