Pokemon Sword & Shield: 5 Confirmed Features that Have Me Hyped

The tonal whiplash is real: I just got off of a pretty dire warning about isolationism and white supremacy, and then we’re straight into a hype piece about the next generation of Pokemon. That’s just how we roll here at IC2S. I’m hoping to have more Pokemon content starting this year, with videos on Youtube and Twitch streaming by the time Pokemon Sword and Shield release. If you haven’t seen the reveal trailer, you can do so below:

Suffice to say, I’m hyped for these games. After going through the trailer a few times now, I’ve noticed five details which have gotten me hyped that I want to point out. Tomorrow, I’ll go over some of my speculations as well.

5) More Detailed Animations and Graphics

This is a bit of a given considering the move to the Nintendo Switch, but Pokemon Sword and Shield look gorgeous, easily the biggest leap in visual quality this series has seen since at least the 3rd generation, if not the biggest leap ever. It’s one thing to see a screenshot and marvel at the detailed environments (more on those later), but it’s another to actually see them in motion. The Pokemon themselves are also very vibrant and, thankfully, retain their cartoony look. I was maybe just a liiiittle worried that they might go the Detective Pikachu route and make them start looking more “realistic”. The animations have also been improved as well, and we see a moment in the trailer where the player character walks down a set of stairs… such a mundane-sounding thing, but in motion it’s actually quite remarkable. Seriously, if you still haven’t watched the trailer, do it!

4) The Galar Region Looks Quite Diverse

Each Pokemon region always comes with its own distinct flavour, although some stand out a bit more than others. The Galar region is shaping up to have its own distinct flavour and plenty of diversity to its environments. In total, we see a grassy farming town which is presumably where our character begins their journey, an awesome-looking Zelda or Dark Souls-like misty forest, an urban environment which almost looks steampunk in terms of its aesthetic, a snowy mountain village which also appears to have an icy beachfront (what the hell…?), a stadium, an awesome-looking mine shaft and a laboratory. That’s not all either, there is a map shown during the Nintendo Direct which shows that there even more environments that we haven’t seen yet and strongly suggests that Galar is based on the United Kingdom. My only concern here is that the Galar region appears to be quite linear, so unless I am wrong the options for player exploration are going to be considerably limited during the main storyline. We’ll have to see as the release date gets closer, but for now that’s something to keep an eye on.


3) Random Battles Are Confirmed… and DexNav as Well?

After the release of Let’s Go Pikachu and Eevee and the significant changes to the core formula in those games, there were hesitations amongst fans about whether elements from those games would carry over into Gen 8. In particular, there was a lot of debate about whether Pokemon would appear in the overworld or if they would be encountered in random battles as they have been traditionally. Personally, I would have loved for Pokemon to appear in the overworld, but considering that Let’s Go also didn’t even have traditional battles against wild Pokemon, it’s a trade-off that I’m willing to accept. Battling has always been what I love most in Pokemon, so having it confirmed as a core part of the experience was enough to ease any lingering worries I might have had for these games.

Also interesting to me is that, in the trailer, the random battle occurs while the player character is tip-toeing through the grass. Unless this is purely an aesthetic animation, this suggests that the DexNav from Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire is returning, or perhaps some other form of sneaking mechanic (maybe tip-toeing reduces your odds of encountering wild Pokemon). This will definitely be a feature to keep an eye on in future announcements, but don’t be surprised if a sneaking mechanic is officially revealed sometime soon.

2) Gym Battles Return!

It took a moment for this to really sink in, but holy crap, gym battles are back in Gen 8! I touched on it very lightly in my Gen 7 Love/Hate post, but the traditional gym battles had been replaced in Pokemon Sun and Moon with “island challenges” – contests which varied from island to island which would involve collecting items, battling wild Pokemon, solving puzzles and then eventually battling a boss-like totem Pokemon. They were interesting, but I never found them as fun or challenging as gyms were. So the fact that we appear to have a Grass-type gym confirmed in the trailer, it’s safe to say that gyms are back in some capacity. The Grass gym also appears to be the first gym that we will have to face, meaning that the Fire starter is going to be the starter of choice for players wanting an easier early game.

1) Sports…?


The trailer ends on a very curious note, with the player character stepping out onto what is presumably a soccer field, especially considering that they are dressed in a soccer uniform. What exactly is this going to entail? Could this perhaps just be something tied into the story? After all, we don’t even see the player character bringing Pokemon in with them. However, we do see Pokemon battling in a stadium elsewhere in the trailer, so it seems more likely to me that this has something to do with battling. Is this the new “gimmick” mini-game, similar to contests from previous generations? Is it a new battle style, like the battle royales in Sun and Moon? Will it be more like the sports stadiums in Gen 5, which were basically just daily trainer battles? Or will Game Freak totally surprise us and make a full-fledged mini-game akin to the awesome Monkey Soccer from Ape Escape 2? If I can play soccer with basically any Pokemon, stats incorporated and all, I’d probably shit myself from excitement. You know what you have to do Game Freak: my underwear won’t thank you, but my heart will.

That’s it for now. Tune in tomorrow (fingers crossed) and I’ll go through my speculation for what we might see in Pokemon Sword and Shield!

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The Cost of Isolationism

I recently watched Alt-Right: Age of Rage on Netflix. If you’re not really familiar with the alt-right and their connections with white supremacists (and holy shit, it’s 2019, you should be) then it’s a good primer. There’s a segment near the end though that has really gotten me thinking since I watched the documentary. During a montage there is a voice-over which goes on a conspiracy rant about how the alt-right is preparing society to accept mass genocides which are going to happen as a result of ecological and economic disasters. While I feel like the idea that this is the true intent of the alt-right, as if they’re being controlled by some shadowy puppet master, is a bit much, there are elements of this notion that ring true.

