As most of you know, the widely-anticipated Texas Chainsaw prequel Leatherface was made available across On-Demand platforms this past weekend (October 20th) and has actually garnered some pretty decent reviews! It has been a long road for this prequel to see the light of day (having been shot in 2015) and to commemorate the occasion, we here at Dread Central take a trip down memory lane to celebrate the 20th anniversary of one of the series’ more colorful entries: 1997’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation starring then-unknowns Matthew McConaughey and Renee Zellweger!
Shot in 1993 under the title The Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the film was directed by Kim Henkel who, along with the late Tobe Hooper, co-created the original 1974 shocker. Intended as a “return” to the original’s form, Henkel’s version would instead take a wildly different and hotly-debated approach. The Next Generation transforms the iconic chainsaw-wielding Leatherface into a wailing mess who occasionally dons drag. Nobody actually dies by use of chainsaw and instead of killing for food… Leatherface’s traditionally cannibal family are partial to take-out pizza. The film also makes the bold move of attempting to explain the family’s practices as ‘spiritual experiences’ intended to evoke fear in the public… all spearheaded by the Illuminati, no less.
Despite being purchased for distribution by Columbia/Tri-Star, the film’s release was repeatedly shelved. During the time since filming, both McConaughey and Zellweger had left Texas for Hollywood and were on the brink of stardom. At the time, Chainsaw producer Robert Kuhn noted that both actors’ agencies were trying to squash the release in fear for their clients’ burgeoning careers. But on August 29, 1997, Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation finally received a release, opening in 23 theatres nationwide. Ultimately, the film only grossed $185,989, prompting the filmmakers to sue the studio as well as the Creative Artists Agency (CAA) for failing to adhere to the contractual terms for a wide release and for contract interference, respectively.
Eviscerated by critics and fans at the time, The Next Generation has found its fair share of cult-like supporters in recent years (Rob Zombie has even included the film as part of his “13 Nights of Halloween” program on the HDNET Movies Channel!). Creative liberties embraced, there’s a lot to enjoy about this particular Chainsaw. McConaughey delivers a maniacal performance as Vilmer, head of the family, who sports a remote-controlled robotic leg for reasons unknown (nothing to see here; this isn’t unusual by the film’s standards). The real charms of this installment are the black comedy elements, particularly the amusingly obtuse and almost unbelievable dialogue spouted off by the wonderful supporting cast; all the more effective when set against the backdrop of the film’s more horrific moments. Notable standouts include Lisa Newmyer as the dim yet resilient Heather (how she survives as long as she does is beyond anyone’s guess), Tyler Cone as her obnoxious boyfriend Barry, and Tonie Perensky as McConaughey’s girlfriend Darla, whom Variety referred to as “the most stunningly sexy sociopath to hit the screen since Linda Fiorentino steamed up The Last Seduction.”
As evidenced by this interview with Kim Henkel, Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation was crafted with care… and still packs enough of a brutal punch to be worthy of the legacy of its title. However, because of the film’s star power and initial criticism… unlike other Chainsaw entries, few, if any, of this film’s supporting cast & crew have ever been interviewed or appeared at a convention (let’s fix this, guys)… It is a real treat to say that in honor of the film’s 20th anniversary, we caught up with cast members Tyler Cone (The War at Home), John Harrison (“Guiding Light”) and Tonie Perensky (Varsity Blues) as well as special effects technicians J.M. Logan (Children of the Corn: The Gathering) and Andy Cockrum (Sin City), who were kind enough to share their experiences of working on this bizarrely hilarious film! Enjoy!
How did you land the gig?
