Saturday, December 28, 2019

A look at Vinegar Syndrome's The Corpse Grinders Blu-ray

DISCLAIMER - My blog is an attempt to show respect to films some small minded, intellectually dishonest hipsters automatically label "bad". There is no film I discuss here that I believe to be bad at all.  The title of the blog comes from a discussion that took place some years ago when I was trying to explain the appeal of these films. The title is not meant to suggest I think these films are bad in the least.  Remember - ART IS ART!

In October 2016, the world lost one of its most eccentric and creative filmmakers – Ted V. Mikels. Although he was barrel-chested with arms as big around as telephone poles and a huge boar’s tooth hanging from his neck, by all accounts he was a kind-hearted, gentle giant of a man who was fiercely loyal and endlessly creative. His drive to make art was unceasing until the day he died.

I first discovered Mikels decades ago when I stumbled upon a copy of The Astro- Zombies. Those were the days when film fans kept a copy of Leonard Maltin’s book handy as it was the easiest and quickest source of information about a movie whether it was coming on at 1:00 AM on a UHF channel somewhere or the most recent video rental. Although, if you were renting new films you might strike out as Maltin’s book was only updated annually.

Having whetted my appetite with Astro- Zombies, I eventually picked up a copy of the subject of this short essay – The Corpse Grinders.

The Corpse Grinders has a significant genre film pedigree. Directed by Mikels, the screenplay was written by Arch Hall, Sr. and Joe Cranston.  Arch Hall, Sr. may be most familiar with b-movie lovers as both the writer and co-star of the film Eegah. Eegah is a film notable for both being a starring vehicle for Hall Sr.’s son Arch Hall, Jr. and also for featuring a pre-Bond Richard Kiel. Much of the notoriety Eegah Has garnered over the years has much more to do with it being riffed by the gang on MST3K. But, despite some odd story choices, I’ve always had a soft spot for Kiel’s performance in this caveman-based version of King Kong.  

Joe Cranston is also noted as a co-writer of the screenplay for The Corpse Grinders. Despite some interesting genre writing credits for Cranston, most would go on to agree that his greatest co-production would eventually be Bryan Cranston.

So, at 8:59 PM Thanksgiving night I began to hover above the Vinegar Syndrome website hoping to snag some great flicks during the Black Friday sale. It’s not a website I can visit often as I could spend entire paychecks on their site. In any case, I grabbed Ed Wood’s Orgy of the Dead and Mikels’ The Corpse Grinders.

The Corpse Grinders has always intrigued me as it combines a plot about grave robbing and murders along with story of cats turned flesh eaters because of the lurid ingredients of Lotus Cat Food – the titular cat food company in the film. The Lotus cat food company in some financial distress and finding the supplies they need at a reasonable price is becoming an issue.  To get the bodies required, our two antagonists, Landau (Sanford Mitchell) and Maltby (J. Byron Foster) have been working with Caleb (Warren Ball), a cemetery caretaker for Farewell Acres and his wife Cleo (Ann Noble). Unfortunately for Landau, Caleb would like to be paid for the materials he is supplying. We discover later in the film that Landau is augmenting the bodies from Caleb with those supplied by a mafia looking tough guy named Monk (Vincent Barbi) and two morticians played by Stephen Lester and William Kirschner. 

There is a single scene with the mortician and his assistant, and it is surreal. I’ve noticed IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes label The Corpse Grinders a comedy-horror film.  I can only surmise this categorization must come from the mortician scene. The problem is that the scene is not funny in the conventional sense of the word. It pains me to denigrate any of the work done in this film because the entire point of my blog is to celebrate and defend these movies. But that single scene just leaves me scratching my head every time I see it. I’m glad its there for some reason, but don’t understand it.

Meanwhile, our protagonists are Dr. Howard Glass (Sean Kenney) and his lady love Nurse Angie Robinson (Monika Kelly). When we meet our heroes, Nurse Angie is feeding her cat…Lotus cat food. Later in the scene the cat goes nuts and attacks Dr. Glass.

As more and more cat attacks begin to claim victims all over Los Angeles (or Pasadena) Dr. Glass and Nurse Angie begin to investigate.

What will they find?

Will they too become a tasty treat for tabby?!