With the rise in nationalist movements, xenophobia has become a serious wedge issue which politicians are keen to latch onto. Governments which try to take a stand in favour of immigration seem to be on the brink of political collapse as populist movements push back, surged by xenophobic fervour. While there are certainly reasonable levels immigration restrictions (no one wants dangerous criminals in their country after all), the degree of xenophobia and straight-up racism which dominates this conversation now is deplorable. Syrian refugees are fleeing war? They must be hiding terrorists amongst them, or they’re going to become the majority and institute sharia law, so we can’t afford to let any in. We need merit-based immigration, the kind which most of our existing citizens couldn’t even qualify for! And hey, why can’t we get more immigrants from white countries instead of shit-holes? Ugh… Don’t even get me started on America’s disgusting campaign against illegal immigration, Dreamers and asylum seekers. It’s clear that the aim is to circle the wagons: keep the “right” people in the country and not let any more “others” in.

So what are these people so afraid of? How does it affect the average citizen at all for immigrants and refugees to get a slice of the American pie? Putting aside racism (which is a major factor), it comes down to the old parlance, “they’re stealing our jobs!” There’s this idea that if you let immigrants in, then they’re going to vacuum up money which could have gone to “real” citizens (you always get some idiot chiming in with something along the lines of “why aren’t you giving money to veterans instead of immigrants?”). Naturally, this ignores that immigrants are essential to a healthy economy, especially considering that our workforce is ageing and that the birth rate is declining. Regardless, there’s a notion that immigrants are a drain on our resources, one which is fuelled by disingenuous anti-immigration propaganda farms on social media. I’ve talked about it many times in the past, but this is a perfect example of the dangers of voter ignorance, where political activists are manipulating people into a frenzy in order to get them to vote the way that they want.

Like this bullshit right here.

As bad as the xenophobic trend is now, you also have to factor in the effects that climate change is going to have in the coming years. Climate change will affect everyone, but it’s going to be felt most keenly by poor people, especially in impoverished regions. This, in turn, is going to lead to even more refugees as time goes on and as people become displaced by rising sea levels and severe weather events. Make no mistake – this creates an environment in which people are going to be displaced and die en masse. Considering that industrialized nations have contributed to this environmental crisis and refuse to do anything serious to combat it, the notion that we can just wash our hands of the human impact of climate change is unacceptable. People will certainly die, but we can mitigate the death toll if we’re willing to allow refugees into our countries. If we refuse to act due to racial prejudice, this will be essentially genocide against anyone who isn’t one of “us”.

Perhaps the most depressing aspect of this to me is that evangelical Christians, the self-described “pro-life” types and the ones who believe that they are the moral bastion of society, are also the ones most likely to deny climate change and oppose immigration. This isolationist bent is, of course, in blatant opposition to The Bible that they claim to follow. Christians should be leading the charge to welcome refugees, to shelter Dreamers from ICE agents and denounce the disturbing trend towards fascism across the globe. Instead, I question whether they’ll even have the self-awareness to say “I didn’t know” when their apathy towards climate change and refusal to welcome immigrants leads to deaths across the globe.

Like I said at the start, I don’t believe that white supremacy is being trotted out once again in order to prepare us for this depressing future. I do, however, believe that if racism and anti-immigration sentiment continues, we’re not going to be able to do anything when there are people literally dying to find safety within our borders. Call me a bleeding-heart liberal, but we can’t call ourselves moral people if we’re going to stand by and allow people to suffer so that we can live just a little more comfortably.

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Retrospective BONUS: Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers (1988)

Surprise! You didn’t think that I was totally chainsawed out, did you? While working through the Texas Chainsaw retrospective, I was reminded that Gunnar Hansen appeared in another chainsaw-based film – 1988’s Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers. I’ve been aware of this film for a long time, having frequented BadMovies.org as a high schooler. Naturally, the bonkers title and some hilarious plot points (including an ancient Egyptian chainsaw cult!) have always kept this film on my radar, so I figured what better time to watch it than now, especially considering that this is my 250th blog post? After all, this is probably a Texas Chainsaw parody, so might as well append it onto this retrospective series, right? Read on to find out…

Objectively, this is a pretty bad poster, with shots from the film badly cut and pasted in, lots of wasted space and the main characters are probably the smallest part of the whole image. But, for this kind of movie, it works well enough. Also, that is a really great tagline!

PRODUCTION
(Pretty much all of the info I have on the production of this film comes from this featurette on the making of Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers, I definitely recommend checking it out if you have the time!)

Fred Olen Ray had been working as director on low-budget films for a number of years in Hollywood, kind of like a cheaper, sleazier, less-successful Roger Corman. By 1985 he had begun working on several films per year, shooting as quickly and cheaply as possible. By the late 80s, Fred had struck a production deal with an adult video company called LA Video and their subsidiary, mainstream distribution company, Camp Motion Pictures. LA Video expressed interest in distributing a new film for Fred and it was here that he pitched his idea for Chainsaw Hookers. LA Video added “Hollywood” to the title to make it sound more like Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Fred managed to rope Gunnar Hansen into the project. This was, of course, at the time when both Cannon Films and New Line Cinema weren’t interesting in working with Gunnar Hansen since they didn’t think he was a big enough star, so it just goes to show how much wiser Fred Olen Ray was than either company. With Hansen on board and $25,000 in hand from LA Video in exchange for the home video rights, Fred went about making his film, rewriting a script by T.L. Lankford.

In addition to snagging Gunnar Hansen to play the main villain, The Master, Fred Olen Ray managed to get Linnea Quigley to play the female lead. Qugiley is best known for being naked in a number of famous horror roles throughout the 80s, and by this point had already been in Silent Night, Deadly Night and Return of the Living Dead, so Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers was more-or-less the perfect role for her. John Henry Richardson was also cast as the male lead, Detective Jack Chandler.

Naturally, this being a Fred Olen Ray film, he made it while working on other projects. While doing pick-ups on a low-budget movie called Moon in Scorpio, Fred agreed to take a lower pay cut in exchange for the use of Trans World Entertainment’s studio space and film equipment during downtime, which he would use to film Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers. As per the agreement, he had the equipment from Friday to Sunday, filmed the pick-ups for Moon in Scorpio Monday to Thursday and then finished Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers the next Friday to Sunday. All in all, he took about 5 1/2 days to shoot the film on a measly budget in the neighbourhood of $55,000. Naturally, the filming conditions were extremely sketchy – it was shot with no permits, on leftover sets from other films, with real chainsaws and even with real hookers on occasion! Even the film stock was as cheap as possible, using short ends which were left over from other films. The audio was all shot on set as well, so considering that there are chainsaws revving loudly on a number of occasions, you can’t tell what the characters are saying at all sometimes because there was no budget for redubbing dialogue. The conditions were also potentially dangerous for the cast, particularly since they were using real chainsaws – in one notable instance, Linnea Quigley (who had already spent seven hours in makeup) was locked inside of a coffin with two running chainsaws so that she could preform the film’s iconic virgin dance of the double chainsaws. Naturally, this meant that the coffin was quickly filled with chainsaw fumes and Quigley can be visibly seen stumbling out of the coffin because she could barely breathe.

Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers ended up being one of Fred Olen Ray’s more successful films. That said, I want to just look at his career a little bit. He’s been making mockbusters, sexploitation films and, most recently, freaking Hallmark Christmas movies in order to get by (I’m pretty sure I’ve even seen at lest one of those Christmas movies too, holy shit). He’s like The Asylum before that studio cornered the mockbuster market. Most obviously, in 1994 we’ve got Dinosaur Island (riffing on Jurassic Park), in 1998, Mom Can I Keep Her? (Mighty Joe Young) and in 2011, Bikini Time Machine (Hot Tub Time Machine). Oh, and he’s been releasing sleazy, borderline-softcore porno films throughout his whole career, although they seem to have picked up and become more pornographic since the 2000s. Just trolling through his directing credits, we’ve got such fantastic titles as Bikini Airways, Attack of the 60 Foot Centerfold, Thirteen Erotic Ghosts (which must have the best IMDb description ever), Genie in a String Bikini, Super Ninja Bikini Babes (which sounds like an alternate title for Dead or Alive) and Tarzeena: Jiggle in the Jungle. Lately, he’s been slumming it with shitty Christmas movies, having released 10 since 2007 (and 9 of those have been since 2012, bloody hell), and with cheap crime films, which should probably give you an idea of the cultural zeitgeist when these are the only profitable genres left.

PLOT SYNOPSIS
The film opens with Detective Jack Chandler recounting one of his strangest cases, via voiceover in true hardboiled noir style. We follow a hooker named Mercedes as she picks up a man and then kills him with a chainsaw later in her apartment. Apparently there have been a number of chainsaw hooker murders going down in Los Angeles lately, and Jack Chandler heads to the police station to check in on a chainsaw murder suspect who might be related to a missing girl case he’s taken on. The suspect is not the missing girl, Samantha, but Jack steals a piece of evidence with a phone number on it in order to get closer to the source of the chainsaw murders. The phone number leads Jack back to Mercedes and he arranges to meet her at a local club. When he gets there, he finds Samantha dancing as a stripper at the club, but is drugged by Mercedes before he can notify the authorities.

When Jack awakens, he is tied to a bed and surrounded by killer hookers, including Mercedes and Samantha. The Master comes into the room and informs Jack that he is the leader of an ancient Egyptian chainsaw cult and that he is going to sacrifice Jack to their god. The hookers then try to kill Jack, but their chainsaw has run out of gas. They order Samantha to guard Jack while they go to get gas from the corner store, but Samantha frees him. She reveals that she’s infiltrating the chainsaw cult because they killed her friend and she wants to get revenge on them. The pair escape back to Jack’s apartment, where Samantha suddenly falls in love him and the pair have sex.

That night, they try to sneak into the cult’s temple in order to stop their plans, but it’s a trap and they are captured. Samantha’s given a mind-control drug in order to be used in the ceremony, while Jack is tied up and prepared for sacrifice. After performing a ritual dance, Jack is brought to Samantha by The Master in order to be killed, but Samantha instead kills The Master and then gets into a chainsaw duel with Mercedes. Mercedes is killed by Samantha and the police arrive and round up the rest of the cult. Jack and Samantha kiss and Samantha is hired as Jack’s new secretary.

REVIEW
Okay, so other than featuring Gunnar Hansen in a chainsaw killer movie, there’s basically nothing that connects Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It’s not even a slasher parody like I had originally expected. Instead, it’s a parody of pulp, noir detective films, very similar to The Naked Gun (which, coincidentally, came out the same year as this film). Naturally, this movie isn’t anywhere near as funny as The Naked Gun, but it is much funnier than I was expecting it would be… usually intentionally! John Henry Richardson’s Jack Chandler doesn’t have the same sort of comical ineptitude or deadpan delivery as Leslie Neilson’s Frank Drebin, instead Jack Chandler is played with more of a sarcastic, over-confident tone that often gets him into trouble. He makes for a great stereotypical detective lead, which just makes it funnier when he spouts some of the absolute best, cheesiest lines in the whole film. The delivery of lines like “If my head wasn’t hurtin’ so much, I’d have sworn I was in heaven – heaven for guys who liked big tits” was enough to have me laughing out loud throughout the film. John Henry Richardson’s acting is by far the best in the film and I definitely need to give special mention to the monologue that he turns into Jack’s best line in the whole film:

“I’d stumbled into the middle of an evil, insidious cult of chainsaw worshipping maniacs. I had to wonder if we’d let our religious freedom go too far in this country, or maybe our immigration laws were just too lax. I’ve never been much for politics, but I kept thinking about that pretty girl’s warm head on my lap, and then I wondered how many other pretty girls would never be able to put their heads on my lap because they’d been cut off by that refugee from the BTL club and his slice-happy sluts, I started to get mad.”

Holy shit, that is the funniest anti-immigration screed I’ve ever heard, I love it. Honestly, I was cringing when that monologue started, but by the middle I was in stitches I was laughing so hard.

There really are a lot of good jokes in this film and I just want to highlight a few of my favourites here. When Jack gets captured he keeps guessing The Master’s plan by throwing out the most ridiculous ideas he can think of (“What is this, some ancient chainsaw-wielding cult?” “Actually, that’s just what this is”) to the point where he just starts saying tropes and The Master ends up asking how Jack knows all of this. The idea of there being an ancient Egyptian cult with chainsaws is also lampshaded in a very tongue-in-cheek fashion which I appreciated. I also found it hilarious how the official police explanation for one of the chainsaw murders is that it was an accident and the victim “was just cleaning his chainsaw when it went off”. There’s also a chainsaw murder at the start of the film where a hooker kills some police officers during an interview and later it is explained that the policemen forgot to take the gas out of the chainsaw, paving over a pretty obvious plot hole in the funniest way possible. There are also some pretty good sight gags in the film, such as when Jack’s voice over during a scene is obviously at odds with what actually happens, just so that he can make himself look better. My favourite WTF sight gag though is when Jack enters a strip club and the camera focuses on the tough customers at the bar staring at him, which inexplicably ends with this pissed-off, twelve year old ginger kid (who, apparently, was Fred Olen Ray’s son). The film doesn’t even acknowledge it, which makes it even funnier.

