Starring Dennis Hopper, Caroline Williams, Bill Moseley, Jim Siedow
Directed by Tobe Hooper
Distributed by Scream Factory
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre series can be called many things, but predictable is definitely not one of them. Creator Tobe Hooper left a gruesome mark on pop culture when he released The Texas Chain Saw Massacre in 1974, delivering what is still considered by audiences to be one of the scariest horror films of all time. Instead of producing a follow-up in the same vein, however, he opted to turn the subtle black humor of the first film up to eleven, making The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 (1986) into a wildly horrific comedy. Fans have been divided since the film’s release as to whether or not this was a good decision. I think it was genius. For starters, it is highly unlikely Hooper would have been able to recapture the austere terror of the first film. The original is a masterpiece of horror; it cannot be replicated. Secondly, by injecting copious amounts of satire and sleaze, while subtly offering up a social commentary on everything from ‘80s excess to Freudian muscle-men-led action pictures, Hooper is able to breathe new life into Leatherface and his cannibalistic clan. The reclusive rejects of the first film are realized as characters with more depth – they might be characters devoid of empathy and the basics of human emotion, but by shining a light into the Sawyer family’s decrepit homestead Hooper doesn’t diminish their propensity for terror through this illumination – he revs it to the max.
Picking up in real time, over a decade after the events of the first film, this sequel opens with the most hated scum of the ‘80s: yuppies. Specifically, a couple of high school yuppies, cruising down the highway in a two-seat Mercedes Benz and shooting at road signs. Drunk and full of vigor, the two call up a local radio station and pester DJ Vanita “Stretch” Brock (Caroline Williams), refusing to hang up and clear the line despite her repeated requests. Their call is literally cut off when a truck the two douchebags played chicken with earlier comes roaring back, with Leatherface perched in the bed, chainsaw at the ready. The boys are turned into hamburger meat, all while Stretch unwittingly listens in on the chaos.
Lt. “Lefty” Enright (Dennis Hopper) shows up at the scene of the wreck the next morning, convinced this “accident” is the work of the same murderous brood that killed his nephew, the wheelchair-bound Franklin, and left his niece Sally in a catatonic state. Stretch catches wind of Lefty’s crusade via a small article in the local paper and she goes to his seedy motel to offer up the tape. Lefty rebuffs her offer, but the next day he shows up at the radio station and makes a request: play the tape every hour, on the hour, in hopes that people will listen and know the truth about these killings. Stretch does as he asks but unfortunately for her the tape also draws the attention of the Sawyer family. Just as Stretch is about to close up for the night she heads downstairs and runs into Chop Top (Bill Moseley), a self-confessed huge music fan who has a special request. She placates him just long enough for Leatherface to burst from the shadows. His entrance is a little clumsy, though, and he dents Chop Top head plate, giving Stretch time enough to run upstairs. While Leatherface gives chase, Chop Top comes across Stretch’s co-worker, L.G. (Lou Perryman), whom he mercilessly beats with a ballpeen hammer. Meanwhile, upstairs Leatherface takes a liking to Stretch, allowing her to live before he and Chop Top take off with L.G.’s body.
Stretch gives chase and follows the two back to their family hideout, stationed inside of an abandoned amusement park called “Texas Battle Land”. As she creeps around the property, Lefty shows up – with three chainsaws in tow – but Stretch falls down a trap door, tumbling into the heart of the Sawyer’s dilapidated carnival of horrors. Lefty, meanwhile, does some investigating of his own and comes across the decayed corpse of Franklin, still in his wheelchair and clutching that flashlight. Fueled by intense, hellfire-and-brimstone anger, Lefty goes on a rampage destroying the Sawyer’s subterranean lair, while Stretch does her best to survive another encounter with Leatherface and company.
For a long time I had very ambivalent feelings about this film. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is one of my favorite films of all-time, horror or otherwise, and when I first saw this tonally shifted sequel it didn’t work for me. The humor was too overt. Lefty was an odd, enigmatic character. Stretch annoyed me to no end. For years I preferred the other sequel to the original film, Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1993), a movie that attempted to recalibrate the series by mixing equal parts horror and humor. But as time went on, and I watched the film sporadically over the years, it began to grow on me like a bloody fungus. I began to appreciate the characters-turned-caricatures. The weird, eerie score (also by Hooper). The over-the-top gonzo gore. The production design.