This film was one of Ted V. Mikels most successful films financially mostly because of a brilliant marketing package Mikels developed. Called “The Final Dimension in Shock” Mikels put together a massive triple feature of The Corpse Grinders, The Undertaker and His Pals and The Embalmer. The triple bill even featured the very William Castlesque “Certificate of Assurance” indicating the patron was of sound mind and body and would not hold the producer liable should they suffer any detrimental effects from films. Mikels saw a great deal of success from this program and would go on to out gross many other bigger budget features.

This brings me to the Vinegar Syndrome Blu-ray. A decade ago, when I used to get DVDs in the email from Netflix (not sure that is even an option anymore), I grabbed a copy of this film.  At the time, I thought the transfer looked pretty good. Of course, prior to that I’d only known the VHS copy which admittedly was pretty rough between the transfer to tape not being particularly good and just wear and tear on the tape itself. The Vinegar Syndrome Blu-ray opens with a disclaimer indicting the source for their disk still had signs of wear. And I suppose they are there, but the transfer is so gorgeous, the small, occasional artifacts that could be seen hardly distracting and really allow the viewer to appreciate the skill level of Mikels.

But the most amazing thing on the disk is the engaging and detailed audio commentary by Elijah Drenner, the writer and director of two of the most amazing documentaries ever produced – American Grindhouse and That Guy Dick Miller. Drenner’s commentary I believe sets the bar for what a commentary should be. In addition to his personal knowledge of Ted V. Mikels, Drenner’s commentary includes audio provided by Bill Carter of both Mikels discussing his views on patriarchal communal living as one of his “Castle Wives” (sometimes also referred to as “Castle Ladies”) as well as promotional audio to be played at the  drive-in as patrons pulled in for “Final Dimension in Shock” triple feature.  The addition of this audio to the commentary is like walking into a museum of priceless art – it opens a door of insight into the Mikels way of thinking in his personal life.  

Drenner notes early in the commentary that Mikels did not concern himself with the “burdens of factual science” and suggests this was because of Mikels’ early career as a magician. Mikels was always, much like Edward D. Wood, Jr., about the big picture and not so much about the details.

The disk also includes a 2007 interview with Mikels which I believe is from the 2007 DVD from Image Entertainment. However, it is Drenner’s commentary that makes this disk an absolute must-have and one of the best media purchases I’ve made recently.

Finally, I want to address some things I read while compiling this little write-up.  I went looking for other reviews of the is film because I don’t want to cover entirely the same ground as others. In almost every review I read, the film is dismissed as poorly made trash and some went so far as to suggest that Mikels was a hack who had no business behind a camera.

I must ask – are we watching the same film?

I mean, I get it – most every genre film I love has boat loads of logical inconsistencies.  But, hell, so do all Disney movies or even the last three Star Wars movies (sadly now also Disney films). I always wonder why they generally get a pass while filmmakers like Mikels get pilloried? Is it budget alone?

Ted V. Mikels was a great many things and, he knew his way around lighting and shooting a scene and to suggest otherwise generally indicates to me that the writer of a review either watched the film on YouTube or, worse yet, didn’t watch the film at all. Or they simply want to feel superior or witty by deriding a man who accomplished so much. I could pick apart his films too, but I choose to see greatness shot on short ends.

In full disclosure, once Mikels began to embrace shooting on video tape, I had to pump my brakes. I’ve watched two of his “films” from that era, and all the hallmark qualities are there, but, Mikels was a 35mm filmmaker and it just pains me to see his video work. But I understand why he did it. An artist like Mikels would wake up each day with only one goal – to make movies. As funds became increasingly limited his mind didn’t stop coming up with ideas – he simply was running out of ways to tell the stories he dreamed up.

Ultimately, I feel bad for Ted V. Mikels. He never had the financial success he deserved. Between missing out on major studio distribution with The Doll Squad and being cheated out of money and prints by distributors, it feels sometimes like everyone was looking for a way to walk all over him. And, in his interview on the Vinegar Syndrome disk, he even admits that once the drive-ins started to die out, the primary venue for his type of film was dying too.  That of course, is not entirely untrue, however, some filmmakers like Charles Band and Fred Olen Ray learned to embrace the direct to video world in a way that Mikels never could.

