TNCC frontman Matthew Cade was recently provided a batch of horror themed cigars from Famous Smoke Shop, each one named after a famous icon from horror film history. Cade came up with the grand idea that The Doctor should review a film to pair with his cigar reviews. Naturally I thought that this concept was brilliant. The first icon on the docket was Frankenstein and we decided to follow up that collaboration with an equally patched up specimen who goes by the name of Leatherface…
“Leatherface crosses Divine with Hannibal Lecter.”
The above quote is attributed to someone who was once affiliated with the New York Post. For the uninformed, Divine was the stage name of an overweight drag queen who appeared in several John Waters films and once supposedly ate a piece of actual dog excrement on camera. That is a lot to digest – sorry, poor choice of words – and I am not really sure how to interpret it. The quote says much, only The Doctor isn’t entirely sure what it is saying. Still, as far as an opening hook goes, it doesn’t sound uninteresting… terrible, maybe, but not uninteresting.
As TNCC board chairman Matthew Cade continued to work his way through a batch of movie-monster themed cigars, I was tasked with locating a suitable film in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre series to review. I pontificated on these matters for some time while smoking an Oliva robusto and sipping on a glass of the restorative Maker’s Mark. Enough has already been said about the 1974 original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, so I quickly dismissed the idea of adding my two cents. The 1986 follow-up starring Dennis Hopper has long been a personal favorite, but I demurred on this choice as well. That is when Cade reminded The Doctor – because I had quite literally forgotten of its existence – that in 1994 a company known as Ultra Muchos and working in conjunction with River City Films released a fourth entry in the franchise titled Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation. It was written and directed by Kim Henkel, who co-wrote the original with Tobe Hooper, but that’s not the tantalizing rub here; this obscure, early nineties, horror film stars none other than future Academy Award winners Matthew McConaughey and Renee Zellweger, two years before their star making turns in A Time to Kill and Jerry Maguire, respectively.
Let us harken back to golden yesteryear, specifically the early to mid-nineties. It was an altogether different landscape in the world of low-budget film, an age that occurred long before social media or even the internet. Actors rarely, if ever, became overnight sensations and often spent several years paying their dues before catching a big break. The ones that caught a big break, that is. Many seemingly promising talents were never seen or heard from again due to the vagaries of fate (and probably other, more nefarious factors) within the performing arts industry. TCM: TNG had a limited release in October of 1994, meaning it was likely shot earlier in the year or even late 1993 (and boy does it sure look it). This time period of the “pre-Scream” nineties was fallow ground for horror movies, so it’s something of a surprise that this film was released at all, and McConaughey and Zellweger were probably wishing that that was the case when they each vaulted onto the national stage around 1996-97. However, despite every warning sign – including the New York Post quote above – The Doctor, having never seen this iteration in the Chainsaw series, was far too intrigued to give way too reason. Anything in the name of research, or so I like to tell myself…
Our story begins on Prom Night somewhere in Texas, and rather than bore you with the details let’s just say that two couples find themselves leaving the shindig in a car together: Heather and her typical 90’s version of an asshole boyfriend named Barry, along with Sean and his date, Jenny, who is played by a bespectacled young Zellweger. The glasses, of course, indicating that Jenny is a nerd and a prude. Ah, how The Doctor and my TNCC brethren so enjoy this element of lazy storytelling; whip a pair of glasses on an otherwise cute girl – and Zellweger in 1994 was definitely a cutie – and voila, she is an uptight geek. I’d be more critical of this tactic save for the fact that it is inexplicably still employed to some degree today (I have been accused of many things, some of them true, but never of being prudish).
