Love/Hate: Dead Space Extended Universe

From the very beginning Dead Space was conceived as a multi-media franchise. To that end it managed to build up quite the impressive collection of extended universe material in the five years it was active. Having dabbled in EU material from Star Wars, Halo, Warhammer 40,000 and Splinter Cell (among others), a lot of the time these story extensions are viewed as inessential marketing material. As a result, they typically aren’t very well written, don’t stand on their own merits, or are just “bolter porn” (eg, action fests with little in the way of characters or depth). Luckily, Dead Space has some real gems within its EU, although there is still plenty of material which fit into the latter categories… Sounds ripe for a love/hate breakdown to me!

Also, before we begin, I need to mention that the only piece of Dead Space media I never consumed was the mobile game, due to me not having a smartphone at the time. If I had played it I’d probably include it here and from what I hear it was a fantastic game, but the game is no longer supported on modern Android devices and is unavailable on the Play store. If I can manage to get ahold of it I’ll write a whole entry for it, assuming I have enough thoughts for a post. Anyway, with that aside out of the way, let’s dive in!

Love

  • Dead Space (graphic novel) – EA and Visceral games demonstrated that they were not fucking around with the Dead Space brand as the very first piece of media out of the gate was this six issue comic series and it is easily the best entry in the franchise outside of the actual games. There are a few reasons why this graphic novel is essential reading for horror fans. First of all, the writing is pretty great. Antony Johnston portrays how the entire Aegis VII colony goes to hell in compelling detail, slowly building up the tension to the point of absolute desperation. Secondly, Ben Templesmith’s art is perfect for this kind of story, being very clear but stylized and inked in a manner which gives it this manic, twisted and dark edge. Thirdly, it is the definitive tome about what happened on Aegis VII, which we only get bits and pieces of in Extraction, and therefore is essential for fans. Finally, it’s the perfect entry point to get into the franchise – you don’t need to know the lore to understand it, because everything gets laid out for you organically.
  • Dead Space: Extraction (comic) – Perhaps unsurprisingly, the one-off direct follow-up to the Dead Space comics is just as compelling and essential for fans of the series. Antony Johnston and Ben Templesmith essentially take a victory lap, showing us what Nicole is up to on the Ishimura during the outbreak and gives us more insight into her psychology and personality than any other entry into the franchise. That alone is enough to make Extraction worthwhile reading (especially since Nicole is essentially treated like an objective rather than a person elsewhere), but there’s such a bleak and tragic atmosphere to the whole proceeding that makes it so sad to read, especially since you know how it’s all going to turn out.
  • Dead Space: Martyr – This one really surprised me. Like I said up top, video game extended universe novels have a shaky track record and going through the first chapter of Martyr made me think that my low expectations were going to be met. However, by the time the second chapter starts, Martyr gets enthralling. It works for the same reasons that the Dead Space graphic novel works – it’s all about the build-up. You’re going to notice a trend as this goes along: necromorphs are great video game monsters, but an outbreak is boring in a non-interactive medium. Martyr focuses on the madness that the marker causes and the machinations of the people around it, for good or evil. It also gives fans essential insight into Michael Altman, the “Prophet” of the Church of Unitology, and shows us that he’s not a bad guy as we might have expected. Martyr really surprised me with how good it was and it makes for a chilling read with an ending which is just pitch-black.
  • Samuel Irons – I’ll cover Dead Space: Downfall in its own section later, but the one thing I love in it is Samuel Irons, who I would argue is straight-up the best character in the entire Dead Space franchise. Seriously, he’s a goddamn champ and is literally the only Unitologist we get to see who isn’t portrayed as a fanatic or outright evil. Dude even gets his own badass line before he goes off to face a swarm of necromorphs: “I’m not a hero… just a man”.

Mixed

  • Dead Space: Salvage – In the interstice between Dead Space and Dead Space 2, Ben Templesmith was dropped as the artist on the comic series and was replaced with Christopher Shy. I don’t know if this was for creative or financial reasons, but Shy’s artwork is as gorgeous as it is haunting and very befitting of the Dead Space universe. However, this is ultimately a blessing and a curse for Salvage. On the one hand, it lends the graphic novel a distinct and captivating visual style, making every panel a work of art. However, Shy’s style doesn’t lend itself very well to the story being told here. Salvage follows a team of “Magpies”, illegal salvagers who stumble upon the remains of the Ishimura as Earthgov is seeking it in the aftermath of the first game. We’re introduced to a huge cast of characters, but Shy’s art style makes it difficult to tell who is who in any given panel, who is saying what and even what is going on at times. Like, you can understand the broad strokes of the story with little issue, but good luck knowing what’s happening panel-to-panel. Hell, about two-thirds of the way through I realized that all the Magpies were on board the Ishimura – I had thought that only a recon team went aboard that whole time! Like I said, the art alone makes slogging through Salvage worthwhile, plus it gives us some really interesting insight into the greater Dead Space universe and the story itself is enjoyable enough when you can understand it, but the unnecessary confusion makes Salvage more difficult to appreciate than it should be.
  • Dead Space: Aftermath – I have a soft spot in my heart for Aftermath which makes me overlook its glaring flaws. First off, it must be said – the CG animation in this movie? DOGSHIT. Seriously, the animation is ReBoot levels of quality (which isn’t a knock on ReBoot, for the record, but you’d think that 17 years of advances in computer technology would raise the minimum threshold). Since almost half the movie is rendered in this machinima-level style, that’s a major issue right off the bat. However, the story structure and characters manage to make Aftermath interesting (for fans of the series at least). Each of the four main characters’ gets a POV section where their part in the story is told via a different anime style flashback. It’s really obvious that this was done so that five different animation studios could be working on the movie simultaneously and for minimal expenditure, but it’s integrated into the narrative itself in an ideal manner. Plus it helps that all of these anime segments are well animated, as opposed to Dead Space: Downfall (which we’ll get to soon enough…). The characters aren’t revolutionary, but they’re interesting enough to carry the proceedings, especially Nolan Stross, whose role in Dead Space 2 is far more interesting when you have this film’s insight into his backstory. Unfortunately, the film suddenly devolves into yet another outbreak story about halfway through, and I really do mean sudden – one minute everything’s fine, the next there’s necromorphs all over the O’Bannon. Aftermath‘s first half does a really good job setting up the madness and expanding the series’ lore, so when it rushes into a half-assed and boring outbreak scenario it’s a real bummer. Like I said, I have a soft spot for Aftermath in spite of its several flaws which would probably throw it right into the “Hate” section for most, but there’s just enough interesting lore and story here that I can’t help but find it interesting.
  • Dead Space: Catalyst – After the surprisingly good Martyr, my excitement for B.K. Evenson’s follow-up novel, Catalyst, couldn’t be higher as the hype train for Dead Space 3 approached. Unfortunately, it isn’t nearly as captivating as its predecessor was and is arguably the single most inessential piece of media in the Dead Space extended universe. It follows estranged brothers Istvan and Jensi, along with Jensi’s friend Henry. Istvan has some sort of mental illness which makes him psychotic, which eventually leads him to assassinate a political figure and end up in a remote prison facility where a marker research station is housed. Jensi and Henry try to rescue Istvan… but then another outbreak happens. Sigh. Compared to Martyr, Catalyst has far more interesting and compelling characters and the whole setup works really well. Unfortunately, it’s all in service of just giving us yet another necromorph outbreak story and little else beyond that. About the only revelation with potential impact is that Istvan’s mental illness is such that he can change the marker signal, but it is barely developed and Evenson is careful to cut off that source of potential future storytelling. It’s an alright novel, but it didn’t stick with me or demand my attention the way Martyr did.
  • Dead Space: Liberation – Acting as a direct prequel to Dead Space 3, Liberation gives us the backstory for John Carver, showing us the shittiest day of his life. Christopher Shy is back but this time his style has been reined in to be far less ethereal and abstract and instead more moody and realistic. This makes it far easier to follow the story and I can’t say I was ever lost or confused. However, Antony Johnston (writer on the Dead Space comics and games up to this point) was replaced with Ian Edginton (his series Scarlet Traces is well worth checking out!) and the difference in style between the two is night-and-day. Like Dead Space 3, Liberation is a fast-paced, high-stakes action story, where necromorph outbreaks are so inconsequential that we get two of them! Liberation really suffers from being a prequel – there’s no conclusion and all the major plot beats are basically just to set up stuff that will happen in Dead Space 3. Of all the Dead Space extended universe media, Liberation may just be the most obvious marketing ploy of them all. That said, the only things making it worthwhile at all are getting insight into John Carver’s character and Shy’s continued exceptional artwork.

Hate

  • Dead Space: Downfall – I rewatched this movie for this article and good God I still dislike it. The first big issue? The awful, bargain-basement animation. Just look at that screenshot above – it lacks any sort of detail and is meant to be as simple as possible. As bad as it looks in screenshots, it looks even more terrible in motion, with choppy animation demonstrating that they couldn’t afford/be bothered to key in enough frames to make it look smooth. I don’t know if the studio just got overwhelmed with the work they had to do, but it makes me glad that Aftermath took the approach of farming out work to several studios as its animated segments look leagues better (y’know, aside from the awful CG parts). The second big issue is that the main character, Alissa Vincent, sucks. She’s your generic take-no-nonsense head of security and spends the whole movie being insubordinate, hot-headed and doing random acrobatics in the middle of gun fights. She feels like a lame RPG character rather than someone who belongs in the more grounded Dead Space universe. The third big issue is that the story kind of sucks. There’s some enjoyment to be had in seeing the Ishimura plunge into chaos, especially Captain Matthius’ growing paranoia and delusion, but when the film turns into a montage of Vincent and her Dungeons & Dragons party getting into several shootouts with necromorphs it’s just plain dull. Sure, Downfall has Samuel Irons, but he’s the only thing about this movie that I actually love. Dead Space: Extraction covers the fall of the Ishimura as well, so as far as I’m concerned Downfall can be straight-up ignored in the continuity of the franchise.
  • Dead Space: Ignition – Soooooo, I know for a fact I’ve never played this game, but checking through my PlayStation account reveals that at some point I bought it and then never played it… So, um, I want my $5 back, EA. That said, I’m probably better off for never having played Ignition because it’s apparently the crappiest entry in the entire franchise (and that’s factoring in all the games and extended universe, including Downfall). Do you like hacking minigames and cheap comic book art? I sure hope you do because that’s all you’re going to get out of this experience! The only purpose this game serves to the series’ narrative is letting us know a bit about Franco before he’s immediately offed at the beginning of Dead Space 2, but like… who cares? Skip this one for sure.
  • EU Peters Out By Dead Space 3 – Moving on to more general thoughts, it sucks that Dead Space 3 killed the series because it effectively killed the extended universe while it was at it. This especially sucks because Dead Space 3‘s story was ripe for spin-off tales. After all, it introduced a rogue, militant terrorist faction of the Unitologist Church who come out of nowhere, wipe out Earthgov and then cause outbreaks across the galaxy, which the game promptly forgets. That’s a bunch of potential horror stories that went completely unmined. Even then, the two EU stories we did get during Dead Space 3‘s cycle, Catalyst and Liberation did almost nothing to expand the series’ scope or lore. Dead Space and Dead Space 2‘s cycles both gave us new insights into the universe or background events, which makes the sudden disinterest come Dead Space 3 even more depressing.
  • The Portrayal of Religion – One thing that has always annoyed me about the extended universe in Dead Space is that it’s really obvious that the writers have a bone to pick with religion. Everyone writes off Unitologists immediately and calls them crazy, despite the fact that they’re often being confronted face-to-face with the literal holy object of their religion. Like, I’m no Scientologist, but if someone showed me Xenu I’d at least consider the possibility that they might have some answers. Naturally, every Unitologist (except for Samuel Irons, the goddamn champ) gets written as a fanatic or downright evil, while the people who explicitly oppose them are “rational” thinkers like scientists, doctors and… uh… the police. This despite the fact that about half of the Unitologist characters weren’t even known to be Unitologists until the events of the stories, showing that they’re really just regular people for the most part. It’s just so obviously anti-religious sentiment and is excessively simplified to the point of being insulting (such as the implication that being religious causes you to be more susceptible to the marker’s maddening effects). This also ignores that the Dead Space series makes it explicitly clear that governments are the real villains, Unitology is just a tool. Hell, even the series’ writers seem to have forgotten this because by the time Dead Space 3 rolls around the government’s killed off-screen and we have moustache-twirling religious loonies as the villains. The treatment in the franchise is just lazy and makes “Unitologist” shorthand for “villain” 99% of the time.
  • No Resolution – Sure, you could argue that Awakened ends the franchise with everyone dying, but I don’t buy that. Dead Space has too many loose ends still dangling, the most crucial of which is Lexine. Dead Space 4 (or an EU story at the very least) NEEDED to bring Lexine into the forefront and make good on Nicole’s revelations in the Extraction comic – it is possible to defeat the necromorphs. Hell… I’m half tempted to write my own version, because EA sure as fuck is never going to.
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Love/Hate: Dead Space 3

Man, I was being nice to this game back when I wrote my original review of it. The intervening years have made me more and more hostile to Dead Space 3, especially considering that EA used its moderate success as an excuse to kill the franchise. That said, there are things to love about Dead Space 3, so let’s dive in and check it out…

Love

  • Tau Volantis is Cool – I remember a lot of fans complained that a Dead Space game was going to be taking place on a planet back in the day, but I’ve never had an issue with this. For one thing, it’s still sci-fi and for another, a frozen planet is barely a step down from the existential danger of space. In fact, it opens up new opportunities for horror – enemies hidden in the snow, body temperature regulation, snow squalls, etc. Visceral Games use all of these elements throughout the game and make the most of the setting within the framework they set for themselves.
  • Side-quests – One of the most interesting new additions in Dead Space 3 is the optional “side-quests” that you can embark on. These reward the player with supplies for completion and, most importantly, provide little self-contained stories to uncover. I’m a sucker for side-quests and appreciate their inclusion in this game – it gives me some fun, optional content to explore and rewards you for taking the risk.
  • Co-Op is Entirely Optional – Co-op modes were being shoehorned into games during this time period and often resulted in you being forced to wrangle a friend whenever you wanted to play, or dealing with invariably awful AI companions. Dead Space 3 makes the elegant decision to make the game’s marquee co-op mode entirely optional. Want to play through the game solo? That’s cool, Carver will be awkwardly on the fringes of the entire story, but you’re otherwise not even going to notice. It is a far more preferable solution to this than brain-dead AI that turns into a frustrating burden. The only issue is that certain side-quests are co-op only, making it feel like you’re missing out on content for not participating.
  • Extensive Weapon Crafting System – Dead Space 3 is often criticized for its weapon crafting system, being blamed for reducing the horror. However, I feel like it provides a more elegant solution to the weapon management system from the previous games, effectively allowing you to pick the weapons you actually want to use and mash them together into two personal super-guns. Sure, this also results in them being potentially overpowered, jack-of-all-trades crutch weapons, but Dead Space 3 is designed around that so it works. Getting your preferred weapon to a “just right” state is satisfying in itself and there are so many combinations you can produce that it’s cool to see it in action.
  • Supercharged Kinesis – In the very late game Dead Space 3 goes off the rails in terms of its stakes. One of the best parts of this though is the supercharged kinesis – kinesis has always been fun, but how do you like the idea of tearing the limbs right off of attacking necromorphs or launching entire markers at the real hive mind of the necromorphs? It’s a power fantasy but it feels so damn good while it lasts.
  • The Space Section – After the introduction, Dead Space 3 spends a good hour or two in orbit around Tau Volantis. It feels like a watered down version of classic Dead Space, but it’s still a blast to play through as you fly through a spaceship graveyard and trying to get the parts to repair your own craft. I especially like the art direction on the necromorphs here, they’ve been dormant for almost 200 years and they look so desiccated after all this time.
  • Feeders – Dead Space 3 doesn’t introduce a lot of new enemies, but a couple of them are great. Most pertinent are the Feeders, blind necromorphs that are attracted to strong light sources and sound. Having to deal with enemies in a non-combative way is a great change for the series and provides some of the few true horror moments in the game. Plus their backstory is amazing, having been created after starving humans got desperate enough to feed on the flesh of defeated necromorphs. In addition to Feeders, the Shambler is also a cool concept, where a necromorph decapitates a victim and then embeds itself in their neck cavity to control the body.

Mixed

  • Body Temperature Regulation is Underutilized – I know I praised Dead Space 3 for how it makes the most of Tau Volantis, but one thing it could have done more with is body temperature regulation. When you crash land on the planet you have to stay in proximity to heat to avoid freezing to death, but you soon find a thermal suit and never have to worry about it again. If they hadn’t done this then there’s definitely the potential for this to just become a burden, but handled well I feel like having to worry about freezing to death would have added far more tension to the game and made Tau Volantis itself a more dangerous setting.
  • Awakened DLC – Once again, a Dead Space story DLC lands in the mixed section, for similar reasons. On the plus side, Awakened drastically ups the horror elements compared to the main game, making for a tenser and more interesting experience. However, its ending leaves a real sour taste in my mouth. For one thing, it effectively undoes the ending of the main game, going from a bittersweet ending to one that is straight-up nihilistic. The fact that this is the last piece of Dead Space story we’ve ever gotten just makes it worse. Don’t get me wrong, a bleak ending can work but I don’t feel like it was earned at all. In addition, are you telling me that no one managed to evacuate Earth to the several stations and colonies we know humanity has? Hell, I was under the impression that the vast majority of The Sprawl was evacuated in Dead Space 2 and that was in the middle of a full-on outbreak in a confined station. It just makes me even more annoyed that we never got Dead Space 4 starring Lexine Murdoch-Weller going out to kick some necromorph ass.

Hate

  • Balance Is Out of Whack – Dead Space and Dead Space 2 struck a fantastic balance of making health and ammo scarce while giving you just enough enemies to deal with where you felt like you were barely holding on. Dead Space 3, however, completely fails in this regard and just feels cheap at times. The game inundates you health pickups, to the point where I never managed to run out (and, to be more accurate, my inventory was chocked full of them at all times). You’re also never going to run out of ammo for any particular weapon, because ammo pickups are now universal. Enemy encounters are just a pain in the ass though – you get swarmed by enemies from all angles, to the point where it just feels cheap. I’m not sure if this is because the game only has one spawn system to cover for single player and co-op, or if the game has just been designed to try to overwhelm you, but it makes planning less important than spraying and praying.
  • Microtransactions – Dead Space 3 was the prototype for forced-in microtransactions in single player games. I remember thinking that it wasn’t a big deal back in the day because I never felt like you needed to rely on them to get supplies, but goddamn if their putrid legacy can’t be felt to this day. The fact that this game was so groundbreaking for something so shitty is an irredeemable blight on the game that can’t be taken away.
  • Human Enemies – By far one of the worst aspects of this game is that it turns into a cover shooter at certain points. I’m playing Dead Space, I don’t want to play a crappy version of Uncharted or Gears of War. It’s just… ugh.
  • Everything is Watered Down – Did you like Dead Space‘s mix of horror and gore? Cool, then how about we give you an action game in the vein of Uncharted instead… While Dead Space 3 does have occasional moments of light horror, the game is on the whole orders of magnitude less scary and far less violent. Hell, even aspects of the previous game which return here, such as the Stalkers, are changed to be less scary (instead of trying to flank you, they just charge instantly). Like I said, the weapon crafting and universal ammo reduce the tension as well in favour of straight action. What do we get instead? Over-the-top set pieces which quickly outstay their welcome. Even some of the necromorphs are wielding weapons in this game, which just makes them less inhuman terrors.
  • The Story – Hoo boy, strap in because there is a lot to talk about in this regard:
    • In regards to the set-up of this game, within the first few minutes we’re told that Unitologist terrorists have straight-up wiped out EarthGov and are launching terrorist attacks across the galaxy to try to initiate convergence. Holy shit, that’s crazy! I hope you don’t care about this interesting turn of events though because the game never returns to it and we never got any extended universe content to cover these monumental developments. To make matters worse, Awakened ends with Isaac and Carver trying to contact EarthGov so… did they (by which I mean the writers) forget what happened?
    • I also don’t like the concept of the Brethren Moons. For one thing, we don’t need to know what controls and creates the markers, the mystery is part of the allure. Beyond that, we’ve already got enough complication – the markers make the hive mind, which controls the necromorphs… so what’s the point of a hive mind if there are actually Brethren Moons? It’s the sort of plot development that I hate, where it relies on ever-growing stakes to feel important. Like, what was next for Dead Space 4, finding out what’s controlling the Brethren Moons?
    • Oh and nearly every single character in Dead Space 3 SUUUUUUUCKS. Main human antagonist, Danik? He’s such a lame villain. At least Tiedemann in Dead Space 2 was somewhat understandable in his motivations, Danik is just a monologuing asshole. And speaking of assholes, Norton spends the entire game being a jealous prick to Isaac. Even Carver’s a real dick, but at least he has something of an arc where he becomes friendly over time. Most of the rest of the cast are cannon fodder, except for…
  • Ellie Has Been Sexed Up – God damn, EA wanted Dead Space 3 to appeal to the Call of Duty crowd, so what’s one way they went about this? They sexed up Ellie Langford, softening her features, presumably giving her implants and then showing off a ton of cleavage whenever possible. Like… it’s so in your face and so obviously pandering that I hate it.
  • It’s Compromised to the Core – Perhaps the worst thing about Dead Space 3 after all this time is that the game is fundamentally compromised. Visceral clearly didn’t get to make the story or game they wanted to, but in order to keep the series going they had to give in to EA’s demands… and for what? The game still didn’t do well enough to keep the franchise alive and even if it did we would have gotten a Dead Space 4 that was even more removed from what made this franchise great in the first place. All we’re left with is a game which betrays everything we liked about Dead Space to begin with and ends the series on a truly sour note.