Finally, if you get a chance, do pick up the disk from Vinegar Syndrome. They are one of only a small number of distributors making classic movies like this available. And this disk certainly shows the love and respect they have for these films and filmmakers.

By the way, I also want to mention that my screen grabs are not from the Vinegar Syndrome disk but from the Amazon Prime version of the film.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Joe Bob Brigg's Red Christmas

DISCLAIMER - My blog is an attempt to show respect to films some small minded, intellectually dishonest hipsters automatically label "bad". There is no film I discuss here that I believe to be bad at all.  The title of the blog comes from a discussion that took place some years ago when I was trying to explain the appeal of these films. The title is not meant to suggest I think these films are bad in the least.  Remember - ART IS ART!


On Friday December 13th, Drive-In Mutants everywhere were fortunate enough to have yet another Joe Bob Briggs holiday special. This was especially appreciated as it had been sometime since Joe Bob’s Halloween Hootenanny and I was certainly in need of a Joe Bob fix.

Last year, Joe Bob Briggs (John Bloom) treated us to several Phantasm films. Generally, I can’t complain because there is only one Phantasm film that, having seen it once, pains me to watch again. But I was admittedly a little surprised last year as there are enough Christmas themed horror movies to almost start an entire streaming service…of just Christmas themed horror films.   

This year Joe Bob dialed it up a notch (if that is even conceivable as Joe Bob and crew are always at 11 on a scale of 1 to 10). The film everyone wanted to see and whose remake ignited a bit of a Twitter storm, was first up with Black Christmas.  I’m not going to go into any meaningful detail on the movies that were shown because 1. I really want to discuss some of the “non-movie” moments of the special and 2. I really just want to encourage people to go and check out the special…or check it out again if you watched it the first time.

So, as I mentioned, Black Christmas was first up…I should say the original Black Christmas.  A remake was produced in 2006 and, as we now live in the world of endless remakes and reboots, yet another remake was released about two weeks ago…to some controversy and little box-office.  

The second feature was Jack Frost – a real 90s treasure and a film produced just on the cusp of the inexpensive CGI wave that SyFy has been riding for a decade and a half. This is a fun flick that is perfect for what it is, and I and many others were stoked it showed up as one of the featured films.

Finally, the special was rounded out with Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 (or should it be called Part 1.5 since it feels like half the original film is in the sequel? It is a film that can be taxing to some, but I’ve always enjoyed it and it has gifted us with one of the best memes in meme history.

There – I have the three films that were shown out of the way.  I don’t mean to be curt – but so much more happened on Joe Bob’s special than the films. Some things that I’ve been continuing to process since the 13th. Some heavy truth was laid on the viewers during a couple of segments and I just have this desire to call them out a bit.

If you do a search on say Amazon or YouTube for author John Irving Bloom you will find what we’ve known about him all along – he is a renaissance man of many stripes. I mention this because, until the most recent special, I had a bit of a preconceived idea about what the life of John Bloom/Joe Bob Briggs is like day to day. 

At about the half-way point of the special, Joe Bob took time to discuss second chances.  You can find the segment online, but I encourage you to watch it on Shudder.  

When he began, perhaps I thought he was going to go in a different direction. Instead, I was told what I needed to hear…not what I wanted to hear. When someone needs a second chance, even if it is the 9247th second chance… you give it to them. I’ve been prone to the way of thinking he was railing against. It is an often convenient and socially acceptable way to alert people to how great I am. “Oh sure, I might have screwed up at work, but at least I’m not like Butch who got fired for getting drunk again.”  More often than not, if the world “but” is used in a sentence, just straight rationalization is about to take place. 

When Joe Bob got to the heart of the matter, I certainly felt convicted. I’ve played that game far too often, and have been around people who play it even better than I. Whether you follow secularism or a religious belief, the concept of never giving up on people has to be a cornerstone of how you act day-to-day.

I was convinced the rest of the special would be straight-forward.  A special segment with Darcy/Diana was being teased and I thought that segment would be the ultimate pay-off of Red Christmas.

Instead – Joe Bob Briggs decided to play hardball.