Our “teens” quickly leave society behind and are shortly ensconced in the fog-shrouded woods, although even in this isolated locale there is some sort of real estate office that is open all night – don’t ask – and a service station. Also, it would appear to The Doctor’s trained eye that our scenery was merely a stand or two of birch trees brought to cinematic life with the help of a smoke machine that had been borrowed from the Pflugerville High School theater department. The only thing missing was Lon Chaney Jr. running around in a furry mask. None of this is as bothersome as the sheer stupidity of our teenagers when they encounter a fender-bender on a dirt road and realize how lost they have become… but, then again, as I have already pointed out, this film was released a couple of years before Scream and therefore can perhaps be forgiven for using some tired tropes. Actually, such devices can never be forgiven, but as a man of science I always try to explore both sides of a situation, no matter how ludicrous one of the sides may be…
Thankfully we are introduced to Vilmer, a clean-shaven McConaughey driving a tow truck, spitting into his dip cup and sporting some sort of metal, mechanical leg brace. It would be too easy to suggest that one can see the talent on display here – other than McConaughey, there isn’t any – and The Doctor’s psychologist friends have informed him on more than one occasion of the truth to the cliché that hindsight makes for twenty-twenty vision. Still, the introduction of Vilmer injects, well, something into the production at around the 15-minute mark, and you actually look forward to seeing more of him.
Of course, our teens get separated and must soon locate a clapboard, rundown house in the middle of nowhere so that we can meet Leatherface and his family. In this incarnation, Leatherface comes off as a learning disabled man-child who communicates mostly by pounding his fists on the walls while screaming and squealing like a deranged piglet.
Wow, so many bizarre choices are to follow. Granted, it is a Texas Chainsaw Massacre film which are weird by their very nature, but The Next Generation hops up to another level. The script and the narrative choices along with the behavior of the characters are all over the map. In fact, they bleed off of the map and into a different hemisphere altogether. One minute Zellweger is screaming for her life, and the next she is calmly trying to persuade her assailants of the wisdom of leaving her alone. And Good God, whether it’s Vilmer or Leatherface, there is an awful lot of LOUD SHREIKING. This is Chainsaw if it were produced by and starring asylum inmates who have had their medications taken away. Let The Doctor elaborate to further his point, in no particular order:
1) Zellweger’s Jenny becomes surprisingly spry for a nerd in a prom dress. Suddenly she is no longer the mousy geek, she’s brandishing a shotgun and jumping out of second story windows. This must be because… that’s right, her glasses are off! The hackneyed metaphor is complete! (I’m not kidding)
2) One of the Leatherface family, Darla – played by the attractive Tonie Perensky, who would go on to play the role of the teacher/stripper Ms. Davis in Varsity Blues – makes a stop at an all-night pizza and hamburgers drive-thru shack where several children in youth league soccer uniforms are hanging about. Considering that this is all taking place in one night and that our teens left the prom a long time ago, meaning that it must be at least 3am by now, none of this makes any sense whatsoever!
3) Leatherface is a cross-dresser, complete with nylon leggings and lipstick. At this point I began to have serious regrets about watching the movie sober and vowed never to make such an irresponsible, bush-league decision again.
4) There is an attempt to recreate the climactic dinner table scene from the original film… it results in just a lot of batshit screaming, wailing and mostly unintelligible ravings from everyone involved. Note to would-be filmmakers: attempting to just recreate certain images does not a movie make.
5) Wait a second… is it not just a family of cannibalistic wackos, or is there some type of heretofore unmentioned billionaire mastermind that is behind the whole thing? I… I don’t know. You’ll have to make up your own mind on that.
The film’s main positive is McConaughey, who brings everything you can ask for and more in his portrayal of the certifiably cuckoo Vilmer. He’s clearly having fun sinking his teeth into the over-the-top insanity required of the part, although it’s a good bet that he hasn’t spoken about this film in two decades and likely pretends that it doesn’t exist. Still, he gives his all, and his early work would obviously be noticed and lead to better things. The young Zellweger doesn’t really stand out here, but I suppose — given the truly bizarre nature of the material — the fact that she hung in there and didn’t embarrass herself is a testament to her abilities.
Oy gevalt, as my Yiddish friends would say. The Doctor cannot in any good faith recommend this movie, except to the faithful diehard fans of all things Chainsaw, and they of course would have seen it already and probably own a copy. Other than that, unless you are writing a thesis paper on McConaughey or Zellweger…
I don’t like being negative; life has too much to offer to traipse through the day as a sourpuss. That said, in case everything I have written here so far has been ignored, I must offer a final declaration: I can understand the temptation, despite everything that I have mentioned, to be overwhelmed with the idea of seeing Matthew McConaughey and Renee Zellweger acting in a cheaply made horror film before they became internationally famous. I encourage you to satiate your curiosity in all things film. Just don’t go thinking that such circumstances created something priceless. It’s not priceless… it cost me $4.99.* As always, The Doctor wishes you all a clean bill of health.