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Love/Hate: Dead Space 2

Welcome back to the next entry in the Dead Space Love/Hate series. Today we’re going to be looking at Dead Space 2, which is probably my favourite entry in the franchise and straight-up one of my favourite games ever. That said, there are still things that bother me even in my favourite games, so let’s get into them…

Love

  • Builds On The First Game’s Strengths – For the most part Dead Space 2 plays like the first game did, but better. There’s more of everything – more enemies, more weapons, more varied encounters, more intensity, more polish, etc. It doesn’t take any huge leaps forward but it doesn’t need to – it takes an already solid foundation and just makes it better in every way.
  • Balance of Horror and Action – A lot of people say that Dead Space 2 isn’t nearly as scary as the first game, but I disagree. While Dead Space 2 has a bit more action, it still balances this with intense encounters and a pervasive scary atmosphere. Just as much as the first game you’re having to balance your sparse reserves of health and ammo and plan out how you’re going to survive every encounter. Big set-pieces like the Tormentor fight are still intense and terrifying and to this day I can remember moments of horror like fighting my way through the necromorph infested school.
  • Isaac Speaks! – Dead Space 2 really drives home how much Isaac Clarke’s silent protagonist turn in the first game was a mistake, because he displays so much more personality here. It opens up so much more opportunity to interact and react to the world around you. It also makes it easier to show off his personality and the influence that the marker is having on his sanity.
  • Story Is Improved – One area where Dead Space 2 excels over its predecessor is its much more interesting story progression. Kicking off in one of the most viscerally-memorable opening sequences I’ve ever experienced in a game, Dead Space 2 throws you into the middle of an active necromorph outbreak as Earthgov and the Church of Unitology fight over control of Isaac. Meanwhile, Isaac is just trying to figure out how to destroy the marker and survive, while being taunted by haunting visions of his deceased girlfriend, Nicole, as his sanity is ripped away. It makes for a far more interesting narrative than the relatively simple “bitch work” in the first game. The story even explores some deeper themes, showing the toll that grief takes on the mind and the process of overcoming it.
  • New Enemies Are Amazing – Dead Space 2 introduces several new and iconic enemies to the series, making combat encounters even more varied than they were before. The best is by far the Stalkers, velociraptor-like necromorphs that hunt in packs, peeking out around corners at you and running away to find the best place to get a sneaky flank on. Hearing one of these things letting out their charge-scream when you don’t know where it is coming from is panic-inducing. Pukers are also very iconic enemies, to the point where I had completely forgotten that they weren’t in the first game. Their corrosive and slowing projectile vomit attacks can create really tense problems for Isaac if they aren’t managed carefully and getting too close is a potential death sentence. The Pack and Crawlers are also great enemies and terrifying reminders that the necromorphs are merciless, wiping out all living beings regardless of their age.
  • New Weapons Add More Variety – There are three new weapons in Dead Space 2, adding more ways to dismember necromorphs. Of these, by far the coolest is the javelin gun, a weapon which shoots out huge javelins which can impale necromorphs and pin them to walls and, to add insult to injury, be electrocuted for additional damage. The detonator is also cool, acting as a grenade launcher that can be used to set traps around the environment. Finally, the seeker rifle is effectively a powerful battle rifle, allowing you to fire at distant enemies with greater precision. Furthermore, old weapons have been rebalanced to make them more useful, such as the pulse rifle gaining a far more useful grenade launcher alt-fire mode. The flamethrower’s still pretty meh though.
  • Free Movement in Zero-G – The space sections of Dead Space felt gimmicky, but the feature is fully fleshed out in Dead Space 2, allowing you full ability to move and shoot in zero gravity. Put simply, it makes these sequences much more exciting and fun to play through.

Mixed

  • Severed DLC – The Severed story DLC for Dead Space 2 is such a mixed bag of glorious highs and disappointing lows. One the plus side: holy shit, it’s a bite-sized narrative sequel to Dead Space: Extraction! It gives us even more of Dead Space 2‘s fantastic gameplay! We get some really interesting lore for the factions in the Dead Space universe! Twitchers are back! But on the disappointing side… it’s barely an hour long (for ~$7)! Lexine’s back and gets screwed over even harder than in Dead Space: Extraction (she’s shunted into a relationship with Gabe, despite both of them not getting along at all in Extraction, and spends the entire game being damselled despite once again being the most important person in the Dead Space universe)! Ultimately, it’s more Dead Space 2 so it’s worth it for me, but I can’t help but wish it was its own fully fleshed-out experience.

Hate

  • Obligatory Multiplayer – Like many AAA games of the era, Dead Space 2 has a tacked-on multiplayer mode that no one wanted or asked for, which exists purely to extend player engagement and sell multiplayer DLC packs. Don’t get me wrong, there are tacked-on multiplayer modes from this era which were surprisingly fun, such as Metal Gear Online and The Last of Us, but that was because they offered some sort of fun unique experience that you couldn’t get elsewhere. While the concept of playing as a necromorph is enticing, it is ultimately just not very fun to play and struggles to justify the mode’s existence. Like… if I’m playing Dead Space 2, I’m there for the story mode. There’s nothing here to keep me interested.
  • Hard Core Mode is BRUTAL – I don’t bother to go for Platinum trophies unless I really enjoy a game, so the fact that I went for it on Dead Space 2 should show how much I was dedicated to the pursuit. To this day there is only one roadblock keeping me from the Platinum – beat the game in Hard Core mode. Can’t be that bad, right? I soldiered through Zealot mode no problem, what more can the game throw at me? How about beating the game on Hard but with only 3 saves to get you through the whole 6+ hour runtime of the game? So not only do you have to plan out the points you save ahead of time, but if you reach that point and your health/ammo are low? Too bad, you’re screwed. Oh, you died? Say good bye to an hour and a half of gameplay! And don’t even think about having a life, you have to dedicate it to this game solely if you want to earn this trophy. Seriously, I just don’t have the time to throw myself into this mode and deal with the frustration that it demands just to get a digital trophy. The fact that even 6% of players have beaten the game on this difficulty is insane to me.
  • Final Boss Fight… Again – Once again the final boss fight in a Dead Space game is questionable. After blasting through hordes of enemies and barely surviving the regenerating ubermorph, Isaac reaches the marker and gets dragged into a hallucination where he has to fight off Nicole, necromorphs and damage the marker. Do this three times and convergence is stopped… because the marker’s creator has to be absorbed in order for it to work? What? The marker is destroyed because he managed to literally overcome his grief? It’s better than the original Dead Space‘s ending and it makes sense thematically, but it’s a weird-ass way to defeat the final boss for an otherwise straightforward game like this and just makes the lore around markers convoluted… Okay, that’s a bit of a nit-picky hate, but seriously, this game is just so damn good.

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Love/Hate: Dead Space – Extraction

For the second entry in the Dead Space Love/Hate series, we have Dead Space: Extraction, the shockingly good rail shooter spinoff for the Wii… like, just typing that out makes it even more surprising that this game is as good as it is. I played this when it was ported to the PS3 alongside Dead Space 2 and had a great time with it. That said, for everything I love there are always things to hate – let’s take a look at the breakdown.

Love

  • Wisely Translates Dead Space to Motion Controls – The Wii had a terrible track record of nigh-unplayable ports which were marred from the system’s underpowered specs and reliance on motion controls. Rather than try to put a lesser version of the original game onto the Wii, the devs at Visceral Games wisely chose to make a brand new experience from the ground up. This allows Extraction to provide a fun experience well worth checking out for fans of the first game and exist on its own merits at the same time. It also manages to keep the horror elements mostly intact, providing plenty of build-up before confrontations and making running out of ammo terrifying as you get swarmed by necromorphs.
  • Compelling Side-Story – Prequels and side-stories often struggle to justify themselves in video games, but Extraction has the benefit of being legitimately interesting. Dead Space‘s world was designed to be expanded upon and the events that took place on Aegis VII were only hinted at in the first game. The comics and movies cover this ground as well, but Extraction is the most comprehensive and engrossing version of what happened on Aegis VII and the Ishimura. As a result, it’s well worth playing for fans of the series and doesn’t suffer from demystifying the events that led up to Dead Space. It also helps that the mainline Dead Space games always happen long after or in the middle of necromorph outbreaks, so seeing one from the very beginning provides a very different and just as compelling experience.
  • Action Reloads – In addition to all its changes as a result of adapting to the Wii’s hardware, Extraction introduces action reloads to the series. It’s a small change but it is so satisfying to pull these off consistently (that sound effect is pure bliss) and necessary to survive the swarms of enemies that come at you. Fumbling an action reload can be a horror unto itself as you’re stuck reloading those extra moments while a necromorph is bearing down on you.
  • Enjoyable Characters – Extraction spends a lot of time just letting you get to know the characters and having them interact with one another. They’re all fairly stock characters (Nathan’s a detective, Gabe’s a soldier, Lexine is the over-her-head civilian and Warren’s the executive company man), but the amount of time we get to spend with everyone makes them grow on you and there are a few twists and turns as it goes along. Lexine in particular has a fascinating secret which I wish would have been explored further in Dead Space 3 or 4.

Mixed

  • Pacing – Rail shooters tend to conjure up images of endless bullet-fests, but Extraction tends to take its time between confrontations, building up the characters, atmosphere and tension instead. While this ultimately makes for a better experience in my opinion, it’s undeniable that you’re going to need patience because Extraction can take a long time to get from place to place, moreso than any of the mainline games in the series.
  • Voice Acting is Spotty – As much as I enjoy the characters and interactions in this game, and as great as Laura Pyper’s Irish accent is, it’s hard to deny that the voice acting is questionable at times. Whether it’s weird delivery or bad acting, every single main character suffers from this at some point. It’s not constant and it’s not a crippling issue, but it does make the game’s emphasis on the characters awkward at times.

Hate

  • Poor Graphics – I get that Extraction is a Wii game so Visceral had to work with what they could, but the game still looks really rough, especially in the HD PS3 port. I think that a lot of the game’s assets are recycled from Dead Space, but scaled down so that we’re stuck with really muddy textures. The bodies of dead necromorphs also immediately dissolve, which I can only imagine is related to the Wii’s underpowered tech. That said, at least the framerate is silky smooth in the PS3 port (can’t confirm whether this carries over to the Wii version), which is important since the whole game is in first person with a lot of head-bobbing. A sub-60fps would be nigh unplayable so while the graphics are bad at least the game’s still very enjoyable in spite of this.
  • Seriously, Another Asteroid Shooting Gallery? – One of the universal complaints about the first Dead Space is that the section where Isaac has to man a cannon and shoot asteroids is the worst part of the game. So what do they do in Extraction? Why, they added another shooting gallery as you approach the Ishimura! It’s just as bad as it was in Dead Space and judging the distances of incoming projectiles is unforgiving.
  • The Objectification of Lexine – Like I said earlier, Lexine is probably the most fascinating character in the game. Everyone else is an archetype, but she gets at least a bit more potential in that she’s a civilian who’s caught up in all of this mess and has to make the most of it. The fact that she’s immune to the Marker signal and causes the people around her to be as well also makes her potentially the most important character in all of the Dead Space universe, brimming with story potential. So what does Extraction do with her? Well, within a minute of the game starting she’s getting overt sex comments from her boyfriend. That’s innocuous enough, but then it’s implied that Nathan McNeil keeps her around because he wants to seduce her, he stares at her ass at one point, he stares at her during one scene when she’s gratuitously naked and she needs to be rescued on several occasions. When you add it all up, Lexine’s portrayal turns her into a damsel and sex object. None of the other characters get this sort of treatment and it sucks.
  • Rushed Ending – The ending of Extraction is strangely rushed and sudden. After the survivors escape the Ishimura, suddenly the screen fades to a necromorph POV which attacks Lexine… and that’s it. Did a necromorph sneak on board the ship? Did they survive? It’s so ambiguous that Word of God had to step in and reveal that this necromorph was Nathan McNeil, who somehow got infected and transformed on the ship as they got away. We now know that Gabe and Lexine survived, but there’s no way to know this based on the way Extraction ends.
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Love/Hate: Dead Space

Dead Space is one of my favourite video game franchises. It’s like it’s made to appeal to me – horror, sci-fi and twisted monsters intent on tearing you apart. During the series’ hey-day, I enthusiastically consumed every bit of Dead Space media I could get my hands on. The franchise has had its ups and downs, which makes it ripe for a Love/Hate series! Naturally, we’ll start at the beginning with 2008’s Dead Space

Love

  • Solid Gameplay – Dead Space was conceptualized as a spiritual successor to Resident Evil 4 and builds on that game’s foundation in some fantastic ways. For a long time people said that the restrictive controls in early survival horror games were a key part of the experience. Dead Space showed that you could have free movement and enjoyable gameplay and still have a terrifying game experience. More specifically:
    • Strategic dismemberment makes combat far more interesting than just making enemies into bullet sponges. Blowing limbs off also dynamically changes necromorph attacks – cut out their legs and they’ll crawl after you, blow off their head and they’ll flail wildly, take off an arm and they’ll have one less way to kill you, etc. Some enemies are also only vulnerable to specific attacks so it keeps combat constantly engaging.
    • Stasis and kinesis are also great tools for combat, light puzzle-solving and environmental traversal. Stasis in particular is essential to survive the swarms of enemies you’ll face in the late game and kinesis can be the difference between life and death when ammo gets scarce.
    • Another thing that I really appreciate about Dead Space‘s design is that ammo and health pickups are wisely restricted to keep you desperate, especially in the late game. I can still remember getting into combat encounters where I had a handful of ammo and had to actively strategize how to get through the next encounter alive, it makes for intense, thrilling gameplay.
  • Immersive In-Universe HUD – One of the coolest design aspects of Dead Space is that it doesn’t have a traditional HUD showing health, ammo, etc. Instead, these are all built into Isaac’s outfit (RIG) and weapons. Unlike some other games at the time which tried to cut down on HUD elements (such as Splinter Cell: Double Agent, which removed the visibility meter for a binary red light/green light), the information visible to the player isn’t inadequate either, everything they would need to know is clearly communicated and visible at a glance.
  • Sound Design – One aspect in which the Dead Space series was universally commended on was its sound design. From the blasts of your weapons, to the screeches and roars of the necromorphs (I can still remember being freaked out the first time I heard a Divider), to the sounds of things scuttling around out of sight, it all helps to create a pervasive horror atmosphere for the game. The way that sound is almost entirely absent during sections that take place in space are particularly notable, featuring just dull thuds which makes these areas an eerie highlight.
  • The Horror – Dead Space‘s horror takes elements of the Resident Evil games and mixes them in with influences from The Thing, Alien, Event Horizon and zombie movies to give us an enticing cocktail. You’re just constantly on edge, unsure where or when danger is going to come at you. It even trains you over time – is something going to come out of that air vent? Is that slasher just playing dead (you quickly learn to stomp every corpse, even human ones, just to be safe)? When the door opens is there going to be something on the other side? The resource management I’ve previously mentioned also helps here, keeping every single encounter tense and ensuring that you can never let your guard down.
  • Enemy Variety – Dead Space features fifteen unique forms of necromorphs, enhanced forms of most of these, plus three boss monsters, all presenting unique threats and requiring different methods to dispatch them. This variety helps ensure that Dead Space‘s combat encounters never get old as the enemies and environments can be mixed and matched to present unique challenges. Particular highlights include the Pregnants, whose bloated chests will spew out several small enemies if shot, Leapers (who never fail to stress me out) and the shriek-inducing Twitchers. Also worth mentioning is The Hunter, a necromorph that rapidly regrows its limbs and stalks you as you try to complete your objectives during two parts of the game. The first time you encounter it, you have to use kinesis to create a path to escape as it’s bearing down on you – I can still remember being freaked out!
  • Organic World Building – Like many games of its time, Dead Space populates its environment with audio logs and diary entries, filling out its world without forcing the player to sit through mandatory exposition dumps. Some of these logs are quite affecting – as you travel through the game you’ll find snippets from Jacob Temple and Elizabeth Cross, another couple who are fighting to reunite with one another. When you finally catch up with them, it makes for a tragic moment because you’ve invested so much in their journey and serves to make the psychotic Dr. Mercer that much more of a villain. In addition, the game imparts details about fictional concepts like planet cracking, the state of the galaxy and the Church of Unitology organically, giving us a sense of what the Dead Space universe is like without having to show us directly.
  • The Ishimura Layout – The Ishimura makes for a claustrophobic and cramped locale to try to survive on. It feels appropriately old, grimy and lived-in and each deck has its own unique feel to it. It’s a fun, varied environment that helps drive most of the game’s terrors.
  • Brutal Death Sequences – No one wants to die in a video game, but if it’s gonna happen then at least you can revel in the morbid satisfaction that is Dead Space‘s BRUTAL death sequences. Isaac gets chopped to bits in various manners that really drive home how relentless and merciless the necromorphs are.

Mixed

  • The Story is Functional But Unremarkable – The story in Dead Space is pretty simple – bad stuff happening in space, Isaac volunteers to man the rescue mission because his girlfriend is caught up in the middle of it all. From there you spend the next several hours surviving and uncovering exactly what happened, but a lot of it ultimately boils down to bitch work: something bad happens on the ship, so Isaac gets told to go fix it. It works and it helps drive the game forward, but it’s not super compelling on its own. There’s a twist towards the end that is also not particularly satisfying because the red herring is really obvious.
  • Oxygen Meter is Kind of Pointless – Isaac has a limited reserve of oxygen when entering the vacuum of space. Initially this creates some additional anxiety and you can even upgrade your RIG to have a greater reserve… however, this is a waste of a power node. You realize pretty quickly that oxygen is more of a threat than a real problem – after all, the developers had to design all vacuum sections to be completed without requiring upgrades. In addition, there are O2 refill stations and, if that wasn’t enough, portable air canisters. Seriously, I don’t think I’ve ever died from lack of O2, nor have I bothered to waste my valuable power nodes on upgrading my supply. Spend that shit on stasis or your guns.
  • Zero G Sections Are Clunky – While functional at the time, movement in the zero gravity segments of the game is pretty stiff. Basically, you have to aim at platforms and press a button, which will launch Isaac towards it automatically. Again, this works, but compared to later games in the series, it’s far less enjoyable to move around in zero G.

Hate

  • Situational Weapons – There are seven weapons in Dead Space, each with a primary and alternate fire mode… and some of these are just crap. The flamethrower in particular is almost universally acknowledged to be dogshit in nearly every situation, especially when its jobs could easily be done with a less situational weapon. To add insult to injury, it can’t even be used in a vacuum in this game and can’t even hit most of the bosses at all! The Pulse Rifle and Ripper are also quite weak without significant investment in upgrades. I also never liked the Force Gun, it’s is only really good for knocking back enemies, but I’d rather just kill them outright. Personally, I tend to stick with the Plasma Cutter as my mainstay, Line Gun for heavier targets, then maybe the Pulse Rifle, Ripper or Contact Beam for my last two slots, depending on what I need at the time.
  • Silent Isaac – The sequels made Isaac’s “silent protagonist” turn in Dead Space worse, but even at the time this was a dated element of the game. While Isaac does manage to show a bit of personality just through his actions, it really limits how engaging he can be, in favour of being a blank slate for the player to project on. Even then, it’s just plain weird that he’s not talking to people who are talking to him or reacting to all the horrors going on. Like, he’s not gonna say anything about the monsters or the people committing suicide in front of him…?
  • Final Boss is Disappointing – After hours of tense horror, the final boss fight suddenly turns Dead Space into an action spectacle. It goes against the whole point of the game and doesn’t provide much of a challenge for that matter. I feel like the regenerating Hunter provided a better template for how to make a horrifying boss, but the Hive Mind makes for a disappointing finale.
  • DLC – Being a PS3/Xbox 360 game, Dead Space comes with obligatory DLC in the form of reskinned costumes and weapon skin packs. The costumes that give you in-game effects that shake up the game slightly, but there really isn’t much to them and they don’t change the game enough to be worth it in my opinion. Effectively, it’s DLC for the sake of DLC.
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Freddy vs Jason vs Michael vs Leatherface: The Ultimate Countdown! (#10-01)

We’re finally here! We’ve whittled down the Halloween, Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchises to the ten best films. Which one will come out on top? Read on to find out…

10) Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998)
After so many awful sequels, it’s refreshing that we finally got a worthy successor to the original Halloween. While the other sequels tried to come up with ever more convoluted means to continue the storyline and Michael’s killing sprees, H20 takes things back to the most logical jumping-off point and deals with how Laurie’s life was impacted by the events of that Halloween night twenty years ago (acting as a sequel to only the first two Halloween films and ignoring the rest). In that time Laurie has faked her own death, moved across the country to California, had a son and is now a teacher at a private school, but she hasn’t been able to confront the trauma of what happened 20 years ago. The premise alone puts H20 well ahead of other sequels in this franchise because it actually has some things to say about fear and trauma and how it can ruin not only your life but the lives of those around you if you don’t confront it. Luckily for Laurie, Michael Myers manages to figure out where she’s living and pencils in an exposure therapy session for that Halloween evening…

H20 has been compared to Scream many times, although I feel like the comparisons make you expect a far more referential film than what we got (it very much lacks the meta elements which basically defined the Scream franchise… although it does have some unexpected meta elements like Janet Leigh acting as Laurie Strode’s maternal proxy). I mean, sure, the film very clearly exists in the post-Scream landscape with characters who aren’t complete idiots. Just compare H20 to Halloween 6, which had come out only three years earlier – that film felt like a late 80s slasher, with its bloated mythology, idiotic teen cast and over the top gore, reeking of a tired genre content to just coast off of the lowest common denominator. In contrast, H20 is written in a fairly clever and fun manner, ditching a reliance on lazy tropes and with no one being truly stupid. It actually takes its time to establish the characters and setting before setting loose. After a trio of early kills, Michael takes almost an hour to really get into his murder spree, similar to the original film, which gives us time to get to know the victims on the chopping block. That said, this is very much Jamie Lee Curtis’ movie, as Laurie Strode is by far the most compelling character (good try though, Josh Hartnett). Seeing her confront her fears and then beat the tar out of Michael Myers is quite entertaining and a satisfying arc for the film.

However, I can’t be entirely positive about this film. For one thing, the movie is very heavily relying on your previous knowledge of Michael Myers for his character to be in any way compelling. It’s not like the original Halloween where we get to meet Laurie and see Michael stalking her menacingly the entire time, here Laurie gets most of the focus and then Michael just kind of shows up momentarily on occasion. Hell, even when he does show up, he doesn’t even kill anyone, despite having two different occasions to do so. I kind of like the restraint, but again if you didn’t come in knowing Michael would probably usually kill these people then it just makes him look like less of a threat. I think that they just could have done more to re-establish him in this film, especially considering that it wiped several sequels off the slate. However, the issues with Michael are nothing compared to the ending. Like, I’d knock a whole point off this movie’s score for the crappy ending. There’s a certain satisfaction to having Laurie kill off Michael Myers definitively, but even if you didn’t know about the pre-planned retcon this ending was preparing for the next film in the franchise, it’s still insane. So Laurie kidnaps Michael in an ambulance at gun point, drives like a maniac, runs him over, rolls down a cliff side (and gets herself ejected from the ambulance in the process, unscathed), pins Michael to a tree and then chops his head off! Like… just let her kill him in the school! Dammit, LL Cool J! Ugh, I just hated how ridiculous that ending got, it felt like an escalation that went way too far, and knowing that it was to bake in a potential sequel in incredibly convoluted fashion just makes it worse.

Those gripes aside though, H20 was really enjoyable… and thank God because the Halloween franchise was a real slog to get through for this count-down. It’s really no wonder that they went back to H20‘s ideas for another go-around in 2018. Oh, speaking of which…

9) Halloween (2018)
At first glance, Halloween 2018 (the third freaking movie in this franchise with the same title) is basically just a redo of H20 – after all, it features Laurie Strode once again dealing with PTSD, a crumbling family structure and fighting back against Michael Myers. However, there are some fundamental differences that make this a different story at its core. First of all, in H20 Laurie was running away and hiding from her past because she can’t bring herself to confront it and this fear is suffocating her relationship with her son. In Halloween 2018, Laurie is obsessed with the events of the original film and has been preparing for, what is in her mind, an inevitable final confrontation with Michael Myers, to the detriment of her family’s well-being. Another fundamental weak point of H20 is that Michael Myers is just kind of… there. It relies very heavily on you already being invested in the character going in, but it doesn’t really do much on its own to sell him as an intimidating foe. However, Halloween 2018 immediately sets up Michael Myers as this mysterious, inhuman, almost otherworldly monster in the shape of a man even before he starts going on a killing spree. Then, when he does escape, his threat is established when he mercilessly kills a freaking child, which actually makes later moments even more tense such as when he passes by a crib with a crying baby.