As the special was wrapping up, Joe Bob insisted that sad Christmas stories be shared by him and Diana/Darcy. Now, its not that I don’t think Mr. Briggs can be sincere – I saw his segment regarding Larry Cohen before he showed Q and so I know he is a heartfelt and genuine human being. The indicators of his humanity are countless.  Nevertheless, I wasn’t prepared for the story he shared.

It wasn’t that I’ve never heard sadder stories. Hell, Diana told one even sadder than his just minutes later. What got me and continues to worm its way through my brain even now was the sheer honesty of what they shared. The vulnerability displayed by both is not of the variety often on display today. I can tune into any daytime talk show and see crocodile tears regularly. That usually comes in handy when someone has a movie or a book coming out. This was so much more. The ordeal Diana had to endure has sincerely altered how I see her and has increased my already significant respect for her more than I can describe.

It was a reminder that no matter how you think someone’s life is going you’ll never know the whole story.  Hell, even if their life is going great – take a moment to consider the trillion little things or the infinite larger things people had to overcome. 

Are some people given a great life on a silver platter?

Sure – but, despite how we think we see life, instances of the silver spoon are few and far between.

More often, what life offers up are the situations illustrated by Joe Bob and Diana Prince. I’ve re-watched the segment several times. It is powerful, and the Mutant Family is what I would call blessed and some would call lucky. 

Whichever word you choose – two very talented people shared with us like we were all sitting around their kitchen table because, in the end, love it or hate it – we’re all family.

And the Drive-In Will NEVER Die!

Saturday, December 7, 2019

A Brief History of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre Franchise

DISCLAIMER - My blog is an attempt to show respect to films some small minded, intellectually dishonest hipsters automatically label "bad". There is no film I discuss here that I believe to be bad at all.  The title of the blog comes from a discussion that took place some years ago when I was trying to explain the appeal of these films. The title is not meant to suggest I think these films are bad in the least.  Remember - ART IS ART!

Sequels and franchises are tricky business – but they have been a part of cinema history from its earliest days.  The year 1916 saw the release of a film entitled Fall of a Nation, a sequel to DW Griffith’s Birth of a Nation released a year prior.  Generally speaking, Fall of a Nation is often credited with being the first sequel.

In the 1930s, serials like Zorro and Flash Gordon, with their episodic nature and cliff hanger endings were a way to ensure people returned to the theaters each week to see how Zorro and Flash managed to avoid death.  Side note – once these episodes were compiled into a single film, they ended up with run times even longer than The Irishman…if that is conceivable. Still, one could consider these serials the first franchises.  Additionally, by 1934, MGM had a hit on their hands with the Myrna Loy and William Powell fronted The Thin Man which also spawned a number of sequels (and each one is amazing in my ever so humble opinion).

By the time cinema got around to the James Bond franchise, things started to get a bit trickier, however. For instance, your actors change. Even if Sean Connery had decided to never leave the franchise and it continued to be a hit for many decades, would an 80-year-old James Bond be believable.  Would the last film just be his retirement party and/or funeral? So new actors, writers and directors migrate in and out of the franchise universe.  Each with their own take on the character. Not to mention, characters have to deal with the consequences of their actions in the previous film.  When those consequences painted everyone into a creative corner…bam, new James Bond and a new take on the character (sort of).  For instances, the opening of For Your Eyes Only serve to remind us and acknowledge the death of James’ wife in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service so even though actors changed, continuity didn’t (yet).

One thing didn’t change – sequels still had to deal with possibly poor choices from the previous film and serve to right the course.  Example – 1985’s Nightmare on Elm Street 2, while successful, was not entirely beloved by Freddy fans initially, although time appears to have been kind to that film.  So, producers used the 1987 sequel Dream Warriors to bring back Heather Langenkamp’s Nancy, as well as a number of more experienced actors to augment the tension and better resemble the feel of the initial film, while moving the franchise in a specific direction.  Another example is Friday the 13th –The entire franchise. it always felt to me like every other film in the franchise was in some way a course correction from the previous film based on the likes and dislikes of the franchise faithful (although I sometimes feel like the only person who liked Jason X).

Then something happened that changed everything – Halloween.

