Monday, April 21, 2014

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) vs. Texas Chainsaw 3D (2013)

 The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
As a kid, I had liked horror movies and knew of some classics that I hadn't been allowed to watch because of how horrible they were-and when I say horrible, it's not referring to them critically but more along the lines of their content in a positive light.  At that time in my life, I was only allowed to watch movies-horror or otherwise-on television, not on cable television and definitely not in theaters (there was no way my parents would ever entertain the notion to take me to a horror movie).  I'd knew of some horror movie classics like The Exorcist or Jaws, but when thinking about seeing any of these movies, nothing-in my opinion-terrified me more than a movie I'd heard about called The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

The title alone was enough to strike fear into me and made me avoid it for years and years.  I'd believed it was a movie about people getting mutilated by way of chainsaw, so that deterred me alone.  Many times I had seen bits and pieces of it, as part of a documentary or some other televised show that talked about horror movies, but I'd never went further than that.  Eventually, as I'd grown older and soon became a horror movie enthusiast, I knew I had to venture into this film and finally get it under my belt as an accomplishment.  I really can't recall when that was, but I know that it became an instant favorite as soon as I viewed it.
Sometimes, when movies enter the "Video Nasties" list of other countries, or just stand out as violent horror films that are classified as such, some people tend to get a preconceived notion about it that makes them avoid it, embrace it, or let them down because they believed it was going to be better than what it was.  The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, however, surpassed my expectations and left my jaw hanging during so many parts of this film.

Directed by Tobe Hooper, the film is about a group of friends travelling to a Texas graveyard after hearing reports of vandalizing and desecration.  Two of the friends, sister and brother, Sally (Marilyn Burns) and Franklin (Paul A. Partain), have their grandfather buried there and wanted to make sure his grave was untouched.  After seeing that the grave wasn't violated, the friends decide to drive to the abandoned house the family used to occupy.  Along the way, they pick up a hitchhiker (Edwin Neal) that appears to be a little
off, especially after he deliberately cuts himself, and then purposely cuts Franklin.  They stop the van, throw him out and keep going.  Running low on gas after not being able to fuel up at the local service station, they get to the house as the van's gauge reaches "E."  First, Pam (Teri McMinn) and Kirk (William Vail) venture off to a dried up swimming hole, then spot a nearby house and go see if the owner can spare some fuel from their generator they hear running.  When they've been gone too long, Sally's boyfriend, Jerry (Allen Danziger), goes off looking for them.  Soon, darkness falls, leaving Sally and Franklin alone by the van.  However, the siblings decide to go look for the others.but find a nightmare instead.

Man, what an atmospheric and tension-filled film!  Sure, most of the actions the characters perform will leave you shouting the clichéd "Don't go in there!" or "Run!"  But you've got to realize this was a different time (1974) where people left their front doors or garages open all night, never thinking anybody would come in and harm them.  Same goes for anybody knocking on some stranger's door, never thinking there was an abnormal family of killers waiting inside to pounce on you.

Now, if you haven't seen The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, shame on you.  But I'm still going to post this warning: Spoilers ahead.

Although most of this movie leaves me with a sense of dread for all the characters, two scenes in particular left a mark with me permanently in my mind.

The first one is when the character of Kirk enters the house after hearing some noises coming from inside.  Entering the house, he walks slowly until getting to an opening at the end of the hall.  Leatherface shows up and bashes Kirk on the head with a mallet, dropping him to the floor.  Now, you think he's dead, and in all sense of the word his character probably is, but his nervous system kicks in and he begins to convulse violently as Leatherface drags him in and slides the metal door shut, slamming it into place.  That, right there, is the most shocking entrance of a horror movie icon I have ever seen in film.

The second scene comes soon after, when Kirk's girlfriend, Pam, becomes restless when he doesn't come back out of the house so she goes inside to see what's keeping him.  As she looks around, she stumbles and falls into the house's living room.  What she sees in this room is horrible to her as well as it is to the viewer.  The floor is covered in chicken feathers and animal bones, the furniture is adorned with what looks like human skeletal remains, and there's a live chicken in a small dangling cage.  As Pam screams and retches, trying to leave the room and go for the front door, Leatherface, once again, shows up and lunges for her, grabbing her as she runs out the front door.  He takes her through the same entryway that Kirk met his fate and into the back of the house where Leatherface does his butchering.  He holds her in the air and walks towards a bunch of meat hooks hanging from the ceiling, moving to them with Pam facing them as well-so her character knows what's about to happen-and just as he gets to them, he turns her and hangs her on a hook, obviously having the hook penetrate her back.  To make things even more terrifying for her, she hangs there in pain as she witnesses Leatherface cut her boyfriend, Kirk, into pieces with a chainsaw.

