Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation

Directed by: Kim Henkel
Category: Horror

I honestly don't know what the fuck Kim Henkel was thinking when he made this. I'd long resisted watching this because it's reputation is terrible, and because, well, it just didn't look very good. But hey, it's getting close to Halloween, and I'm in horror mode, which means going out and looking for films I never got around to watching before in the horror genre. I did hope for one thing though; that this would be "So Bad, It's Good". I hoped.

TCM:TNG begins with a pretty killer title sequence. So I'm already feeling a little better about this. As the film progresses for the next hour, I'm actually thinking that this isn't all that bad. While Henkel is no Tobe Hooper, he does give the film a certain Grindhouse look and vibe; it's gritty, washed-out color palate gives the film a much older look than it's 90's setting. But honestly, that's really where the praise stops, because the rest of the film is a fucking mess.

Let's start with the actors. They're annoying as shit. How are we supposed to care about what happens to them when we don't even like them as human beings? Then there's McConaughey, who's so over the top that I think the point was that he would come off as scary, but only comes off as annoying. He made this a year after Dazed & Confused, and before anyone knew his name. The same thing with Renee Zellwegger. But we already know all that history. 2 years later they both went on to hit the big time and have tried to erase this from their memory.

As you know, Kim Henkel, who wrote and directed this, was the co-writer of the original Chainsaw film directed by Tobe Hooper. This was Henkel's one and only directing credit, and has only a few other titles under his belt as a writer. He intended this to be the first true sequel to the franchise because as you know, each film pretty much has it's own universe, not following any coherent storyline from any of the other films before or after, which is one of the things that make this particular franchise stand out from the other slasher franchises with countless sequels. Does Henkel succeed in making this a true sequel? No, because the "family" are all new characters. And that's another thing that might surprise a lot of people who haven't seen this entry yet. Rather than focus primarily on Leatherface, Henkel puts the majority of the focus on the entire family, more often than not zeroing in on McConaughey's character more than any other. In fact, Leatherface takes quite the backseat to the character of Vilmer (McConaughey).  On top of that, Henkel doesn't really add anything new to the character of Leatherface; quite the opposite. You can easily say that this particular film pretty much plays out like a remake of the very first film, even going as far as essentially redoing the end scene with Leatherface swinging his chainsaw in the air in frustration when his victim escapes. Seen it all before.

TCM:TNG is frustrating. When we get to the third act, a whole new character is introduced out of nowhere, with no explanation. He shows up in the middle of the chaos, and seems to be in control of everything that's going on. But who is he? Why or how does he control the family? The indication is that they do all the kidnapping and killing for him, but why? Don't even get me started on the scene where he opens his shirt, only to reveal something truly bizarre, which is also never explained. Then, just to make things even more confusing, the same guy ends up setting the last remaining victim free, "and" even takes her to the hospital! If that wasn't strange and frustrating enough, Kim Henkel decided it would be a good idea to throw in one last, strange sequence. It takes place in the hospital, and the victim, as she's being questioned, looks over to see a woman being pushed in a stretcher. The camera lingers a bit too long on this "anonymous" person, as it does on the orderly pushing the stretcher. You think, "okay, there's something to this. Nobody just shoots a sequence like this for no reason, lingering the camera on these two for this amount of time with dramatic effect as the camera fades out." But that's exactly what he did. No explanation as to who these individuals are or why we're even supposed to care. If you do some digging on IMDB, you'll get the answers under the "trivia" section, but still. it was handled so badly, and whatever the intention was, it's lost on the viewer.

TCM:TNG was a failure, financially and in the eyes of the public and hardcore Chainsaw fans. Henkel never directed again and it took 9 long years before anybody would touch the franchise. Ultimately that would be Michael Bay's Platinum Dune's production company with their 2003 remake, which isn't bad, and far better than this. Personally, I've always loved Part 3, and though it doesn't quite follow the original storyline and characters, and pretty much stays gore-free due to the MPAA, it's the closest thing to the look and feel of a real Chainsaw sequel to me. It's also the one Chainsaw film I've revisited constantly throughout the years, more than any of the others.

Though I went in with hopes of a "So Bad, It's Good" experience, TCM:TNG is just bad. I get it. I understand now why it's never discussed . It's really not that bad in general for most of it, but shockingly falls apart in the third act in such a drastic way that there's just no way to salvage it.