The first two Halloween films were very successful and generally liked by horror fans, especially continuing the Laurie Strode and Dr. Loomis characters into the next film.  I don’t blame Halloween III for anything because it was a brilliant change and didn’t follow the Michael Meyers saga.  Hell, even 4 is enjoyable.  But, it looked like 5 and 6 had finally nailed close the Meyers coffin.  Mediocre returns and poor fan response seemed to have put an end to the franchise as well as the overly complicated and entirely ludicrous Curse of Thorn.  

So, what do you do when you’re standing on your creative tip toes in the painted corner?  You do what you can’t do in real life.  I don’t get a mulligan on the years 1987, 1994 or 2016. But, in 1998, 20 years after the release of the original Halloween, the decision was made to tell everyone that all the movies we’d watched afterward…never happened.  They were taking a mulligan and starting the sequels over with Halloween H20.  This would give the filmmakers a chance to ignore a thousand poor decisions with the story and set things right…which eventually gave us Halloween: Resurrection.  So, in five years, in spite of their mulligan, they still managed to ruin the Halloween franchise faster than the previous iteration. 

What do you do now?  The same thing.  Halloween got another mulligan and we were told, yet again, nothing since 1978 had happened.  During this time, Rob Zombie decided to really shit on Michael Meyers and turn him from the bogey man into …well, whatever that was – I’ve only been able to sit through the Zombie versions once…and I can watch Manos the Hands of Fate every weekend, so let that sink in.

You may be asking yourself, what does any of this have to do with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre?  I’m glad you asked.  

1974’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is an amazing film. Like nothing that had come before it.  14 years earlier, Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho made a human the monster.  It probably wasn’t the first film to do that, but, prior it was a human exposed to radiation or a human transformed into a monster due to a dozen other forces.  But, in Psycho a generally normal looking person turned out to be a mad man. Now, maybe I’m way off to suggest that TCM wouldn’t exist without Psycho or maybe I’m not the first person to suggest it (I probably should do some research) but I think Hooper, being the student of film he was took that concept, added the horror he saw every night on the news and really drove the concept home. 

Less than a decade and a half later, Hooper contracted with the great Cannon Films for a three-picture deal which provided, the original TCM notwithstanding, my three favorite Hooper films.  The sequel to the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Lifeforce and Invaders from Mars.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre part 2 is a direct continuation of the original film.  Returning was Jim Siedow as Drayton Sawyer, the role he originated in the first film. Also, around, but mummified is Nubbins, the hitchhiker from the original picture.  And to continue the continuity, a Texas Ranger portrayed by the amazing and greatly missed Dennis Hopper is on the trail of the Sawyers hoping to find his nephew, Franklin Hardesty, the wheelchair bound brother of Sally from TCM.

Although I’ve read there is a gallows humor in parts of TCM, I guess I’ve never really picked up on it.  However, the humor is as thick as the horror in Hooper’s follow-up and serves as a distinct commentary on the decade of the 80s.  However, if filmmakers thought the 80s were the “Me Decade”, the 21st century has been exponentially worse (end of rant).

What followed were two less well received sequels. Although both Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III and Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation are known for showcasing the work of actors who would eventually become very well known.  In Jeff Burr’s generally okay Leatherface film released four years after Hooper’s sequel, Viggo Mortensen stars as Tex and Kim Henkel’s The Next Generation starred both Matthew McConaughey and RenĂ©e Zellweger.  I’m unsure, how or if Henkel’s film is actually a part of the original story as the names moves from Sawyer to Slaughter but it is an interesting film if for no other reason than the inclusion of an Illuminati or secret society subplot.  Wikipedia suggests the film is more a parody than continuation.

So, much like the Halloween franchise, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre found itself at a creative crossroads. After the failure of Burr and Henkel’s films, was it time to simply shutter the franchise? Possibly – Hooper and Henkel moved on and it seemed like TCM had run its course.