Like I said, most of the jokes in this film land, although there are plenty of laughs to be had from the cheap film-making and bad acting. Most of the dialogue is on the level of a bad porno, especially during the chainsaw murder scenes. The early scene where Mercedes murders Bo Hansen has some of the funniest bad acting that I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing. Hearing Bo, after realizing his sexy times are coming to an abrupt, gasoline-fueled end, whelps “Oh no! Oh no! GAHHHH!!!” in the funniest way possible. The murders themselves tend to be really funny too, as there’s obviously someone off-screen spraying the hookers with fake blood while someone else tosses a bucket of blood at them and someone else throws fake fingers (to top it off, someone tries to grab Mercedes’ boob with a fake severed hand, fantastic). It’s so obviously fake and amateur that it makes these scenes really funny to watch. The terrible, Value Village-quality Egyptian costumes at the end also could only work in a cheap parody movie like this.

That said, not all of the jokes land and there are some stinkers in here. Probably the most offensive joke is when Jack calls the homicide squad the “homo squad”, which came across to me like it was meant to be “funny because gay”, but just made me cringe a little. Thankfully, I didn’t notice any other homo- or transphobic jokes in the film, which is actually somewhat impressive for a film this old. The film also seems to think that it’s hilarious that a slang term for detective is “dick”. Sure, it was actually quite funny the first time the police chief complained about having “another private dick in my face”, but by the fourth or fifth “dick = detective = penis” joke, it was a bit much. Then there are a few jokes which are just stupid, like when Jack tries to get the bartender’s attention by… making shadow bunnies on the wall? Umm, okay, that feels like they were trying a little too hard for a laugh.

Of course, in addition to being a comedy, Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers is a straight-up exploitation film with tons of gratuitous nudity to satisfy its thirsty audience. The film has tons of nudity and porno-level dialogue, but I wouldn’t say it reaches the level of a softcore porn film, if only because there are no sex scenes. That said, the chainsaw killings are treated in the way that a sex scene normally would, where the killing is the… er… “big climax” that the narrative builds towards, and of course they are all shot with topless women getting coated in buckets of blood. Naturally, there is plenty of gratuitous nudity even outside of the chainsaw killings, to the point where I’d estimate that maybe half of the movie has some nudity in it… and hey, considering the type of movie this is, at least it’s delivering the goods. Funnily enough, Fred Olen Ray has stated that the film was intended to be a message about safe sex – after all, any person you pick up could turn out to be a chainsaw-wielding maniac if you’re not careful.

Unfortunately, the film loses steam towards the end after The Master appears and Jack meets Samantha. Part of the problem is that around the forty-minute mark, Jack starts turning into a misogynistic douche bag. For one thing, Samantha is introduced as a surprisingly strong woman, who infiltrated this cult in order to get revenge for her friend’s death. However, she is quickly knocked down a peg when Jack headbutts her to knock her out, and then when she wakes up she immediately forgives him and then… tries to have sex with him because she’s so impressed!?! What the hell? This is followed-up by Jack’s girlfriend walking in on them, but Jack doesn’t care when she breaks up with him because he’s found himself a younger, hotter woman now. At this point, all of Jack’s one-liners start becoming about objectifying Samantha. Oh, and if that all wasn’t bad enough, it’s definitely implied that Samantha is lying about her age and is possibly a minor. I get that this is parodying noir tropes, but it doesn’t have any sort of consequence for Jack, which really bothers me and just makes it come across like they’re just playing it straight. It certainly doesn’t sink the film, but it makes it harder for me to give a shit about the film’s hero.

However, the last fifteen minutes of the film are by far the worst. The film is barely over the hour mark and I feel like the last fifteen minutes suffer because they were padding for time to get the film a proper runtime. There’s a good eight minutes that bring the film’s pacing to a grinding halt. Picture this – we’re in the cult’s temple and watching a ceremony, wondering what is going to happen. Then, we’ve got several minutes watching a priest pour a can of oil out… and then pour another can of oil. Umm, okay, where is this going? Then a topless hooker comes out and starts fire breathing, again, for several minutes without leading to anything. Then we get the film’s virgin dance of the double chainsaws, which manages to be iconic, badly done and pointless at the same time. On the one hand, it’s Linnea Quigley dancing topless with a pair of chainsaws, so there’s an inherent level of sexiness and coolness to the scene which helps to carry it. Unfortunately, it’s also hard to ignore that the dance is not particularly sexy in itself – as I’ve mentioned, Linnea was high on gas fumes, exhausted from seven hours of makeup and wielding two real, heavy chainsaws and trying to do something to arouse the audience. Again, it works because of her inherent sexiness, but it’s extremely obvious that she’s not able to give 100%. Add in that the editing during this entire temple ritual sequence has tons of pointless cut-aways to random hookers (I swear that several of these shots are recycled during the scene as well), and it becomes obvious why the final fifteen minutes of this film are so tedious to sit through.

As for the performances in this film, they’re pretty bad on the whole. Like I said earlier, John Henry Richardson’s acting is by far the best, but nearly everyone else is pretty bad. Unfortunately, even Gunnar Hansen puts in a very bland performance as The Master, saying all of his lines in a very monotone voice. That’s just too bad, I was hoping we’d get some scenery-chewing from him. I’m also sad to say that Linnea Quigley’s acting is really poor in this film. Her line deliveries are all unconvincing and the choreography during her epic chainsaw duel with Mercedes is just pathetically awkward – like, imagine a grade-school film project sword fight and you’ll have an idea of how badly-choreographed this fight is. Thankfully, as Jack Chandler says, “The kid talked like a frosted flake, but she had the nicest set of knockers that I’d seen in a long time”.

Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers was shot for about $55,000 in five and a half days. That’s an insanely low budget and shooting time for any film. You can definitely tell that this film was done under both of those constraints, but dayum it looks really good in spite of that. I can’t exactly call this a good movie in terms of quality, but in terms of pure fun it’s a hoot, even if the last act brings it down somewhat.

4/10

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Retrospective: Leatherface (2017)

Welcome back to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre retrospective! We’re coming to the conclusion of this retrospective today with 2017’s Leatherface… not to be confused with Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III of course (and with that in mind, any time I’ve referred to “Leatherface” in previous posts, I was referring to Chainsaw III). After the relative success of Texas Chainsaw 3D, the filmmakers once again decided that a prequel was the way to go to continue the series – that’s right, not only does this film have the same title as a sequel which it ignores, it also isn’t even the only prequel in this franchise. Bloody hell, the Texas Chainsaw franchise continuity is just a mess at this point. Is Leatherface at least be more coherent than the continuity of its franchise? Read on to find out…

Considering that this film’s trying to do its own thing, it’s unfortunate that it’s using basically the same poster design as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning. Suffice to say, it’s a very “meh” poster.

PRODUCTION
After the relative success of Texas Chainsaw 3D, the various studios involved in its production began conceptualizing a follow-up. As early as January 2013, Texas Chainsaw 3D executive producers Christa Campbell and Lati Grobman came to Millenium Films chairman Avi Lerner with an idea for a project which was going to be called Texas Chainsaw 4 (for some inexplicable reason). However, this project was announced prematurely by Millenium, which irritated the rights-holders at Main Line Pictures. I’d recommend checking out this article from Bloody Disgusting which breaks down the minutia of who owned the rights to the film at this time and shows how the studios involved were squabbling amongst each other.

Screenwriter Seth M. Sherwood pitched the idea of a prequel, as he didn’t like how inconsistent the franchise’s continuity had become and wanted to do something completely different with the franchise. He decided that he wanted to give Leatherface a tragic backstory, where his identity and mental faculties are taken away from him by the time the original Chainsaw rolls around. The film would also tie into Texas Chainsaw 3D, forming a trilogy along with the original film. The studio liked the idea and moved forward with Sherwood’s pitch. On October 31, 2014, French directing duo Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo were hired to direct the film. The pair had already received acclaim for their debut horror film Inside and were a very exciting choice for Leatherface. Maury and Bustillo then rewrote the film to better fit their vision for the project, including altering every death scene and changing the ending, which was original supposed to feature Leatherface going on a mass murder spree with a chainsaw (with over thirty victims, holy shit, he hasn’t even killed that many people in this whole franchise!!!).

In spring of 2015, casting for the film began. The lead roles went to Sam Strike as Jackson, James Bloor as Isaac, Jessica Madsen as Clarice, Sam Coleman as Bud and Vanessa Grasse as Lizzy. As is typical for Chainsaw films, most of them were young actors with only a few credits to their name and no major roles to speak of. Stephen Dorff, best known for being a mofo always trying to ice-skate uphill, was cast as the film’s main antagonist, Sheriff Hal Hartman. Angela Bettis was originally cast as Verna Carson-Sawyer, but had to drop out and was replaced by Lili Taylor, the mother from The Conjuring. Also worth mentioning was that Finn Jones (who was already well-known for playing Loras Tyrell in Game of Thrones and who would later play Danny Rand in Iron Fist) was cast in a relatively minor role as Deputy Sorells.

Filming began in late spring 2015 in Bulgaria. Apparently Millenium Films had a studio in Bulgaria and so it was the most economical location to shoot the film, marking one of the few times the franchise had been shot outside of Texas, and the only time it had been shot outside of the US. While many of the locations for the film do look quite close to a Texan setting, there are definitely moments that look like Bulgaria. Perhaps the most obvious example is during the film’s final chase scene in a tangled forest which looks like something from a werewolf movie or a dark fantasy setting. Filming took twenty seven days to complete. Christa Campbell and Lati Grobman stated that they wanted the violence in Leatherface to be a more graphic, as apparently fans had complained that Texas Chainsaw 3D lacked in that department. I’m not sure what they were talking about, as that film had some of the most explicit gore in the entire franchise, although perhaps they thought that it didn’t come frequently enough? In any case, the brutality was ratcheted back up in Leatherface.

The film went into post-production in early 2016 and it seemed like it would be released sometime that year. However, Lionsgate inexplicably sat on the finished film and once again we had a Chainsaw being buried by its own distributor. However, unlike The Next Generation‘s cut-and-dry reasons for delay, I haven’t been able to find a clear motive for Lionsgate to do this. I’ve seen speculation that they thought that the film was no good and didn’t want to release it. Scott Sherwood believed that Lionsgate were afraid of the film underperforming if they invested in a wide release. I personally wonder if the squabbling between Millenium, Main Line and Lionsgate that I mentioned at the start of the production section might have had some influence on this film’s delay. Perhaps it was a combination of all of these reasons, but whatever the case, there was no news about the film until spring of 2017, when it was announced that the film would finally be released in October in a limited theatrical release and through VOD services. However, in December 2017, Christa Campbell announced that due to the time it had taken to release Leatherface, the rights had reverted back to Kim Henkel and Bob Kuhn, scuppering Millenium and Lionsgate’s plans for their own Texas Chainsaw franchise.
PLOT SYNOPSIS
Leatherface opens with… sigh… a dinner scene. The Sawyers have gathered for young Jedidiah’s birthday and it turns out that they have a guest – a man who they accuse of trying to steal pigs from them! Verna and Drayton encourage Jed to kill the man with a chainsaw, but he is unable to follow-through with it. Luckily, Grandpa’s saves the day with an ol’ one-hitter to the thief’s head. Sometime later, Jed lures a young woman to a barn where the floorboards give way and she is seriously injured. Drayton tries to convince Jed to finish her off, but Jed is still unable to kill her. Nubbins then finishes the job, dropping a large motor on her which crushes her to death. After being notified of an “accidental” death by Drayton, the police arrive and it turns out that the victim is the daughter of the local sheriff, Hal Hartman. Hartman blames the Sawyers for her death and tries to get revenge by arranging to have Jed taken away to Gorman House Youth Reformery.