Did those scenes warp my brain?  Maybe.  But I can tell you, I'll never walk into somebody's house uninvited.  And that's something that can be taken away from this film.the helpful messages like how you shouldn't walk into someone's home without their consent.  Or how about never pick up a hitchhiker?  Or the very important rule that you should fuel up your vehicle every chance you get during a long would've helped these five kids.

Now, before anybody can say this is a vicious and gory's not.  It's all implied by sounds and quick cutaways, but you never see anything that violent.  You never see Leatherface's chainsaw penetrate flesh, you never see blood-it's all implied.  That says a lot for Tobe Hooper.  To make so many people-myself included-think they've seen gore in this film is quite an accomplishment.  There are so many movies where people feel ripped off because they didn't get to see any blood and guts splattering off the screen, so kudos to Hooper and his mind games!

I know one thing for sure.this 1974 film is the quintessential film of the series, with none of the sequels or reboots coming close to the bizarre and grainy feel that this film presents.  This brings me to the unfathomable decision to make a direct sequel to this film nearly 40 years later.  Yes...40 years.  Just remember that number...40 years.

Texas Chainsaw 3D
Now although this film was released in 3D, I didn't find enough interest to venture out into the theater to see it and a couple of variables led me to that decision.  First off, the trailer for the film didn't interest me in the least.  All I saw was a bunch of kids, clad only in a limited amount of clothing, with some popular music playing, only to have the trailer end with a few quick cuts of Leatherface attacking them.  And speaking of Leatherface...the actor playing him didn't measure up to Gunnar Hansen's look in the first film and seeing that this was a direct sequel to the 1974 film, I was expecting a bit more.  Also, the quick reviews that I'd read-and I usually avoid any write-ups, but for some reason didn't this time-weren't favorable and I'd just decided to wait for it on home media.  Lastly, being that this film was to be presented in 3D made me want to skip it even more, as most films do this to hide the fact they're trying to pass off a mediocre film by bedazzling it with that gimmick (Are you listening, James Cameron?).  I really can't put my finger on why I had decided to skip it when it hit theaters-although it's probably all of those reasons combined-but I guess something inside me told me that it was going to be bad.

But a few months went by and Texas Chainsaw 3D showed up in Netflix.  I'd decided to place it on the top of my queue to have it sent to me...

...and I watched it.

Wow...I just didn't know-nor would I believe-how bad it was going to be.

First off, let me synopsize this film directed by John Luessenhop and written by a number of writers (gee...I wonder why it went through so many?).

The film takes place right after the first film.  The town authority, Sheriff Hooper (Thom Barry), shows up, alone, at the Sawyer house right after a number of family members show up to barricade themselves inside.  The sheriff pleads with Drayton Sawyer (previously played by Jim Siedow-this time by Bill Moseley) to give up Leatherface.  Just when Sawyer's about to do so, people from town show up and exact their own justice by shooting up and torching the house.  One of the Sawyer clan (Dodie Brown), along with her baby, runs away from the house after getting shot and hides out away from the house.  Two folks from town, Gavin (David Born) and Arlene Miller (Sue Rock), find the woman and take her baby.  As she pleads for help, Gavin kicks the woman in the head, killing her.  Soon, the house is completely destroyed with everyone believing the whole family perished.  Cut to present day, we meet Heather Miller (Alexandra Daddario), working in the butcher department in a grocery store.  As she arrives home, she receives a letter that informs her she was adopted and notifying her that she has inherited an estate by her biological grandmother.  Heather, along with her boyfriend, Ryan (Trey Songz), her friends, Nikki (Tania Raymonde) and Kenny (Keram Malicki-Sánchez), drive to the estate to collect on the inheritance.  Soon, they find out.not all of the Sawyer group perished in the fire.

Now, right out of the gate, gaping holes are seen, huge mistakes are made (you can probably see that in the synopsis alone), and the whole view of the Sawyer family is turned on its side.  And that's just the first few minutes of the movie!

Let's start with the beginning of the film, shall we?