However, in 2001, Michael Bay, Andrew Form, and Brad Fuller founded Platinum Dunes production company – a company geared exclusively towards the production of films in the Horror Genre… and their first slated film – a remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

The new film, released in October 2003, was, for all intents and purposes, a straight remake of the original. It offered a bit more insight into the family (now named Hewitt) and was significantly bloodier than Hooper’s original.  I’ve found that people usually believe the original TCM is much bloodier than it is, but, any episode of CSI or Bones is infinitely bloodier than the original TCM.  The remake seemed to believe that if you made the cast look sweaty, put the female cast members in short shorts and played Lynyrd Skynyrd on the radio, the viewing audience will just accept the 70s motif.  Some did, but it didn’t work for me.  I did find the jump scare during the end credits impressive and I thought R. Lee Ermey’s work was even creepier than his performance in the Willard remake which had come out earlier in the year.  All in all, some parts of the film, directed by Marcus Nipsel worked…and some of it didn’t.  However, the film did earn back ten times its budget, which meant the Chainsaw still had some bite in it.  

The Wikipedia page for the remake provides a number of quotes from film critics, including the reliably obnoxious Roger Ebert, who managed over the course of his career to suck the joy out of every single thing he ever discussed – ‘"Manohla Dargis of the Los Angeles Times praised the polish of Pearl's cinematography (in contrast to his grittier work in the original), though noted: "The remake moves faster and sounds louder, but comes off as callous rather than creepy."[21] Robert K. Elder of the Chicago Tribune rated it 3/4 stars and called it "an effectively scary slasher film" despite its absurd premise.[22] William Thomas of Empire rated it 3/5 stars and wrote: "You'll have to overcome resentment towards this unnecessary remake before you can be properly terrorized but, on its own terms, it plays well."[23] Roger Ebert gave the film a rare 0 stars out of 4, calling it "A contemptible film: Vile, ugly and brutal. There is not a shred of reason to see it. Those who defend it will have to dance through mental hoops of their own devising, defining its meanness and despair as 'style' or 'vision' or 'a commentary on our world'."[24] Variety gave the film an unfavorable review, writing that the film was an "initially promising, but quickly disappointing retread of a hugely influential horror classic".[25]"’  I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that Ebert’s review almost forces me to give the film more credit than it deserves just as part of my protest against such a bully of a man.

Of course, a sequel was greenlit, however, instead of a sequel, the producers opted to do a prequel - to offer some causation for the family and its murderous rampage? I’m not in the film industry, but I don’t think that is the decision I would have made.  Nevertheless, the film was released in October 2006, and though it was profitable, it did not have the legs the remake had three years prior.  By January 2007, Platinum Dunes announced it would not move forward with a proposed third movie.

Once again – the saw was at a crossroads and would remain that way for almost 7 years.

And then, TCM got the Halloween treatment with a mulligan called Texas Chainsaw 3D in 2013 and another prequel, Leatherface, following in 2017.  However, in retrospect, these films should have been done in reverse order.  Both films ignore all the sequels and previous remake, which, I feel, works out for the best.

I didn’t see the film on its initial release as I’m generally not a fan of 3D movies.  That has more to do to the fact that I’m mostly blind in one eye and don’t have depth perception to any extent, so 3D films are mostly lost on me.  However, I did see it on a streaming platform some years later and enjoyed it and then watched it again recently on Amazon Prime… and suddenly I found the film more nuanced and better than I originally had. I know that some of my feelings for the film are because since its release we’ve lost Hooper, Hansen and Burns and several other cast members as well from the original.  I loved seeing Marilyn Burns and Gunner Hansen in the film (albeit as different characters), as well as Bill Mosley doing an amazing job as Drayton Sawyer.  

The opening scene of the film, which takes place shortly after the escape and rescue of Sally Hardesty feels remarkably true and spot on.  Vigilante justice is paid on the Sawyer family because, as Burt Hartman (Paul Rae) tells the sheriff, “You can’t argue with the good book”. 

The film then jumps many years to the present day, as Heather Miller discovers she has inherited the estate of Verna Carson – formerly Verna Sawyer (this is an important development in the prequel that would follow four years later).  Heather finds out from her less than stellar parents that she is adopted as she leaves to accept her inheritance.  What follows is both a tribute to the original film, and something entirely original, with Heather finding out that she is both a Sawyer…the last surviving Sawyer other than what is living in the basement, and that her entire family was massacred in an act of savage vigilantism.