TYLER CONE (Barry): “At the time, I was doing some theatre work for Planned Parenthood in Austin. I was nineteen years old, in college, and a friend of mine, who I just knew outside of the industry, was a special effects artist, Josh ‘J.M.’ Logan, and he told me that they were casting for Texas Chainsaw. And I got really excited because the first experience that I ever had of just being in a place where they filmed a movie was when I moved to Texas and my dad’s office was in an area where they had filmed the first Texas Chainsaw. I was just in awe of actually standing where they filmed that movie. So when Josh told me that they were auditioning, I quickly got a head shot together and put together my tiny little resume and went and read. I actually ended up reading with Lisa (Newmyer) and I think, at that time, she had already been cast and they had a hard time finding the role of Barry. I guess I just came across douchy enough where I got a call from Cevin Cathell, who was the production manager at the time. She called me that night and asked if I wanted to be in the movie, and the rest is history.”
JOHN HARRISON (Sean): “A friend gave my name to the casting team and I got called in. Not much to speak of in terms of a career at the time but I was thrilled to get to spend some time on such a fun project. I was just going into high school at the time.”
TONIE PERENSKY (Darla): “I had cut my teeth in Canadian theater and got into film in Austin. I was doing lead roles in independent films and some small roles in features. I hadn’t landed Varsity Blues yet. That came after Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”
J.M. LOGAN (Special Effects / Stunts): “By the time Chainsaw came around, I was nineteen years old and living in an art studio not zoned for residents; the bathroom was down the hall. I was stage managing at the theatre I’d been working at since I was twelve, sustaining myself by running spotlight at local theatres, working as a stage hand and rigger at the local touring rock show venue, building props for photo shoots, doing effects on student films and had just taken a job in a family dental lab making dentures to have some kind of regular income.
I probably got recommended by the Texas Film Commission, who I’d had a relationship with since I started bugging them to get contact information for local productions since I was about twelve. I remember in the interview with production manager Cevin Cathell… after showing her the portfolio I’d assembled, she initially wanted me to build Vilmer (McConaughey)’s mechanical leg but said there weren’t really any make-up or gore effects in the script. This seemed a little odd to me considering Chainsaw 2 was one of the bloodiest movies I’d ever seen. But Kim Henkel’s vision was more psychological than physical violence… without guts spilling out everywhere. At first, it didn’t seem like they needed all that much help in the effects department. Also, from a professional perspective of someone who spent a lot of time in Hollywood as Cevin had… I was super young, super green, clearly local and with a pretty rudimentary portfolio compared to what she was used to… and she had every right to be hesitant. I thought my chances of getting the movie were extremely slim; I was just happy to build a prop for them.
Somehow, my job grew over the following weeks. I think I quoted something like $1500 for the whole movie, including labor, after pricing everything I’d need from the Burman mail order catalogue. I really had no idea what I was doing when it came to the business aspect, how long the shoot was, the idea of day or weekly rates or anything else of practicality. In the end, I think they hired me because I seemed capable, dedicated and was the cheapest possible option.”
ANDY COCKRUM (Special Effects / Stunts): “About a year before Chainsaw, I was working at a post-production office as a night editor and I had also written a script called A Troll’s Bridge that I hoped to produce at some point. The film took place in a small Texas town, about a guy who accidentally hits a troll with his jeep and then all hell breaks loose.
Coincidentally, one night, I was taking a break from editing a music video and I walked past a studio door that was wide open. Inside, I could see a few dozen monster masks and other props in various stages of production. Working on one of those masks was J.M. Logan. We quickly became friends and over the next few months, we collaborated on a couple of short films. Eventually, after Chainsaw wrapped, he did the make-up on A Troll’s Bridge.
At about the same time that J.M. got the job on Chainsaw, I was between editing projects and he asked me to be his assistant. As a kid, I had dabbled in making Planet of the Apes masks so I jumped at the chance to actually work, non-paid, on an actual film production.”
Were you aware or perhaps a fan of the Texas Chainsaw films prior to shooting?
TONIE PERENSKY (Darla): “I had heard about the original Chainsaw in the late ’70s. The original Texas Chainsaw Massacre was such a defining moment in the history of horror. Along with films like Halloween, Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street… Texas Chainsaw Massacre helped to launch the genre that dominated the ’80s and is still a staple of horror today. I watched the original again and it’s just a brilliant use of a small crew and limited locations. There was really nothing like Texas Chainsaw Massacre before.”