Ten years later, Verna attends Gorman House with her lawyer, Farnsworth (oh hell yes, my favourite character returns!), to try to have her son released back into her custody. However, the facility’s overseer, Dr. Lang, refuses and says that Jed has been given a new name to hide him from his family. We then follow a new nurse at Gorman House named Lizzy as she meets various patients, any of whom could be the grown-up Jed: a large, severely handicapped boy named Bud who is prone to outbursts of extreme violence, a socially awkward, but nice boy named Jackson who is best friends with Bud, and an unhinged psychopath named Isaac. Isaac threatens Lizzy, which leads to a fight between Bud and Isaac and causes security to take them both away. Lizzy also comes across a violent female patient named Clarice who tries to force-feed a mouse to another patient. Jackson then warns Lizzy that Dr. Lang performs cruel experiments on the patients, because he thinks that she has a conscience and can help the patients.

After her request to get Jed back is denied, Verna stays at the facility until late. She then sneaks past security and breaks into the patients’ quarters. This causes a number of the patients to break free and begin attacking the nurses and guards. Verna escapes just as a full-on riot breaks out. Meanwhile, Bud kills his guards and then frees Isaac before heading to Dr. Lang’s office and crushing his head. Lizzy is nearly killed by a patient, but Jackson saves her and then the pair try to escape the facility. They are intercepted by Isaac and Clarice, who take the pair hostage in the trunk of Dr. Lang’s car in case they need leverage in their escape. They also come across Bud casually strolling away from Gorman House, and Isaac picks him up as thanks for helping him escape earlier. A very tense group is thus formed, with Isaac and Clarice threatening to kill Jackson, Lizzy and Bud if any of them try to escape. Isaac aims to get the group to Dallas where he has family that can help him, at which point they’ll let Jackson, Lizzy and Bud go.

The next day, the group comes upon a diner where they hope to stock up on supplies and get a new vehicle. After the group makes their way into the diner in two pairs (plus Bud), Isaac and Clarice manage to get ahold of a revolver from one of the patrons and Clarice finds a shotgun under the counter, which they use to stick up the joint. Most of the patrons and staff are shot by the couple, but one survivor opens fire on them, hitting Bud with a non-lethal hit as they flee to a getaway car. The survivor tells Sheriff Hartman about the shooting and, knowing who has escaped Gorman House, Hartman concludes that Jed is with the group and is responsible. The police then start hunting for the group, which hole up inside of an abandoned trailer in the woods after their getaway vehicle runs out of gas. They find the owner of the trailer dead in the shower and then tensely hole up for the night. While Bud is on watch, Lizzy tries to sneak away during the night, but is caught by Isaac in the attempt. When Isaac tries to rape her, Jackson stops him and the pair fight until Clarice breaks it up and forces Jackson and Lizzy back to the trailer. Isaac insults Bud’s watchman skills which causes Bud to snap, knocking Isaac out and then killing him by curb-stomping his head against a rock.

The next morning, Clarice realizes that Isaac is missing along with Bud and goes looking for him frantically. Jackson and Lizzy take the opportunity to escape and find Bud with Isaac’s corpse. Clarice is then found by an officer named Sorells, who tries to interrogate her on the whereabouts of the other escapees until Hartman shows up and begins beating her for the information. Clarice taunts Hartman about his dead daughter, which causes Hartman to shoot her. Jackson, Lizzy and Bud witness this and then escape by hiding inside of a dead cow until the police pass them. Horrified by everything happening around her, Lizzy tries to wash herself clean and notices a deputy nearby. She shouts for him to help, which causes the officer to radio for backup. Bud attacks to try to stop the deputy, but is shot in the head and killed. Jackson goes apeshit, slamming the deputy’s head in the door until he dies. Lizzy is terrified by this sudden change in Jackson and tries to flee in the police car, but Jackson gets inside and, distraught and furious, asks why she call for the officer because she got Bud killed. Before they can dwell on it, a police chase with Hartman ensues, which ends with Jackson being shot in the face, nearly tearing his lower jaw off and causing their car to crash.

Later, Lizzy awakens in the barn where Hartman’s daughter was killed. She sees Jackson tied up and Hartman taunts them, telling her that Jackson is Jedidiah Sawyer. Hartman radios Sorells to say that he has found the pair and that they’re holed up in the barn. Sorells then takes this information to Verna, expecting a monetary reward for helping her. Verna “rewards” him with a knife to the gut and then feeds him alive to their pigs. The Sawyers then rush the barn and apprehend Hartman before he can kill Jed. Lizzy is also captured by them and everyone is brought back to the Sawyer house. Verna sews up Jed’s face, holding it in place with a makeshift bridle. Lizzy and Hartman then try to escape, but are stopped. Verna then gives Jed a chainsaw and orders him to kill Hartman. This time, Jed complies, cutting Hartman’s hands off and then plunging the chainsaw into his gut to kill him. Lizzy freaks out and then flees into the woods with Jed, Drayton and Nubbins in pursuit. When Jed finally catches her, Lizzy begs for him to let her go because she knows that he’s a good person. Jed responds by cutting her head off in one quick swing.

In the aftermath of all this, Hartman and Lizzy’s bodies are turned into mincemeat and fed to the pigs to hide any evidence of the crimes. Jed also takes Lizzy’s severed head and uses it to make his first face mask, but when he sees his face in the mirror he smashes it in a rage.

REVIEW
The first thing that really strikes you about Leatherface is just how different it is than any other Chainsaw film. Whereas other Chainsaw films’ narratives follow a typical slasher template (a group of clueless people get picked off one-by-one by a masked psycho), Leatherface is more like a twisted roadtrip film crossed with a mystery regarding which character is going to become the titular villain. Even compared to the other prequel in this franchise, The BeginningLeatherface is wildly different. The Beginning filled in a few blanks in its predecessor’s backstory that no one really cared about while trying to hew as closely to the franchise’s template as possible, which just made it feel like an excuse to extend the franchise a little further. In contrast, Leatherface‘s primary goal is to explore who Leatherface is and how he became the way he is in the original Chainsaw. Doing this through a twisted roadtrip movie rather than a slasher was an inspired decision as it is just incredibly tense to watch. Isaac and Clarice run the show as they’re the ones with guns and a car, but the audience knows that they’re both incredibly dangerous and could snap with little provocation. Jackson and Lizzy are both trying to escape and don’t want any part in any of the violent acts that Isaac and Clarice are willing to commit to stay free. Add in the police hounding the group, an undercurrent of jealousy from Clarice directed at Lizzy and that Bud is a violent wildcard, and this entire roadtrip could end in a flurry of murder at any second. The tension just keeps building until Bud finally snaps and the fragile alliance shatters. This roadtrip portion of the film is by far its strongest and most compelling part, it’s too bad it didn’t last just a little bit longer.

