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)
Desolation Review: Campers + Lunatic = Simplicity, But Not Always a Better Product
Starring Jaimi Page, Alyshia Ochse, Toby Nichols
Directed by Sam Patton
I’m usually all in when it comes to a psycho in the woods flick, but there was just something about Sam Patton’s Desolation that seemed a bit distant for me…distance…desolation – I’m sure there’s a connection in there somewhere. Either that or I’m suffering from a minor case of sleep-deprivation. Either way, make sure you’ve got your backpack stuffed, cause we’re hitting the timber-lands for this one.
The film focuses on mother and son tandem Abby and Sam, and the tragic notion that Abby’s love and father to her son, has passed away. The absence has been a crippling one, and Abby’s idea of closure is to take her adolescent offspring to the woods where her husband used to love to run and scatter his ashes as a memorial tribute. Abby invites her best friend Jenn along as emotional support, and together all three are planning on making this trip a fitting and dedicatory experience…until the mystery man shows up. Looking like a member of the Ted Kaczynski clan (The Unabomber himself), this creepy fellow seems content to simply watch the threesome, and when he ultimately decides to close the distance, it’ll be a jaunt in the forest that this close-knit group will never forget.
So there you have it – doesn’t beg a long, descriptive, bled-out dissertation – Patton tosses all of his cards on the table in plain view for the audience to scan at their leisure. While the tension is palpable at times, it’s the equivalent of watching someone stumble towards the edge of a cliff, and NEVER tumble over…for a long time – you literally watch them do the drunken two-step near the lip for what seems like an eternity. What I’m getting at is that the movie has the bells and whistles to give white-knucklers something to get amped about, yet it never all seems to come into complete focus, or allow itself to spread out in such a way that you can feel satisfied after the credits roll. If I may harp on the performance-aspect for a few, it basically broke down this way for me: both Abby and Jenn’s characters were well-displayed, making you feel as if you really were watching long-time besties at play. Sam’s character was a bit tough to swallow, as he was the sadder-than-sad kid due to his father’s absence, but JEEZ this kid was a friggin malcontented little jerk – all I can say is “role well-played, young man.”
As we get to our leading transient, kook, outsider – whatever you want to call him: he simply shaved down into a hum-drum personality – no sizzle here, folks. Truly a disappointment for someone who was hoping for an enigmatic nutbag to terrorize our not-so-merry band of backpackers – oh well, Santa isn’t always listening, I guess. Simplicity has its place and time when displaying the picture-perfect lunatic, and before everyone gets a wild hair across their ass because of what I’m saying, all this is was the wish to have THIS PARTICULAR psycho be a bit more colorful – I can still appreciate face-biters like Hannibal Lecter and those of the restrained lunacy set. Overall, Desolation is one of those films that had all the pieces meticulously set in place, like a house of cards…until that drunk friend stumbled into the table, sending everything crumbling down. A one-timer if you can’t find anything else readily available to watch.
Looking for a little direction way out in the woods? Look elsewhere, because this guide doesn’t have a whole lot to offer.
Children of the Fall Review – This Israeli Slasher Gets Political
Starring Noa Maiman, Aki Avni, Yafit Shalev, Iftach Ophir, Michael Ironside
Directed by Eitan Gafny
Reviewed out of Utopia 2017
Slashers are a subgenre of horror that are often looked down upon. After all, what can a movie about a killer slaughtering multiple people have to say about, well…anything. Those of us in the community know full well that this is nonsense and that any kind of horror movie can be a jabbing (no pun intended) commentary on society, culture, politics, art, etc… And that’s precisely what Eitan Gafny aims to do with Children of the Fall, one of the few Israeli slashers ever created.
Set on the eve of the Yom Kippur war, the film follows Rachel (Maiman), a young American woman who comes to Israel to join a kibbutz after suffering some serious personal tragedies. Her goal to make aliyah (the return of Jews to Israel) is however hampered by some rather unpleasant encounters with local IDF soldiers and members of the kibbutz. Pushing through, she makes friends with others in the commune and her Zionistic views are only strengthened, although they do not go untested. Once Yom Kippur, one of the holiest holidays in Jewish culture, begins, a killer begins picking off the kibbutz workers one by one in violent and gruesome ways.
Let’s start with what Children of the Fall gets right, okay? As slashers go, it’s actually quite beautiful. There are wonderfully expansive shots that make use of the size and diversity of the kibbutz. The film opens with a beautiful shot of a cow stable, barn, water towers, and miscellaneous outbuildings, all set against a dark and stormy night. The lighting of this scene, and throughout the film, is also very good. I found myself darting my eyes across the screen multiple times throughout the film thinking I’d seen something lurking in the shadows.
