1974's THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE is one of my favorite films and I've always been amused by Hollywood's repeated attempts to turn it into a franchise. The original film is perfectly contained and doesn't lend itself to being part of a series, yet we've had three sequels, a remake, a prequel to the remake and next year we're promised yet another remake, this time in 3D. And we've had this odd beast, written and directed by Kim Henkel, the co-writer of the 1974 original.
This film, like most of the films in the series, positions itself as a direct sequel to the original and then proceeds to play like a combination of sequel and remake. the plot involves Jenny (Renee Zellweger) who, along with a group of friends, gets stranded on the way home from the senior prom. They then run afoul of the first film's cannibal family, led by Vilmer (Matthew McConaughey). From there, Henkel gives us variations on famous scenes from the original film including one of the victims being hung on a meathook, the family dinner scene and of course Jenny being chased by the murderous Leatherface, armed with his chainsaw. Henkel manages to put some strange spins on things, including having Leatherface be a crossdresser, something that was hinted at in the original and wisely discarded. There's also a headscratcher of a third act where Henkel introduces the idea of an Illuminati-like organization that has been controlling the family's activities for centuries. Really.
Shot independently as RETURN OF THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, this film sat on the shelf for several years due to its inability to secure a distributor and it became a popular item on the bootleg circuit. In the late 1990s the film suddenly became marketable after the rise to stardom of both Zellweger and McConaughey. It was purchased by Sony, edited slightly and released via home video to a confused public. Actually, despite its penchant for going off the deep end, the movie is not bad. It's well made and the leads are really quite good. There are rumors that Zellweger and/or McConaughey tried to halt the film's release but they have nothing to be ashamed of here. The problem with the film is its unsatisfyingly weird conclusion.
If you've never seen any of the CHAINSAW films and you're curious, well, see the original. But if you've seen the others you may owe it to yourself to check this one out as well. After all, most of the other films in this franchise aren't exactly classics and this one's not as bad as its reputation suggests, at least for most of the way. Did I mention that it gets weird?
For more overlooked films and a/v visit Todd Mason's blog.