Another way that Leatherface sets itself apart from other films in this franchise is that, instead of centering the story on a group of victims, Leatherface himself is the focus of this film’s story. Instead of just making this a by-the-numbers prequel where we follow Leatherface through all the expected, foundational moments that got him to where we know him (where he got his chainsaw, where he gets his face mask, his time at the slaughterhouse, etc), instead we get a mystery where the identity of Jedidiah Sawyer is unknown to the audience for most of the film and therefore we have to figure out which of the characters is actually him. The way that the film keeps Jed’s identity secret throughout the film is a really interesting aspect of Leatherface and is such a clever way to keep a prequel like this fresh. The first time you see it, any one of the main characters could potentially grow up to be Leatherface and they’re all given fairly equal treatment by the script so you can’t be entirely sure who it will be. Bud’s the obvious pick, as he’s heavy-set, mentally challenged and violent, fitting the usual Leatherface template. He’s also mute, meaning that we can’t get too much information out of him, keeping the mystery alive. Isaac is also a potential choice for Leatherface as he is a violent psychopath and is the only one who actually talks about having a family that he wants to get back to. Even Clarice is a dark horse possibility to become Leatherface, considering that gender ambiguity has always been a big part of the character’s identity, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that he could be a trans-person.

It comes as a mixed bag then that Jackson, the nice-guy hero character who has a crush on Lizzy, is actually Jed Sawyer. On the one hand, he’s totally unlike the Leatherface we already know so it’s quite surprising and they did a good job of keeping it from being obvious. However, it’s also kind of lame because he’s just so bland and such a stereotypical, white male lead. It’s like someone said “Hey, we know Leatherface is an overweight, gender ambiguous, mentally disabled man who loves to kill people. We’ve even considered making him into a woman in this prequel! But, just hear me out on this – what if we made him into a nice, handsome, mentally-sound white boy?” Going in such a “safe”, Hollywood direction for their lead saps away much of the boldness of the choice to toy with our expectations of who Leatherface is supposed to be. Making it so that he’s not actually mentally deficient is also a strange choice, considering how obvious it is in the original Chainsaw. Instead, Leatherface makes it far more complicated – he’s mute because his jaw was shot out and he’s so mentally challenged because his mother broke his mind and stripped away his identity. That doesn’t really explain why he suddenly goes from being in love with Lizzy to being willing to chop her head off with a chainsaw though. I personally don’t agree that this was the “right” direction to go with Leatherface’s origin, but I do appreciate the filmmakers’ attempt to do something different and unexpected with their slasher franchise, especially when it manages to work this well (again, see Jason Goes to Hell or Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers for examples of franchise shake-ups which did not work at all).

In addition to making some questionable creative decisions about Leatherface’s origins, Leatherface also manages to feel inconsistent with the original Chainsaw and Texas Chainsaw 3D, despite Scott Sherwood’s attempts to fix the franchise’s inconsistencies… whoops! This is most obvious with the way that existing characters are portrayed. One of the most glaring examples is Drayton. In this film, he’s portrayed as the most violent and psychotic member of the Sawyer family, but in the original Chainsaw he straight-up says that he can’t stand killing. I get that characters change over time, but you’re telling me that he loses his appetite for killing in between these two films? Even if that is the case, are you telling me that you’re going to make a character in a prequel that much different than they were before with no explanation for what changed them? Verna Carson’s role in this is also really weird and makes her inclusion in Texas Chainsaw 3D feel all the more out of sync with the original film. This film reveals that she is the head of the Sawyer family and is the one who raises her children to be killers. This makes her absence in the original Chainsaw and at the start of Texas Chainsaw 3D all the more glaring in hindsight, not to mention that Burt Hartman apparently ignores her for forty years after the Sawyer massacre. In addition, the fact that this sociopathic woman somehow manages to marry an incredibly rich local man is just breezed over without explanation. These just make Verna in this film feel out of step with how she was implied in Texas Chainsaw 3D, where she seemed like she was just a regular person who happened to love her family even though they were crazy. Oh, and lest we forget, Texas Chainsaw 3D tried to downplay the fact that the Sawyer family are a bunch of psychopathic murderers, so the fact that this film once again portrays the entire clan as gleeful sadists is jarring. Once again, I have to wonder if the plan for a Texas Chainsaw 3D follow-up was to have Heather realize that maybe her family actually were a bunch of murderers who deserved to get wiped out.

Despite making it very clear that the Sawyers are evil people, Leatherface still feels the need to make us sympathize with them because the “bad guys” in this film are also evil! For example, at Gorman House Dr. Lang performs unexplained electroshock experiments on patients for little reason other than because he’s an evil bastard. Jackson even confides in this to Lizzy because she’s apparently the only nurse in the facility who doesn’t love torturing the criminally insane. Then there’s Sheriff Hal Hartman (the father of Burt Hartman, the cartoonish villain from Texas Chainsaw 3D), who hates the Sawyers because they killed his daughter and got away with it. Obviously, that’s a pretty understandable reason to want this family locked away, but he’s treated like he’s just as bad as the Sawyers are. He takes away Jed from his family and arranges for him to not be returned to them, assaults and tortures Clarice for information before straight-up gunning her down in cold blood, tries to kill Jed to get revenge on the Sawyers and implies that he wants to kill Lizzy too to get rid of the witness. Jackson also tells Lizzy that “he’s a corrupt son of a bitch” who “filled Gormon House almost single-handedly”. Hartman’s certainly a really bad person, but is he as bad as the Sawyers? Certainly not, but this film wants you to think otherwise. And, once again, having the Sawyers kill Hal Hartman and his daughter just further justifies Burt Hartman’s lynch mob killing of the Sawyers in Texas Chainsaw 3D and makes it more inexplicable that Sheriff Hooper would think that the just action would be to let Leatherface kill Burt at the end.