The kills, while unoriginal, are very satisfying. Each death is meaty, bloody, and doesn’t feel rushed. In fact, the camera has no problems lingering during each kill, allowing us to appreciate the practical FX and copious amounts of blood used. And if you believe that a slasher needs to have nudity, you won’t be disappointed.
The acting is middle of the road. Maiman is serviceable as Rachel but the real star of the film is Aki Avni as “Yaron”. His range of emotion is fantastic, from warm and welcoming to Rachel when she arrives to emoting grief and pain during his Yom Kippur announcement where we learn that he was a child in a concentration camp. The rest of the cast are perfectly acceptable as fodder for the killer.
So where does Children of the Fall stray? Let’s start with the most obvious part: the runtime. Clocking in at nearly two hours, that’s about 30 minutes too much. The film could easily have gone through some hefty editing without affecting the final product. Instead, we have a movie that feels elongated when unnecessary.
Additionally, the societal and political commentary is very in-your-face but the film can’t seem to make up its mind as to what it’s trying to get across. Natalia, a Belarussian kibbutz worker, raises the concept of Israeli racism, misogyny, and xenophobia, her hostility unabashedly pouring out in the midst of IDF soldiers, locals, other kibbutz members, and more. Is there validity to what she’s saying? Undoubtedly. But there is also validity to Rachel’s retorts, which include calling this woman out on her own vitriolic views. This back-and-forth mentality frustratingly prevails throughout the film, as though Gafny was unwilling to just commit.
The dialogue is also quite painful at times, although I attribute this to difficulties with translating from Hebrew to English. Even the best English speakers in Israel don’t get everything perfect and the little quirks here and there, while charming, are quite detracting. Also, why is this movie trying to tell me that Robert Smith of The Cure is a character here? While amusing, it makes absolutely no sense nor does it fit in Smith’s own timeline.
Had this film gone through a couple rounds of editing, I feel like we’d have gotten something really great. Eitan Gafny is definitely someone that we need to be watching very closely.
While Children of the Fall has a lot going for it, it has just as much working against it. Overly long, you’ll get a really great slasher that is bogged down by uneven social and political commentary.
Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club Review – A Charming, Quirky Dark Drama
Starring Keren Mor, Yiftach Klein, Hana Laslo, Ania Bukstein
Directed by Guilhad Emilio Schenker
Reviewed out of Utopia 2017
One of the great joys I have in being a horror fan is seeing horror films from around the world. I view these films as a chance to learn about the fears, folklore, mythology, and lore of varied cultures. Films like Inugami, Frontier(s), [REC], and the like transport me across oceans and into places I might never get the chance to visit otherwise. Hence my interest in the Israeli dark drama Madam Yankeolva’s Fine Literature Club, the feature debut of director Guilhad Emilio Schenker.
The film follows Sophie (Mor), a member of a strange, female-only reading club – who believes that love is a lie – that we soon realize brings men into its midst only to have them killed. The woman who brings the most fitting man is awarded a trophy for her fine taste. When a member reaches 100 trophies, they get to enter a coveted and highly esteemed upper echelon of the reading club’s society, one that includes lavish surroundings and an almost regal lifestyle. Sophie starts the film earning her 99th trophy but her plans towards the all-important 100th trophy are thrown askew when she ends up developing feelings for her latest victim. She must now decide if the mission that has been so dear to her for so many years is something she wishes to see through or if she’s ready to take a huge risk and fall in love.
Now, if this seems like a strange story for a horror website, I don’t disagree. Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is certainly not your traditional horror film. In fact, I’d liken it far more to the more playful works of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s The City of Lost Children than something more grotesque and violent. It’s very playful and quite charming, although there are times when the presentation feels amateurish and certain moments when things become wildly unbelievable. That being said, the film aims to be a dark fairy tale come to life, so a healthy amount of “I’m okay letting that go” will not go unappreciated.
The film is shot in such a way that it’s very soft around the edges, almost like we’re constantly in a dream. This is aided by composer Tal Yardeni’s score, which obviously takes inspiration from Danny Elfman, playfully weaving its way through each scene.
While there’s a lot to love about Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club, it’s certainly not a flawless film. As mentioned previously, there are times when it feels quite amateurish, as though no one thought to look at how a scene is being filmed and say, “People, this isn’t how things would go down. We can have fun but this just doesn’t sit right.” Additionally, the story moves very quickly. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve heard of love at first sight. But that’s not how this story plays out, so the wildly strong feelings that develop between Sophie and Yosef (Klein) seem strangely out of place.
All things being what they are, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a charming film that can definitely appeal to horror fans if they’re willing to stretch their boundaries to include films that have absolutely no scares or gore but imply quite a horrific situation.
Charming, quirky, but not without its faults, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a dark drama for fans of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Don’t go in expecting any scares or gore. Rather, anticipate a fairy tale that might be just a bit too gruesome in tone for young children.
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