*It’s fun to imagine McConaughey and Zellweger traveling across the country in a chartered jet and burning every VHS tape or DVD copy of this movie that they could lay their hands on, but obviously they never did such a thing. The Doctor’s local Movie Trading Company – a fun place to whittle away a hot hour on a summer afternoon – had three used copies in what appeared to be very good condition for $4.99. There is a piece of trivia on IMDB stating that Sony Pictures tried to re-release this in 1996 to cash in on McConaughey and Zellweger’s newfound fame. As the trivia goes, the respective camps/agencies of the two stars threatened to sue and also threatened that their clients would never work in a Sony Pictures film again. The re-release never materialized. I don’t know if this bit of trivia is true or not, but it is on IMDB. The DVD is clearly trying to capitalize on the McConaughey/Zellweger factor, and why wouldn’t it? It is worth noting that the film cannot be streamed legally anywhere but used DVD copies can be found should you be unable to resist temptation. Happy Chainsawing.
review by CADE
As I explained in my Skinny Frank review, I was no fan of the many variations of the Frankenstein tale but this time around I’m onboard one hundred fucking percent. I love the original Chainsaw and it’s easily in my Top 10 horror films, I have a lot of fun with the sequel, and even the third entry has its charms (Ken “Mr. Ballsy McBadass” Foree I’m looking at you).
But TCM: The Next Generation… well to be honest I felt like following McConaughey’s lead in this pic below and shove both barrels in my mouth after I first viewed this cinematic clusterfuck years ago… yowzers what a Shit Show!
But that’s enough about that, I’ll leave the film analysis to The Doctor. About a week prior to smoking the Skinny Face I reviewed the Pudgy Face cigar by Tatuaje and I thoroughly enjoyed it so I went in to this review with high hopes. Like all other Skinny Monsters, the Skinny Face is 6×38 and can be found at Famous Smoke Shop right this minute.
The Skinny Face features an extremely veiny medium brown Mexican San Andrés wrapper leaf. It’s slightly firm to the squeeze and I pick up strong barnyard aromas (hay and horse manure) from the prelight sniff. Interesting note, the jagged strip of Ecuadorian Connecticut leaf that served as a band on previous versions of the Face cigar has been replaced here with a traditional band featuring the words “Skinny” and “Monsters” in brown font against a cream colored background. No biggie but it does result in the Skinny Face losing a little bit of its personality…
The cold draw is super tight so I clip another sliver off with the scissors before torching the foot. There’s spice on the initial pull followed by a strong mesquite note. And I mean really fucking strong, like inbred cannibal wearing a mask of rotting human flesh strong.
The draw is, as I suspected it would be, far too tight and I’m hoping it will open up with some time. An inch or so in and a roasted coffee flavor joins the woodsiness. While these flavors don’t mesh spectacularly well together, they don’t compete against each other either.
The draw has improved some and construction otherwise is spot on. The coffee remains a background player to the mesquite as the Skinny Face smokes along.
Towards the end of the second third a creaminess appears that is more than welcome. It kind of reminded me of the first Texas Chainsaw Massacre when the elderly “Cook” would smile sweetly at his poor victim… right before he’d take his broom and WHACK her over the head with it!
Yep, the harsh spice and dominant mesquite flavors are back folks! The strength from that spicy pepper note really roars back in the final third of the cigar. I remove the band and the white ash drops.
It’s a full strength finish that’ll leave your palate pleading for mercy. Or at least begging for a smooth and mild Connecticut shade cigar as a follow up…
The Skinny Face is a strong powerful, somewhat harsh, cigar that’s fairly straight forward in its flavors and presentation. Much like Leatherface himself when you look at the poor bastard from afar. It’s not bad, it’s not great, but it can fit your mood if you’re angry at life and pissed off enough to want to chop up some teenagers. Enjoy!
I hope you liked this collaboration between The Doctor and myself, if so let us know! If not, we’ll invite you over for dinner and talk it out all civil like. We’ll bring Grandpa, you bring the headcheese…