Perhaps what makes Halloween 2018 stand out so much though is that it is easily one of the best directed and edited films on this entire countdown. Directed by David Gordon Green, perhaps best known for directing the freaking Pineapple Express of all things, crafts some of the best moments in the entire franchise. The extended one-take which sees Michael make his way through Haddonfield on his random murder spree is expertly crafted, while other very tense moments include a father and son coming across the crashed sanitarium bus and the truck rest stop attack. It’s not every year that you can say that the editing in a slasher sequel puts Oscar nominees from the same year to shame, but that’s how good Halloween 2018 is.

The main issue with Halloween 2018 though is the writing, which is a bit of a mixed bag. When it comes down to it all, the film is basically just standard, predictable slasher movie sequel fare. Sure, the execution is much better than your average slasher sequel, but there are still issues. The middle of the film in particular feels like it’s about one draft away from being perfect, because there’s all sorts of weird issues. For example, we get a random subplot where Allyson’s boyfriend cheats on her, which ends up having pretty much no purpose and goes absolutely nowhere. The momentum in this section also starts to stagnate – Laurie keeps talking about how Michael is going to be coming after their family and tries to secure them all, but he’s really just killing randomly. It’s pure coincidence that Michael happens to come across Allyson, and then pure convenience when Dr. Sartain ends up transporting him to Laurie’s house for the final showdown. And then Allyson spends nearly the entire last act running through the woods and only ends up putting herself in danger stupidly by blundering into Laurie’s house when Michael is on the loose. Ultimately, it wasn’t really worth it for Laurie to ruin her family’s life due to her paranoia, because if she had just moved out of Haddonfield then they probably wouldn’t have been in any danger anyway because Michael sure as hell did not seem to care about seeking her out.

That said, the writing of Halloween 2018 still does some great things. In particular, the victims in this film are almost always more than just pure cannon fodder. On several occasions we’ll get to meet a group of characters right before they get into danger, and they’re actually written in a way that makes them interesting, which makes it hurt a lot more when they meet their grisly demise. Even the assholish characters, like the pair of podcasters who are investigating Michael’s history or Allyson’s friend who tries to come onto her after her boyfriend cheats on her, are sympathetic enough that we don’t really want to see them die. In any other slasher sequel, they would have just been written as cartoonish dickheads, but here they’re actual people and it really sucks when Michael kills them. The last act is also pretty great on the whole as Laurie and Michael go head-to-head in a very Skyfall-esque sequence. Seeing Laurie clearing her house room by room and then locking them down afterwards is pretty awesome, showing off how capable and prepared she is. Like, why can’t we get more badass final girls like this? Horror movies seem to think that they need to have stupid, incompetent final girls who are powerless against the villain, but seeing badass Laurie Strode trading blows with Michael and still getting overcome regardless is way more tense in my opinion. It makes for an incredibly satisfying conclusion to the film, moreso than H20‘s ending as far as I’m concerned. That said, we do know that we have two more Halloween films coming in this new continuity, so hopefully they don’t completely invalidate the successes of this newest sequel.

8) Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)
There’s nothing truly revolutionary about Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter – after all, it’s yet another movie that boils down to “Jason murders horny teens”. However, The Final Chapter is easily the best rendition of that formula. Part of what makes it so much better than its predecessors is that it doesn’t waste any time with lulling the audience into boredom in order to get a fake-out or cheap scare, most of the action comes hard and fast. Even the obligatory opening recap is a lean three minutes and manages to cover all of the events of the previous films quite well! The Final Chapter also has some of the most entertaining victims in the entire franchise (most famously, an awkward Crispin Glover). Sure, they’re almost all dickheads, but they’re actually pretty enjoyable to watch, they don’t make you want to pull your hair out when they’re on screen like Shelly from Part III does. What also helps to set it apart is that the dickhead teens aren’t the main characters, it’s the Jarvis family living next door. This addition allows The Final Chapter to follow the usual formula of offing all the cannon fodder and then move over to the Jarvis’ family for further carnage, and features some clever writing to allow Trish and Tommy Jarvis to survive their night of terror. As the title implies, The Final Chapter was indeed intended to be the last Friday the 13th film, and it’s clear that the filmmakers really were trying their absolute best to make this the most definitive film in the franchise rather than another cheap follow-up. They certainly succeeded, and many people will rightly say that it’s the best film in the entire franchise. However, there is one other Friday the 13th film which often is cited as the best, and for my tastes I have to give it the slight edge…

7) Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986)
A lot of people will debate whether Jason Lives or The Final Chapter are the best Friday the 13th movie, but for my part I have to give the slight edge to Jason Lives. While Part IV is essentially the best execution of the classic formula, Jason Lives reinvents the franchise to be just more lighthearted and a hell of a lot of fun. Sure, the previous Friday the 13th films had had some fun with their kill sequences, but they mostly aimed to be serious and scary. Jason Lives isn’t quite so concerned with that, instead making Jason’s murder spree as enjoyable as possible. It also resurrects Jason in such a cartoonish manner that you can’t help but smile in glee at this new, super-powered zombie Jason (in my opinion, the best version of Jason in the franchise).

Of course, it’s not just the fun times that make Jason Lives so good, because otherwise Jason X would be in this spot. No, Jason Lives also has a solid story revolving around Tommy Jarvis, back once again and more badass than ever, trying to take down Jason once and for all. Tommy also has a burgeoning romance with the sheriff’s daughter, which doesn’t please the sheriff too much when all of the murdering starts going down. It even manages to make Jason’s murder spree more tense than ever because this time there are actual kids at Camp Crystal Lake which the counsellors have to protect! It’s nothing mind-blowing, but Jason Lives is executed to such perfection and is so enjoyable that you can’t help but love it, especially considering that they managed to reinvent the franchise so well six movies in!

6) A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985)
I imagine that there are some people who are shocked that I’ve ranked Freddy’s Revenge so highly on this list, but I really enjoyed it. I know a lot of people dislike that it has very little to do with any of the other Nightmare films and doesn’t really follow their continuity (plus, y’know, some people are also just homophobes). Hell, in some ways I think that it manages to be more compelling than the original. Much of this comes down to a very well-written story centred on Jesse Walsh, a young man whose body is being taken over by Freddy Krueger. Pretty much all discussion on this film goes to how clearly gay it is, especially for a mid-80s film, so you can see how these themes about body and instances of body horror are really compelling. I feel like the addition of the character Lisa muddles this somewhat, since by the end Jesse seems to have settled into a relationship with her, despite the film heavily implying that he is much more interested in his friend, Grady. Regardless, it’s a much more thoughtful and interesting film than nearly any other slasher sequel and I kind of wish that more Nightmare films had followed its lead.

Freddy Krueger is also very different in this film. He still invades Jesse’s dreams, but he uses this as a means in which to take over Jesse’s body and force him to kill for him. This culminates in an unforgettable scene where Freddy literally bursts out of Jesse’s body, shredding his skin like a cocoon, akin to a werewolf transformation sequence. Freddy is also truly terrifying in this film, grim and dead serious. The film itself can be pretty weird at times though, such as when Freddy’s powers cause a parrot to explode, causing Jesse’s dad to inexplicably blame him for the strange happening. People like to cherry-pick that moment for being bonkers, but I view it as part of the gay themes, with his dad creating irrational explanations for Jesse’s changing behaviour in order to keep his own masculine view of his son intact. That said, there are some sequences in Freddy’s Revenge which do feel like they’re just padding for time (such as that parrot scene), which cause the film to feel a bit more bloated than the original, but don’t let that turn you away – Freddy’s Revenge is a great film in its own right, I loved that it was very unique without having to rehash the original Nightmare‘s formula all over again.

5) A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)
Dream Warriors feels like a truly blockbuster horror film, much like Aliens was the year before. In fact, Aliens is a great movie to compare Dream Warriors to: if the original Nightmare is Alien, then the Aliens-like Dream Warriors expands the scope of its universe, ups the stakes, pushes its characters further, and makes Freddy Krueger more grandiose than ever (in part due to some fantastic special effects). It does so by introducing a new heroine, Kris, a girl who has the power to pull other people into her dreams. It’s a bit of a strange set-up, but combined with returning heroine Nancy Thompson’s knowledge, the latest group of teens being targeted by Freddy are able to band together to try to fight back against their tormentor before he can kill them all.

Dream Warriors doesn’t waste too much time rehashing the same story as the original – the kids all know from the start that Freddy’s after them and they’re actively trying to avoid sleeping or at least put themselves on a watch to at least get some rest. The characters are actually pretty smart and well-written, which makes the fact that Freddy is able to still isolate and pick them off even scarier, which also shows off just how much power he has in the dream realm. This also makes the spectacular kill sequences even more impactful and memorable, because you don’t really want to see any of them die. Some of the deaths are just as iconic as the big kills from the original, such as the brutal sequence where Freddy pulls a guy’s tendons out to turn him into a human puppet, or when he comes out of a TV to ram a girl’s head into the screen.

As fun as Dream Warriors is though, it is also a really messy and inconsistent film. For all of the cool things it brings to the franchise, it also has some elements I really didn’t like. For example, each character brings along some sort of ill-defined “dream power”, which feels like it could probably have been expanded further. Like, Kincaid’s power is that he becomes strong, but… it’s a dream. Could he not theoretically do anything if he is in control of his own dreams? I get that they probably don’t want the Dream Warriors to be able to fight back too easily, but it feels like a pretty artificial limitation. Worst of all though is the addition of a dull subplot involving Freddy’s mother and Freddy’s bones needing to be consecrated in order to put him to rest once and for all. It just sucks and every time the film cuts away to this subplot it loses a lot of the energy it has built up. Still, it’s not enough to truly ruin the film, and Dream Warriors brings so much fun to the table that it feels like a true successor to the original Nightmare‘s legacy.

4) Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994)
People are probably going to be angry that I put this ahead of Dream Warriors, and I can understand that. After the disaster that was Freddy’s Dead, Freddy Krueger felt totally defanged, so Wes Craven came back to the franchise to bring true horror back to the character. New Nightmare isn’t following the slasher formula so much, instead it is more of a psychological and supernatural thriller, with the focus being put onto Heather Langenkamp (playing a fictionalized version of herself), with Freddy being mostly an unseen, menacing presence. The film is also very slow in the middle and could have done with some tightening up in its almost 2 hour runtime.

Wes Craven essentially tested out his idea of meta-horror here for the first time, which he would later go on to redefine the horror genre with in Scream. Most people say that Scream does so much better, but I think that New Nightmare is pretty damn close to its successor. The fact that it’s a sequel dealing with its franchise’s own legacy and how that impacts the people involved in constructing that legacy is fascinating and not the sort of thing that can be explored in a stand-alone film. That said, it can feel like Wes Craven’s being more than a little self-congratulatory at times (especially with his explanation of Freddy’s demonic origins), although thankfully it doesn’t get nearly as bad as, say, Lady in the Water. Add in a stand-out performance from Heather Langenkamp and her compelling relationship with her son and the cultural legacy of Freddy Krueger and you’ve got a socially-relevant horror film with actual things to say.

I will note though that it starts to crumble a bit by the end when the more familiar slasher antics start to trickle in and the new, more menacing Freddy starts acting silly. The effects when he’s defeated (…spoiler?) are also embarrassing to witness. Still, I have to give this the edge over the funner, but much more uneven, Dream Warriors.

3) Halloween (1978)
A lot of people would have put Halloween at the top of this list, but I can’t really justify that myself. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an undeniably good film with great direction from John Carpenter, an iconic soundtrack and a good lead performance from Jamie Lee Curtis. It’s such a simple film, especially considering how the slasher genre evolved in its wake – Michael Myers escapes from the sanitarium, comes back home to Haddonfield and then stalks and kills a group of babysitters on Halloween. Michael himself is very clearly intended to be as simple as possible. He doesn’t really have a motivation to kill or a personality to speak of, he’s just evil. That could come across as just lazy for most films, but Halloween manages to make it work so well in part because it absolutely commits to the idea. The way that the main characters are handled also helps to make Halloween what it is. We spend a lot of time getting to know Laurie Strode and her friends while Michael Myers stalks them for a very long time. This creates a tension which just continues to build and build as you’re left wondering when or if Michael is ever going to strike. Then, when he finally does, all hell truly breaks loose as Laurie and Michael end up in a terrifying pursuit, which is also helped by how capable Laurie is.

Unfortunately, most of Halloween‘s issues come down to how dated it can feel at times. For one thing, the slasher boom which it inspired can make it feel quaint and restrained in comparison (and hence the accusations that it’s a simple film). The fact that this film was so influential also makes Laurie look like an idiot in retrospective, since she keeps turning her back on Michael when she thinks he’s dead. In a post-Halloween world we all know that you make sure that the killer’s dead, but there’s no way that Laurie would have known that… it doesn’t make me think she’s any less of an idiot though when I see her do it twice in 2019 though. Still, Halloween builds tension expertly and that’s an element which can’t be taken away from it, no matter how much time passes.

2) A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
So many slasher movies tried to just get a slice of the popularity of Halloween, but A Nightmare on Elm Street surpassed them all by being incredibly creative. Rather than just have another killer on the loose, this killer stalks his victims in their dreams. It’s a pretty simple twist, but it adds a whole new dimension of terror, because not only do the characters now have to beware of a process which is just a part of everyday life, but it also allows the villain to break the usual laws of reality for some truly spectacular kills, not to mention scares such as the bathtub scene or Freddy’s silhouette coming out of the wall. It also establishes Freddy Krueger as an iconic, sadistic and truly evil villain for the ages. Heather Langenkamp’s Nancy Thompson is also one of the best final girls ever, very capable and clever, although Heather’s acting is a bit wonky throughout the film. The film also over-explains itself at times. For example, Nancy gets a phone call from a visibly broken phone, which some editor decided we needed to then needed to have confirmed was broken and then have Nancy say so as well for good measure… we get it, you didn’t need to reiterate the same thing over and over, movie. Really though, these are ultimately very minor gripes compared to the stupid, studio-mandated ending. I really hate the way this film ends, it was clearly done to get in “one last scare”, but it just shits all over the characters we’ve grown to care for during the film. Still, I can get over a crappy ending when the rest of the movie is so good. I love the inventiveness on display throughout A Nightmare on Elm Street, which easily establishes it as one of the greatest slasher flicks of all time (not to mention one of the best slasher franchises too, especially considering that four of the top ten films here are from the Nightmare franchise!). However, there can only be one film on the top of this list and I definitely know which slasher film I love the most…

1) The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
If you’ve read my retrospectives series, then you know that I love this movie. Kind of like Halloween, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is a very simple film – a bunch of teens keep wandering onto a farm where they come across a family of murderous cannibals. However, it’s not the plot which makes this film so good, it’s the fantastic direction, the beautiful cinematography, the unrelenting intensity, the unsettling atmosphere and surprisingly deep themes. Very few horror movies actually scare me in any way – in fact, I’d say that literally no other film in this entire countdown gets my blood pumping at all (it makes it pretty difficult at times to figure out if a film is actually scary to most people or not). However, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is so unsettling that I can’t help but feel something while watching it. And it does it all with minimal on-screen violence! There really wasn’t an other film in contention for this #1 spot as far as I’m concerned, it’s just that good.

…and that’s it for the countdown! We’re not quite done yet though – be sure to tune in again soon as we go through some of the best moments in these franchises!

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Freddy vs Jason vs Michael vs Leatherface: The Ultimate Countdown! (#20-11)

We’re getting close now! After whittling our way through a bunch of truly crappy slasher films, we’re finally into the top 20, where I actually start enjoying some of these films! What a nice change of pace! With that said, let’s get back to the countdown, starting with #20…

20) A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988)
In a lot of ways, The Dream Master is like a rehash of Dream Warriors, but to a much lesser effect. It makes the questionable decision of killing off all of the surviving dream warriors in the first act, replacing them all with a new protagonist, Alice, who inherits Kris’ powers… somehow. Somehow’s probably a good description for The Dream Master, because the film just doesn’t bother to make any sense. Freddy’s powers expand to whatever’s most convenient for the writers at the time, such as how he gets around being buried and consecrated by being resurrected… in a dream. Shouldn’t he have not even been able to affect dreams if he was gone anyway? Who cares! And don’t even get me started on the ridiculous way that Freddy is defeated, I’m not sure I could even explain what the hell that was all about if you held a gun to my head. Freddy himself is starting to turn into more and more of a toothless cartoon here, with the particular lowlight of having him use his razor glove as a shark fin and then putting on a pair of sunglasses on the beach. However, The Dream Master is a pretty fun film overall with some of the best kills in the franchise. Debbie’s kill in particular is incredible and shows off this film’s fantastic special effects as she’s turned into a bug. It’s certainly a huge step down for the Elm Street franchise after so many good films, but at least The Dream Master is entertaining enough that it’s watchable.

19) Freddy vs. Jason (2003)
I know a lot of people hate Freddy vs. Jason and I kind of get it. The characters all suck, Freddy doesn’t get to do much, the fights are cartoonish and making Jason afraid of water is ridiculous. However, after more than two decades of slasher sequels just doing the same thing over and over again, they have to do something interesting to actually stand out to me. After getting burnt out on so many bad slasher sequels, at least Freddy vs. Jason had two horror icons going head-to-head with one another in truly brutal fashion. And, unlike many “versus” films, the showdown in the title isn’t just a tease – Freddy and Jason really do get some great fights during the film, culminating in a brutal final battle to see who will come out on top. The whole premise of the film is pretty clever too, featuring a hell-bound Freddy manipulating Jason into murdering people in Springwood so that the murders will be attributed to Freddy, which will allow him to return to the dream realm and continue killing. Sure, most of the individual aspects of the film are pretty crappy, but ultimately the blockbuster premise of the film is enough to make it stand out compared to most other slashers.

18) Halloween (2007)
Halloween has always been a difficult film to follow up on. The original film is, by design, incredibly simple and it’s difficult (perhaps even impossible) to recapture that magic now. It is perhaps unsurprising then that Rob Zombie’s Halloween is notoriously divisive. The film tries to be both an origin story and a remake at the same time, to mixed results. I actually liked the origin story segment of the film, for the most part. It’s something different, more of a character study of a disturbed mind. I know I’ve slagged a lot of the Halloween films for complicating Michael Myers’ “pure evil” motives, but since this is a remake, not beholden to the rules of the original story, I can get on board with a more humanized, rage-fuelled, clinically psychopathic take on Michael Myers. Daeg Faerch’s performance as the burgeoning serial killer is fantastic.

However, the second half of the film is where it all begins to crumble. It takes about fifty minutes (in the Director’s Cut anyway) for Michael Myers to escape and for the narrative to finally get past what was only the first few minutes of the original film. From this point onwards, Rob Zombie’s Halloween is basically just a poor remake of the original. Worse, moving the story in this direction largely makes the more enjoyable origin section largely pointless. What purpose was there in humanizing Michael Myers, making him seem sympathetic and downtrodden, if you’re just going to shift the story’s perspective to Laurie and have him murder innocent people like in the original film? It feels like they felt like they had to hit all the iconic beats from the original film, but with the fundamental context of the villain changed, it doesn’t make sense. Given what we’ve seen of Michael up to this point, he kills in violent fits of rage when people antagonize him (Ronnie, Judith, the asshole nurse and the asshole redneck orderlies). He even has people that he likes and cares for (specifically, his mother and his baby sister). So why would he go on a murder spree against Laurie’s friends? Hell, for that matter, how does he even know that Laurie is his secret baby sister or that he would find her in Haddonfield? Again, this made sense in the original movie – Michael’s just evil, he goes back to Haddonfield because that’s where he started his killings, and he targets Laurie and her friends by pure happenstance when he decides to start stalking them. I also think that they should have just made this Michael use homemade masks during his killing spree. I get that the Michael Myers mask is iconic and so they probably felt beholden to using it, but I just didn’t get the connection that Michael would have with it where he’d come back to it seventeen years later.

Unfortunately, even if they had justified Michael’s actions a bit more, the remake section of the film is also just badly paced compared to the original. There isn’t much tension building – we get about fifteen minutes total to meet the characters and have Michael stalk them before he’s already murdering them (a process which, by itself, takes maybe ten or fifteen minutes before he’s just pursuing Laurie for the rest of the movie). It’s far less subtle and far less exciting as far as I’m concerned.

Rob Zombie’s artistic influence might also turn plenty of people off. His dialogue tends to be very crude, with at least half of the entire cast being either straight-up horny, or full-on sex perverts. And I do mean the entire cast – we’ve got Laurie and all her friends having or talking almost exclusively about sex (I get that they’re teenagers, but c’mon, they talk about other things), all of Michael’s family talk about sex (and his mom’s a freaking stripper for christsakes), Michael’s bully/first victim talks about how he’s going to bang Mikey’s mom, both of Laurie’s parent’s talking about getting it on, even the goddamn babysitting kids are speculating about who’s getting laid, etc. At a certain point it just makes your eyes roll when sex is all that anyone can talk about… which also leads us into the cynicism of this film. This movie is set in such a crapsack world and a lot of the sexual dialogue is also sexually violent (lots of instances of people saying that they’re going to rape someone) or sexual insults (lots of instances of people calling someone a “faggot”). Combine this with several characters who exist for no other reason than to be unbearable assholes and the movie can just get tiring at times. The Director’s Cut also has a scene where an asshole orderly and his asshole cousin straight-up rape a patient in front of Michael Myers. It’s an idiotic and disgusting scene, which only exists to add some more extreme content to the film and ultimately makes Michael’s escape from the sanitarium a matter of pure dumbassery.

There are some really good things about Rob Zombie’s Halloween though. The cast is absolutely stacked and they all do a fantastic job, especially Malcolm McDowell’s much more sympathetic Dr. Loomis. Michael Myers himself is extremely imposing, able to bash heavyweights like Danny Trejo and Ken Foree to death with his bare hands. Rob Zombie’s direction is also fairly good, although he does ape John Carpenter a bit too much in the second half. And, again, I quite like the origin segment, even if it is pointless when you factor in the rest of the film. It’s a shame that Halloween is such a mixed bag though. If it hadn’t felt quite so beholden to telling the same story as the original, we could have gotten something truly special.

17) The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is a truly bonkers sequel, which is incredible when you realize that it was also made by Tobe Hooper, director of the original film. I saw both films for the first time as part of a back-to-back double bill and it was quite the tonal whiplash to say the least. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 aims to be more of a horror comedy and while it’s questionable if it succeeded, the film is absolutely batshit crazy from start to finish. This is largely thanks to its colourful cast of characters, which features Dennis Hopper as an insane Texas ranger who wields an arsenal of chainsaws and screams “BRING IT DOWN!!!!” and “I am the lord of the harvest!” with such fervour that it becomes instantly memorable. Arguably even more memorable is Bill Moseley as Choptop, probably the most iconic character he’s ever played and one of the best characters in the entire franchise. Then there’s Leatherface, who suddenly finds himself in the throes of horniness as he has to decide between the saw and family. Hell, I haven’t even mentioned the final girl Stretch yet, who is probably the best protagonist in the Chainsaw franchise. Really, there’s a lot to love about The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, but the film is mostly an entertaining failure. It’s apparently supposed to be a satire of Reagan’s politics and yuppie culture, but I don’t think that these really came across that well, and more often I feel like I’m laughing at the film, rather than with it.