Now, the filmmakers went through some painstaking steps to get the look of the house exact.  I had some high hopes when the movie started, as I noticed they'd used some of the footage from the 1974 film-some recreated with body doubles, as well as some newly produced shots.  I was thoroughly impressed with how they did that and thought the film was off to a great start.  Even if it was the same house, which I'm sure it wasn't, the look of the hallway with the entryway to Leatherface's lair, complete with the red wall adorned with different species of skulls was pretty spot-on.  Even the cuts in the door made by Leatherface in the '74 film were there, with nearly the same pattern.  The living room pretty much had the same skull and bones decorations as the first film, so I was impressed with that as well.  But beyond this opening...that's where it fell apart.

When watching the first film, we feel a sense of isolation for these characters, like there's no one near to help them.  It's mentioned that there's nowhere else to get gas for miles and it's felt that they're in the middle of nowhere.  We also get a sense that the Sawyer family is just those three weirdoes with a half-dead grandpa confined in a wheelchair in the upstairs bedroom.  So when this film opens and the sheriff shows up right away, as well as a bunch of family members that weren't seen before, it seems forced in, like the filmmakers wanted to make sure they'd get a shootout in the movie.  The same thing goes for the townsfolk who happen to show up as well.  Where the hell were all these people in the first film?  But I guess all this was written to shoehorn the story of Heather.this is such bad writing and we're not even into the meat of the movie.

Now let's talk about how the movie moves to present day.

Okay, so everybody who's a fan of the original film knows it takes place in August of 1973.  The 1974 film features the text on the screen, it's mentioned, and it's totally obvious when you look at the style and dress of the kids in the movie.  Seeing that this direct sequel opens with Sally getting away from the crazy family's farmhouse, we know it's supposed to be the same year.1973.  The baby that's taken was no more than a year old.  So how is it that, 39-40 years later, Heather (the baby that's all grown up now) is only in her
twenties?  She should at least be 39 years old!  Was there a typo in the casting call sheet?  Couldn't they get an actress in their thirties or early forties?  I don't know who screwed this up-it was either the writers or the studio.  I'd bet it was the studio, trying to make sure they get the tweens in the seats, but all they ended up doing was shitting on the franchise and the fans who love it.

The rest of the film is just a run-of-the-mill horror flick...all it turns out to be is Leatherface on the loose and trying to kill the kids that show up at the house (oh yeah, he was locked up in the basement all this time, being taken care of by Heather's biological grandmother, but when someone accidentally lets him out, he goes on a rampage).  You can enjoy the film in that respect if you don't know the history of the franchise or if you just want to see a brainless killer-on-the-loose film.

So, the thing that bugs me-but not as much as the obvious mistakes I had mentioned earlier-is the last part of the film where the mayor of the town, Burt Hartman (Paul Rae), is beating up Leatherface and intending to kill him.  When we think Leatherface is finally going to meet his maker, Heather helps him out by sliding over his chainsaw and tells him, "Do your thing, cuz!"  The complete turnaround to make Leatherface the victim-turn-hero is totally glorifying what he did in the first film.  Did we forget he attacked innocent kids and sliced them to bits with his chainsaw?  Did we forget he-along with his demented family-mentally tortured an innocent girl and tried to kill her?  Did the writers of this movie even watch the original???  Doesn't seem like it.

I'll tell you...this movie makes the reboots that Platinum Dunes made a few years back look like masterpieces.  So much hype was made about how the rights were purchased and that a direct sequel was going to be filmed to preserve and honor the 1974 film with a thoughtfully written sequel.  What they gave us was thorough and utter crap that doesn't even warrant a second barely warrants a first.  It's as if the writers just didn't give a shit and thought the fans of the franchise would be too stupid to notice.  This is just a simple case of someone purchasing the rights to a film franchise they know nothing about and churning a money maker out of it while fucking over the true fans.

Commendation goes to the studio for trying to give us something unique instead of going the remake route and just giving us another useless rehash of the story we all know was done perfectly by Tobe Hooper in '74.  But they should've taken their time, study the first film, make sure they'd gotten writers who knew what
they were doing...I can go on and on.  Hopefully this wasn't a ruse to show the world that remaking films are more lucrative than making something original.

My final "bit" on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Texas Chainsaw 3D?