I also want to comment on the violence in Leatherface, since the producers had mentioned that Texas Chainsaw 3D wasn’t graphic enough. Leatherface falls somewhere in-between the Chainsaw remake and The Beginning in terms of its violence – it can be pretty nasty and gory, but most of it happens off-screen and it doesn’t come across in a sadistic tone that punishes the audience for watching. That said, the film is not scary at all, instead relying on the violence and disturbing imagery to try to unsettle its audience. This didn’t work for me, but there are some gross moments that bear mentioning, in particular a scene where Bud, Jackson and Lizzy are forced to hide inside of a dead cow’s corpse to escape police dogs. There’s also a three-way sex scene where Isaac and Clarice bring a decaying corpse along for the, er, ride. It doesn’t add anything to the plot, it’s just there to shock you, which seems to be all that this film can muster instead of scares. That’s unfortunate because, as I mentioned earlier, the tension really ratchets up during the road trip section of the film simply because the characters are all so unhinged and ready to kill each other, you’d think that they could squeeze a few scares out of that set-up.

The acting in Leatherface is some of the best in the Chainsaw franchise, in my opinion. While Sam Strike’s Jackson and Vanessa Grasse’s Lizzy make for a pair of bland leads, nearly everyone else is really entertaining and fun to watch. James Bloor’s Isaac in particular was a highlight, he could easily just be a one-dimensional psychopath, but Bloor’s performance gives the character unexpected gravitas. It feels like the way that he lashes out at the world comes from the way that it has treated him all of his life and that deep down he might not be an inherently awful person. Stephen Dorff also puts in a great, scenery-chewing performance as Hal Hartman, being far more entertaining than Paul Rae’s Burt Hartman was. He’s unhinged and always entertaining to watch as he hunts down the Sawyers relentlessly. Scott Sherwood compared him to Lefty Enright and while I wouldn’t say he’s anywhere near that level of crazy, he makes for a solid antagonist. Lili Taylor is also quite strong as Verna Carson, feeling like the real force of evil behind the Sawyer clan’s crimes. Again, this doesn’t really fit with the picture of the character we were given in Texas Chainsaw 3D, but Taylor takes the material she’s given and runs with it, embodying a character who ends up coming across as the real villain of the piece.

The theme of family which had been running through Texas Chainsaw 3D is also picked up here once again. It’s obvious from the opening scene, where Verna tries to get Jed to commit his first murder. Verna tells Jed that a thief was trying to steal their pigs and that “bad people like him are trying to break our family apart”, emphasizing that family is the motive behind this family’s crimes. This also shows up at the end when Jed kills Lizzy. She tries to appeal to his good side, but when she says that the only reason that he’s trying to kill her is because of his “crazy mother”, Jed immediately snaps and chainsaws Lizzy’s head off in a violent rage. Verna also says that “your family always has your back”, which is demonstrated on a number of occasions in this film as grandpa kills the thief for Jed, or when the Sawyers rescue Jed from being murdered by Hartman. Family also plays an interesting role in the philosophy of Dr. Lang at Gorman House. Dr. Lang states that the youths in Gorman House are given new names to hide them from their degenerate, criminal families. This is a period-appropriate reference to American eugenics, which posited that criminal elements in society were passed on by degenerate parents and that such people should be prevented from passing on their genes. Thank God that this movie seems to refute these notions, as Jed becomes Leatherface not because it was in his genes, but because of the psychological conditioning that his family subjected him to. However, this once again clashes with Texas Chainsaw 3D‘s idea of “biological lineage decides who you will become”, but considering that that was already really questionable at the time, I’m happy to see it pushed back against here.

All-in-all, Leatherface is a pretty good film and a solid prequel. I certainly don’t agree with all of the creative decisions that were made, but I’d much rather get a film like this that’s willing to take risks than a safe, predictable sequel. Add on that it’s well-directed and the acting’s mostly good, and you have what is arguably the most consistently-strong Chainsaw film since the original.

6/10

AFTERTHOUGHTS
So, with that all said, where does the Chainsaw franchise go from here? As I said in the production section, Millenium and Lionsgate have lost the rights to the franchise, thereby scuppering any sort of follow-up to Texas Chainsaw 3D that they had been planning. It’s also kind of too bad that Texas Chainsaw 4D is off the books now, with its lighter tone and feuding family narrative, we could have gotten a gleefully bonkers sequel where the Sawyers and Hartmans all get into a climactic chainsaw battle. The rights have now been bought by Legendary Pictures, who are planning on making multiple films and TV shows. I’m not entirely sure how they’re going to justify a Texas Chainsaw TV series, but where can Legendary even go with the franchise without just repeating what has already been done? With the success of 2018’s Halloween, odds are that we’re going to get a throwback continuation in a similar vein, but with Marilyn Burns, Gunnar Hansen and Tobe Hooper all having died, I’m not sure how that will turn out.

In my opinion, rights issues have been one of the biggest hurdles plaguing the Chainsaw franchise. It kills any sort of momentum when every new film is part of a new studio’s own continuity. I’d argue that it’s the reason why Leatherface never achieved the same iconic success as Jason, Freddy or Michael Myers. So, to solve that, I feel like the best thing that can be done for the franchise is for a studio to just buy the rights from Kim Henkel outright and then go about making their own franchise with annual or biennial releases. I really liked the idea of Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III, where they combined the elements of the Chainsaw films with The Hills Have Eyes, a sequel which goes in that direction again would be really cool.

This is how I’d rank the series from worst to best:
1) The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) – 8.5/10
2) The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986) – 4.5/10 (Yeah, this movie is technically more uneven and worse than Leatherface, but it’s really entertaining so it gets a bump from that.)
3) Leatherface (2017) – 6/10
4) The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003) – 5.5/10
5) Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1990) – 4/10
6) Texas Chainsaw 3D (2013) – 3/10 (This one gets the slight bump just because I had more fun with it.)
7) The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (2006) – 3/10
8) Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1994) – 2/10

Thanks for tuning in once again and I hope you enjoyed this retrospective!

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