On that last one, seriously, the production design on this film is astonishing. It’s even more impressive when you consider the film began shooting in June and was released in August of the same year. Even with a cripplingly tight schedule, production designer Cary White and his crew created one of the greatest sets I’ve ever seen: Texas Battle Land. The underground crypt of the Sawyer family looks like it’s been home to ghoulish acts of depravity for decades. The sprawling labyrinth is replete with skeletons, body parts, desiccated corpses, carnival lights, all sorts of discarded items, tunnels… it’s like an episode of “Hoarders” for the serial killer scene. Honestly, I would be just as content had the film been Stretch and Lefty wandering around this massive maze the entire time, running into some sort of mayhem around each bend.
Hooper refrained from personifying the Sawyer clan in the first film. Characters were named “Cook” or “Hitchhiker”. Here, he does an about-face and allows each family member to have a name and a colorful personality. “Cook” is Drayton Sawyer, once again played by Jim Siedow, an award-winning chili cook who is the de facto patriarch of the brood. Siedow was responsible for most of the first film’s gallows humor, and here he cranks up the wit with one-liners flying free in every scene. When Drayton gets his dander up, he just gets funnier. “Sure burned my beans on that one!” Hitchhiker may have died in the first film, but that doesn’t mean he can’t get in on the fun this time around. Here, he’s Nubbins, a dried-up corpse toted around by Chop Top, his twin brother who missed out on the massacre in ’74 due to his deployment in ‘Nam. Moseley created an all-time character in Chop Top, the foul-mouthed, wisecracking, rotten-toothed, chrome-domed brother of Leatherface. Chop Top has some exceedingly gross habits, such as heating up a bent coat hanger to scratch dead skin off his skull plate before eating it. There are so many ticks and flourishes to Chop Top that he could carry his own spinoff.
And then there’s Leatherface, whom the family calls “Bubba”. He was a monolith of death the first time around, meting out swift execution through fear due to his stunted mental development. For the sequel, he’s a gyrating, suit-and-tie guy who’s horned up and looking for love. He’s still a force to be reckoned with, as evidenced by how maliciously he offs the yuppies and when he finally battles Lefty chainsaw-a-chainsaw during the climax. But for most of the film he’s Bubba, Chop Top’s little bro. His saw isn’t just an instrument of death; it’s also an extension of his manhood. Just as machineguns in ‘80s action films were a metaphor for guys playing with their big dicks, Leatherface thrusts his saw in the same thinly veiled manner. His hobbies may include eating people and violent dismemberment, but at the end of the day he just wants somebody to love. Sweet, right?
Alright, I think I’ve rattled on long enough. Suffice it to say, Hooper’s once polarizing picture has settled into a comfortable life as a deserving cult classic. My appreciation for the film only grows with each subsequent viewing, and thanks to such ornate set design there are minute details to be discovered with each viewing. Fans have likely purchased this film a few times already, between the VHS, two DVD releases, and a Blu-ray from MGM. But if you’re in the market for the definitive version – yes, even more so than Arrow’s buff Region-B edition – then Scream Factory’s release is unquestionably the one to own.
Looking to please fans across the board, Scream Factory has made this release a two-disc edition, featuring two different transfers of the film – a new 2K HD scan of the inter-positive and the original HD master with color correction supervision by director of photography Richard Kooris. My suggestion: don’t even bother with the former. The new 1.85:1 1080p picture is a clear improvement over MGM’s old disc, with tighter film grain, richer colors, less dirt & debris, and better detailing. The image is sharp – just look at the sleek lines on every automobile, or the textures in clothing – with even night shots displaying far more picture information than on the old release. The sharpness of those finer details can be variable though this is certainly the best this film has ever looked. If you really feel the need to watch the old disc with the d.p.’s color timing you won’t be in for a rough viewing, but comparatively this new scan blows the old one out of the water.