The 1974 film is a cult classic, showing us the beginnings of the horror mastery of Tobe Hooper.  It stays with you long after the film finishes and you'll be haunted by what you'd witnessed.  Just do yourself a favor and don't watch the 2013 direct sequel.  Instead, watch the 1986 sequel with Dennis Hopper or the third part in 1990, or even the one that stars Matthew McConaughhey and Renée Zellweger...anything but that crappy, thoughtless and inconsiderate dud they churned out last year.

Well, thanks for reading...and hopefully I helped you dodge a always, I welcome your comments.

You can always reach me on Twitter for a tweet: @CinemaBits.

Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Until the day I die, I will continue to praise black & white films and will usually choose to watch one over a more modern movie-any time, any day, any place.  The moods of these films are better, especially for an old horror film, and it definitely seems like an art form to see these films play out.  Seeing that color film was available as early as the 1930s, it's a wonder films were still being made in black & white as late as the 1960s.  But just like introducing CGI in the 1990s as a very expensive technology to put into a movie, filming in color was more expensive due to the price difference in film stock.  However, nowadays, most films are shot digitally and if they're not, color film stock is the norm.  In fact, converting a movie to black & white nowadays (like Frank Durabont wanted to do with The Mist) is probably a bit more costly.

Even though I've always been a fan of watching black & white films, there was one film I wasn't familiar with-nor had heard about-until it aired one night on television back in the early 90s and that film, of course, was George Romero's 1968 classic, Night of the Living Dead.

A quick story to how I had come about this flick dates back to living at home in my early 20s, sponging off my mom and dad, and constantly watching MTV.  I was sitting at home on a Halloween afternoon and decided I was going to call up my good friend, Ron, and see what was going down that night.  But, when I did, he had some plans with a girlfriend and wasn't going to hang out with the guys.  When trying a few other friends, it seemed to be the trend with all of them.  Being single at the time, I decided to spend a quiet night at home.  We never really had too many trick-r-treaters back then-and if we did, my mom probably handed out the candy that night-so I decided to channel surf the television to see what was on.  I happened upon MTV and I was expecting to watch some music videos, but the VJs were just finishing introducing how they were going to showcase a classic as a special for Halloween, with no commercials.  Since I had missed what movie they were talking about, I left it on the channel and decided to see what this classic was.  From beginning to end, I watched...spooked a little...and became a fan of Night of the Living Dead instantly.

The film begins with Barbra (Judith O'Dead) and her brother, Johnny (an uncredited Russell Streiner), driving to visit their father's grave in some remote cemetery.  As they argue a bit, they notice an odd-looking man approaching them.  Johnny begins to tease his sister, saying, "They're coming to get you Barbra," as the man walks closer.  The man tries to attack Barbra and Johnny pulls him away, beginning to tussle with the man until he falls and hits his head on a gravestone, knocking him out or killing him (it's never clear).  Barbra tries
to get away in the car, but can't start it because Johnny had the keys, so she puts it in neutral to roll away from the pursuing man.  Crashing into a tree, she gets out of the car and flees, finds an abandoned farmhouse and goes inside.  Shocked by what she finds, but relatively safe, she's soon joined by Ben (Duane Jones), who shows up after an ordeal he went through himself.  Clearly freaked out and catatonic, Barbra only sits as Ben checks the house.  Soon they're joined by five other people, led by an asshole named Cooper (Karl Hardman), who all happened to be hiding in the basement the whole time.  Cooper and Ben are at odds with each other from the start as they both have different ideas on what decisions to make for the whole group, but above all else, they have to deal with the horrors outside that are trying to get inside.

From the first minute of this movie, I was enthralled and surprised I had never-at the time-heard of it before.  I was still a novice movie-goer-and even more of a beginner when it came to the horror genre-but the way the VJs were speaking of the film before playing it made me think it was a world renowned classic.  Turns out they were right, but I hadn't known it at the time.

Sitting there at home, by my lonesome, and watching this flick really had gotten under my skin.  I wasn't by myself in the house, but I was sitting in the dark in our family room and thinking there were zombies right outside the house as I was seeing this for the first time.

The black & white film experience really adds to this movie, as it gives an ominous atmosphere and with the grainy look to it, you really can't see what may come out of the shadows while our protagonists are held up in the house.  However, at times, the scenes seem tame as you really can't tell when things get gory, and that's when you feel safe.  Because during those times, that's when Romero adds scenes with these zombies eating flesh and it kind of makes you sick to the stomach.  Overall, you really go through a rollercoaster ride when watching this.