Review: Sleepaway Camp

Directed by: Robert Hiltzik
Category: Horror

I don't know why, but the Sleepaway Camp films have always escaped me. Honestly, I have no excuse. I know they have a large following in the slasher genre, but I suppose I just never heard enough things about it to warrant the effort of actually seeking it out. With Netflix offering part 2 for streaming, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to finally go out and grab the original so I can move on to the sequel, which I've heard more than once is most people's favorite in the series.

One of the things that stands out with Sleepaway Camp more than anything is how light and fluffy it comes across. While it's 100% inspired by the Friday the 13th franchise, among a few others, it's almost like a PG-13 rated version of Friday. The tone is a lot more lighter, a lot more sillier, and a lot of the main cast being a lot younger than the kind of age group you expect in a slasher film. Even when it comes to the kills, they're so far and few between, with none of them really going that extra mile to be shocking or gruesome, that you tend to forget that you're watching a horror film because it more often than not comes off as an edgier coming of age tale set in the early 80's. And that's another thing Sleepaway Camp has going for it. Even if you don't particularly like the film in general, it's hard not to be swept away by it's fun retro vibe. Set and release in 1983, the fashion sense is really the one constant thing my screening partner and I took an insane amount of pleasure in. When you stop and look back on the film in general, it was pretty much the one thing, other than the ending (more on that later), that we took away from.

Like I mentioned before, you oftentimes forget you're watching a slasher as it hardly ever plays like a serious one. In fact, in some ways, it sort of comes off as a parody, but it's fun. It's a fun film, whether you take it seriously or not, and when the kills come along, though elementary, do in fact remind you that you are watching a horror film.

That ending though. It really is this film's saving grace. Had it not had that batshit crazy ending, I seriously doubt this film would have been as memorable as it is. While we did enjoy the film overall, it wasn't until that ending that we were completely sold. Hell, we even applauded. No shit. It's fucking great and so WTF? bizarre.

I get the appeal of this film now, and we're glad we finally got to see it. It's not great, or even very good to be honest. It borrows heavily from other better slashers of it's time, and the kills and gore come off as amateurish, but all of it's failures pale in comparison to it's shocking ending, and what a doozy it is. Here's hoping the sequel delivers the goods as it's reputation seems to indicate.


Review: Days of Thunder

Directed by: Tony Scott
Category: Drama

This is probably the one and only Tony Scott film I never got around to watching. Though I generally love his films, and was pretty sure visually it would be impressive, just the idea about a drama about stock car racing never inspired much interest in me. But after having seen MI: Rogue Nation, I guess you can say I got in sort of a Tom Cruise kick, with plans to check out MI 2 - which I never got around to seeing - and revisiting Minority Report. But I had seen this particular Cruise flick hanging around Netflix for months and decided to just give it a shot.

I've often said that 1990 is the best year in film. So many of my favorite films in every genre were made in 1990; it really was a very special year for film. Unfortunately, Days of Thunder is not one of them. Made 5 years after their breakout and massive success of Top Gun, director Tony Scott re-teams with his star once again for another drama, hoping to capture lightning in a bottle twice, this time centered around stock car racing. One of the first things blatantly apparent is just how cheesy this film is. I mean, when Tom Cruise makes his first entrance, it's epic. Here's how it goes. They're discussing Tom's character Cole, on a race track. When one of them asks "Well where is he?", the cheesy guitar music cue's, and Cole comes riding through a random wall of smoke on a motorcycle wearing a trenchcoat and sunglasses in slow motion. Fucking epic I tell you. If only the rest of the movie was this entertaining.

While Days of Thunder displays director Tony Scott's amazing ability to capture breathtaking scenery and action, the fact is that the film as a whole is anything but interesting. For me personally, the fact that the character Tom Cruise plays, Cole Trickle, is just so damn unlikable for every second of the film really hurts the film. He really is. He's arrogant, selfish, cocky, and moody with a hot temper. Nothing about his personality emits any kind of sympathy or emotion from you other than knowing right up front that this guy is an arrogant dick. It would have been such a different movie had he been more likable, or even sincere. And what kind of shocks me is that there is never a single moment, not even in the end, where he redeems himself with an act of kindness, that he totally redeems himself because when he does ultimately agree to help a bitter rival out, it's really just to get back in the race car after it was painfully apparent there was no other way he would. It's all for selfish reasons.

