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Chainsaw of Fools

Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation
Show Me the Chainsaw: A soon-to-be-famous Renee Zellweger defends her honor in 'Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation.'

'Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation' proves that you can't go home again to the house in the woods

By Michael S. Gant

AH, THE INDISCRETIONS of youth. I'll bet that Matthew McConaughey, now that he's played a spiritual adviser to presidents, wishes he hadn't let himself be cast in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (originally titled, in 1994, Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre and now being marketed with a revised title in order to capitalize on Matt's subsequent fame) as a crazed, bloodlusting, tow-truck­driving villain named Vilmer. Ditto Renee Zellweger, who, before she got shown the real money in Jerry Mcguire, screamed her lungs out in TCM: TNG for peanuts as the "virgin who survives."

More interesting is the case of director/screenwriter Kim Henkel, who penned the original version for director Tobe Hooper back in 1974. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which rates a place in cult-movie Valhalla on the basis of its name alone (Massachusetts Skillsaw Scuffle? I don't think so), was a genuinely disturbing film. A lot of B-movie histories emphasize the horror-comedy aspects of the original, but all I remember from the time I saw it--besides having to pass through a picket line of outraged feminists--was how the low production values and bad acting actually made the film seem frighteningly like a snuff documentary. Henkel should have known better than to try and catch lightning in a lens a second time. There's no way that this sequel/remake/homage can possibly out-creep the original, even if it does replicate, rather sheepishly, the infamous meat-hook scene. What's worse is that the ironic, slasher-genre in-jokes have been done much better in Wes Craven's Scream.

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The rock band called Chainsaws and Children

A small record label called Chainsaw.

The official site of the movie under its original title.

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Henkel has reworked his plot with only minor variations. Out way past their bedtimes, wandering teens stumble across a family of sadistic (and sloppy) flesh-rending psychos: Vilmer (McConaughey, who actually acquits himself well in a sub­Woody Harrelson way), cross-dressing Leatherface (Robert Jacks, who is exceedingly clumsy with his beloved chainsaw), a crazed real-estate agent named Darla (Tonie Perenski) and a cattle-prod-wielding brother (Joe Stevens). Some mayhem and much chaotic screaming (Leatherface and Vilmer squabble louder than the pundits on Crossfire) ensue until plucky heroine Jenny (Zellweger) escapes.

The only detour in the familiar schematic is the introduction of a strange new character named Rothman (James Gale), who, it is hinted, is manipulating Vilmer and Co. for his own twisted ends. When Rothman demands that Vilmer show his victims the true meaning of horror, a bare flicker of an idea passes across the screen: Rothman is a surrogate for the director, for all horror-film directors. But the notion is quickly forgotten, and the film stumbles to a slapdash ending featuring cameos by some of the original cast members. The only person who might bother to picket this Massacre is Tobe Hooper, for desecrating his masterpiece.


The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (R; 86 min.), directed and written by Kim Henkel, photographed by Levie Isaacks and starring Matthew McConaughey and Renee Zellweger.

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From the Aug. 27-Sept. 3, 1997 issue of Metro.

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