Texas Chainsaw 3D has its failings, mostly in logic, an issue that has plagued horror films almost from the beginning.  Sometimes to move a story along you are required to have characters do things in the film that no logical person who do in a similar, real life situation. But, in my opinion, this only happens in one very significant sequence. Failings aside, if you have lived your life believing you could never root for a Sawyer, you’ll be amazed when Heather Sawyer slides Leatherface his chainsaw and says “Do your thing cuz” because, as the sheriff ironically notes near the end of the film, “You can’t argue with the good book”.  Although the film has flaws, I feel like the ending of the film leaves the series in a good place to move forward in future films. And when I first watched the film some years ago, I assumed that was indeed the plan. 
However, it turned out the plan was very similar to Platinum Dunes a decade earlier – a prequel called Leatherface.

This prequel, now being produced by Campbell Grobman Films, attracted some truly stellar acting talent.  Lili Taylor is Verna Sawyer/Carson. Lili Taylor is probably best known for her role in The Conjuring, but I first took notice of her in the 1991 film Dogfight where she starred with River Phoenix and I’ve appreciated her work since then.  Playing Sheriff Hal Hartman, the father of Burt Hartman in Texas Chainsaw 3D, is Stephen Dorff, who starred along with Lili Taylor in the 1996 picture I Shot Andy Warhol.

The film opens with the Sawyer family doing what they do… murder.  However, eventually they murder the wrong person… the young daughter of Sheriff Hartman.  When Hartman arrives, he is infuriated by the death of his daughter and doesn’t accept the story of the Sawyers that they simply found the body and Hartman begins to arrest them.  Verna arrives and begins to defend her family, incensing the Sheriff even more and so he tells her, “You take one of mine, and I'll take all yours, Verna. All of 'em”.

The film shifts to a juvenile mental institution where the patients are little more than experimental rats for the hardhearted doctor who runs the hospital – Dr. Lang (Christopher Adamson). What this prequel succeeds at doing is creating sympathy for at least one of the young Sawyers – a patient that did not need to become the murderous Leatherface.

As the film progresses, Verna goes from Verna Sawyer to Verna Carson and also comes into money. With the change in station, she  hires an attorney to assist in letting her see her son. I enjoyed the continuity of the lawyer being a young Farnsworth (Nathan Cooper) earlier played as the much older attorney for Verna Carson in Texas Chainsaw 3D by the great Richard Riehle from countless films but possibly best remembered for his roles in Office Space and Hatchet.

By the way, when a lawyer tells you to read the letter…read the letter, but I digress.

The film has the most international casts than the previous TCM movies because this film was not shot in Texas, California or Louisiana…but Sofia, Bulgaria. Sometimes it can throw off your viewing because if you’ve ever been to South Texas you know it does NOT look like Bulgaria.  However, the dollar goes much further in Bulgaria and great care was taken to give the impression of Texas and I would say it works well and also gives us our first British Leatherface.

Where does this leave the franchise?  In a world of mulligans and reboots it is hard to say.  I think the storyline of TC3D provides a way forward, but what the story would be is hard to say – I have ideas but nothing solid. But, if I was a betting person, I’d suspect we’ll see a third reboot/retelling of the murderous Sawyer family because each production company that acquires the rights seems intent on providing their own spin on the Sawyers.

Personally, as much as I enjoyed TC3D and Leatherface, the original and Hooper’s brilliant sequel will always have a special place in this old fart’s heart and with Hooper now gone, perhaps it is time to let the Sawyer family go and just appreciate what Tobe Hooper gave us.

I’ll just wrap up with some thoughts on Tobe Hooper.  I think during his career he was not appreciated as much as he should have been and that remains a tragedy.  I still see comments from time to time on websites and Twitter suggesting he did not direct Poltergeist.  The film Poltergeist does look different from his previous work mostly because it was the first time he had a substantial budget.  But, simply viewing the films he made while under contract to Cannon it becomes clear the film was in fact directed by Tobe Hooper.

Hopper was, in addition to being a genius, a generally easy going and self-effacing person.  Because of this, I don’t know that he stood up for himself as often as he should have. But, I know I will always be advocate for his work and acknowledge and defend his talent because he deserves it. Hooper gave me two of my best drive-in experiences with Eaten Alive (the title I saw the film under although a number of titles were used) and of course TCM.

Godspeed Mr. Hooper – you are truly missed.