There is frequent activity to be heard on the English DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround sound track, though not much of it comes from the rear speakers. Instead, expect to hear some solid separation amongst the dialogue and effects emanating from the front end of your system. The constant buzz of chainsaws will make your neighbors think you’re doing some major home project in the living room. This is a strong track, eve if it isn’t impressively powerful. My favorite element here: the score, written by Tobe Hooper and Jerry Lambert. It’s like Bernard Herrmann wrote something strange and creepy meant to be played on a keyboard. The main title is a very underrated piece of music as far as horror scores go. Even worse, the score has never been released on any format – ever. Someone get Waxwork or Death Waltz on the case posthaste.
The new audio commentary on this disc features director of photography Richard Kooris, production designer Cary White, script supervisor Laura Kooris, and property master Michael Sullivan. If you’re in the mood to hear some slow talking old Texans discuss their time in the trenches on this film, then give this track a spin. It’s got plenty of silent gaps, but there’s still some gold to be mined.
Director Tobe Hooper’s audio commentary from 2006’s special edition DVD returns here. He’s got plenty to say about the film and its legacy, making this the track to choose among the three included here.
For a less serious time, listen to the audio commentary featuring actors Bill Moseley, Caroline Williams, and special effects make-up creator Tom Savini. This is a lively track full of fond recollections, though its technical and informative depth is limited.
“It Runs in the Family Extended Outtakes” – With both L.M. Kit Carson and Lou Perryman leaving this Earth far too early, this piece offers up additional interview footage of the two, culled from outtakes of the feature-length doc included on disc two.
There are a number of still galleries included here:
– “Black & White Stills” features 60 images.
– “Behind the Scenes” features 127 images.
– “Personal Collection of Jason Guy” features 24 images.
– “Color Stills” features 24 images.
– “Posters & Lobby Cards” features 51 images.
– “Special Effects Gallery” features 27 images.
There are two theatrical trailers and seven TV spots, all in HD.
“More Bits” has some extra meaty features:
– “Behind the Scenes Footage Compilation”- Showing off more of Savini’s gruesome FX work and on-set shooting.
– “Alternate Opening Credit Sequence” – Instead of a black background the credits roll over shots of the moonlit Texas landscape.
– “Deleted scenes” – Text cards explain each shot and why it was cut. These are presented in 4×3 full-frame.
“House of Pain – with Make-up Effects Artists Bart Mixon, Gabe Bartalos, Gino Crognale, and John Vulich” – Nearly all of the film’s FX team, minus Savini, are interviewed separately to discuss each of the major effects pieces shown on camera, including a few that didn’t make the final cut.
“Yuppie Meat – with actors Chris Douridas and Barry Kinyon” – The yuppies seen in the film’s opening are interviewed together, discussing how they got their roles and what it was like working with Hooper. Apparently he’s quite the hardass.
“Cutting Moments – with editor Alain Jakubowicz” – The elderly editor says he loved this movie, which he saw as a total comedy. He also takes the time to discuss his lengthy career.
“More Bits” once again hides a number of worthwhile bonus features:
– “Behind the Mask – with Stunt Man & Leatherface Performer Bob Elmore”.
– “Horror’s Hallowed Grounds”- Once again, showing off the location from the film as they stand today.
