You’d think that the co-writer of the original 1974 Texas Chainsaw Massacre would be the ideal individual to write and direct a sequel to that film, but you’d be wrong. Dead wrong. Even considering the troubled release and multiple re-cuts of the film, there is simply no excuse for just how bad Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation really is. By a wide margin it is the worst installment in the franchise, and that is a stellar accomplishment, because the Texas Chainsaw Massacre series is full of some pretty fucking terrible sequels.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1994)
Its prom night and Jenny (Renee Zellweger) and her friends just want to enjoy the teenage redneck event like everyone else. Unfortunately, some ill-conceived drama sends them down the backroads of Texas and you know what that means. Jenny’s friends are quickly murdered by the brutal Sawyer family: Cyborg-legged Vilmer Sawyer (Matthew McConaughey), idiot-savant W.E. Sawyer (Joe Stevens), transvestite Leatherface (Robert Jacks) and Vilmer’s white trash girlfriend, Darla (Tonie Perensky). As the sadistic Sawyers take Jenny hostage for a night of fun and games, the mousey youth learns the truth behind their devilish antics: they belong to an ancient Illuminati society of global fear agents intent on spreading horror as a form of spiritual experience.
Fuck no, I didn’t make that up.
Originally titled The Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre and intended to be a remake of the original film, celebrating its 20th anniversary, writer/Director Kim Henkel inadvertently ended up creating an “in-betweenquel” that fits snugly between The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 and Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III.
In that respect, The Next Generation actually repairs the discontinuity between the last two sequels which is about the only thing of merit the film accomplishes. Unfortunately, it serves a narrative purpose while simultaneously being an absolute wreck to sit through. Try to imagine hiring a teenager to mow your lawn but in the process he splatters mud all over your house and breaks your windows with rocks. Yeah, he got the job done, but do the ends justify the means? In the case of The Next Generation, I would say “No”.
To put on my nerd cap, the narrative discontinuity between the second and third films in the series has mostly to do with the opening narrative scrawls of those films. Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 says that Sally Hardesty fell into a coma and the Sawyers were never arrested. Leatherface opens with a scrawl claiming that Sally Hardesty died and that the only Sawyer to ever be arrested and executed was a “W.E. Sawyer”… a character who was never in any of the previous movies.
The Next Generation, fitting in-between the second and third movie, introduces us to the enigmatic (and completely worthless) W.E. Sawyer, who survives the end of the film so that he can be arrested before Leatherface. It also ends with Sally Hardesty (played once more by Marilyn Burns in a cameo), still in her coma, being wheeled out of a hospital by a member of the global fear syndicate, presumably to meet her doom. And barring all those other things, Grandpa (Grayson Victor Schirmacher) is alive in this movie and dead in Leatherface, so it’d have to take place in-between the second and third films, anyway.
Of course, just to prove that The Next Generation can’t do anything completely right, its opening narrative scrawl alludes to the events of both Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 and Leatherface as “two minor, yet apparently related incidents”, thus implying it takes place after the third film. And Leatherface’s handicap in the third film was a reference to his impalement at the end of the second film, but he suffers no such physical malady in this installment.
You know what? Fuck it. I don’t care anymore.
Being conceived as a remake, The Next Generation follows much of the same flow as the original 1974 film, right down to aping the entire chainsaw chase sequence through the woods, house, second floor window and ending at a rest station where the fleeting female thought she’d find help (only to find a member of the family). The film actually follows pretty much all the basics of a typical Texas Chainsaw Massacre installment, with characters getting abducted by the Sawyers, tormented, stuck on meat hooks, shoved in freezers, forced to endure whacko dinner scenes and the like, all decorated with a menagerie of scenery-chewing hillbillies burdened with excesses of personality. I imagine if one were to read this in script form or as a novelization or, I dunno, a comic book adaptation, they probably wouldn’t think twice about it as being particularly dreadful.
The problem, then, is that all the actors are absolutely terrible even by straight-to-video ‘90s horror standards.
You know how in high school your English class would have days where everyone had to take turns reading passages from a Shakespeare play or something out-loud, one kid at a time? Remember how the students would parrot their lines as quickly and unenthusiastically as possible just to get them over with, almost resenting that they had to do it in the first place?
Well, that’s how the actors in this movie are, including Renee Zellweger. Everyone in this movie resents the fact that they are in this movie. You’ve got a scene where one of the teens is trying to run away from Vilmer Sawyer and after no more than 10 paces decides “screw it” and then recites his lines like he was reading them off of notes scribbled in ballpoint pen on the palm of his hand. Renee Zellweger, in particular, just does not care about what she is doing and will respond to being threatened with rape, torture or death with eye-rolling, “Oh my gosh. No. Please. Stop. I beg you.”
The cast doesn’t want to be in this movie anymore than you want to watch it.
Well, except for maybe Matthew McConaughey, who seems to be the only person in the whole film that thinks he’s in a serious movie that requires 100% of his acting prowess. In a victory through comparison with the rest of the listless players, you may actually mistake McConaughey’s acting as “good” for the first time in your life.
But it isn’t the first hour of typical Texas Chainsaw Massacre nonsense that people recognize this film for, because right at the one hour mark this movie gets really indignant, like it can hear your snide remarks and doesn’t appreciate them. “Oh, you think I’m a terrible movie? You think I suck? Ohhhh, I’ll show you SUCK!”
Because the one hour mark is where Leatherface inexplicably turns into a transvestite in full-on drag queen mode and a guy IMDB says is named Rothman (played by James Gale but when I first saw this movie I thought it was Judd Nelson) arrives to show off his nipple rings while explaining that the Sawyer family belongs to an international terror organization and that he is disappointed with Matthew McConaughey’s output. That happens and Kim Henkel can never take it back. Personally, if Rothman were to be upset with McConaughey’s character about anything, I’d think it would be the fact that he has “Illuminati” painted on the side of his tow-truck. Way to advertise your secret society, dude.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation is just fundamentally flawed on every level. There is no, “Well, maybe if they’d done it this way it would have been okay” or “Maybe if they hadn’t done this it might have been alright”. Everything about this movie is a disaster. When it isn’t getting the fundamentals of characters like Leatherface completely wrong, it’s adding Illuminati bullshit that overcomplicates the simple and frightening concept of “crazy family that eats people”.