Hanz Zimmer is credited for the score, and I'm not sure what the directions were from Scott or even the producers, but it is so cheesy, so patriotic, and so overly tacky that it kind of feels forced, and hurts the films overall vibe. I'm not totally convinced that a more subdued score would have helped the film overall, but it would definitely be better than what is currently present.

Tony Scott is hands down one of my favorite directors of all time. Nobody has, and probably never will be able to duplicate his very specific aesthetic. He was a one-of-a-kind tour de force in the film world, delivering some of the most breathtaking, exciting, and downright stellar films in the action, comedy, drama, and thriller genre's of the 80's and 90's. His imprint will be admired for generations, and that's not something that can be said about a lot of filmmakers. Days of Thunder is really just a slight speed bump in his career, because the same year he delivered one of his best films ever with Revenge, and then went on to direct The Last Boy Scout the following year, followed by one of his most important films 2 years later with True Romance in 1993. That reminds me. I need to revisit True Romance again. It's been too long.


Review: H20

Directed by: Steve Miner
Category: Horror

Exactly a year ago I set out to revisit the entire Halloween franchise from beginning to end in order; The Halloween season always does that to me. But after being underwhelmed by Part 4, being annoyed as fuck and just flat-out hating Part 5, only to be left somewhat unaffected at all by Part 6, I pretty much just gave up completely. It's taken me exactly a year to come back to the original franchise, outside of Rob Zombie's Halloween films - which I just love - to finally get around to revisiting this entry, which I only saw once in the theater and remember absolutely zilch about. That's never a good sign.

Let me start off by saying that I've never been a fan of director Steve Miner. I honestly can't understand the love for the guy. Sure he's mostly known for having directed Friday the 13th Part 2 and 3, as well as helming the 80's horror/comedy cult classic House and Warlock, but even when you look at those films, there's nothing really special about them. There's nothing about Miner's ability as a director that makes him stand out among any other paint-by-numbers director out there. Yet somehow his name is always remembered. The films listed above are his only horror efforts, as he's mainly stuck to drama's and television work. So when he was announced as the director for H20 way back when the film got greenlit, I was anything but excited. And you know, I guess my feelings were pretty spot-on because as I said, I don't remember a single thing about this film other than Myer's head getting cut off in the end. So as I sat down to revisit H20, I actually hoped for the best.

I'm more surprised than anyone to admit this, but while not great, or even very good for that matter, I found H20 to be far more competent than a few of the last entries, making it somewhat a better experience than I had anticipated. From a franchise standpoint, it's not a bad film overall. Sure the poster art is uber lame and tacky, and once again, Miner's direction and vision is as bland as I feared, but structure-wise, it's in keeping with a story set 20 years after the fact and logically, some of it makes enough sense.

While the entire first half is a tad tedious in introducing us to all the new characters, as well as getting us caught up with Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and what she's been up to since her brother tried to kill her all those years ago, it's really the second half where H20 really comes to life and turns into an all-out slasher, which is what we really came to see isn't it? Except, director Miner films everything with such a bland palate that you can't help but think how much more exciting it could have all been on a visual level had someone else, with a much more visual flare, had been in charge. What's frustrating is that there are a few scenes scattered throughout that surprised me - scenes that implore some impressive camerawork, only for the majority of the film to fall back to lazy handheld steadi-cam work. Watching the special features located on Scream Factory's massive blu ray set, it seems the DoP really set out to make something visually striking in widescreen. I mean, he feels like he did with the end result, but I didn't get any of that by watching it. Even the now classic scene of Laurie coming face to face with Michael through a small round window in a door for the first time in 20 years is treated in a rushed manner, with handheld shaky camerawork, where it would have had a much stronger impact had it been better orchestrated with some stable camerawork. It carries a made-for-tv quality that is almost unforgivable, if Halloween 5 hadn't been so much worse. So in that respect, this isn't a total loss.

Jamie Lee Curtis tries really hard to play it tough here, almost giving you glimpses of Sigourney Weaver tough from Aliens. But it oftentimes comes off as just being mean, arrogant, and very condescending to pretty much everyone in the film. She's pretty annoying overall. But through lots of screams and tears, she does manage to physically fight and outwit Michael through most of the second half, culminating in the films seemingly "final" death of her brother by loping his head off with an ax. But of course, as well all know, producer Moustapha Akkad just couldn't let the franchise die, so we still, somehow, got the inevitable sequel after this, even though Michael got his head cut off. His son Malek Akkad, also a producer on the franchise, is at least forth-coming about some of the bad decisions made in the past in regards to these films, like stunt casting and such. At least he'll be the first to admit when they shouldn't have done something that potentially hurt the franchise.