16) The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)
The Chainsaw remake is unquestionably a lesser film than the original, but on its own merits it is a decent remake which brings some interesting new ideas to the table. Probably the best addition is Sherrif Hoyt, a delightfully evil bastard who taunts the main characters and chews the scenery as only R. Lee Ermey can. Leatherface has also been given beefed up considerably, becoming more of a terrifying, somewhat more cunning hunter. The film is also nowhere near as violent and gory as its reputation would suggest, it actually feels quite restrained if you go back and watch it. In fact, I’d say that I was actually quite enjoying the Chainsaw remake for the first two thirds as it slowly builds up the tension and establishes the (somewhat mediocre) characters. Unfortunately, the film devolves into a series of tedious, loud chase sequences in its last third, which deflates much of the tension which it had been building up. It’s too bad really, the Chainsaw remake is decent enough, but it could have been legitimately good on its own merits if that last act had had a bit more substance to it.

15) Leatherface (2017)
Leatherface feels like it has the deck stacked against it – it’s a prequel that no one asked for, continuing the story of a Chainsaw sequel no one cares about and sheds pretty much everything we’ve come to expect from the franchise thus far. Despite that, on its own merits, Leatherface is a surprisingly solid film, although it would probably be better without its Chainsaw heritage. Instead of a slasher film, Leatherface is a roadtrip movie featuring a bunch of surprisingly fleshed-out, runaway psychos who are about ready to kill each other at any moment. The film also builds up a mystery about which character will grow up to be Leatherface, although the ultimate answer to this mystery is questionable and doesn’t jive with the character as established in the previous films. The film also builds on the Hartman/Sawyer feud established in Texas Chainsaw 3D, although it also reestablishes the Sawyers as straight-up evil bastards, so I’m still not sure what they were doing making them appear heroic in Texas Chainsaw 3D. Again, Leatherface is a reasonably good film, although its status as a Chainsaw prequel hurts it more than it helps.

14) Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981)
For the most part, Friday the 13th Part 2 is the same film as the first, only with a bag-headed Jason as the killer instead of his mom. Sure, he’s supposed to be dead and the film basically acknowledges it up front, but it’s not really something worth getting caught up on. There’s a never-ending debate about whether the original Friday the 13th or Part 2 is better and it ultimately comes down to personal taste, because they both have different strengths and weaknesses. On the plus side, I like how Part 2 handles Jason, only giving us bits and pieces of him at a time. We start out only seeing his feet, then later we see him but he’s got a bag on his head which keeps him mysterious. Then when he loses his bag, we still don’t get to see his unmasked face until the end. The film handles his shack in a similar manner, introducing it but making the contents a mystery until Ginny stumbles across it. The movie also has a couple of classic kills, with Mark’s machete to the face which causes his wheelchair to go careening down two flights of steps, and Jeff and Sandra getting speared together right after sex. Part 2 also has some characters that I actually like. Ginny’s a strong final girl, she’s smart and fairly clever and even fights back against Jason sometimes. Her boyfriend, Paul, is also an enjoyable character; he’s not super deep, but he’s responsible, likeable, capable and a very solid supporting character who you don’t want to see anything bad happen to. Speaking of which, Part 2 has two of the best “victim” characters in the whole franchise with Mark, a wheelchair-bound hunk, and Vickie, a cute girl who is really into Mark. Watching them interact is so cute and you instantly find yourself rooting for them both, which makes it heartbreaking when they end up on the chopping block and Jason starts hunting them down. Slasher movies, why can’t you give us more characters we actually care about instead of cannon fodder?

Speaking of which, the way that Mark and Vickie are handled shows that the whole idea that slasher movies are always exploitative and regressive when it comes to sex really didn’t have to be a thing. Vickie is very upfront that she wants to have sex with Mark and we, the audience, are totally rooting for it because they’re both into it and are respectful of each other. In a franchise (and genre for that matter) replete with casual sexual harassment for cheap titillation, it’s nice to see a healthy, happy relationship for once and I wish that more played out like this in slasher films… y’know, even if it ends with murder.

Which brings me to the negatives for Part 2. While I can praise some of the characters in this film, the rest of the main cast are not great. There’s Jeff and Sandra, who are basically just sexy, dull nobodies. I didn’t really get anything out of their characters, despite their considerable screentime. They’re both preferable to Ted though, this movie’s obligatory stupid prankster, but unlike the first film’s Ned, he survives the whole movie… ugh. Then there’s Terry and Scott, who both suuuuck. Scott spends the whole film sexually harassing Terry, staring at her ass, stealing her clothes so she has to chase him naked, etc. I hate this guy so much and you’d think that that would make me at least like Terry, but she’s handled so badly. She just runs around in short shorts and a crop top, which is basically treated as her character because she does absolutely nothing. Like, when her dog goes missing, she decides that the best thing to do to find it is to go skinny dipping so the audience can see her naked. I mean, clearly, that’s all she’s really here for. Probably the biggest issue with Part 2 though is the pacing. The film is shorter than the first film, but it feels sluggish in comparison. The first six and a half minutes are largely recycled footage recapping the ending of the first film. It’s annoying and unnecessarily long – they could have easily cut the entire thing, but if they felt like they had to include it then it could have been several minutes shorter. It’s clearly just padding for time. The film then wastes another five minutes following previous final girl Alice wandering around her house until Jason finally pops out and kills her. The film also takes forty-four minutes to really get going, more than ten minutes more than the original film and I’m not convinced that there was really a need for this additional setup time. Like I said though, your preference of the original or Part 2 is going to come down to taste. While I prefer some of the characters in Part 2, the original’s snappier pace and twist ending give it the edge in my opinion.

13) Friday the 13th (1980)
Considering that it’s just one of many Halloween rip-offs that kicked off the slasher boom of the early 80s, Friday the 13th is a pretty decent movie in its own right. I mean, it’s nothing particularly special – the story is super simple, the acting isn’t great, the characters are pretty flat and half of the kills are off-screen, but there’s something enjoyable about it regardless. One big asset in its favour is the soundtrack, which definitely elevates the film every moment it is used. It’s eerie when it needs to build tension and then explosive at all the right moments. I mean, sure, it’s also clearly derivative of Psycho‘s soundtrack, but at least they’re imitating the best, right? Another element of the film that has retroactively become even better is the mystery angle. At the onset, the audience doesn’t know who is killing the counsellors or why. Considering the legacy this franchise has developed, most new viewers are going to assume that it’s Jason, but this just makes the Pamela Voorhees reveal even better. Betsy Palmer kills it as an unhinged, murderous grandma, making what could have been a pretty lame reveal (especially considering that we haven’t even heard of this character before her reveal) into something special.

Considering that Friday the 13th was basically just a Halloween knock-off, it’s interesting to compare how the two contrast. For one thing, Friday the 13th is definitely a gorier film. It’s restrained by the standards of its franchise, but there are still some pretty gruesome shots of Kevin Bacon getting an arrow through the back of his throat, a girl getting a freaking axe embedded in her face and another getting pinned to a door by three arrows. Friday the 13th also tries to spend time letting us get to know its cast of characters, but it does so to much lesser effect. We get several scenes of the characters interacting, but we don’t really get to know much about their personalities, other than that Ned is a dickhead (who dies mercifully quickly). I mean, they’re all better than the typical slasher movie “cannon fodder” who are introduced and then die immediately, but not even final girl Alice feels like a fleshed out character. The other thing that Friday the 13th unsuccessfully tries to emulate from Halloween is tension-building. Someone must have seen all the scenes in Halloween where nothing of major import is happening and thought that this is how you build up for a good scare. However, in Halloween, these scenes of “nothing” usually remain interesting because there’s still a clear motive or goal for the character while they are performing their actions which keeps it interesting. In Friday the 13th, we get multiple scenes of Alice doing nothing particularly important, but it doesn’t really build to anything. For example, Annie is bored, so she plays guitar and then puts on fire wood… nothing happens. Later, she’s bored so she puts on a kettle and grabs some sugar… nothing happens. It just wastes time. Later we spend like three minutes watching Alice barricade a door and close windows while she tries to hide from Pamela. It’s ultimately just meant to be monotonous and lull you into boredom so that when Pamela throws a body through the window they can get a cheap scare. I mean, I guess it works, but it’s a pretty poor way to go about it. Still, I can’t really be too harsh, Friday the 13th is a fun, simple, classic 80s horror film which is still easily watchable today.

12) Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)
Season of the Witch is the infamous Halloween film which wasn’t about Michael Myers, a decision which earned it scorn for decades (although it has finally started to get a cult following in recent years). Setting that bone of contention aside, Season of the Witch is actually a really enjoyable film, enough to make one wish that the Halloween franchise hadn’t felt like it had to be tethered to Michael Myers. On its surface, the whole premise is certifiably insane – there’s an evil toy maker who wants to commit a mass sacrifice by convincing children all across America to buy his magical Halloween masks, which will be triggered en masse when a special broadcast is played. Oh and there are androids and a stolen piece of Stonehenge for good measure! But none of that really matters while you’re watching the film, because it’s all played straight and is made competently enough that you just go with it. There’s a very palpable 80s charm to this film, harkening back to the sci-fi/horror/mystery films which modern properties like Stranger Things and Super 8 try to recapture. Anchoring it all is leading man Tom Atkins, who plays the most 80s hero imaginable: a meatheaded, womanizing, chronic alcoholic, deadbeat dad who stumbles into a mystery after meeting a beautiful stranger whose father was killed by a shadowy conspiracy. Atkins’ character is ridiculous, but he’s played with enough charm that I at least found him funny, although I can certainly understand if someone couldn’t stand him (especially since the female lead, while initially intriguing and feisty, is quickly relegated to generic damsel in distress). The kills are also pretty brutal, including such highlights as a guy getting his head ripped right off and an annoying ginger kid’s head exploding into bugs and snakes! The music is also great, with a repeated jingle that will get stuck in your head forever after. It’s certainly something worth seeing, and is definitely better than most of the Halloween sequels that followed.

11) Jason X (2002)
Jason X is absurd and I fucking LOVE it. While there has always been an element of dark humour to the Friday the 13th films, they’re usually very self-serious (aside from scattered moments where Jason stabs someone in the eye with a honking bike horn, or bashes a face into a tree which leaves behind a smiley face, etc). This generally-dour attitude can make Friday the 13th films a bit of a slog to get through, but then along comes Jason X, which captures the spirit of this franchise far better than you would ever expect. Usually when a franchise heads into self-parody, it’s a disastrous move which kills the franchise’s main storyline (see: Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, Alien: Resurrection, etc). In the case of Jason X, we’re already ten films into this series and it actually provides a refreshing twist to make the film overtly tongue-in-cheek. The sci-fi setting helps this immensely, as having Jason running around on a space ship gives us all sorts of creative new opportunities, from healing nanomachines to holodecks. It also makes him even more intimidating, because guns are not in short supply here. Jason gets pumped full of bullets, but they barely phase him, which is far more frightening to me than just having all his victims be too feeble to fight back.

Jason X also benefits from the fact that it plays out more like an Alien movie than it does a Friday the 13th film. In a Friday the 13th movie, usually the big cast of characters split up to do their own thing and then get killed one-by-one. In an Alien movie, the cast generally sticks together while the monster hunts them down one-by-one. It’s a seemingly-subtle change, but it makes a huge difference. Instead of having cannon fodder characters who we only see in once or twice before they get killed off, we get cannon fodder characters who actually get time to make an impression as the cast quickly gets whittled down. None of the characters are fleshed out or deep, but in a regular Friday the 13th film, obvious victim characters like Crutch, Waylander or Janessa would not make any sort of impression. However, since they get time to interact with the group of survivors and actually get something of a personality, I can’t help but feel bad for them when their inevitable demise comes. There aren’t really any unbearable, cartoonish asshole characters either – sure, Professor Lowe is a sleazeball, but he’s actually fun to watch. I’ll actually go so far as to say that Jason X has the single best performance in the franchise (outside of the actors playing Jason anyway, they’ve always done a great job), courtesy of Lisa Ryder’s android character Kay-Em 14. The moment she comes onto the screen, you can tell that she’s an android without having to be told – the way she moves and the way she talks is subtly mechanical, but it contrasts enough with the more natural actions of the human characters that it’s clear. She also gets to take a level in badass near the end of the film and is in general such a pleasant and helpful character that you can’t help but love her. Not only do we get one standout character, but Jason X also features the total badass Sgt. Brodski, a regular soldier who goes toe-to-toe with Jason on multiple occasions and manages to survive each time. Again, he’s not particularly deep, but he’s played with such gusto by Peter Mensah and is so unkillable that you just want to cheer whenever he’s on-screen.

In case it wasn’t obvious already, Jason X is a hell of a lot of fun. For one thing, it has what is considered one of the best kills in the franchise with the liquid nitrogen kill, plus plenty of other awesome kills including a guy getting thrown onto a giant corkscrew (and then spinning around due to gravity, nice!), Jason breaking another guy’s back over his knee, or Kay-Em 14 blowing Jason to bits with a grenade launcher. The film’s tongue-in-cheek tone is also just hilarious. We get moments such as Jason managing to resurrect himself in the film because he literally senses horny teenagers having sex nearby and he is not going to let that shit go down on his watch! I also love when Uber Jason gets drawn into a VR simulation where he beats a ditzy counsellor inside a sleeping bag to death with another ditzy counsellor in a sleeping bag (complete with goofy squeals of “Ow!” every time he lands a hit). There are also several funny one-liners. Brodski acts like a total badass when he gets skewered by Jason for the first time, saying “Gonna take more than a poke in the ribs to put this old dog down!” Jason then immediately follows that up with a machete to the gut, to which Brodski says “…Yeah, that outta do it.” The line delivery is so funny, but the crowning moment has to be when Professor Lowe tries to defeat Jason with with his Charisma stat. Suffice to say, “Guys, it’s okay, he just wanted his machete back!” might be my favourite moment in the whole film. Even the filmmaking itself is funny – as soon as the final girl realizes that Jason is on board the ship, she demands to see him. Professor Lowe says that he’s definitely dead and the incredulous heroine says “Show me”. It then immediately cuts to them cleaning up the body of the liquid nitrogen kill while the Professor squirms about this predicament. It’s not only a funny moment, but it is also very efficient filmmaking which keeps the pace moving at a snappy rate.

I love Jason X, it tickles me in all the right ways. It is undeniably a dumb film with poor character writing, terrible special effects and lacking in any real originality, but goddamn if it isn’t a good time. Hell, I enjoy this movie so much that I’d say Jason X is probably my favourite Friday the 13th film in the whole franchise. I wouldn’t say that it’s necessarily the best, highest-quality entry in the franchise by any means, but it is my favourite to watch.

…and that’s all for this entry. Be sure to tune in again soon as we finally count down the top 10 best movies in these franchises. Which movie is going to take the top spot?

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Freddy vs Jason vs Michael vs Leatherface: The Ultimate Countdown! (#30-21)

Welcome back to the big slasher franchise countdown! After whittling our way through some of the worst films I’ve ever seen… well, we’re still working our way through a bunch of crappy films today. They’re just not as crappy as Freddy’s Dead, which is something to celebrate, I guess! So with that in mind, let’s look at the next batch of movies, starting with #30…

30) Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985)
After killing off Jason in Part IV, the producers wanted to carry on the franchise without him. If they had decided to do something other than replace him with a Jason knock-off this could have maybe worked, but since they didn’t, A New Beginning just feels like a filler entry in the franchise, not only because Jason would be back in the next film, but also because they clearly wanted to set-up Tommy Jarvis as the new killer going forward. On the one hand, it is really nice to see Tommy Jarvis return and lend some continuity to the film, but the way he is handled is very poor. He basically spends the whole movie on the verge of freaking out, in a medically-induced haze, snapping at people who act like a dick to him, or just entirely missing for large chunks of the runtime. Some of this comes down to the filmmakers trying to set up a mystery about who the killer is, similar to the first film, and Tommy Jarvis is one of the main red herrings. This mystery is actually better handled in some ways than it was in the original, since there are several potential killers, including a mysterious drifter, a guy who legitimately axe murders someone early in the film and even a potentially resurrected Jason Voorhees himself. However, the execution of this mystery is significantly worse than in the original film and is easily one of the main reasons why A New Beginning is so derided. This is a movie whose entire premise hinges on a kid named Joey who is so stupid and annoying (he literally has melted chocolate running down his lips) that a guy with rage issues axes him to death, causing Joey’s deadbeat dad to freak out and go on a murder spree. Why did he take it all out on his whole community instead of going after the guy who actually killed his son? Good question, who knows! We don’t even find out until the ending that the killer was a random paramedic named Roy Burns who had shown up momentarily at two earlier points in the film, at which point they just exposition dump his motives. However, the way that the film highlights the seemingly-pointless Roy Burns during these sequences pretty much gives away the twist if you’re only paying attention to the language of film, rather than a coherent narrative. I don’t think this twist was ever going to be satisfying, but it could have worked better if Roy Burns got unmasked just a little earlier and went on a rage-fuelled tangent about how he’s getting revenge for his son.

Even without the poor twist though, A New Beginning is just a really bad Friday the 13th movie. The characters are all nobodies. Several characters are introduced in the same scene where they are killed off with the audience having no reason to give a shit about them. The bulk of the characters only get two or three scenes, but absolutely no development beyond an outline of a character trait. Even final girl Pam doesn’t have much character to speak of and Tommy Jarvis himself gets no real development in the film. The only character who is at least fun to watch is the little black kid Reggie, who adds a bit of diversity to a franchise which had been overwhelmingly white until now. Oh, and then there are the fucking rednecks. Holy shit I loathe these cartoon bumpkins. They get more screentime than most of the other characters and every second of it makes me want to murder them myself. The dull characters combine with mediocre kills and the film’s unavoidable filler status to make A New Beginning a truly forgettable Friday the 13th film. I have to give them a bit of credit for trying to take the franchise in a different direction, but boy did it not work.

29) A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)
On the surface, the Elm Street remake seems to have some good things going for it, most obviously the casting of Jackie Earle Haley as Freddy Krueger. It’s also obvious that the screenwriters did some research before writing the film because they inject new ideas into the story based on the science of sleep deprivation and the history of the Satanic Panic (which was still unfolding during the time of the original Elm Street).

Unfortunately, the Elm Street remake ultimately feels like a needless disappointment. Many of the film’s beats are just copies of the original, but done to much lesser effect (eg, CGI Freddy coming out of the wall looks so much worse than the sheet effect in the original). As for the new ideas, while the sleep deprevation ideas come across more as a half-baked means of narrative convenience, it’s the Satanic Panic elements which really screw over this film. You could boil this movie’s story down to “What if Satanic Panic, but real?” The Elm Street remake teases the idea that Freddy was innocent of any wrongdoing and is getting revenge on the children for lying to their parents, which is exactly what happened in the real life events that this film is clearly inspired by. The main characters also have to uncover their “repressed memories” of the events, which is another key element of the Satanic Panic which was later proven false. However, in this film it turns out that Freddy Krueger was actually a pedophile, so it’s good that the parents all burned him alive without any real evidence and repressed memories are totally real, y’all! Considering that they were obviously cribbing from a real-life event which ruined several peoples’ lives despite them all being completely innocent and then turn the narrative around to them actually being guilty, it’s disappointing. That’s not even getting to the fact that turning Freddy into a straight-up pedophile and abuser completely sucks any sort of fun you might get out of the character. It makes him too real and too disgusting to enjoy. Why would any of us want to see Freddy continue to abuse victims whose lives he’s been ruining for their whole lives? I’m not sure where the line of no return is between this unacceptable Freddy and Freddy torturing teenagers by turning them into bugs and then squashing them, but the Elm Street remake is just joyless and it’s no wonder there wasn’t a sequel.

A unlikeable Freddy is not the end of the remake’s issues though either. The film features a pre-breakout Rooney Mara as Nancy, which would lead one to expect a strong performance from her. However, her performance is practically lifeless and the character is written as a boring, passive protagonist. This effectively torpedoes audience engagement on its own, even if Freddy was more likeable in his own right. It’s strange too because one of the elements of the film I do like is that the first half hour frames Kris as the protagonist – she figures out that the killer is in their nightmares, starts looking into the characters’ pasts and gets the most development. As a result, it’s actually pretty shocking when she’s the one who gets killed in the first act, in easily the most impactful death of the film. This could have actually been a great idea if Nancy had been set up better to pick up the torch from her, kind of like how Alice becomes the protagonist in The Dream Master. Ultimately, the film is also just not very fun or scary. Perhaps they were going for a more grounded take on Freddy, but he doesn’t really do anything creative with his victims’ dreams. He just shows them scenes from the past, and then when he’s stalking them the most elaborate thing he’ll do is teleport around. Add everything up and you have a remake which they just shouldn’t have bothered with, because there is basically nothing to recommend.

28) The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (2006)
As much as I detest this film, I have to give it one thing – it’s main goal is to be a brutal film and in this regard it succeeds in spades. With torture porn coming in vogue at the time, the producers at Platinum Dunes decided that they really had to up the ante compared to the Chainsaw remake, and you can’t deny that they created a very nasty film. If that’s all you’re looking for then you will probably enjoy The Beginning much more than I did, but if not then you’re in for a miserable time. For my own tastes, The Beginning is so bleak in its pointless torture of the characters that there’s nothing to enjoy about it. Even then, the film is a piss-poor excuse for a prequel, skimming over questions that no one really asked about the Chainsaw remake. Furthermore, the narrative also stumbles with a Vietnam war draft dodging subplot which goes nowhere and a final girl who keeps rolling nat 20s on her stealth checks until it becomes narratively convenient for her to finally get caught. Even R. Lee Ermey’s Sherrif Hoyt is much less fun to watch. Again, your feelings on this film will probably come down to taste, but for my own part, I don’t like it at all.

27) Texas Chainsaw 3D (2013)
Texas Chainsaw 3D has to be one of the stupidest horror sequels in the past decade, even if you ignore the fact that the characters are about 20 years too young based on the film’s timeline (this is because the film was supposed to be set in the 1990s, but was changed to present day at the last minute). Some of this probably comes down to the fact that this film was co-written by Adam Marcus, the guy who brought us Jason Goes to Hell. Here he once again tries to expand a franchise’s mythology, this time by bringing us a feud between two clans, the Sawyers and the Hartmans. The most baffling aspect of this is that the Sawyers, and Leatherface, get repositioned as freaking misunderstood heroes… who, y’know, we’ll just conveniently pretend don’t regularly engage in murder, torture and cannibalism. It’s especially ridiculous when their foes, the Hartmans, are essentially just guilty of police brutality, which is bad but nothing compared to the inhuman acts of the Sawyers. The 3D is also pretty bad, although very restrained compared to the likes of Friday the 13th: Part III and Freddy’s Dead. All that said, Texas Chainsaw 3D is at least never boring, which helps keep it out of the bottom tiers of this list, but good God does it ever insult your intelligence.

26) Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)
Halloween 4 is about as bog-standard as a Halloween sequel could be. Michael Myers escapes from the sanitarium on Halloween… again. He’s trying to kill his last remaining relative… again. Dr. Loomis and the sherrif are trying to hunt him down before he can kill… again. I mean, there are a few differences between this as the original Halloween, namely the introduction of child actress Danielle Harris’ new character, Jamie Lloyd, daughter of a now-deceased Laurie Strode. Having a child as one of the main characters provides a more vulnerable victim for Michael to hunt down, but she ultimately is little more than a burden for the other characters to protect. Speaking of other characters, the other female lead, Rachel, is pretty boring. She is constantly losing Jamie and the only other thing we get for her is that her boyfriend cheats on her because she has to babysit Jamie on Halloween… wow, she’s really good at picking them isn’t she? We also get Dr. Loomis back, but he’s much more restrained than he was in previous Halloween films. He’s still easily the most entertaining character, but compared to the first two films he’s definitely mellowed out.

Halloween 4 makes some weird and unfortunate decisions. For one thing, the tension that was so key to the first film is gone. Michael rarely stalks his victims now, he just shows up and kills them almost immediately. He also teleports around town whenever it’s narratively convenient, killing whole police stations and power plants in the process while somehow managing to keep track of where Jamie is at all times. Oh and Michael’s mask is so strange looking in this film – it’s almost pure white, the eyes are pure black and the texture is so smooth looking that the lighting can’t give it any sort of depth. It just looks strange, especially compared to all the other masks in this franchise. I know that the producers felt like they had to course-correct after the much-maligned Season of the Witch, but Halloween 4 ultimately is just a boring film which tries way too hard to recapture the original film’s spirit, while missing out on basically everything that made that film work.

25) Halloween II (1981)
Hoo boy, of all the franchises on this list the Halloween franchise saw the biggest dip in quality between its first and second films, in my opinion. This is probably a surprising placement for most, because it seems like a lot of people think Halloween II is pretty decent, and I kind of get the urge to defend it (especially considering the films that came after). However, I was actually really disappointed by Halloween II. You’d think that only a couple years removed from the original they’d be able to retain a spark of what made the first film work so well, but this film feels more akin to the Halloween slasher ripoffs than it does the original. There are scattered moments of brilliance, such as Michael Myers coming out of the shadows behind an unsuspecting victim and a couple solid kills, but most of this movie is incredibly unsatisfying. Part of the issue is that Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode is wasted in a comatose state for the first hour, and instead we have to watch a bunch of unlikeable and/or personality-less characters get picked off one-by-one with no real clear direction of what anyone is doing. When Laurie finally does start getting stalked by Michael, the tension and enjoyment does ratchet up considerably, but by then two thirds of the movie have passed. Donald Pleasance’s Dr. Loomis is also already going batshit crazy by this film, ranting like a madman, shooting out car windows and dragging people into danger, which makes for some fun distractions at least. Unfortunately, other than those little flashes of brilliance and a decent last act, most of Halloween II is really underwhelming and lacking in momentum.

24) A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989)
At its core, The Dream Child has a surprisingly compelling premise – protagonist Alice is pregnant and her unborn child has become connected to Freddy and is leeching off Alice’s dream powers. As a result, Freddy is able to use the unborn child to attack victims in the real world at any time, since the fetus is almost always dreaming. This means that Alice has to grapple with the idea of aborting her own child in order to stop Freddy from killing people, which is a fantastic set-up for some tense drama. Unfortunately, the execution of this premise is not great, since Alice immediately takes abortion off the table, so from there it just becomes a Nightmare film with increasingly-unclear rules. This is the entry in the Nightmare franchise where Freddy finally became a total cartoon character, quipping off cringy one-liners before, during and after every kill, and sometimes you’d just wish he’d shut up. The film also brings back the subplot about Freddy’s mother, which was already one of the worst parts about the previous Nightmare films, and is just as crappy here, only now with a hokey dream child thrown in for good measure. By this film, Alice has grown on me a fair bit, but the new characters are little more than walking victims, whose character traits only exist to give Freddy something to kill them with. Speaking of which, this movie has a surprisingly low number of kills and they’re a real mixed bag. The force-feeding death has some really terrible looking effects and the Freddy-cycle kill is okay but Freddy’s constant one-liners make it annoying, but the “Take on Me” inspired rotoscope kill is a true classic which shows off just how cool and creative Nightmare films can be… too bad this film is just a convoluted, nonsensical mess.

23) Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988)
The New Blood has a very strange premise which practically screams “franchise fatigue”, as the film suddenly throws a character with psychic powers into the mix. Maybe they figured “well, Jason’s a zombie now so any sort of magic is on the table”? It basically makes The New Blood into Carrie vs Jason and the last act when the two are finally allowed to go head-to-head has some of the most amazing sequences in any Friday the 13th movie. This is helped by the introduction of everyone’s favourite Jason Vorhees, Kane Hodder, who gets the absolute crap kicked out of him as final girl Tina throws Jason around, flings things, lights him on fire and even drops a house on him, complete with some of the best special effects in the whole franchise (and probably the best-looking Jason for that matter). However, the film comes with some MAJOR caveats. For one thing, the MPAA was cracking down hard on slasher films at this time and so most of the kills were censored heavily (although we did get the classic “sleeping bag kill”, which gets around needing to have any gore with how creatively brutal it is). I’d also argue that, if we’re just judging on the first hour of the film, this could have been the worst film in the entire Friday the 13th franchise. Other than Tina, the characters are forgettable or infuriatingly unlikeable (especially Dr. Crews), and it’s hard to care as Jason tears through a bunch of nobodies for the millionth time. Still, at least the last act is fun enough that it at somewhat makes up for the rest of the mess.

22) Friday the 13th (2009)
As far as horror remakes go, Friday the 13th is actually pretty decent. It’s faithful to the source material without being overly-reverential and essentially feels like an updated, more explicit entry in the franchise. And man, do I ever mean more explicit – not only is Jason just brutal in this film, but the nudity and sex scenes have been cranked up to borderline-porno levels. Jason himself has also gotten an interesting makeover, coming across here as an unstoppable survivalist who uses the environment against his victims and actually sets traps for them. He’s certainly a more cunning, fast and lethal foe than ever, making him easily the most intense and arguably the scariest Jason ever. However, the film commits the cardinal sin of most slashers, featuring unlikeable and uninteresting characters who exist for no reason but to get killed in various brutal ways. Chief among these is Trent, a cartoonish, irredeemable asshole who is apparently supposed to be Megan Fox’s ex-boyfriend from the start of Transformers (a bit of trivia I learned while researching my ranking of cinematic universes). The other characters are all just bog-standard at best, which keeps the film from being good in its own right, but by Friday standards, it’s solid.

21) Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1990)
Leatherface isn’t a great film by any stretch of the imagination, but I have to give it some credit for introducing some interesting new ideas to the Chainsaw franchise which have never really been capitalized upon. Foremost amongst these is the idea of making the Sawyers into active hunters, rather than having them scavenge and kill people who just happen to wander onto their property. It gives the film more of a The Hills Have Eyes vibe, which feels appropriate. As the film’s title suggests, Leatherface has also been beefed up, becoming a meaner, more sadistic killer who wields a massive, golden chainsaw at the end. The villainous characters are also quite colourful, from the creative Tink, to the charming Tex, to the disgusting pervert, Alfredo. The main couple, Ryan and Michelle, are unfortunately pretty underwhelming protagonists, but at least we get Ken Foree as Benny, a badass survivalist who goes toe-to-toe with the Sawyers and is an absolute joy to watch. Despite all these cool elements, the film is unable to execute on any of them to the fullest, which is in part due to studio interference and the MPAA mercilessly cutting down on all of the brutal deaths.

…and that’s all for this entry in the rankings. We’re getting closer to the top though! Be sure to tune in again soon though, as we go through #20-11!

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Freddy vs Jason vs Michael vs Leatherface: The Ultimate Countdown! (#39-31)

Happy Halloween everyone! This new series has been a long time coming. Since at least the Texas Chainsaw Massacre retrospective I’ve been considering ranking all of the films from the big four slasher franchises, Friday the 13th, Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Obviously, this is a mammoth undertaking – we’re talking 39 films here, about half of which I hadn’t seen before. I’ll be counting down 10 films in each post (well, 9 in this one post), releasing a new post every second day, until we reach Halloween, at which point I’ll have a special comparison of the best parts of each franchise. So, without further adieu, let’s get into the bottom of the barrel – there are some notoriously awful films in these franchises, so which ones are going to fight for the title of the worst? Read on to find out…

39) Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991)
I didn’t think that any slasher movie could be worse than Texs Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation, but then along comes Freddy’s Dead to prove me wrong. It’s a super close contest between the two, since they’re awful for different reasons, but I came to the decision that the problems with Freddy’s Dead put it on top of the shit pile. The plot is contrived and derivative, the characters suck, the acting is mostly trash, the special effects are amateur-level and the film ignores all of the rules that the series had established and just hopes that no one will notice. Worst of all, they’ve turned Freddy Krueger into such a cartoon that he is just annoying. Like, on more than one occasion I wished that he’d just shut up. It feels like New Line Cinema had turned Freddy into such an icon that they defanged him to try to get mass appeal. However, like most corporate mascots in the 90s, the result is a movie which is staggeringly uncool. This all culiminates in the most embarrassing slasher movie moment ever, when Freddy kills a victim in a video game with some of the stupidest dialogue, visuals and sound effects imaginable. Seriously, it has to be seen to be believed. Oh and lest we forget, the last act of the film is in gimmicky 3D, featuring the tadpole-like “Dream Demons” which just float around and laugh a lot.

I will give it some credit though – Carlos’ death scene is very solid. There’s some actual tension and horror in the scene. Hell, even cartoon Freddy strikes a perfect, dark comedic tone here, giving us at least one kill that’s entertaining. Too bad the rest of the film is total nonsensical garbage. What really puts it at the bottom of the pile though is that this film had an $11 million budget! Considering what we got on screen, that is totally insane. This film’s quality is even worse when you also consider that this was still a major franchise for New Line Cinema, although it also calls to mind such 90s misfires as Batman & Robin. Freddy’s Dead is truly the bottom of the barrel for slasher films, which is really saying something.

38) Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1994)
Like I said under Freddy’s Dead, going into this ranking I fully expected The Next Generation to take the bottom slot on this list. This film is a dreadfully dull, incomprehensible mess which has the audacity to think that it can make a meta-commentary about bad slasher sequels, despite being one of the absolute worst itself. It’s also pretty insulting to series fans as Leatherface (or “Leather” as they’re called here) is a complete joke who spends every second of screentime shrieking incessantly. The only real saving grace which kept The Next Generation from taking the bottom of this list is Matthew McConaughey’s deranged performance as Vilmer. The character himself is nonsense but McConaughey goes so far beyond hamming up that it’s at least entertaining. I wrote a whole Retrospectives review on this film, so if you want a more detailed commentary you can read it here.

37) Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995)
Imagine being a Halloween fan who had waited 6 years for the unresolved plot threads from Halloween 5 to be resolved, only to have this film shit into existence. Halloween 6 is an ignoble ending for the original continuity of Halloween sequels and an embarrassing capstone to Donald Pleasence’s career. The poor guy just looks tired in this film and can’t even muster up the deranged energy that had made him so entertaining to watch. He’s not the only one who gets done dirty by this film though – Danielle Harris didn’t even get invited back to play Jamie Lloyd one last time, and instead the character is recast and then unceremoniously killed off in the first twenty minutes, continuing the Halloween franchise’s shitty obsession with killing off all its main characters for no good reason. And then we also have a young Paul Rudd, who gets this weirdly creepy role as Tommy Doyle, the boy Laurie was babysitting in the first film. Regardless, all of the characters are half-baked with no real reason to care about any of them.

The film also has a terrible, mid-90s horror aesthetic to it. It often throws ambient screams into the soundtrack to try to make things feel scarier and will suddenly intercut split-second shots of knives or other “scary” images and loud scare sounds into a scene to try to get a cheap jump scare (sometimes even using these as transitions to other scenes). And, oh God, they also will just throw hard rock into the soundtrack when Michael’s showing up to show us that he’s not fucking around, this Michael has ‘tude. I mean, it’s not as embarrassing as the slide-whistle cops in Halloween 5, but it’s still pretty bad.

The main issue with Halloween 6 though is that it makes absolutely no sense. The whole conspiracy angle ends up being a dead-end with no explanation for what’s going on. Michael’s motivations are explicitly laid out that he’s still trying to wipe out his last living relative (this time Jamie’s newborn son), but then he spends most of the film going after the Strodes who have moved into his old house and have nothing to do with the baby. It’s also kind of implied that the man in black has some sort of control over him, but then Michael just wipes out the whole cult when they leave him loose in their sanitarium…? I just… what? The narrative also just doesn’t flow. At one point Dr. Loomis yells “Where is the baby?” and that caused me to stop and say “Yeah, that’s a very good question. Where IS the baby? Hell, where is anybody in this film? What the hell is happening!?” The last twenty minutes in particular just don’t make any sense (at least, in the theatrical version I watched – the ending was heavily reshot and there’s a producer’s cut which apparently is better, but I didn’t see it).

I will give this movie a bit of credit though. It mercifully moves pretty quickly – the first fourty minutes went by before I knew it, despite very little of substance actually happening in that time. The film also at least looks professional, with a nice production design and some decent shots. I also think that, considering what they had to work with, the curse of Thorn which is fuelling Michael Myers actually kind of makes sense. I mean, look at what they had to explain: why Michael Myers is invincible and inhuman evil, kills on Halloween, and goes after his family members. The explanation that druids would possess one person to kill their family in order to spare the demon, Thorn, from killing all of the tribe is actually kind of sensible when you look at it that way. I mean, it’s still bullshit in the end and not the sort of explanation we ever needed, but it’s not as bad as it might have seemed at first glance. That said, considering the conspiracy just gets tossed aside in the last thirty minutes, it ultimately becomes pretty pointless.

Halloween 6 is just an absolute mess from start to finish. It’s no wonder that the franchise was rebooted after this point because there was nowhere further to go from this point. The only regrettable part about it was that they didn’t pull the plug earlier. Apparently the producer’s cut was better, but since I can only go off the version I saw, they should have done better the first time.

36) Halloween: Resurrection (2002)
The Halloween franchise was given a gift with H20. After several years of horrible sequels, the public was finally excited about the prospect of another outing. So what did they do with this golden opportunity? Well, they shit out Halloween: Resurrection, which might be one of the stupidest films I’ve ever seen. After the refreshingly clever H20, Resurrection goes right back to lazy tropes and dumb characters, even managing to make Laurie Strode into an idiot before killing her off again in the first fifteen minutes. Bloody hell, Halloween get some class!

Anyway, with Laurie dead, the film then cuts to a group of dumb, horny teenagers who are cast on an Internet reality TV show, set in the Myers house. As you can imagine from the set-up, this film was trying to be very contemporary for the early 2000s, but it is painfully dated now, with ridiculous celebrity cameos from a kung-fu fighting Busta Rymes and a completely pointless Tyra Banks. The film is also ripping off its contemporaries in terrible fashion. The Blair Witch Project is popular? We’ll have low-resolution cameras mounted on everyone which they will constantly forget about! People still like Scream? We’ll make this film meta, that’s the part about Scream that was good, right? The characters also are all shitty and one-dimensional. Like, there’s a character who is introduced as a chef. Next time we see him, he’s explaining that he believes that Michael Myers became evil because he had a bad diet… um, okay… Then the next time we see him, he says that he bets that the Myers house has a big kitchen, which he promptly wanders off to find. We get it movie, he likes cooking. The rest of the cast are no better – you have your insecure final girl who doesn’t develop or learn anything, a fame obsessed girl, an academic girl who apparently doesn’t know how to be a human being, a horndog, a creepy guy music guy, etc. They all suck.

The entire set-up of this film is so bad. Invalidating the ending of H20 is just insulting to the audience’s intelligence and screws over Laurie Strode’s ending to get the Weinsteins a bit more money in the bank. There’s basically no reason for Michael to be killing people in this film, other than that they just happened to wander into his house. The movie also has very little to say about anything. You’d think that, considering the premise, maybe they’d have some commentary on reality TV, but it literally boils down to “reality TV is not real”. Wow, that’s some revelatory insight there, Resurrection. Literally, the only thing that I actually thought was clever in this movie was having the show’s audience message the final girl to let her know where Michael is and give her tips to evade him. That was a pretty cool idea, but it’s the only moment of brilliance inside of this giant turd of a film.

35) Halloween II (2009)
Holy shit… say what you will about Rob Zombie’s Halloween remake, but the sequel is utter dogshit. Like, I had to think long and hard about whether I hated it more than Halloween: Resurrection. I’ll give Rob a little bit of credit for running with his own artistic vision for a Halloween sequel, but good God were the results awful. Where do I even begin describing this movie… actually, now that I ask it, there’s really only one starting point, and it’s two words: Ghost. Mom. Rob Zombie obviously really wanted to work his wife back into the sequel so we get “treated” to numerous scenes of Michael Myers and Laurie Strode seeing visions of a white-clad Sheri Moon Zombie telling them that they need to be a family again. It’s freaking stupid and just one of several missteps. Let’s get to the narrative – Laurie has PTSD and is trying to cope with the fact that her life is crumbling around her, Dr. Loomis is on a book tour and Michael Myers is slowly walking back to Haddonfield to reunite with her. That’s basically all this movie is for the vast majority of its runtime. Seriously, this is a two hour movie and it takes about an hour and a half for Michael to even find Laurie, meaning that there is just a ton of wheel spinning in the meantime. There are also plenty of kill scenes, but they don’t really make any sense – why does Michael go after the strip club where his mom used to work and kill everyone there? I guess because Ghost Mom told him to…? That’s the only possible explanation, but then why does he go to a party and kill one of Laurie’s friends and her hookup for that night? Especially considering that he then just heads to Laurie’s house to try to ambush her there? Uhhhh… because this is a Halloween movie? Seriously, it makes absolutely no sense other than to just tick off the boxes of what people expect from this series. Oh, and speaking of which, that must be the entire motive behind Michael stalking Laurie in a hospital during the first twenty-five minutes of the film… which culminates with it all being revealed to be part of a fucking dream sequence!!!

It also doesn’t help that nearly everyone in Halloween II is an asshole. Dr. Loomis has gone from being sympathetic to just a fame-obsessed prick and even Laurie has become really unbearable. Like, I get that she’s suffering from PTSD and can sympathize with that, but she lashes out at fellow victim, Annie, when she tries to help and even admits that she wants to kill her. Laurie also has a couple of new friends, but they’re basically nobodies who only exist to fill out the bodycount. The only characters I liked at all were Sheriff Brackett (played excellently by Brad Dourif) and Annie, because at least they were trying to make the best of the situation. Halloween II is just a senseless, nasty mess from start to finish, there really isn’t much more you can say about it.

34) Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993)
When I started this list, I expected Jason Goes to Hell to be ranked much lower. However, in a franchise as formulaic as Friday the 13th, Jason Goes to Hell gets at least some points for trying to shake up the formula… but holy shit, did they ever fail spectacularly. Deciding that the ninth film in a franchise is the perfect time to suddenly begin filling in the mythology of Jason was a major misstep which goes against the pure simplicity which gave this series the longevity it enjoys. Honestly, Jason Goes to Hell is pretty decent in most ways (especially by Friday standards) – the acting’s fine, the characters are interesting (Creighton Duke is fun and Steven is a one of the best protagonists in the series), the directing is slicker than usual, there are some funny moments (such as the opening, where the FBI ambushes Jason) and the kills are just brutal. However, the story is so batshit insane that it brings down everything else. So Jason can now suddenly possess people temporarily when he dies and needs to be reborn from a secret sibling of his that we never knew existed until now? What the actual hell? This, of course, also means that Jason barely even factors into the film and instead we get to see such “interesting” killers as a coroner and an asshole reporter… great, just what the franchise needed… It makes Jason Goes to Hell at least entertaining in its ridiculousness, but there’s no way to ignore that this film is a massive failure. The fact that this film got a theatrical release is just insane to me. Oh and to make matters worse, the redesigned Jason is just butt-ugly, which makes it inadvertently good that he barely shows up in the film.

33) Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989)
Halloween 5 has to be the point where the franchise really went off the rails. What started as an incredibly simple tale about the embodiment of evil deciding that he wants to stalk and kill a group of fleshed-out teens turns into a saga about family bloodlines, ill-defined psychic links, the curse of thorn and a shady conspiracy surrounding a man in black. Holy shit, what happened to this franchise? Halloween 5 somehow manages to find ways to not only get stupider but more boring as it goes on. Most of the film is just a very dull rehash of very well-trodden slasher territory as Michael kills teens that we’ve barely met.

There are just so many dumb things in this film. Jamie is suddenly mute and has some sort of psychic connection with Michael, but neither really has any purpose. There’s a shady man in black who has some sort of connection to Michael, but it was literally added without bothering to have it make sense, because the filmmakers figured they’d be able to answer it later. And why does Dr. Loomis suddenly believe that Michael Myers is fuelled by rage? He’s the one who said that he was pure evil, attributing his violence to malice goes against the entire point of the character.

Another issue is that the previous film’s co-lead, Rachel, is uncermoniously killed. She wasn’t a particularly fleshed-out character, but she was miles better than her replacement, Tina, a ditzy girl who just wants to have some fun. Don’t get me wrong, a final girl doesn’t always need to be the strong, independent type, but Tina is just straight-up dumb. Michael ends up stalking her and her friends for basically no reason – apparently Tina plans on visiting Jamie at some point that evening, but why wouldn’t Michael just go straight to Jamie then instead? It doesn’t make much sense, but then again, not much does in Halloween 5. There can’t have been a script when this film was shot, or at the very least, they can’t have followed it because there’s no way someone could put this film’s narrative down on paper and say “yeah, this sounds good!” (EDIT: I looked it up afterwards and this film did indeed begin shooting without a completed script and there were moments, such as the man in black, which were just added on the fly to fill in plot holes!) I’ll give the film some credit for clearly trying to recapture some of the suspense that had been lost in the previous film though, such as a scene where Tina stupidly gets into a car with Michael, thinking that he’s her boyfriend, and you’re left wondering if/when he’s going to kill her. For the most part though, Halloween 5 is just trying to squeeze blood out of a stone for a franchise that went in the wrong direction ages ago.

32) Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989)
Perhaps due to the formulaic nature of the franchise, Friday the 13th films generally maintained a pretty consistent level of mediocrity during the 80s. However, it wasn’t until Jason Takes Manhattan that we suddenly saw that sticking to the formula could still manage to disappoint everyone – even fans who had eaten up all the previous entries. Jason Takes Manhattan is a derivative and subpar Friday film on its own, with Jason somehow managing to secretly kill sexy teenagers on a boat which is impossibly labrynthine. However, its hints at shaking up the formula are what truly make it disappointing. How cool could a film about Jason stalking people on the streets of New York have been? But no, he shows up and then just continues stalking only the people he was already chasing after. The film also has many of the most irritating and dull victims in the entire franchise, a terrible final girl with a contrived connection to Jason and an embarrassingly bad-looking unmasked Jason. Seriously, the makeup they used in this film when he loses his hockey mask looks WORSE than a Halloween mask. The only real saving grace is that a couple of the kills are decent, particularly the boxing scene where Jason takes dozens of punches to tire out his opponent and then one-punches his head off.