The performances are very believable for its time period.  A lot of films from the 50s and 60s have that stage play feel to it, where the actors speak a little too loudly and use too many hand gestures to get their points across.  In this one, you really believe what the characters are going through, feeling their fear and anger, as they're defending themselves from the threat and dealing with being confined with each other, causing them to be at each other's throats.

Duane Jones does a magnificent job as the leading man which, during the 60s, was unheard of, especially in a movie where the majority of the cast is white.  I'm surprised some of the scenes didn't cause an uproar back then (maybe it did, I really don't know), like when Ben tries to snap Barbra out of it by slapping her in the face or how he shows dominance over Cooper for control of the house.  I had really enjoyed Jones's performance because I felt you couldn't help but root for the guy since he knew what to do and had all the right ideas.  Seeing that Judith O'Dea's character was silent from shock throughout the beginning and the characters in the basement hadn't turned up yet, Duane Jones had to take control of the scenes that led up to the rest of the story.

Judith O'Dea as Barbra was your typical character of a damsel in distress back then, where trouble arises and the female would typically fall to the wayside to be saved by the leading man.  It's a shame, but that's the way most films were storied out back then, not giving female characters strong roles but rather the victimized maiden.  With all that, O'Dea still puts on a strong performance as someone so freaked out by unexplained horrors that she resorts to being in a state of catatonia.

Karl Hardman as Cooper might've been a bit two-dimensional in his portrayal, but I feel the film needed that.  We didn't need to see why he was a jerk to Ben-I guess we can assume it was because he didn't want to be
taking orders from a black man-so the lack of his character development was understandable.  Keith Wayne as Tom did all right as the neutral guy who kept Ben and Cooper from going too far in their fights.  The rest of the cast did fine, nether memorable or forgettable.

One interesting thing you'll notice in this film, especially if you've seen all the modern day zombie films-whether the zombies run or shamble-is that some of the zombies know enough to use tools.  The first zombie we see during the cemetery scene picks up a stone to try and break the car window.  Cooper's daughter, when resurrected as a zombie, picks up a trowel in the basement and uses it to kill her mother.  For the most part, however, the rules of zombie engagement have been, more or less, the same as it's been since this 1968 classic.

Night of the Living Dead is definitely a masterpiece and, although Romero directed countless sequels since, this film stands above as the one that started it all.  The story of zombies has been around for ages, so we really can't say that George Romero is the father of zombie films, but he really put his stamp on it when he made this one.  Before this, zombies in film were represented by people under mind control or voodoo rituals-sometimes able to speak, sometimes not.  I'm not completely sure, but I believe Romero's zombies were the first to devour flesh.  Any way you slice it, however, George Romero's name is synonymous with zombies.

Although Romero gets the recognition that he deserves with this film, when you hear the backstory of this film, it's a little heartbreaking, in my opinion.  For those of you that don't know, when he made this film, it was originally titled, and copyrighted as, "Night of the Flesh Eaters."  The film was about ready to be distributed when it was decided to be changed and named what it was named.  However, after the title change, the copyright wasn't put in the new film, so the whole movie was placed in the public film domain right away.  I'm not that much in the know about these things, but because of that, Romero doesn't get a cent of money for all the ticket sales and home media sales.  Not only that, but anybody can take this film, edit it anyway they want, include additional footage or dialogue, then reproduce and distribute it for sale, all legally with no piracy laws broken.  I found out the hard way not too long ago when my wife bought an inexpensive DVD of Night of the Living Dead.   I was pretty happy, but that soon changed when I saw the quality of the sound and picture.

What's my final "bit" on Night of the Living Dead?

Good, scary fun is what you're going to have when you sit through this.  You'll come to understand why Romero is considered the founding father of the modern zombie film as you'll see so many cues that other filmmakers have used in zombie films today.  He made the rules with this one that have stuck for over forty years and you'd be hard-pressed to see any filmmaker who'd want to go against those rules.  You're going to
want to lock up your windows and doors as you watch this, because it just gives you a sense of foreboding in your core.  Whatever you do, stay away from the countless cheapie DVD copies that have bad quality and added scenes to the film and ask around for the best copy to get.  Romero's classic should not be missed.

Thanks for reading and I welcome any comments!

You can also tweet to me on Twitter: @CinemaBits.