I liked the stunt actor they cast for Michael this time around; Chris Durand. Tall, big and physically imposing, he's pretty much what you want Michael Myers to look like in a jumpsuit, unlike some of the actors they chose for entries 4, 5, and 6. The scene where Myer's lowers himself from a pipe hanging from the ceiling as Laurie walks past him is fucking killer, but again, loses much of it's impact due to lazy camerawork.

Not the disaster I was expecting, yet very unfulfilling as a slasher that set out to capture some of the magic of the first few entries decades earlier. With H20, it's made abundantly clear that the Halloween franchise is tired and needs a drastic overhaul up to this point, or to just be laid to rest. Of course we all know that didn't happen, with the release of Halloween: Resurrection 4 years later. Thankfully, Rob Zombie really did a remarkable job (personally speaking) rebooting the franchise with his 2 stellar Halloween films beginning in 2007. They may not be perfect, and even I have some issues with them, but you can't deny as old-school style slasher's, they're brutal as fuck and the closest thing we have to a solid entry in that sub-genre next to The Collection.


Review: Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead

Directed by: Kiah Roache-Turner
Category: Horror

I'm pretty late to the game on this one, but I held off on watching it for long enough; it was time to get on it, which was made especially easier since Netflix added it to their streaming site last month. Now I had no excuses.

Since this film initially came out, hitting the festival circuits and then the home video market, I've been keeping up with it - following it's status, buzz and word of mouth. From everything I'd read, it had mostly positive reviews, with some out there that just didn't like it, or understand the love for it. Kind of how I feel about Boondock Saints. And of course, that comes with every film, so it's no real surprise. But the general consensus for Wyrmwood was that it kicked ass. So I kind of went in with some expectations.

Wyrmwood did indeed kick ass, and did not disappoint. I will say though that I half expected it to play out more silly and playful, and it didn't. So that was a surprise. I guess with all the buzz and subject matter, I guess I assumed they would have gone the fun route, but instead took the serious path, which was just fine, because it worked effectively well.

This film is "strong" on a number of levels. Visually, first time writer/director Kiah Roache-Turner
goes the freestyle handheld approach, intermittently throwing in some impressive and stylish "stable" shots. Overall, it works. Being someone who is usually turned off by this freestyle approach, he does it rather well, and never overdoes it to sell anything. It really adds to the films frenetic pace, and in my book, that's a plus.

The effects work is another solid plus. While they do implore a large amount of CGI, mainly in the bullet wounds and head shots, while noticeable, it's not bad. I've seen worse. The practical effects work though is pretty outstanding, and where Wyrmwood really shines.

One of the pluses from taking the serious route, the intensity level is pretty high in this. I found a number of sequences to be pretty spot-on in it's attempt to emit a sense of intensity, dread, and urgency. It's one thing if a zombie film is serious, but if it doesn't get you to care about any of the characters, or what's happening to them, then it's hard to feel any of those emotions. Wyrmwood tackles all of that the right way. You care about these people, and because of that, when shit hits the fan, it's pretty damn intense. But that doesn't keep the filmmakers from having a bit of fun with the idea, because while the film is loaded with creative ideas, witty dialogue and a sharp intensity, it's also fun. A LOT of fun.

Today it's getting increasingly hard to make zombie films, because currently it's probably the biggest and most used horror sub-genre. Hell, I've lost count how many zombie shows we currently have available on cable, and that's not even counting the relentless onslaught of Straight-To-Video or VOD titles that all have pretty much the same cover. So when something like Wyrmwood comes out, it's such a breath of fresh air. Why? Because it's anything but a conventional zombie film. Set in the Australian countryside, first time writer/director Kiah Roache-Turner has put a slightly new spin on the zombie genre, offering up some new and inventively creative touches that easily make this stand out among the crowd. Sure, we'll never get anything near the quality of Romero's Dawn or Day of the Dead, but we can do our best to look past that and embrace the few gems in the over-saturated and cluttered genre. Films like Wyrmwood are a reminder that there are good zombie films still left out there.