31) Friday the 13th Part III (1982)
It didn’t take long for Friday the 13th to begin scraping the bottom of the barrel, but they sure as hell succeeded in Part III. Some people have a fondness for Part III because it’s the entry where Jason gets his iconic hockey mask, but don’t be fooled – this film suuuuucks. What’s so bad about it? For the most part, it’s just another rehash of the first two films, but stupider and more dull. By this point, the filmmakers have realized that they like to string the audience along with fake-outs until something really scary happens, but in Part III they forgot that the characters still need to actually have something to do. Instead, we get multiple scenes where characters will wander into a dangerous place for no reason and just forget that they know what the layout of their own home is like, or just play with random things in the environment despite the fact that they’re supposed to be actually doing something. It’s obvious what the filmmakers are doing and it just feels lazy and wastes the audience’s time.

Another big issue is that the first two films in the franchise went to a lot of effort to make you at least get to know the characters before they would give picked off, but in Part III we get to meet a bunch of annoying assholes. Prime amongst these is Shelly, an irritating prankster with a self-esteem issues. However, lest you feel sorry for him, the little bastard lashes out at other people to try to compensate for his own insecurity, which just turns him into a dick. We also get a group of cartoonish, brain-dead gang members whose idea of revenge is to try to burn down a barn as unstealthily as possible. The film also opens with a pair of irritating rednecks who you just immediately want to be killed off. Other than them, nearly everyone else in the cast are your usual Friday the 13th cannon fodder, with no real personalities to speak of (especially the two stoners, who barely get any screen time before they get offed). The only exceptions are final girl Chris and her handsome hunk boyfriend, Rick, who are both at least sympathetic enough that I wouldn’t want anything bad to happen to them. The acting is also pretty bad, even by Friday standards. I wouldn’t say that any of the characters put in particularly strong performances and even characters like Chris and Rick have some line deliveries which are unconvincing.

Oh and I would be remiss to mention the 3D gimmick. Not only does it make the film always slightly blurry to watch in 2D now, but it also means that we get lots of shitty, blurry shots where something gets stuck into the foreground for no real reason. I hope you like blurry shots of yo-yos, eye balls, popcorn, rakes and a blunt getting shoved in your face and taking you out of the experience! It also highlights the pathetic special effects – since they have to get so many things thrown at the camera, they use lots of wires to get the shot right, meaning that you can clearly see these wires since they’re in the foreground of the shot! This happens on two very obvious occasions with a rattle snake and when a fake eyeball goes flying out of a very rubber-looking head.

On the plus side though, there are a couple fun kills as usual and, when she gets promoted to the final girl, Chris turns into a no-nonsense badass. Like, the moment she sees Jason, she’s right on the offensive, dropping a book case on him and then taking a knife out of her friend’s back and using it to stab him in the hand and leg. She actually causes Jason to back away from her, she’s so intimidating! She absolutely kicks his ass and makes smart decisions on the fly more often than not in the process. She’s easily one of the best final girls in the franchise, but she’s easily the only thing about this movie that makes it worthwhile.

…and that’s it for the worst of the worst. Be sure to tune in again soon as we go through #30-21!

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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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Retrospective: Texas Chainsaw 3D (2013)

Welcome back to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre retrospective! In today’s entry we’re going to be looking at the seventh entry in the franchise, 2013’s Texas Chainsaw 3D! Despite the success of the Platinum Dunes remake and its less-successful prequel, new rightsholders Lionsgate aimed to create a follow-up on the original film, ignoring all of the other films in the franchise in the process. Would this back-to-basics approach finally allow the franchise to find its footing? Read on to find out…

Not particularly enthused by this poster, but the tagline “Evil wears many faces” is great, love it.

PRODUCTION
After The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning‘s profitable, but disappointing box office numbers, Platinum Dunes and New Line had no interest in producing another film in their remake franchise. As a result, the rights reverted to Bob Kuhn and Kim Henkel, who entertained offers to produce new films in the franchise. In late 2009, Twisted Pictures and Lionsgate purchased the rights to the franchise, and signed a deal to produce several new films (the number of films planned ranged from five to seven). More details emerged in early 2011 when Lionsgate partnered with Nu Image films to help produce the film, which was going to be shot in 3D. 3D was, of course, the big trend at the time. Following the box office success of Avatar, films such as Clash of the Titans began converting to 3D in post-production and experienced a box office bump as a result (although such shoddy 3D conversions would ultimately lead to major audience fatigue with 3D due to the poor quality). After seeing that 3D meant big business, many films began being shot and released in the format, such as the horror comedy Piranha 3D.

John Luessenhop was hired to direct, having just come off of the relative success of the Matt Dillon-starring armoured truck heist film Takers (not to be confused with the other Matt Dillion-starring armoured truck heist film that had come out the year before, Nimród Antal’s Armored). It was announced that the new film would be a direct sequel to the original film and would ignore the events of the sequels and remake. Debra Sullivan and freaking Adam Marcus (most famous for being the writer and director of the flat-out worst Friday the 13th film, Jason Goes to Hell) were brought on board to write the script for the film. According to Adam Marcus, the original intent was to explore Leatherface’s relationship to his family and to fill out some mythology for him, much like what he did with Jason Voorhees (and failed spectacularly at, which I can’t stress enough). He also intended to set the film in the ’90s (in a cheeky bit of meta-text, it was intended to be set around the release date of Jason Goes to Hell). The film was also designed as more of a monster movie, rather than a slasher film, which would give Texas Chainsaw 3D a different sort of feel within its franchise. However, after Kirsten Elms and Lussenhop took the script for rewrites, someone high up in the production decided to change the film’s setting to the modern day at the last minute, even though the film had already been cast with characters aged for a ’90s setting. As a result, the actors are all inexplicably 20 years too young, a major plot whole which basically every review of the film will point out. Presumably, the person in charge of that decision just assumed that audiences wouldn’t notice or care, but it’s really obvious and dumb when you watch the film.

Speaking of the cast, Texas Chainsaw 3D brought back a number of classic Chainsaw cast members for cameo roles. Most notably, Marilyn Burns and Gunnar Hansen both returned to play Verna Sawyer-Carson and Boss Sawyer, respectively. This was Hansen’s last film appearance before his death in 2015, and one of Burns’ last roles before her death in 2014. Bill Moseley also returned to play Drayton Sawyer in the film’s opening scene, playing tribute to the late Jim Siedow who had died in 2003. John Dugan was the only returning actor to reprise his role from the original film, having played Grandpa Sawyer way back in 1974. As for the new cast, the gorgeous Alexandria Daddario was cast in the lead role of Heather Miller, while the role of Leatherface went to Dan Yeager in his first major role. Notably, Scott Eastwood was also cast as a local policeman named Carl. As for the other leads, rapper Trey Songz was cast as Ryan, Tania Raymond as Nikki, Keram Malicki-Sánchez as Kenny and Shaun Sipos as the hitchhiker Darryl. Other notable cast included Paul Rae as the villainous Mayor Burt Hartman and Thom Barry as the not-so-subtly named Sheriff Hooper.

Filming began on July 18, 2011 in Shreveport, Louisiana during a traditional Chainsaw heatwave and would continue for six weeks. A big deal was made about the crew recreating the Sawyer house, using the original film to try to match all of the details as closely as possible. It was supposedly so accurate that Gunnar Hansen’s only note was to move a chicken cage over a few feet when he arrived on set. Luessenhop shot the film using state-of-the-art Red Epic cameras. The film was also shot on a very low budget (around $11 million), which made production particularly difficult at times and forced the cast and crew to work on a 24-hour schedule towards the end to get everything completed in time. The film was originally scheduled to release in October but was pushed back to January 4, 2013 by the studio for, according to Luessenhop, “stictly business decisions”. This delay may have been, in part, because when the film was submitted to the MPAA, it received an NC-17 rating for extreme violence and had to be re-cut.
PLOT SYNOPSIS
Texas Chainsaw 3D opens with a quick rundown of scenes from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, before cutting into the police arriving at the Sawyer house. A group of Sawyers arrive just before them and hurry to defend the house, but Sheriff Hooper demands only Leatherface to be released to them. The Sawyers agree to Hooper’s terms, but then a lynch mob led by Burt Hartman arrives and begin to shoot at the Sawyers and set the house on fire. The family is massacred and the only survivor found is Loretta Sawyer and her newborn baby, Edith Rose Sawyer. However, one of the lynch mob members named Gavin Miller kills Loretta and then takes Edith as his own daughter, renaming her Heather Miller.

Jumping ahead to the present day, a somehow-not-40-years-old Heather Miller receives a letter in the mail saying that she has an inheritance from a long-lost grandmother. This causes her to realize that she was adopted and that her birth name is Sawyer, facts which her parents had been keeping from her. Her roommate, Ryan, along with their friends Nikki and Kenny all decide to accompany Heather to Texas to pick up the inheritance. Along the way, they pick up a hitchhiker named Darryl.

When they get to Texas, they meet a lawyer named Farnsworth who reveals that Heather’s grandmother, Verna Sawyer-Carson has left an entire mansion to her. He also leaves a letter from Verna, telling Heather that she needs to read it. The group then heads into the mansion to explore and take in all the opulence. Darryl volunteers to cook dinner for the group while the rest go into town to get supplies, but as soon as they leave Darryl starts to rob the house of all the valuables he can find. In his rummaging, he finds a hidden passage into the basement and comes across a large, locked door. Assuming he came across the jackpot, he tries to break inside, but all he finds is Leatherface, who beats his skull in. Meanwhile, the group get some supplies in town and Heather meets a local cop she takes a fancy to named Carl. She also meets the town’s mayor, Burt Hartman, who she tells that she has inherited the Carson Mansion because she is a Sawyer. Hartman is clearly troubled by this revelation and tries to get Heather to leave town unsuccessfully.

When the group returns to the mansion, they realize that Darryl had robbed the house and think that he has already escaped. Rather than letting that get them down, the group tries to make the most of the situation and begin partying. Everyone begins going their separate ways, with Heather checking out the graves of her family, Kenny begins cooking and Nikki manages to seduce Ryan in the barn. While everyone is busy, Kenny finds the secret passage and begins exploring, but is captured by Leatherface. When Heather returns to the house, she finds the exhumed corpse of Verna in an upstairs bedroom and begins freaking out. When she runs back downstairs she finds Leatherface in the kitchen cutting fingers off of Darryl’s dismembered hand. This causes Heather to freak out even more and Leatherface captures her and takes her to the basement. He then puts Kenny on a meathook and chainsaws him in half. After witnessing her friend’s death, Heather flees the basement and Leatherface pursues her out of the house. Heather tries to hide in Verna’s empty casket, but Leatherface finds her. He is about to kill her when Ryan and Nikki distract him. Heather gets into the group’s van and rescues them from the barn, but Leatherface chases them, damaging the van and causing it to crash. The crash kills Ryan when a giant piece of glass gets embedded in his neck and then Leatherface attacks and badly injures Nikki. Before he can kill her, Heather taunts Leatherface and makes him chase her to a nearby carnival. Leatherface chases Heather through the carnival until Carl confronts him, but Leatherface throws his chainsaw at the officer and flees back towards the mansion.

Heather is taken to the police station for a statement with Sheriff Hooper, but Mayor Hartman comes bursting in, realizing that Leatherface is still alive after all these years. Heather gets left alone in a room full of evidence from the chainsaw killings, which causes her to realize that the lynch mob led by Hartman (and including her adopted parents) massacred her whole family, including her mother. Meanwhile, Hartman and Hooper watch a cell phone video feed from police officer Marvin (who was also present at the lynching), who has entered the Carson Mansion alone. He follows a trail of blood into the basement, where he finds the mutilated bodies of Kenny, Ryan and Darryl and hears a rumbling from a nearby meat freezer. He opens it up and Nikki pops out, which startles Marvin and causes him to accidentally shoot her in the head. Hartman orders Marvin to exit the house and then tells Hooper to help him arrest Heather, since she’s a Sawyer and must be in on this. The pair find that Heather has left the station, writing “MURDERERS” on a photo of the lynch mob. Leatherface then attacks and kills Marvin with a hatchet before skinning his face for a new mask.

Meanwhile, Heather contacts Farnsworth and the pair meet at a bar. Farnsworth explains that Leatherface is her cousin and that she was supposed to let him know that she’s his family as Verna before she died had told him to expect Heather. Hartman then bursts into the bar and assaults Farnsworth while Heather escapes, where she is found by Carl. She tries to get Carl to take her back to the mansion, but Carl reveals that he is Hartman’s son and that he is going to take her to the old slaughterhouse to be eliminated. Leatherface hears this on Marvin’s police radio and heads out to get revenge on them.

At the slaughterhouse, Heather is tied up until Hartman can arrive, but when Carl leaves to see his father, Leatherface shows up and prepares to kill Heather. However, Heather’s shirt had been torn open while struggling away from Carl and Leatherface sees a burn on her breast in the shape of the Sawyer family “S” medallion. Realizing that she is his cousin, Leatherface cuts her free as Hartman and another member of the lynch mob, Ollie, arrive and disarm him. Heather flees, but stops when she realizes that Leatherface is the only family she has left and decides to rescue him. Hartman has chained up Leatherface and is preparing to drop him into a meat grinder, but Heather stabs Ollie and then throws Leatherface his chainsaw. Leatherface frees himself and then gets into a brief crowbar-vs-chainsaw battle with Hartman, which predictably ends when he chainsaws Hartman’s legs off and then backs up him up towards the meat grinder. Hooper arrives on the scene and Hartman begs him to shoot Leatherface, but Hooper has a crisis of conscience and decides that Hartman was wrong to kill the Sawyers in the first place. Hartman is then forced into the meat grinder and killed. Heather and Leatherface return to the mansion, Heather finally having found her family. And in a post-credits stinger, Heather’s adopted parents arrive at the mansion and then are presumably killed by Leatherface.

REVIEW
In many ways, Texas Chainsaw 3D is the biggest and boldest reinvention this franchise has seen since Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. Every other film in the franchise has followed a pretty similar mould: a group of people heads down to Texas, something unfortunate happens which strands them, they get chased by a family of chainsaw killers, there’s a dinner scene, then the final girl gets away. Texas Chainsaw 3D shakes things up immediately by featuring footage from the original film in the opening credits and then seamlessly cutting to new footage which picks up where that film left off. You can, of course, notice the difference since the new footage is shot on much higher quality film stock (which is particularly embarrassing when they replace footage of Jim Siedow with Bill Moseley), but I really must say that the crew did a great job of recreating the Sawyer house. All of the little details have been captured very well, even just seeing the police car passing by the abandoned transport truck made me giddy. They even did a pretty good job of recreating Leatherface’s pretty lady mask, which is extra impressive when you consider just how difficult this series has found it to come up with decent looking masks. This whole sequence lasts about ten minutes and is by far the most distinctive aspect of the film. From there, the film turns into more of a gothic tale as Heather tries to understand her long-lost family before Leatherface emerges and begins hunting everyone.

That said, while I can appreciate that Texas Chainsaw 3D was trying to do something different, holy shit is this movie ever stupid. I’ll get the obvious issue out of the way first – not setting this film in the ’90s was perhaps the dumbest decision made in the production of this film. All of the characters are far too young for a modern day setting, and while Heather is the most egregious, the film also suffers because Sheriff Hooper, Burt Hartman and the other members of the lynch mob are all played by the same actors in both timelines. As a result, they really don’t look like they’re the right age in either timeline and it really strains the suspension of disbelief to think that some of them have held down the same jobs in the same town for 40 years now. It’s just insulting that the filmmakers didn’t think anyone would notice or care about this issue, but it instantly breaks any internal logic for the film.

Still, even if the timeline didn’t make any sense, there are a whole load of other fundamentally stupid problems with this film. For a film which is so superficially reverential to the original Chainsaw, it sure does ignore obvious elements of that film in order to make their movie work. By far the dumbest aspect of the story is that the film wants us to sympathize with the Sawyer family… by completely ignoring that they’re a bunch of psychopaths. I’m not kidding, the film tries to pretend like it was only Leatherface who was involved in the unprovoked killing of Sally’s friends, not to mention all the people Nubbins has helped kill and that Drayton has turned into freaking BBQ. It’s not even like Heather wouldn’t have known this, she finds the box of evidence about the Sawyer family’s crimes and their mass killing by the lynch mob. You’d think that maybe she’d think “well that sucks, but I guess they kind of had it coming…” As the film goes on further they act like the lynching was the real crime that happened here, not the Sawyers’ grave robbing, cannibalism, torture and murder which led to the mob attacking them in the first place. Sheriff Hooper even refuses to stop Leatherface from murdering Mayor Hartman because he feels like the Sawyers were treated so unjustly, holy shit! Like… I have no words for how stupid this is. Were they planning on making it a twist in one of the six sequels this film was supposed to get that Heather finds out that her family were all psychos, not just the psycho she lives with now? Somehow I seriously doubt it, because again the filmmakers just assume that we won’t notice or care. That’s not even the only stupid aspect, we’ve also got the whole notion of Verna Sawyer-Carson, which goes against what was established in the original Chainsaw. Wasn’t the whole point of the first Chainsaw that the Sawyers are on hard times because their livelihood has dried up, hence why they’re killing in the first place? You’re telling me that they had a really tight-knit family clan with a super rich relative living nearby who could have helped them out? Even more stupidly, she’s apparently Leatherface’s mother, so if they were on times so hard that they begin murdering people, you’d think she’d help them out. Bloody hell Adam Marcus, you suck at expanding a series’ mythology in a manner which is consistent with that series’ basic, established canon.

Then there’s all sorts of little dumb moments peppered throughout the script, often for plot convenience. Like, in addition to ignoring the whole “Sawyer family are all psychos” bit, Heather just forgives and forgets that Leatherface killed her friends when she finds out that he’s part of her family. Apparently it’s totally okay to be a murderer as long as you’re out to murder people other than me, right? They even contrive elaborate scenarios for Darryl, Ryan and Nikki’s deaths to shunt some of the blame away from Leatherface (although Kenny still gets chainsawed in half, so…). Then there’s the fact that Burt Hartman is apparently as much of a psycho as the Sawyers, hating anyone named “Sawyer” so much that he’ll fly into a murderous rage and assault a freaking lawyer in a public place. Again, this man is the freaking mayor of a small town, what the hell is he so fussed about? Why did they even leave the evidence lying around where Heather could find it and piece together her family’s history with the Hartmans? Hell, why did the locals even lynch the Sawyers, it’s not like Sally was one of their family members anyway? There isn’t really any motivation for them to hate the family so obsessively, you’d think that there’d be something to trigger this feud in the first place. On the smaller end of things, there’s also apparently a carnival right next door to the Carson estate, which seems pretty unlikely to me. I mean, who builds their expensive mansion right next to a loud fairgrounds? Oh right, it’s so we can have a carnival set piece, silly me for asking. It’s also really silly to me how Heather’s grandmother inexplicably keeps track of her, despite being secretly kidnapped all those years ago. When Heather asks Farnsworth how he found her, he says “Honey, you were never lost” to handwave in the laziest fashion this really obvious question. Oh, thanks Farnsworth, that totally clears things up… Or how about Marvin livestreaming himself sweeping through the Carson place when he knows that there’s a chainsaw killer on the loose? I mean, holy shit, I know the film wants Hartman and Hooper to know what’s happening at the mansion, but what kind of a cop would do that when his life is on the line!? Could they not have just had some sort of excuse to use a bodycam instead? Oh and then there’s the big finale at the slaughterhouse, which features a gigantic meat grinder in the middle of the floor that anyone could easily fall into – sounds like a safe, practical design and not just something for the climax of a horror movie!

Speaking of the meat grinder, it makes for a kill which is simultaneously the best and worst in the entire franchise. The best because, c’mon, it’s a freaking meat grinder and we get to see Burt Hartman get chewed up in extremely graphic detail in it. The worst because it relies on extremely shoddy CGI. I mean, check it out:

That’s an awesome kill, but the execution (pardon the pun) is just so lame. Thankfully the film doesn’t rely on CGI too much though, because what little CGI there is here is just so bad, like Red: Werewolf Hunter levels of bad. Check out Leatherface throwing a weightless chainsaw at Scott Eastwood (IN 3D!!!):

The violence in this film is also pretty interesting to me after having just come off of The Beginning. The violence is actually more graphic than in The Beginning: we’ve got Kenny getting sawed in half and having his lower torso and entrails spill out, Ryan gets basically decapitated by a giant shard of glass, we’ve got Marvin getting his face peeled off on camera (a first for the series, this is usually so nasty that they have always cut away from it), and then there’s Hartman getting literally torn up bit by bit in a meat grinder. All of this is shown in explicit detail, but it doesn’t have the same sort of impact as the violence in The Beginning, because the tone is different. The violence here is meant to be more spectacular and fun, whereas in The Beginning it’s just grim and nasty. Preferences may vary on which approach is “better”, but for my part I know that I enjoyed myself more here.

Another element of this film which bothered me was just how ridiculously, distractingly sleazy it is. There isn’t even any actual nudity, but this film is just gratuitously throwing sex at the audience throughout the entire runtime. There are two scenes with very voyeuristic shots of Heather and Nikki getting dressed which serve no actual purpose to the plot and which are obviously just there for the audience to ogle. In addition, basically every outfit worn by Heather shows off her midriff and leaves her boobs bouncing as if this were a Dead or Alive spin-off. The second Nikki shows up on screen we get some major cleavage from her (despite the fact that she’s in uniform at work at a freaking grocery store), plus a whole subplot that revolves around her getting into her underwear to seduce Ryan. To be fair, the men also get a fair bit of objectification as well, as Ryan and Darryl are both eye-banged by the camera while topless and soaking wet, which is sure to soak more than a few panties in the audience. The sheer amount of fanservice is just ridiculous though, it’s constant and to the point of being distracting. It’s also worth noting that this is the only film in this series where the slasher movie convention of “sex = death”, as Ryan and Nikki are killed shortly after having sex, so bombarding the audience with it almost seems counter-intuitive. The most gratuitous scene in the whole film though comes near the end when Heather is tied up by Carl and, while struggling to escape, Heather’s shirt is accidentally ripped open, revealing as much dual side boob as possible without showing any nipple. Worst of all? The film tries to play it off like it’s totally justified, because when Leatherface shows up he sees Heather’s “S” for Sawyer scar on her boob, which causes him to realize that she’s his cousin. So it wasn’t just to show off Alexandra Daddario’s tits to the thirsty audience after all? Good God, I am now ashamed of my words and deeds.

Texas Chainsaw 3D introduces a number of new characters to the franchise, but I can’t say that any of them are particularly good. Alexandra Daddario’s Heather Miller makes for a decent enough heroine, she gets a bit more material to work with than most final girls and she certainly has the looks to stand out, but I can’t say that I was particularly invested in the character, especially considering how dumb the plot we’re supposed to be caring about is. Nikki is a very one-dimensional character who is obsessed with trying to get Ryan to cheat on Heather with her. On the one hand, it’s sort of refreshing that the role of sexual aggressor is being played by a woman, but there really isn’t anything to the character other than that. Of course, since Ryan’s a horny man, he ends up being seduced the moment he sees Nikki in her underwear, despite rebuffing her earlier in the film. Ryan is played charmingly enough by Trey Songz, but there really isn’t all that much to the character. Kenny probably gets the rawest deal of the bunch though, as he gets only a handful of lines and doesn’t get any sort of development. He’s also somewhat effeminate, which makes me wonder if the filmmakers were intending for him to be a gay stereotype, although the film leaves this to speculation (also, I’m surprised at the filmmakers’ restraint for not having someone say “Oh my God, they killed Kenny!”). The hitchhiker, Darryl, also deserves some mention for legitimately surprising me in this film. He didn’t really do much after his introduction, but when it is revealed that he plans on robbing the Carson mansion, I was actually surprised at what should have been a pretty obvious twist. So kudos to Adam Marcus and Debra Sullivan for that, the character is pretty flat, but he makes for a pretty smart twist and first kill.

As for the other new characters, Mayor Hartman is just a generic evil, small-town politician character. He’s not even hamming it up which is unfortunate, some moustache-twirling could have made for a really memorable antagonist, but as it is he’s just functional. His son, Carl, also doesn’t leave much of an impression. Scott Eastwood certainly plays the role as charmingly as possible, but the character basically just functions as a third act plot twist to move the action to the slaughterhouse and then disappears from the film. I wonder if the filmmakers had intended to save him for a sequel, because his absence during the film’s climax is really noticeable. Sheriff Hooper also makes for a very bland character, he’s constantly stuck in inaction which could have made for some compelling conflict for the character, but just makes him seem passive in the plot. The only character I actually quite liked was Farnsworth, the awesome southern lawyer. He doesn’t really get to do anything other than deliver exposition to move the plot forward, but he’s well-performed and very characterful, making me wish that he got to show up more often.

Before I get to Leatherface, I want to mention the cameos in this film. Bill Moseley plays Drayton Sawyer quite well, although the character himself feels quite different to how he was in the original Chainsaw. The other new members of the Sawyer clan are all quite boring though, looking like a bunch of Duck Dynasty cast-offs (even Gunnar Hansen’s Boss Sawyer). Their sudden presence in the Sawyer house is also quite jarring, making me wonder why the hell they all just showed up. I feel like the relative normalcy of these characters was done in part to make the audience forget that the Sawyers were all psychos in the original film, despite the fact that these normal-looking rednecks are still hanging out in a house adorned in human skeletons and dismembered bodies.

As for Leatherface, he’s fairly bland in this film. The character has evolved from a mad dog to a man without direction, seeking revenge against the people who killed his family. According to Dan Yeager:

“I would describe the original Leatherface as a lethal instrument of the will of others. He was not autonomous in any way. He took orders and he fulfilled them, and those orders were basically to kill and butcher. As time progresses to where we pick up our story, all of that has changed. His abusers were no longer there, and there was no longer anyone to tell him what to do. He had to grow from an instrument of violence to seeking vengeance in the people who slaughtered his family. That was the last thing anyone told him to do, so he’s spent decades contemplating and carrying out that mission.”

As I’ve already mentioned a number of times, the biggest change to Leatherface in this film is that we’re supposed to see him as an anti-hero, despite the fact that he still just butchers people without hesitation. But it’s okay, he didn’t realize that he wasn’t supposed to kill those particular people, so all is forgiven! I’m not sure if it’s intentional, but the end result makes Leatherface into a kind of superhero-like figure, which is just baffling to me (a notion which is just reinforced by a post-credits scene). As for the mask, his new mask makes him look like Freddy Krueger. It’s probably a middle-of-the-road mask for this franchise, I don’t particularly care about it one way or another. It is kind of interesting though that in this film Leatherface actually sews his masks onto his own head through his cheeks, which was just painful to watch.

Unlike many of the sequels in this franchise, Texas Chainsaw 3D actually has a running theme which it brings back from the original, the theme of family. The downside is that, like pretty much everything else in this film, it’s handled about the stupidest way possible. The original Chainsaw twisted the traditional conventions of family, changing it into something that was frightening and disturbing. Texas Chainsaw 3D, on the other hand, plays it straight as if this was a saccharine kids movie. This is one of those movies that tells you that family is the most important thing there is. In this film, it’s just assumed that your family will inherently love you. When Heather asks why Verna Carson kept Leatherface in her home, Farnsworth replies that “Nobody loves you like your family”, a message that Heather takes to heart when she decides to live with him at the mansion. The film even tries to justify it by having Heather’s adopted parents be literal murderers who don’t even care about her, which begs the question of why they adopted her in the first place. This, of course, is all over-simplified bullshit that hack writers love to use to make a “feel-good” story, but it’s especially egregious here because, and I haven’t stressed this enough, it’s about a family of serial killers. There’s also this notion that you are defined by your blood (a rather troubling message considering how racist sentiment is on the rise), as we see Heather working as a butcher and making her own bone-art even before she finds out she’s a Sawyer, implying that who you are is based on your bloodline. Burt Hartman seems to take this to heart as he instantly hates Heather as soon as he finds out she’s a Sawyer, but it’s not like the film contradicts him at all.

For all of my ragging on Texas Chainsaw 3D, I do have to say that I had a fair bit of fun with it. The first act sets up the scenario pretty well and the second act is actually quite enjoyable as the group tries to escape Leatherface (there are even a couple fantastic visual gags, such as the van trying to ram through the gates and failing, and then later how the camera focuses on Leatherface’s reaction when the van flips over). It’s really the third act where this film just crumbles into a heap of stupidity too large to ignore, with too many dumb plot points and extremely lazy contrivances driving everything forward.

3/10

Be sure to tune in soon as we take a look at the most recent film in this franchise, Leatherface!

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Retrospective: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre – The Beginning (2006)

Welcome back to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre retrospective! In today’s entry we’re going to be looking at the sixth entry in the franchise, the 2006 prequel-to-the-remake, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning. After the considerable financial success of the remake, a follow-up seemed inevitable. However, was a prequel the right way to go to fill in some of the blanks left by its predecessor? Read on to find out…

Pretty meh horror poster if I do say so myself.

PRODUCTION
After the considerable success of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Platinum Dunes started looking towards other horror franchises to remake for low cost and high turn-around. Their next project was The Amityville Horror, but when that failed to scare up higher numbers despite having more than double the budget, they turned their eyes back to the Chainsaw franchise. However, Dimension Films were looking to steal the franchise from underneath New Line after putting in an offer with the rightsholders. To prevent this, New Line ended up having to pay an additional $3.1 million just to retain the rights, increasing the film’s budget considerably. Jonathan Liebesman (who would later go on to direct such stinkers as Battle: Los Angeles, Wrath of the Titans and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) was hired to direct, having just come off of success with Darkness Falls and Rings (a short prelude to The Ring Two). Liebesman had been considered to direct the previous film, but had made Darkness Falls instead.

Interestingly enough, the landscape of horror had shifted in the three years between Chainsaw films. The torture porn genre had begun kicking off with such films as SawHostel and Wolf Creek taking over the market and emphasizing brutal violence and gore. In the making-of featurette for the film, the producers name-drop Hostel and The Hills Have Eyes, claiming that Chainsaw was the granddaddy of extreme horror and therefore they had to push the envelope as far as possible to beat the other films of the time. Scott Kosar was supposed to return to write the script, but was unavailable at the time. David J. Schow, who had written the screenplay for Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III, returned to co-write the story along with screenwriter Sheldon Turner.

Possibly the best part about making the next film in the franchise into a prequel was that R. Lee Ermey could return as Sheriff Hoyt, despite having been killed off in the last movie. Andrew Bryniarski was also able to return as Leatherface. The new cast included more pretty, young up-and-comers, most notably Jordana Brewster (Mia from The Fast & The Furious) as Chrissie and Diora Baird (known for Wedding Crashers and risque modelling for Guess? and Playboy) as Bailey. The leading roles were rounded out by Matt Bomer (Ken from the Magic Mike series) as Eric and Taylor Handley as Dean.

PLOT SYNOPSIS
The film opens with a woman at the old slaughterhouse being forced to work by her supervisor even when her water breaks. The birth presumably kills her and the deformed baby is thrown into the dumpster out behind the slaughterhouse as if this were an Amazon warehouse. However, the baby is found by Luda Mae Hewitt and brought home to be adopted as a son named Thomas. The boy grows up being made fun of for his skin disease and he ends up making a mask from a dead coyote to hide his face, eventually going on to work at the slaughterhouse under the very supervisor who had unknowingly thrown him away years ago. However, the slaughterhouse is eventually shut down for health violations, which devastates the town. When the supervisor tries to tell Thomas to stop working, he turns on him and kills him, stealing a chainsaw in the process. The local sheriff discovers this and goes to Charlie Hewitt to try to apprehend Thomas, but when they find him, Charlie kills the sheriff and assumes his identity, becoming Sheriff Hoyt. He takes the sheriff’s body home and cooks him, declaring that they’re not going to leave this town and let it be overrun by pillagers.

Meanwhile, brothers Eric and Dean, along with their girlfriends Chrissie and Bailey, respectively, are heading through Texas after being drafted to fight in the Vietnam War. Eric has already been on one tour of duty and is gung-ho to fight alongside his brother, but Dean is planning on draft dodging into Mexico during the trip. When they stop at a local shop, Chrissie and Bailey are accosted by a group of bikers and decide to continue on their way. However, one of the bikers chases their car and tries to rob the group. This distracts Eric and causes him to get into an accident with a stray cow, flipping the vehicle and ejecting Chrissie from it in the process. The female biker sticks up the injured youths still in the vehicle, but then Hoyt arrives and blows her away with his shotgun. Hoyt finds burnt draft papers and realizes that one of the men was planning on draft dodging, but Eric lies and says that it was him in order to protect his brother. Hoyt forces Eric, Dean and Bailey into his police car and then takes them back to his house. Chrissie comes to and watches as he takes them away. Moments later, a tow truck arrives to take away their vehicle and Chrissie hides inside the wreck, which also gets taken to the Hewitt residence. She then sneaks away to try to find help.

Once they have arrived, Bailey is tied up under the table inside the house and Dean and Eric are tied up in the shed, where Hoyt tortures them until Dean admits that he was the one who was planning on skipping the draft. Hoyt tells Dean that he’ll let him go free if he can do ten push-ups, which Dean succeeds at despite being beaten mercilessly by Hoyt. Eric then manages to break free and rescues Bailey, then tries to sacrifice himself as a distraction while Dean and Bailey flee. However, Thomas captures Bailey with a meathook and drags her back and Dean steps in a bear trap before Hoyt knocks Eric out. Meanwhile, Chrissie comes across the boyfriend of the biker who was killed, who takes her back to the house in order to rescue his girlfriend.

That night, Thomas takes Eric to the basement and begins skinning him alive, while Bailey is taken upstairs and raped by Hoyt. The biker heads off on his own while Chrissie sneaks into the house and finds Eric horribly mutilated. The biker shoots Uncle Monty in the leg and then forces Hoyt to take him to his girlfriend. Hoyt mistakenly thinks that his girlfriend is Bailey, but before the biker can kill Hoyt, Thomas appears and then chainsaws the biker in half. He then heads back downstairs and kills Eric with the chainsaw, before cutting Eric’s face off and making his first mask out of it. Chrissie witnesses all of this in horror and tries to flee before she has a crisis of conscience and returns for Bailey. However, she is discovered and captured.

When Chrissie comes to, she is restrained at the dinner table along with Dean and Bailey. Hoyt says grace and then Leatherface kills Bailey for being disrespectful. While trying to take away Chrissie, she breaks free and flees the house. Leatherface pursues her into the old slaughterhouse. Meanwhile, Dean wakes up and, enraged upon seeing Bailey’s corpse, attacks Hoyt and beats him senseless before chasing after Chrissie. He manages to rescue Chrissie from Leatherface, but is killed in the process while Chrissie flees to a nearby vehicle. She drives away from the scene until she spots a Texas state policeman. However, Leatherface then reveals that he has been hiding in the back seat this whole time and runs his chainsaw through her back, causing the car to veer into the policeman. Leatherface then walks away from the scene.

REVIEW
The Beginning is a rather interesting case when I reflect on it. You can really see the influence of David J. Schow on the story and his background in splatter films. Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III was already a nasty film at times, even with the MPAA restrictions. However, The Beginning takes nastiness to a whole other level, as this film just feels like punishment to watch. It definitely took a page from the splatter film/torture porn trend which was becoming popular at the time, because even comparing it to its predecessor is a night-and-day difference. As I noted in the previous entry in this series, the Chainsaw remake is surprisingly restrained in its depiction of violence and tends to be more effective as a result. In contrast, The Beginning revels in its depictions of drawn-out violence and gore. I had to reflect back on all of the other Chainsaw films again to compare the nature of their violence – usually, characters die quite quickly (either by bludgeoning or chainsaw) because the villains aren’t reveling in the kill, they just want them to be dead. Usually when a character doesn’t get killed, it’s because the villains are saving them for later (Pam and Andy), not because they want them to suffer. The only times the violence gets drawn out is when L.G. was skinned alive in Chainsaw 2, but this was done accidentally by the villains and is meant to be incredibly shocking because of that. Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III was the only exception to this, with Michelle getting nailed to a chair and Ryan being hung on the meathooks with the explicit intent of taunting him, because of Schow’s splatter background. However, Leatherface still wasn’t as nasty or protracted as The Beginning is.

Even the way that the main characters are treated is different in this film – usually Chainsaw films (and slashers in general) feature the main characters getting unknowingly picked off one-by-one, but The Beginning drags its the characters into the wringer at the same time in order to maximize the suffering that each of them sustains, closer to the format of a Saw sequel. Maximized suffering is probably the best way to describe this film’s goal – as soon as the group gets into their car accident, they’re subject to all manner of escalating awfulness. Special mention first goes to Eric’s death. When it finally comes, the poor guy has been tortured and then beaten by Hoyt after he tries to sacrifice himself so his friends can escape (before realizing that they were unsuccessful). He then gets taken to the basement where Leatherface ties him down and then begins skinning his freaking arms while alive, HOLY SHIT!!! Then when Chrissie finds him in a half-delirious state, they call-back to how many kids they were going to have together, just in time for Leatherface to come back and then, while Chrissie watches, chainsaw him to death. Oh but it’s not over yet, because then Leatherface cuts off Eric’s face and then makes his first mask out of it, thereby spending the rest of the film psychologically torturing Chrissie even more with that imagery. Suffice to say, it’s brutal.

Dean, in comparison, is totally wasted in this film. Early on, much of the conflict of the story revolves around him not wanting to fight in Vietnam and whether he is a coward because of this. As far as the film seems concerned, yeah he kind of is, because he lets Eric take the fall for him when Hoyt realizes that one of the brothers is draft-dodging. Then, when he finally fesses up and performs ten push-ups for his freedom, he is too beaten to actually do anything. Then when he tries to escape, he gets caught in a bear trap, where he spends most of the rest of the film unable to get away. Then when Chrissie is finally captured, he gets dragged unconscious to the dinner table where he doesn’t even awaken until he can become a handy deus ex machina to knock out Hoyt’s front teeth (callback!), save Chrissie and then immediately get chainsawed to death for it. Not really a satisfying story arc, eh? Dean is just one of the clear aspects of this film which reveal that the story doesn’t actually matter, it’s all about maximizing suffering.

Bailey gets the absolute worst deal of the bunch though, infuriatingly so. For one thing, she is immediately sexed-up by the film (how surprising, considering that they hired a Playboy model for the role) and gets barely any lines to actually establish herself as a character with any sort of agency. From there, the way that her suffering stands out is notable. First of all, they tie her up under the table while Luda Mae Hewitt has tea with a friend, explicitly dehumanizing and objectifying her. Sure, it’s not torture and beatings, but the way that she’s excluded says more about the way women are seen as different. Then, if you thought she was getting things easy, she gets meathooked by Leatherface while trying to escape and then gets chained to a bed and FREAKING RAPED BY HOYT, FUUUUCK!!! Then she gets her teeth all knocked out (presumably so she can’t bite Hoyt’s dick off, or perhaps to prevent her from killing herself by biting off her tongue) before getting her throat slashed open when he isn’t being “proper”… bloody hell. So, what sort of things do we know about this character? She’s pretty, sexually active and… uh… yeah, that’s about it. Even when discussing the character, all that the cast can say is that she’s a “free spirit” which just sounds like “loose” to me… Maybe you can see why I hate what happens to this character so much – since she’s a pretty woman, she gets oogled by the camera first and then later the villains turn that sexualization into violence before killing her when she isn’t being a “good woman”. I see enough of this bullshit in manosphere screeds about Madonnas and whores, and it does not feel like this film is playing such a message as anything other than straight (if they even realize that that’s the sort of message that they’re conveying at all).

Compared to everyone else, Chrissie gets off pretty easily in The Beginning. She gets inexplicably thrown from Eric’s vehicle after the accident and is somehow unscathed. She then spends the majority of the film using her Boots of Sneaking to pass impossible DC30 stealth checks, and even when she gets captured she doesn’t suffer too much (physically anyway, seeing your boyfriend’s face worn by Leatherface would scar anyone for life). However, she is killed in the absolute cheapest way when somehow Leatherface manages to outrun Chrissie to her vehicle, then hides in the back seat for like fifteen minutes before popping up and chainsaws her through the back… because this is a prequel, so therefore all the characters have to die! It’s not like we’re supposed to give a shit about anyone anyway, right?

It’s not just the main characters who suffer either. In the film’s opening moments we’ve got Leatherface breaking both of the legs of the slaughterhouse supervisor with a sledgehammer before he goes for the kill, a level of malicious intent unseen in the character until now. Uncle Monty also gets some of the most random suffering, to the point where it’s darkly funny. First he gets shot in the kneecap by the biker and then Hoyt decides that the best thing to do is amputate the leg, so he gets Leatherface to chainsaw it the hell off. However, Leatherface screws up and cuts into the other leg, so they just saw off the other leg off as well, all while Monty and Luda Mae are (understandably) freaking out.

So yeah, in case I hadn’t made it incredibly obvious already, this movie is brutally violent, to the point where it all just feels senseless. Perhaps worst of all though is that it relies on the shock value of its violence to be scary, something which falls flat in my opinion. It’s not like the violence is even particularly intense, unlike some moments from the remake. It’s just brutal and protracted to the point where it feels like I’m being punished by the film for watching it. To some degree I can understand why they would take the film in this direction – as the filmmakers state in the making-of featurette, it’s a nasty story so it deserves a nasty treatment. That’s fair enough as an artistic decision, and perhaps some people would really appreciate that stance, but I just really was turned off by it. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate gory films such as Evil DeadPiranha 3D, even some of the Saw films, but I need to feel like there’s at least some purpose beyond violence for the sake of violence and The Beginning doesn’t give me that.

Even if the violence in the film wasn’t turning me off, there’s still plenty to dislike. First of all, the script sucks on a number of different levels. For one thing, it really struggles to even justify why the Chainsaw remake needed a prequel. The entire origin story for Leatherface and Hoyt is breezed over in the first twenty minutes of the film. From there the film basically becomes a more violent rehash of the remake with some really inconsequential details from the last film explained. Why does Uncle Monty have no legs? A biker shot him and then Leatherface cut them off! Why does Hoyt have no front teeth? Dean knocked them out! Wow, who cares! Of course, there’s a bit more to it than that (we get Leatherface’s first skin mask and chainsaw kills, for example), but even some of the big moments are not very satisfying. A particular example is “where did Leatherface get his chainsaw?” Apparently it was literally just lying around in the supervisor’s office in the slaughterhouse so he just… picked it up? That’s, uh… that’s it? No special affection for it, he just found it and decided that that’s his thing now? It’s also worth noting that, after all my complaints about the lack of motivation for the Hewitts in the remake, The Beginning restores the Hewitt family’s cannibalism. We also get a bit of interesting background for Hoyt regarding this – he was a POW during the Korean War and once a week they were forced to pick a fellow POW to kill and eat in order to survive. Obviously this contributed to the character’s screwed up philosophy on life and it’s too bad that it’s just relegated to an expository line. Like, imagine a proper Chainsaw prequel which hadn’t just rushed through all the details of the family’s evil upbringing in order to get to a half-baked rehash… y’know, something like All-American Massacre was promising us. The laziness of this film is so bad that the climax is, once again, in the same slaughterhouse and the film ends with a really tacked on voice over to remind us that this is supposed to be a true story, both of which were handled far better in the previous film.

If you’re familiar with my retrospectives series then you’re probably aware that I get really annoyed by an overuse of lazy plot conveniences and The Beginning is just loaded with them. Leatherface just finding his chainsaw randomly might be the most egregiously insulting storywriting decision of the bunch, but there are much worse examples. For example, there is apparently only one cop in this entire town and he was conveniently shipping out to Michigan, which allows Hoyt to kill him, assume his identity and then go on crime sprees uncontested… because blue lives really don’t matter it seems. It’s even worse because Chrissie comes across a Texas state trooper at the end of the film and he actually gets run over by her car, so it’s not like this place really is a lawless wasteland anyway. Plus, wouldn’t a dead cop make the state police investigate when they find a chainsaw-impaled woman at the scene? Oh and then there’s the gang of bikers who taunt Chrissie and Bailey, but then later the group is pursued by a single biker who has gone out to rob them. They have a whole gang, why not send out at least a couple people in case something goes wrong? It’s even worse because later her boyfriend is once again riding alone when Chrissie conveniently comes across him and no one bothers to call in the rest of their gang to attack the Hewitt house. Then when she gets away Dean conveniently finds her in the slaughterhouse just in time to save her and to get himself killed, since the film is wrapping up and we can’t have any loose ends dammit!

Hell, if convenience could coalesce into a living person, she would look just like Chrissie. It starts off with a god-tier act where she gets thrown hundreds of feet from a freaking car accident and walks away completely unscathed, conveniently waking up just in time to see Hoyt taking her friends away. Then she manages to sneak into the wreck of the vehicle just in time to hide from a tow truck driver who somehow doesn’t notice her while inspecting the wreck. Then the tow truck driver just so happens to be working for Hoyt and drags the wreck back to the Hewitt residence. Then Chrissie randomly comes across the boyfriend of the biker who Hoyt killed. Then she manages to sneak around the Hewitt residence for like twenty minutes completely unnoticed despite having no idea where she’s going and a number of close calls. AND THEN she finally gets noticed because “they already know you’re here!”, AKA it was finally convenient for the writers for her to get captured. Bloody hell. Oh and then Chrissie somehow manages to miss the fact that a 300lb man outran her to her vehicle, hid in the back seat with his chainsaw and then lay there silently for like fifteen minutes or more before popping up to get a final scare and to make sure there are no survivors that can tell people about the Hewitts’ crimes. How convenient! Imagining Leatherface lying there just waiting for the perfect moment to scare the shit out of her is just hilarious to think about though.