JOHN HARRISON (Sean): “As a younger child, I enjoyed watching horror films. I had already seen the original Chainsaw films and sort of grew up with A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th and other series. It was fun to watch scary films but I found a lot of humor in them as well.”
ANDY COCKRUM (Special Effects / Stunts): “My earliest memory of the original Chainsaw was at the Chief Drive-In Theatre in 1974. I was thirteen and watching a re-release of Yellow Submarine. The drive-in had two screens facing each other, with two different films. Instead of watching Yellow Submarine, I crawled into the back car window and watched Texas Chainsaw. I couldn’t hear it but it still scared the hell out of me.”
J.M. LOGAN (Special Effects / Stunts): “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, in particular, was one of my biblical horror films. Chainsaw III never did much for me, but Leatherface is a character that transcends the franchise and has always been one of my favorite horror icons. I actually had a poster of the cast of Chainsaw 2 that I had signed by Bill Johnson (Leatherface), who I’d met because he was married to one of the staff at the Zach Scott Theatre, which is where I had my first job. He was regularly involved with the theatre and my first day on the job… I was building set pieces with him for their upcoming show. I was beside myself. Working alongside movie stars!”
TYLER CONE (Barry): “I still think the original Chainsaw is one of the most notorious horror films. For me… it was just actually being in that original location, which is crazy that… not many years later, there I was getting a role in another version of Texas Chainsaw.”
Kim Henkel was the co-writer of the original film and he made his directorial debut with this film. How did Henkel seem to be handling himself?
TONIE PERENSKY (Darla): “Hats off to Kim Henkel for facing the immense task of remaining true to the original while presenting our story in a way that would captivate a new generation. Ours was a particularly difficult shoot, with an extremely low budget while shooting in the incredibly hot and humid Texas summer. A challenge for any director, but Kim got it done.”
TYLER CONE (Barry): “Kim was great. Kim was a really smart guy. I think that a lot of people didn’t give him credit for the way he did this movie because there were a lot of people that really expected a remake of the original Chainsaw, but he really wanted to do something different.”
JOHN HARRISON (Sean): “Kim was such a cool guy. He was so thoughtful and generous. I recall that he seemed to treat everyone with such respect.”
J.M. LOGAN (Special Effects / Stunts): “Kim was a good ol’ Texas country boy just like Tobe. A slow, comfortable Texas drawl and an epic mustache. At the time, I’d only really worked with theatre directors. For the larger LA-based movies I’d done various things for, I had generally only observed the directors at a distance. I didn’t really have much to compare him to, but I know this was a labor of love for him.”
What was it like working alongside Matthew McConaughey and Renee Zellweger?
ANDY COCKRUM (Special Effects / Stunts): “Working with Matthew and Renee was awesome. At the time, neither of them had really taken off in their careers yet, so they were just two nice people we were working with. My job as assistant… and then eventually the fog guy… sort of limited my one-on-one with Renee and Matthew, except between takes.”
J.M. LOGAN (Special Effects / Stunts): “We must remember that these were all local Texas actors at the time. Matthew had made a bit of an impression with Dazed and Confused, but that was it. Renee hadn’t done anything of note yet and was mostly doing beer commercials at the time.”
TONIE PERENSKY (Darla): “What a treat to work with Matthew and Renee. We all came from different schools of acting, so it was wonderful to learn from each other. I had not worked with Renee before, however I had auditioned with Matt in Austin for a Dirty Dancing-style beer commercial a couple of months before the Chainsaw shoot.”
TYLER CONE (Barry): “Renee was amazing. I did most of my work with her. I did a few nights with Matthew, so we basically… We literally chucked rocks at the raw side of a barn. I think that was the most interaction that he and I had together.”
JOHN HARRISON (Sean): “Matthew was an absolute soldier in terms of work ethic. I recall how committed he was to everything he was doing. He had charisma and I knew at that time that he was the type of person you could throw any project at and he would pull it off.”