Review: Turbo Kid

Directged by: RKSS
Category: Action

The term "throwback" has been used a lot lately, generally when describing someone's attempt at replicating an action or horror film of the 80's more than anything. Sometimes they're successful, and sometimes they're not. But people keep trying, and when it's done correctly, it's quite an entertaining experience. While I have yet to see one of these throwback's that do it 100% correctly, like not using CGI for the effects, not using the shaky-cam style of filmmaking, and not hiring models for the roles, there are examples that come have come really close, like recent films such as It Follows, The Guest, Starry Eyes, We Are Still Here, and the one that kind of got it all started, Hobo with a Shotgun.

When the Turbo Kid trailer first hit, it literally to come out of nowhere, and seemed just what us die-hard retro gorehounds were looking for. Really, it's got everything we could really want in a throwback homage to 80's action films. Post Apocalyptic Future: CHECK. Over the top gore and violence: CHECK. Cult Film Icon: CHECK. Action: CHECK. Synth Score: CHECK. Practical Effects: CHECK. Yes, it's all here and it's fucking badass.

Set in the post apocalyptic future of 1997, water is scarce, and our hero is a comic book loving teenager who has a penchant for collecting random 80's artifacts. When he stumbles upon a power suit straight out of his comic books, he uses his new-found power to rescue his new friend from the hands of a ruthless overlord. 

There is just so much to love about Turbo Kid. It's a fun, engaging, highly spirited and ultra violent homage to post apocalyptic films that ran rampant in the 80's. So much care has been taken to capture the look, feel, and retro vibe of this particular kind of film, and yet, the filmmakers also seem to go through great pains taking everything a step further. There is so much nostalgia drenched into nearly every single frame that it's almost an overload to the senses. Of course, you really had to have grown up in the 80's to appreciate all the sight gags and gimmicks, but even if you didn't, it's all retro enough for you to know how cool and hip these things are.

One of the best things this film has going for it, is that you never expect it to be as violent as it ultimately is. Seriously. When the violence, action, fights, and battles roll in, they will blow your mind. When Turbo Kid finally became available on VOD last week, I immediately rented it, and filled my living room with a dozen friends; friends who love and appreciate these kinds of films. Every single one of us were consistently blown away with every sequence of violence, as each one demonstrated a new kill that none of us had ever seen before. Imagine a room filled with a dozen adults constantly screaming "Oh!!", "Oh Shit!!", and "Whoa that's fucking awesome!". Yea, that's what it was like and it was indeed awesome.

Turbo Kid originally spawned as a short that was submitted to the ABC's of Death producers. Soon after an Indigogo campaign was launched to fund a full length feature film and the rest is history. Written/directed/Co-starring the triple threat duo known as RKSS (Francois Simard, Anouk Wissell, and Yoann-Karl Whissell), Turbo Kid oozes style and substance out of every pore. The film is stunningly shot, offering up some striking visuals of the desolate landscape. What I found interesting was that even though there were 3 different directors, you'd never know it. It's all consistent without any one of them having a drastically different style or approach than the other two. This is made all the more impressive when the practical effects work come into play. These moments are genius, impressive, hilarious, much gorier than you expect them to be, and the meat of the film.

While there is a lot to admire and revel in with Turbo Kid, there was one thing that kept it being 100% totally awesome for me, and that was that the film kept shifting from fast to slow repeatedly, never maintaining a consistent pace. I know why they did it. One thing Turbo Kid has a lot of is heart. And for a lot of people that's a bonus, but for me, all these moments that slowed down to a crawl always took me out of the experience because when the film wasn't working so hard to make us care for the characters, it was easily one of the most impressive pieces of Badass Cinema I have come across in recent years. But you know, it's really a small complaint, if you would even call it a complaint. I guess if there was anything I'd be willing to change, it would be that. But even then, it wasn't too much of a distraction for me, and I'm sure it won't be for most others as I seemed to be in the minority on that within my group.

Currently you can rent or purchase Turbo Kid digitally on VIMEO and iTunes. You can also buy a DVD, Blu Ray or VHS through their Indigogo campaign, but be prepared to spend some a large chunk of change on these items as they're not cheap. As of this posting, I haven't heard anything about a planned large scale legit DVD or Blu Ray release here in the US, but I hope it's soon, because I'd love to own a physical copy of this. There will, however, be a DVD/Blu release in the UK on Oct. 5th, so if you have a region free player, then you're in luck!