– “It Runs in the Family” – Don’t miss this hidden gem, as it offers up an exhaustive look at the entire process of making this film from start to finish.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 [Collector’s Edition] Bonus Features:
Disc 1: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part Two (New HD Transfer)
- NEW 2016 2K HD scan of the inter-positive film element
- NEW Audio Commentary with director of photography Richard Kooris, production designer Cary White, script supervisor Laura Kooris and property master Michael Sullivan
- Audio Commentary with director Tobe Hooper
- Audio Commentary with actors Bill Moseley, Caroline Williams and special effects makeup creator Tom Savini
- NEW Extended Outtakes from It Runs in the Family featuring L.M. Kit Carson and Lou Perryman (30 minutes)
- NEW Behind-the-Scenes Footage Compilation from Tom Savini’s archives (43 minutes)
- Alternate Opening Credit Sequence
- Deleted Scenes
- Still Galleries – posters and lobby cards, behind-the-scenes photos, stills and collector’s gallery
- Theatrical Trailers
- TV Spots
Disc 2: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part Two (Original HD Transfer)
- MGM’s original HD Master with color correction supervision by director of photography Richard Kooris
- NEW House of Pain – a interview with make-up effects artists Bart Mixon, Gabe Bartalos, Gino Crognale and John Vulich (42 minutes)
- NEW Yuppie Meat – a interview with actors Chris Douridas and Barry Kinyon (19 minutes)
- NEW Cutting Moments – a interview with editor Alain Jakubowicz (17 minutes)
- NEW Behind the Mask – a interview with stunt man and Leatherface performer Bob Elmore (14 minutes)
- NEW HORROR’S HALLOWED GROUNDS – revisiting the locations of the film – hosted by Sean Clark plus a special guest (25 minutes)
- It Runs in the Family – a six part feature-length documentary featuring interviews with screenwriter L.M. Kit Carson, actors Bill Moseley, Caroline Williams, Bill Johnson, Lou Perryman, special makeup effects artist Tom Savini and more… (84 minutes)
SXSW 2018: Wildling Review – A Fresh and Mature Take on Werewolves
Starring Bel Powley, Liv Tyler, Brad Dourif, Collin Kelly-Sordelet
Written by Fritz Böhm and Florian Eder
Directed by Fritz Böhm
Wildling follows Anna (Powley) who was raised in captivity by her “daddy” (Dourif), only to be thrust into the real world as a young woman with no concept or preparation for anything she sees or experiences, both in her surroundings and within her own body. Staying with Sheriff Ellen Cooper (Tyler) and her younger brother Ray (Kelly-Sordelet), Anna must acclimate in short time to the expectations of those around her, making this coming-of-age tale difficult because she is at such a disadvantage. However, we quickly learn that Anna is no ordinary person in that she is not a person at all: she is a Wildling, a werewolf-like creature whose transformation was being held back by Dourif’s injections.
What makes Wildling so interesting is how the transformation of Powley into the titular character twists the traditional werewolf mechanism into a metaphor for Anna’s own metamorphosis from a young girl into a formidable and entirely capable, albeit not human, woman. That the men of the small town that this film takes place in see this as a threat is not a subtlety that is meant to be passed over. Even in her innocence, Anna does not succumb to the demands and pressures of those around her, fending off a near rape by a local high school boy and standing up to her “daddy” as she realizes her own self worth.
Powley plays her role with charming confused innocence while Tyler plays the mother to Dourif’s “daddy”. She takes on the role of helping teach Anna what being a young woman is all about, from buying her tampons to giving her advice on what kinds of boys to avoid. Dourif, while always darkly charismatic and captivating, pulls deep into his acting chops for this role, bringing a nuanced representation of patriarchal control coupled with an inability to understand his “daughter” and her needs.
Beautifully filmed by Toby Oliver (Get Out, Insidious: The Last Key), Wildling immerses viewers in an almost fairy tale-like world. The town feels like a secluded berg while the surrounding forest teems with life and a magical air hovers in its branches. That being said, the film sometimes gets a bit too dark to see properly and the music is largely forgettable. Still, those minor complaints aside, Wildling is a wonderfully fresh take on what the werewolf subgenre has to offer.
Wildling takes traditional the werewolf transformation mechanism and uses it as the foundation for a more immediate and relatable story, one that will especially resonate with female audiences.
Prodigy Review – This Kid Is Killer
Written and directed by Alex Haughey and Brian Vidal
From the minds of Alex Haughey and Brian Vidal, Prodigy could have easily debuted as a stage play instead of an intimate sci-fi horror film delivered straight to your television. Told with a confident grasp, the story unfolds in only one location with two characters responsible for carrying the entire narrative. Good performances, sure-handed directing, and a solid script highlighting tense moments make the claustrophobic setting seem much bigger in scope. A little telekinesis thrown in to good effect and a creepy killer kid don’t hurt the momentum either.
Under constant surveillance at a remote black site, an aging psychologist named Fonda (Neil) is tasked with assessing a dangerous young girl called Ellie (Liles), who is highly intelligent and possesses supernatural powers. Fonda attempts to inject some humanity into Ellie, but she is cold and calculating and seems to be toying with him at times and the onlookers watching from behind the glass. The back-and-forth between both characters is competitive and often riveting, with Ellie slowly revealing her abilities to her wide-eyed new audience. Wrapped up in a familiar setup, the decision to study or dissect this meta kid is the central question of Prodigy; but the execution of a simple premise is what keeps the story afloat.