TONIE PERENSKY (Darla): “At the break before the callback, we were all chatting outside about our careers… typical actors. Matthew projected that he would probably head to LA and try to get some work behind the camera and maybe some odd jobs. I instantly let out a big laugh saying, ‘Oh Matthew, you are crazy if you think for a moment they’ll let you be wasted behind the camera.’ I’d been acting for over 25 years at that point and it was clear from the moment I met him that if he could even act half as well as his contemporaries, he was going to be a star. And I had never had that thought about any other actor.”
J.M. LOGAN (Special Effects / Stunts): “The kind of hardships we faced, as human beings suffering together, definitely led to some visceral and frank conversations with everyone. I remember at one point asking Renee why she was coming back every day to be beaten up by this movie… and make no mistake, she was a punching bag in this film… and she said, ‘Because if I don’t keep trying, I just see the rest of my career holding up beer cans.’ She was one of the most determined actors I’ve ever known and an extremely talented actor. Chainsaw took so long to come out after shooting it, however, that it was actually the movie she filmed after… Love and a .45… that put her on the Hollywood map. She told me at the end of Chainsaw that she was going to have that role and I’ve never seen anyone campaign harder. This movie was a rite of passage for her, and for Matthew, and I have amazing memories of both of them.”
TYLER CONE (Barry): “Matthew and I didn’t have any scenes together, but Renee and I… we danced a lot. We sang Grease songs a lot. We just had fun, y’know, and that friendship actually… We continued to be friends for a while after we filmed. When I moved to Los Angeles, we were friends for a little bit and then she got swept up after Jerry Maguire, and y’know, her life just completely changed, which, totally understandable. I’ve seen that happen to quite a few people now. But Renee and I were pretty tight on the film. It was a lot of fun to work with her.”
ANDY COCKRUM (Special Effects / Stunts): “I was fortunate enough to be included in some of the dailies screenings and the first time I saw Renee on screen, there was this overwhelming feeling that, ‘Man, she could be famous one day.’ She really lit up the screen.”
TYLER CONE (Barry): “She was a little older than me. I mean, I was only nineteen at the time and she was twenty-four or something like that… when you’re younger, those age differences seem bigger. So she treated me more like a little brother but we were still super tight.
The Renee that I knew was so different from the Renee that you see in interviews. Obviously, she’s had a long career, a successful career and she’s grown up a lot… y’know, we all grow up a lot. But she was just all-out crazy fun and I would love for people to see that side of her because the only thing I saw that had a lot of that fun aspect to it was Me, Myself & Irene.”
JOHN HARRISON (Sean): “Renee treated me so kindly and while I haven’t seen or spoken to her in years, she is someone I will always look up to.”
Were you aware the film was shaping up to be more of a dark comedy as opposed to a straightforward horror flick? i.e. transvestite Leatherface, the pizza-eating “cannibal” family, the Illuminati backstory?
TYLER CONE (Barry): “We were aware from the beginning because when we were doing rehearsals and going through the script, a lot of us were like, ‘How much blood?’ and Kim was like, ‘No!’ He didn’t want it to be a gory film. He wanted it to be more intellectual, he wanted it to be funny… He wanted the jokes to totally go over people’s heads. And they did.”
TONIE PERENSKY (Darla): “Reading the script, you get a sense of the tone and direction of the film. But every film takes on a life of its own as the actors bring the characters to life. I can’t tell you who said it first but most directors will agree that there are three types of films: the one that was written, the one that was shot and the one that was edited. I had an idea of where we were headed, but you never really know until you see it on the screen.”