The characters are also one dimensional at best. Of the leads, Matt Bomer puts in a pretty good performance as Eric, but he’s given basically nothing to work with. The only reason I care about the character at all is because of Bomer’s acting. I’ve already mentioned how Diora Baird’s Bailey gets totally shafted in the film as well, Baird is basically just set dressing. I mean, her boobs put in a standout performance at the start of the film, which was probably all that the filmmakers wanted anyway. Don’t get me wrong, I think that Diora Baird could have put in some good work on this film, but she isn’t even given the opportunity with this script. However, Taylor Handley’s Dean is the worst performance of the whole group, giving overly-acted line deliveries and just coming across as whiny when he should be sympathetic. It’s weird, the director and casting director really rave about Handley’s performance and talk like he’s going to be a superstar, but he’s definitely not showing any of that potential in this film. The fact that Matt Bomer was only cast in response to Taylor Handley’s casting was a very happy accident on the filmmakers’ part. Again, it’s not like the script helps him anyway as he gets totally wasted in the second half of the film, and the Vietnam War draft dodging subplot is half-baked with no real payoff. Jordana Brewster’s Chrissie is also just a strangely wasted character. She spends half of the film not even involved in the nastiness going down in the Hewitt house so by the time it comes for her to be the final girl, she hasn’t really left much of an impression other than “man that girl is really good at sneaking around unnoticed”. Again, it’s too bad, I expect Jordana could put in a good performance but she doesn’t have much to actually work with. Even R. Lee Ermey is kind of wasted by this film. He still definitely puts in the best performance and has the most material to work with, but compared to the previous film he’s much less enjoyable to watch. In the remake, he loves to taunt his victims and assert his control over them that way, whereas here he’s basically just an evil dick. The only time he really taunts someone is when he beats Dean during his pushups for freedom. He also doesn’t get nearly as many memorable or funny lines (although his first line after he shoots the sheriff is fantastic: “Shit I just killed the whole fuckin’ sheriff’s department”).

Andrew Bryniarski’s Leatherface is also not as interesting in this film. He certainly comes across as less experienced in this film, but we mostly get the same information the remake conveyed to us – people were mean to Leatherface and it caused him to lash out. This is demonstrated quite bluntly in the early parts of the film, where the slaughterhouse workers call him a dumb animal and the sheriff says that he’s retarded, both of which cause the obviously-intimidating Leatherface to become a raging, mad dog type character. It’s also kind of interesting to me that in this prequel the slaughterhouse is shut down because of health concerns. No longer is it a story about society and technology leaving rural people like Leatherface behind, it’s now about how they’re bad, disgusting people whose impoverishment is basically their own fault (doubly so when you consider that the owner of the slaughterhouse was also established as a bad person for not letting Leatherface’s mother give birth safely and for throwing the resulting baby in the dumpster). There isn’t really any sort of social commentary here anymore, it’s just about enigmatic evil people out there who mean to do us harm, and Leatherface’s toxic masculine rebirth in the remake duology is demonstrative of the dumbed-down, commercial direction this franchise took. Oh, I will add that Leatherface’s mask made from Eric’s face is pretty creepy, I like it a little bit less than the mask from the remake, but it’s certainly one of the better masks in the franchise.

Hell, I’m nearing the end of this review and I haven’t even mentioned that they rip off the dinner scene again in this one. It’s one of the better dinner scenes in the franchise, if only because we actually get some character development for the Hewitt family out of it. During the scene, Hoyt says grace and the family twists Bible verses in order to justify their actions. It is fairly interesting, but considering the merciless brutality we have seen out of this family, it really makes me wonder why the Hewitts would even invite their victims to dinner in the first place? There really isn’t a good reason other than to just reference the original film.

Suffice to say, I did not like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning. I found its handling of brutal violence very distasteful. Look, I don’t mind a gory, brutal film, but I prefer when it’s not just suffering for the sake of suffering. Add in that this is a crappy rehash of the previous film with a crap script and I feel quite justified that I’m not just pillorying this film for simply not suiting my tastes. Literally, the only moment in this film that was truly a bright spot was when Eric uses a screaming, morbidly obese house guest as a barricade, but that is nowhere near worth sitting through the rest of the film to get to.

3/10

Be sure to tune in soon as we take a look at the seventh film in the franchise, Texas Chainsaw 3D!

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Retrospective: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)

Welcome back to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre retrospective! In today entry we’re going to be covering the Platinum Dunes remake, 2003’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre! This is the film which kicked off the horror remake craze in the 2000s, for better or worse. It was also my first exposure to the franchise – I remember as a kid hearing about this movie from other kids on the bus talking about people getting their limbs chainsawed off and getting hung on a hook. Suffice to say, as a little evangelical kid it sounded like evil debauchery to me, but the imagery in my mind stuck with me and made me curious throughout the years until I finally saw the film. How does the remake hold up? Read on to find out…

I love this poster, it works because it gives us just enough creepy imagery but forces us to fill in the blanks with our imagination. Very similar to the poster for Hannibal.

PRODUCTION
After Columbia Tristar tried to bury Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation, the rightsholders spent years in court before the whole fiasco was settled. During this time, William Hooper (son of Tobe Hooper) was planning on making a new Chainsaw short starring Bill Moseley. This film was going to be called “All American Massacre and would have featured Chop Top recounting stories of his family’s misdeeds. This short ended up getting expanded into a 60 minute feature with a score by Buckethead. However, it was eventually shelved when Hooper ran out of money to complete it, leaving the project in limbo where it currently resides, with only a short trailer proving it ever existed.

Late in 2001 Michael Bay’s new production company, Platinum Dunes, decided that they wanted their first project to be a remake of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and went ahead securing the rights. Platinum Dunes aimed t0 produce low-budget films with high profit margins and a Chainsaw remake seemed like the best way to test that. Tobe Hooper and Kim Henkel were brought on a co-producers on the film. Marcus Nispel, a director of many high-profile music videos, was hired to direct the film. Interestingly, Nispel’s regular cinematographer and long-time friend, Daniel Pearl, was actually the cinematographer for the original Chainsaw. Pearl was also hired as director of photography for the remake. Scott Kosar, writer of such films as The Machinist, The Crazies and the remake of The Amityville Horror, made his scriptwriting debut on this film. He decided early on that the film shouldn’t be a direct remake of the original, but rather take the same scenario and use it as inspiration. He also went back to the story of Ed Gein for further influence.

Jessica Biel was cast to play the film’s heroine, Erin. Biel was just coming off of her role in 7th Heaven and (whether true or not) there was a perception that she was looking to shed her goody-goody image that the show had fostered. In earlier drafts of the script, Erin was actually supposed to be nine months pregnant which would have added an interesting dimension to the plot, but Michael Bay shot the idea down. Nispel claims that Erin is pregnant during the events of the film, but there is nothing in the film itself which suggests that this is the case. The principal cast were filled out with a number of young, up-and-coming actors: Eric Balfour was cast as Erin’s boyfriend, Kemper, Erica Leerhsen as Pepper, Mike Vogel as Andy, and Jonathan Tucker as Morgan. On the villainous side of the cast, freaking R. Lee Ermey was cast as Sheriff Hoyt. As for Leatherface, Andrew Bryniarski (most notable for playing Zangief in the Street Fighter movie) was a friend of Michael Bay’s and asked him at a Christmas party if he could play the role. However, Bay had to turn him down because Leatherface had already been cast. However, according to Wikipedia (so take this info as you will, I only found an interview that verifies this story) the actor who was cast as Leatherface was injured on the very first day of shooting after lying about his physical qualifications and was subsequently fired. In dire need of a replacement actor to play the villain, Byrniarski was called up and cast.

The film’s budget was set at less than $10 million and filming took place in Texas once again. Like all of the other Chainsaw films in Texas, this created the usual problems for the cast and crew, with hot and humid weather making life difficult. This was hardest on Bryniarski, as he had to perform in a fat suit and wore a mask during the entire shoot, making it difficult to breathe and forcing him to stay hydrated to avoid passing out. The film was released on October 17, 2003 and made its budget back within the first day. Suffice to say, it was a box office hit although the reviews at the time were mixed. Roger Ebert famously hated it, giving the film a rare 0/4 stars.

PLOT SYNOPSIS
The film opens with police footage of the “real life” crime scene of the Hewitt family (the name of the family has been changed from “Sawyer” in this timeline). It then flashes back to the events of that day and we are introduced to a group of young people travelling through Texas. The group has just returned from a vacation in Mexico, where they picked up a woman named Pepper who Andy has had a tryst with, and are headed to a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert. Erin discovers that the group is secretly smuggling drugs that they acquired during the trip south of the border and, after distracting her boyfriend, Kemper, about it, he nearly hits a woman walking beside the road. The group picks the woman up and tries to take her to the hospital, but she begins going crazy and shoots herself in the head. The group is, understandably, shocked and tries to find the local sheriff to report the incident. The locals direct them to an old mill to wait for the sheriff, but when he does not arrive, a local boy directs Kemper and Erin to a nearby house where he is supposed to live. When they arrive, the owner of the house says that the sheriff does not live here, but offers Erin use of his phone. Kemper then wanders into the house and is ambushed by Leatherface and killed. Erin leaves after phoning the sheriff, not realizing that Kemper had gone into the house and assuming that he went back to the others.

Meanwhile, Sheriff Hoyt arrives at the mill and begins taunting and questioning Andy, Morgan and Pepper about what happened. He forces Andy to help him wrap up the body and then gets Morgan to join in and help put the body in the back of his vehicle before leaving. Erin gets back after he has left and is surprised that the sheriff has already come and gone. She also is surprised that Kemper is not with the others and so she and Andy decide to return to the house to figure out what happened to Kemper. Erin distracts the homeowner while Andy sneaks into the house, but when they are discovered, Leatherface chases after the pair with a chainsaw. During the escape, Andy’s leg is sawed off by Leatherface and he is dragged into the basement to be hung on a meathook. Erin makes it back to the others and then tries to get the van started so that they can find help, but they are stopped by Sheriff Hoyt. Hoyt doesn’t listen to Erin’s stories about a chainsaw-wielding maniac killing her friends and instead arrests them after finding marijuana in the vehicle. He taunts Morgan, forcing him to re-enact the hitchhiker’s suicide until Morgan turns the gun on Hoyt. However, the gun is not loaded and Hoyt beats Morgan before taking him away in his squad car.

Now on their own, Erin and Pepper try to escape in the van, but are attacked by Leatherface. Pepper is killed while trying to escape, while Erin flees to a nearby home. The owners of the house try to placate her, until Erin realizes that they are complicit with the Hewitts – the child in this home was from a family killed by the Hewitts. The locals drug Erin and when she awakes she has been brought to the Hewitt house by Hoyt. She gets dumped into the basement by Leatherface where she finds Andy hanging from the meathook. After trying to free him, Andy begs Erin to kill him, which she does so using a large knife. She then finds Morgan, badly beaten, and tries to escape with him. Leatherface realizes that they are trying to escape and pursues them into another abandoned house. After a lengthy game of cat-and-mouse, Leatherface finds the pair and kills Morgan. Erin flees into the local slaughterhouse where she finally gets the upper-hand on Leatherface, severing his arm with a meat cleaver. She then flags a passing truck driver to escape, but when the driver tries to find locals to help her, she realizes that he’s going to inadvertently deliver her back to Hoyt. She escapes the truck and finds that they’re at the house with the kidnapped child. Erin takes the child back and then, when Hoyt comes to investigate the truck, she runs him over with his own police cruiser and escapes, but not before Leatherface shows up for one last swipe at the fleeing vehicle. In the epilogue, it is revealed that the police seen in the opening footage were killed by Leatherface and that he is still out there somewhere.

REVIEW
I don’t want to spend the bulk of this review comparing the remake with the original film, but suffice to say that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre strikes a good balance between original ideas and reverence to the original. One aspect of the remake which stands out is that it’s far more glitzy than any of the other Chainsaw films. This is likely due to the influence of Platinum Dunes, as Michael Bay is known for his flashy, flawless, Hollywood film-making aesthetic. Daniel Pearl was quite up-front about not wanting to recreate the grainy, documentary-style aesthetic of the original Chainsaw, but the differences go further than that. Whereas the original film and (to a lesser extent) its sequels had aimed for fairly normal-looking actors, the remake casts very pretty, Hollywood talent. The film also just feels different, no longer lingering on disturbing imagery and forcing the audience to piece a picture together from what they’ve seen. Instead, scares are far more conventional, edited in a disorienting fashion and set to “scary music”. Thankfully, the film doesn’t really rely on irritating jump scares, but regardless the horror is nowhere near as effective as it was in the original.

I was also surprised by how little gore there was in this film – I’ve seen this movie at least two or three times now and I remember it being far bloodier and nastier than it actually was. However, while the film is definitely far more explicit than the original film, it follows a similar philosophy of keeping the worst of the violence to your imagination. For example, Andy gets his leg chopped off very quickly and with only a little blood, Pepper gets hacked up with a chainsaw off-screen, Morgan gets cut nearly in half from the crotch upward off-screen, and Kemper’s face gets cut off and made into a mask entirely off-screen. In fact, the only truly R-rated scenes of violence are the hitchhiker shooting herself in the head (complete with a camera pan backwards through the freaking bullet hole) and Leatherface losing his arm, but the film is nowhere near as brutal as I remembered. This works in the film’s favour though, it makes you use your imagination to fill in the blanks, hence why I remembered the film being nastier than it actually was. Apparently the film was originally intended to be far more graphic though, with much more brutal on-screen kills for Morgan, Pepper and Kemper planned, and Leatherface was also supposed to murder his own nephew Jedidiah for helping Erin and Morgan escape (which presumably was cut due to it being too brutal for a kid to be killed).

As for the film’s script, it follows the outline of the original film in very broad strokes without straight-up ripping off any of the scenes (unlike all of the other sequels in this franchise, each of which have effectively remade the dinner scene). Like, instead of travelling to Texas to check in on their family’s grave, the group is heading to a concert. Instead of picking up a hitchhiker who attacks the group, the hitchhiker commits suicide in their car. Instead of stumbling across the Sawyer house while looking for gas, they find the Hewitt residence while searching for the sheriff. As you can see, the remake follows the same outline as the original, while also providing its own twists on the formula, which is a good direction to take a remake in my opinion. In fact, I’d argue that some of the additions are actually improvements (blasphemy, I know). In particular, the characters’ deaths feel like there is much more purpose to them in this film. In the original, the characters just kept wandering onto the Sawyers’ property and getting murdered because of that. In the remake, characters usually die for more interesting reasons. The characters come across the Hewitt house because they were told that that was where they could find the sheriff, which leads to Kemper getting ambushed by Leatherface. Andy gets his leg cut off because he broke into the Hewitt house trying to find Kemper and then gets mercy-killed by Erin. Pepper dies trying to escape Leatherface. Morgan dies saving Erin. I get that the purposelessness of the original film’s deaths is part of the point of that film, but I have to say that the remake’s deaths feel more satisfying from a narrative standpoint. There are also some interesting little additions to the film which I enjoyed, such as the peepholes that the Hewitts have installed around their house which allow them to spy on uninvited guests, having Erin’s rescue mirror the hitchhiker’s suicide from the start of the film and that the whole community seems to be complicit with the Hewitts’ crimes now.

However, the script has some definite issues and is also noticeably messy and disappointing in its third act. The film is really solid up until Erin is kidnapped and brought to the Hewitt house, at which point it starts to nosedive. For one thing, there are just too many dumb conveniences here. Like, when Leatherface tossed Erin into the basement unrestrained, what was he expecting to happen? Of course she was going to free Morgan and try to escape. In addition, Jedidiah’s character is just super convenient. For no explicable reason he suddenly decides to grow a conscience and help Erin and Morgan escape. It also doesn’t help that the third act doesn’t bother to give us any motivation for the villains. There’s nothing to suggest that the Hewitts are cannibals, they just kill people… because, I guess? Funnily enough, as much as I rag on Chainsaw films ripping off the dinner scene every time, this film actually needed a dinner scene, or an emotional equivalent, in its third act. Instead, we just get an extended chase sequence for the entire last half hour of the film. Imagine if the original Chainsaw had ended with Sally running away from the gas station for another 10 minutes after finding out Drayton is a villain and then the film just ends – obviously it wouldn’t have anywhere near the same impact, but that’s basically what this film does. While I’m glad that they didn’t just rip off the dinner scene again, this film definitely needed some sort of scene with Hoyt taunting Erin and a giving us better understanding of what the Hewitts are up to. I’m also not a huge fan of the ending – between Erin rescuing the kidnapped kid that no one really cared about in the first place and her confrontation with Hoyt, it isn’t that great. Her reaction to killing Hoyt felt weird to me because the two characters barely interacted throughout the film – all of his emotional abuses were directed towards the other characters, whereas Erin was usually absent, so it doesn’t really resonate as well as it should. Also, the rescued kid felt totally tacked on, possibly all the way back to the draft where Erin was nine-months pregnant. Having her somehow sneak in and rescue this kid was just pointless, like the producers wanted to force some sort of ray of sunshine into the ending.

Something else odd that I noticed about the remake is that it follows traditional slasher morality codes more than any other entry in the franchise up to this point. For example, Erin is our final girl because she’s the only member of the group who follows traditional morality – she objects to the group’s post smoking and excessive drinking and she always insists on doing the “moral” action (rescuing the hitchhiker, waiting for the sheriff to arrive to take the body, etc). During the opening scene, she is contrasted against the pot-smoking Morgan, the furiously horny Andy and Pepper and the moral conflict of Kemper. However, this is also a cruel irony because she is also the reason why everyone else dies – as Hoyt himself says, if she hadn’t picked up the hitchhiker, then they wouldn’t have gotten into this mess in the first place. It’s kind of interesting to consider that in the remake compassion is what gets everyone killed, not simply that the villains are evil.

The film has far less going on in it than the original, but it does notably carry on the theme of society vs barbarism from the first film. Notably, the Texas locals in this film all have some sort of deformity to them, from missing limbs, to gout, to just being sheer lunatics. These deformities are contrasted even more obviously than in the original due to the remake’s much more glamorous and pretty cast. Funnily enough, when I saw the kidnapped kid I was actually going to make a note that this was the first local we had seen which was actually “normal” looking, until it was revealed that this child was actually kidnapped from “civilized” society, a fact which pretty much signifies that this distinction was totally intentional. With this in mind, rescuing the kid at the end is thematically significant to the message of the film, as tacked-on as that part of the ending may seem. I wonder whether the post-9/11 climate helped to inform the tone of the film, where not only is compassion being taken advantage of by evil people, but society and its deviant fringes are colliding violently.

As for the characters, it seems to me that they are all quite flat in the script and only really gain any weight from the people playing them. Luckily for the film, I actually quite liked most of the performances, but when I think back on the characters themselves I realize that there isn’t really much to any of them. Jessica Biel’s Erin makes for a pretty great and capable final girl, probably the second best in the franchise after Stretch. However, she isn’t exactly a compelling character and the revelation that this very moral character spent time in juvie for hot-wiring vehicles comes across as pretty convenient. After her, Kemper is probably the next most compelling, in part due to Eric Balfour’s performance. He really sells the character’s conflict without having to rely on the material to get that across – he’s trying to get money to pay for a wedding ring he purchased for Erin, but in order to do so he is planning on selling pot at the Lynyrd Skynyrd concert they’re attending, a fact which Erin does not approve of. After the hitchhiker kills herself in their vehicle, his plans start to come apart at the seams and it’s interesting seeing him have to make his decisions and juggle the various factors weighing on him. It’s just really sad to see him die, and then later for Erin to see Leatherface wearing her boyfriend’s face is just traumatic. Andy also gets enjoyable in the second half of the film. The first half wastes him as a generic pretty boy, but by the time he joins Erin to try to rescue Kemper, he gets much more interesting. He even gets a short fight with Leatherface before getting his leg chopped off, at which point I just feel really sorry for him. I really like Mike Vogel and I think that his performance is what makes me like Andy so much, it’s just too bad he doesn’t get much to work with. As for Pepper and Morgan? Meh. Morgan is just a total douche, whereas Pepper really doesn’t get much of a character at all.

The villains are where things really shine though. While Sheriff Hoyt is also a rather flat character, R. Lee Ermey turns him into an absolute joy to watch, nearly on par with Chop Top. He isn’t just a rip-off of Full Metal Jacket’s Sargeant Hartman either. Instead of being just abrasive, Hoyt gets a hoot out of being sadistic dick. He loves to taunt his victims and lord himself over them, such as when he makes inappropriately sexual jokes about the hitchhiker’s corpse just to make Andy uncomfortable. He’s also a total bastard when taunting people, most notably when Hoyt tricks Morgan into trying to shoot him, only to reveal that he had unloaded the gun first. He can also be darkly hilarious – during one scene he’s chatting up Morgan and when Morgan tells him that they were heading to a Skynyrd concert, Hoyt tells him that they have something in common. Then he bashes Morgan with a bottle, knocking out a tooth, which causes him to show that he’s missing his front teeth and say that now they have something else in common. It’s nasty, but the way that Ermey sells it is fantastic. Unsurprisingly, he straight-up steals every scene he’s in and the fact that he died in the last year leaves us all poorer as a result.

As for Leatherface, Andrew Bryniarski’s performance is the best since Gunnar Hansen and his mask is also by far the best-looking since the original film, in my opinion . He has a great physical presence and is genuinely frightening to see pursuing the heroes. The character has also been changed a fair bit in this incarnation. He does seem to be mute, but he does not seem to be mentally handicapped anymore; he’s far more cunning and purposeful in his actions than he ever has been. Leatherface also has some sort of skin disease which has eaten away his nose. It actually looks quite nasty and marks the first time we see the character’s face in this series. Also, instead of killing to eat or to defend his home, Leatherface just seems to be evil and going on a rampage in this film. According to director Marcus Nispel, Leatherface is so sadistic and evil because… he was bullied? No seriously, here’s the quote:

“If my son would go mad and wear other people’s faces, I wouldn’t be supportive of him *unless* something happened to him – a deformity or whatever – that is being ridiculed. I think about that a great deal when I think about Columbine. I wonder, ‘Where are the real monsters?’ Who made these kids be that way? […] Now, here’s someone who has no identity, so he has to wear other people’s faces for a mask. People that heckled him. People that are much more beautiful than he is, and a family that knows what drove him to this; namely, that heckling. And that’s why they support him. […] But what really makes it scary is that he’s a real guy – the neighbor’s son on a wild rampage.”

Umm, okay… I get that this was very much inspired by all of the conversations in the aftermath of Columbine, but I really don’t see this as a reasonable motivation for the character to be killing people, let alone why Hoyt would be joining in on it or why the locals would be complicit in his actions. Seriously, this film needed some sort of actual justification for the Hewitt family’s crimes, it just feels like they’re only killing people because they’re evil now. Cannibalism was a commentary on the climate of its time, so perhaps the lack of motivation reflects on the post-9/11 confusion about the causes of evil in the world?

All-in-all, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a decent horror remake. It definitely has its issues and the material could have been much stronger, but it’s a pretty enjoyable watch and is quite well-made, especially compared to the horror remakes which tried to ape its success. If more remakes that followed in its wake had actually followed its strengths, then perhaps the trend would not have been as reviled as it came to be.

5.5/10

Be sure to tune in again soon as we take a look at the sixth entry in the franchise, the prequel to the remake, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning!

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