On a very small scale, Haughey and Vidal make the setting feel cinematic with crisp images and smart shot selections that help maintain the tension. There’s a strong backbone in place that allows both actors to bounce off of each other in a well-choreographed mental dance as the dangerous game they’re playing begins to unravel.
Several scenes where Elle demonstrates her powers are the standouts in Prodigy with chairs and tables flying and glass breaking to great effect. These sequences diffuse some of the tension for a moment, only to fully explode late in the film when Elle’s emotions unleash. It’s only then that there has been any kind of breakthrough that could possibly help to save her life.
That gets to the heart of the real question posed in Prodigy: Is an extraordinary life still worth saving if it threatens ordinary lives in the process? Also, does the fact that this potential weapon is housed inside the body and mind of a young, lonely girl make a difference to whether it should survive? These questions and how they’re answered make Prodigy a micro-budget standout in the indie horror genre well worth taking the time to rent this weekend if you’re not planning on attending a St. Patrick’s Day parade somewhere.
Prodigy is now available to on iTunes, Amazon, and other On Demand platforms.
The questions raised and how they’re answered make Prodigy a micro-budget standout in the indie horror genre well worth taking the time to rent this weekend if you’re not planning on attending a St. Patrick’s Day parade somewhere.
Cold Hell (Die Hölle) Review – Giallo Terror Invades Vienna
Starring Violetta Schurawlow, Tobias Moretti, Sammy Sheik
Written by Martin Ambrosch
Directed by Stefan Ruzowitzky
I have a serious soft spot in my horror-loving heart for serial killer films. Movies like Seven, The Silence of the Lambs, The Crimson Rivers, and the like draw me in with their cat-and-mouse mentality. Couple those kinds of movies with non-US settings and I’m 100% hooked. So when I was introduced to Die Hölle (aka Cold Hell), which just started streaming on Shudder, I didn’t hesitate to enter this giallo-inspired thriller.
Cold Hell follows Özge Dugruol (Schurawlow), a Turkish taxi driver in Vienna who clearly lives a strained, almost broken life. The fares she picks up verbally abuse her, the Thai boxing gym where she lets go of her anger has banned her after a violent sparring incident, and her family has its own fair share of problems, including infidelity, lack of responsibility, and painful memories of early years.
One night, after coming home from a long shift, Özge opens the window in her bathroom only to see across the way into the home of another woman who is lying on the ground, flayed and burnt, her dead eyes staring at Özge. Stunned into shock, she can only look on before realizing that the man responsible for this woman’s death is standing in the shadows, looking at her. So begins Özge’s journey of terror as this killer makes it his mission to find and end her life.
Cold Hell has an interesting juxtaposition running throughout the film where cinematographer Benedict Neuenfels’ gorgeous visuals are used to highlight the near-squalor and seedy underbelly of Viennese life that Özge lives in. Each scene is bathed in vibrant colors, streetlight reds and neon greens painting the frames. Marius Ruhland, who composed Ruzowitzky’s Academy Award-winning film The Counterfeiters, lends beautiful and thrilling music that knows when to coil up and provide tension before exploding to mirror the chaotic frenzy of the on-screen events.
A direct commentary on religion’s antiquated view of the place and purpose of women, Cold Hell doesn’t shy away from making nearly everyone in this movie a flawed character. People who were unlikable become understandable once the breadth of their circumstances becomes more clear, as is the case with detective Christian Steiner (Moretti), who originally treats Özge with an almost xenophobic attitude only for us to later see that he cares for his dementia-ridden father. While not excusing his previous behaviors, such a revelation gives his irritation and frustration a more justifiable foundation.
When the action strikes, we are treated to breathtaking car chases, blood splashing across the screen, and believable reactions. The characters in this film get hurt and they show it, limping painfully with their cuts and bruises open for the world to see.
The film is certainly not flawless. Some characters feel shoe-horned in and there are rather lengthly segments where the film comes to a crawl. However, the engaging and nuanced performance from Schurawlow easily kept me glued to the screen.
With beautiful music and gorgeous visuals, Cold Hell is an engaging, albeit slow burn, serial killer thriller. This is one film that should not be missed.
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