TYLER CONE (Barry): “So much of it was purposely campy. So many of my lines were purposely campy. The line when I tell Heather that if I don’t have sex, I could get ‘prostrate’ cancer. And I remember saying, ‘Shouldn’t we change this to prostate?’ And he was like, ‘No, no, no, it needs to be prostrate.’ Or the scene with W.E. (Joe Stevens) where I went inside the house and I’m calling him a dumb ass on the other side of the door and he’s got a shotgun… I’m like, ‘What?’ He said, ‘We just need to show how thick-headed Barry is. That’s the funny part.’ He really wanted to slide in this humor that I don’t think a lot of people got.”
TONIE PERENSKY (Darla): “Comedy is and has always been my first love. I was performing live improv with a group called ComedySportz and even auditioned for Saturday Night Live right around that time. So when it comes to comedy or camp or both, nothing made me happier to perform.”
JOHN HARRISON (Sean): “I always recognized a bit of humor in most horror films I had seen to that date. Many years later, I recall watching Freddy vs. Jason and laughing out loud with Freddy and Jason having their epic battle.”
J.M. LOGAN (Special Effects / Stunts): “Kim had this vision of Chainsaw since he and Tobe made the first one. He felt the like vision of psychological horror had been hijacked a bit into a gore franchise by Hollywood. This was his version to try and set the record straight. All of the stuff he worked in about the weird Illuminati guy at the end was something he was fascinated by and had always wanted to express in a Chainsaw film.”
TYLER CONE (Barry): “Kim wanted this one to stand on its own. I don’t know what the history was between him and Tobe but I know there was enough there to where he wanted to deviate from Texas Chainsaw 2.”
J.M. LOGAN (Special Effects / Stunts): “From what I remember, a story he told me when we were driving to set in his big, old rickety pick-up truck… this script was what he wanted the original Chainsaw to be. He’d been working on it ever since. This is the movie he wanted to make without Tobe’s influence. This was his pure vision.”
TYLER CONE (Barry): “Kim just wanted to come out and do a different version of it. I know the first version was really intense for the actors, and I think it was also really intense for him and he wanted this one to be a little more light-hearted, again, with the humor. But it was still intense. I mean, we still had some extremely intense things. I remember Robbie, who played Leatherface… It was tough for him to be as physical as he was with Lisa and Renee in a lot of those scenes.”
What was it like working with the late Robert Jacks (Leatherface)?
J.M. LOGAN (Special Effects / Stunts): “Robbie Jacks was a really amazingly creative, inspiring, generous, kind and deeply sad person who I still miss very much to this day. He had an incredible spirit and was taken from us much too early. I would love to have seen what he went on to do.”
TYLER CONE (Barry): “Robbie and I were friends for a long time after that and I had a lot of good times with him. He was homosexual and the first time I ever see Robbie… he walks out of his trailer… J.M. has just put his make-up on him, so he’s wearing this apron, these teeth, these gloves, this mask, the skin, all of the stuff, and he walks out and goes (effeminate voice) ‘I’m going to scare the shit out of them!’ I was like, ‘Oh yes.’ It’s a totally different Chainsaw.”
JOHN HARRISON (Sean): “I got to spend a little time with Robbie as well and in sharp contrast to the monster he played in the film, the one word I recall about Robbie was gentle. He seemed to have a very kind and gentle spirit in the few moments I spent with him. He left us way too soon as he passed away not very long after the film came out.”
TONIE PERENSKY (Darla): “Robbie Jacks and I knew each other from years before from the Austin punk scene. He was such a bright, edgy, creative soul and we were all, of course, shocked and saddened by his loss.”
J.M. LOGAN (Special Effects / Stunts): “Kim’s description of Leatherface was that the reason he wore other people’s skin was not to make himself hideous, but because he wanted to ‘become’ different people. He would take on the personalities of the other people whose faces he wore. To expand on that idea, he could be ‘killer’ Leatherface, but he could also take on the personality of a grandmother taking care of her children or a pretty lady who only wanted to be loved.Because the explanation was so intriguing, I loved the idea of Leatherface not always having to be a hideous monster, but that he might see himself as beautiful in some way as well. It was just the kind of twisted thinking I could key into and it was really fun to explore that aspect. Of course, Robbie was totally invested. He and I spent a lot of time together as I was constantly maintaining his make-up. Even under extraordinarily uncomfortable situations, he was never anything other than gentle and kind. He didn’t lose his temper once which is really saying something. The face and chest of the ‘pretty lady’ Leatherface were actually those of our production designer Debbie Pastor!”
How was the experience of working alongside the supporting cast?
J.M. LOGAN (Special Effects / Stunts): “The supporting cast was equally as fun. Tonie and Joe were both kind of local Austin celebrity actors. I’d done a couple of movies with Tonie and she was good friends with Andy. Joe and I had done a bunch of theatre shows together.”
TONIE PERENSKY (Darla): “Joe Stevens was an accomplished actor and theatre director by that time. We had done a play together a couple of years before. I had and still have so much respect for his work.”
JOHN HARRISON (Sean): “Joe was a blast and certainly went on to do quite a bit more.”
TYLER CONE (Barry): “Joe was a lot of fun. He was a more seasoned actor though and I’m quite confident that I annoyed the hell out of him. Because I was a nineteen year old with a big mouth. But he took it in stride because was very seasoned; a lot of experience… and his comfort level on the set is what I remember. And I really wanted to emulate that but again, I was just too immature at the time to really do it properly. We stayed in contact for a long time. In fact, when I moved out to Los Angeles, I think he did a stint out there as well and we hung out a bit.”
J.M. LOGAN (Special Effects / Stunts): “Tonie and Joe were both local actors who would get supporting roles in pretty much every movie that came through town… favorites of the local casting director whose name I think was Jo Edna. As the film community in Austin was incredibly small, we all knew each other by that time.”
ANDY COCKRUM (Special Effects / Stunts): “Tonie Perensky and I actually went back several years when she was a waitress at a bar I used to go to called Headliners on 6th Street. Tonie is truly one of the nicest people I’ve ever met.”
TYLER CONE (Barry): “Tonie Perensky… she was kind of like the ‘set mom.’ I don’t know why I called her that. Maybe it was just because I was so young… I’m sure Renee and Lisa didn’t see her in the same way. But maybe to John and I… because she was trying to take us under her wing. She was like, ‘You need to go these acting classes and this and this and this.’ She just tried to help us outside of the film to continue our careers. I only had one scene with Tonie though. I think the last couple of things I saw that she did was Varsity Blues and she was also Eminem’s mom in a music video.”
JOHN HARRISON (Sean): “Tonie was a friend long before we ever shot. She was one of the most nurturing and caring individuals I knew. We didn’t have scenes together but it was thrilling to be a part of the project with her.”
TONIE PERENSKY (Darla): “Tyler Cone was another handsome young actor. John Harrison was a student of mine… yet another handsome young actor. And Lisa… so pretty and wonderful at playing the vapid prom date. It was great fun working with them all.”
TYLER CONE (Barry): “I loved acting with Lisa. She was so fun to act with… playing my girlfriend. Because she was my girlfriend but we had all the problems that teenage kids have… dysfunctional and I was cheating on her and ‘I can’t believe how possessive she is!’ and all that kind of stuf… Maybe that’s one of the reasons why I got it. She and I had read together when I auditioned and so it probably wasn’t just me; it was me and her together and they were like, ‘Okay, yeah, this is the couple we need.'”
J.M. LOGAN (Special Effects / Stunts): “I didn’t really spend much time with Lisa but I think Tyler kept in touch. Tyler was actually a good friend of mine and I recommended him to Kim for this role because he mentioned that he was interested in getting into acting. This was his first gig!”
ANDY COCKRUM (Special Effects / Stunts): “I met Tyler on the set. He had been a friend of J.M.’s, and eventually played the lead character in my movie A Troll’s Bridge.”
TONIE PERENSKY (Darla): “James Gale was a particularly respected actor in the British theatre. We were all thrilled to have someone of his caliber on board.”
Be sure to check back for more insights from the cast & crew of Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation!