Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation Blu-ray Review (originally published 2018)
When a helpful family invites two lost couples in for a good ol' down-home massacre, the prom night teens find themselves all dressed up ...with no place to escape. (From Scream Factory’s official synopsis)
Tobe Hooper’s original 1974 Texas Chainsaw Massacre was forged in a creative vacuum that produced an unprecedented motion picture. Despite being a categorically singular experience, the film’s rampant popularity led to countless re-creations and, more often than not, its lightning-in-a-bottle qualities proved unrepeatable. Hooper even struggled to make his own official sequel, eventually releasing a conceptual reapplication of his original ideas called The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 (1986). Thus began a tradition of Chainsaw Massacre sequels acting more like reboots and remakes than sequential follow-ups. Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1990), written by splatterpunk novelist/ace horror critic David Schow and directed by Jeff Burr, only has cosmetic continuity with Hooper’s films and was intended to be a soft reboot. Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1994), written and directed by Hooper’s original writing partner, Kim Henkel, then appeared as the brand’s first hard reboot. Both ‘sequelboots’ would fail to find mainstream success and the property remained dormant until Marcus Nispel’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), which was a surprise hit and led to prequel in 2006 called The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, directed by Jonathan Liebesman. Then, even though Nispel’s film was the only follow-up to actually make a substantial profit, new franchise owner Lionsgate decided to finally make a ‘real’ sequel to the 1974 movie, under the title Sears catalogue-inspired title of Texas Chainsaw (2013), and a prequel to both under the confusing title Leatherface (2017), directed by Julien Maury & Alexandre Bustillo.
Chainsaw Massacre sequels/prequels aren’t only unified by their repetitive habits, but the fact that most of them are barely released at all. Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 and Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III were both railroaded by extensive MPAA edits, and Leatherface was shelved for about a year, before eventually being dumped on streaming/video. But these typical low-to-medium-budget woes were child’s play compared to the The Next Generation’s distribution hell. The saga begins in 1994, when the finished film (budgeted at only $600k) premiered at the 1995 South by Southwest Film Festival, where it was (reportedly) well-received and purchased for theatrical and home video distribution by Columbia Pictures. But Columbia sat on the film until 1997, at which point they re-edited it, trimming about six minutes without Henkel’s input, and (according to producer Robert Kuhn) finally planned to release it in an effort to cash-in on the post-Jerry Maguire and A Time to Kill (both 1996) stardom of leads Renée Zellweger & Matthew McConaughey. According to legend, agents representing Zellweger & McConaughey then put pressure on Columbia to bury the movie entirely, resulting in a pathetic limited theatrical release and almost complete lack of promotion.
Unfortunately, tales of the film’s distribution misfortunes have long outweighed any honest discussion of its actual quality. However, even if we ignore the behind-the-scenes struggles and approach Next Generation on its own merits, Henkel’s efforts are only noteworthy for what he was apparently trying to do with the franchise, rather than what he managed to achieve. On a conceptual level, Next Generation is brimming with clever twists on genre expectations, many of which predate celebrated post-modern horrors, namely the Scream (1996, 1997, 2000, 2011) series and Cabin in the Woods (2011). The Scream comparisons are more tenuous, as plenty of other movies had already satirized slasher/body-count clichés by 1995, but the Cabin in the Woods similarities are specific enough to assume that writers Drew Goddard & Joss Whedon were at least aware of Henkel’s movie (I’m not going to specify what the similarities are, because I would spoil two movies that I’d rather not spoil). The problem is that the execution doesn’t match the ambition. The jokes are usually more obnoxious than funny, attempts at camp come across as irritating, none of the scares land, and the big reveals are more baffling than gobsmacking. Above it all is the fact that Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 – a movie I’ve never liked, for the record – had already done the whole over-the-top Chainsaw Massacre spoof back in the ‘80s and did it with ten times the style and skill seen in Next Generation.
There are currently two known versions of the film: the theatrically-released Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation cut (running about 87 minutes) and Henkel’s director’s cut, released in 1995 under the title The Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre (running about 93 minutes). Contrary to decades of rumors, Henkel’s cut was re-edited in-house by Columbia Pictures for the sake of mainstream likeability, not because the MPAA demanded cuts to the film’s violent scenes. It doesn’t appear that any violence is missing from the Next Generation cut; only seven minutes of character reactions, some dialogue, and extended location shots. From what I understand, unlike Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III, this was simply never intended to be a gory movie.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation had a sordid history, but it has been easily accessed on home video since the day Columbia dumped about a dozen VHS tapes into every Blockbuster Video across America (anyone old enough to remember 1997 knows I’m not exaggerating). Columbia/Sony put out barebones anamorphic theatrical cut discs in the US and Europe, and Lionsgate published an open-matte 1.33:1 version of the original Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre cut in Canada. Scream Factory announced this Blu-ray debut way back in June and intended to release it in September, but various delays pushed it back to December. I’m not sure if a reason for the delay was ever specified, aside from the search for the director’s cut – though do note that Zellweger and McConaughey were originally featured on the cover art and are now absent. In the end, fans will have to settle for an HD version of the Next Generation cut and a hybrid version of the Return of cut that combines HD and SD elements.
Given this information, I assumed that the two 1080p, 1.78:1 transfers would be essentially identical, but, as you can see from the samples on this page (theatrical cut left, director’s cut right), there are some substantial differences throughout some of the shared images. For instance, some of the director’s cut’s full HD images are warmer than the exact same shots from the theatrical cut. In addition, some of the insert footage is bookended by additional SD images that are otherwise available in HD. See the example of Zellweger searching the dark with a flashlight, which appears in HD during the theatrical cut and SD during the director’s cut. This doesn’t happen often, but does indicate that some corners were perhaps cut while creating the hybrid transfer. Comparisons aside, these transfers are fine. The HD footage is better than SD can manage, especially where close-up textures and high contrast differentiations are concerned. Colors are quite rich, considering how purposefully dingy and greened-over the palette is, though I have to say I kind of prefer the occasionally warmer look of the director’s cut transfer. Problems arise during the darker wide-angle shots, where muddy dynamic rangers and minor CRT noise cause details to appear a bit fuzzy and leave black levels a bit weak. The deleted footage is pretty rough, but, until someone finds an uncut negative sitting in a closet somewhere, the dregs of what appears to be a cleaned up VHS copy will have to suffice.
Note that the box art (as I see it on my review copy) states that the director’s cut is presented entirely in standard definition. This is a misprint or at least badly worded. I promise that most of the director’s cut is in 1080p.
Both cuts are presented in the original 2.0 sound and uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio. The low budget and patchy production mean that the mix doesn’t exactly meet the standards of post-digital era studio pictures, but it’s still plenty clean, balanced, and relatively engaging in terms of directional/immersive qualities. There is a notable downgrade in sound quality when it comes to the deleted footage in the director’s cut. Namely, the aural depth is dulled and sharper noises muffled. The bigger issue where this is concerned is that sudden differences in volume and layering accentuate the occasionally awkward edits between HD and SD footage types. Wayne Bell and Robert Jacks’ typified spooky synth score is tinged by the kind of abstract noise heard in the original film and gussied up with (occasionally diegetic) redneck country tunes and (always non-diegetic) ‘90s pop-rock. The music, of course, also suffers from occasional volume inconsistencies during the transitions between format types.
Commentary with writer/director Kim Henkel, actor Joe Stevens, and documentarian Brian Huberman (Director's Cut) – This new Scream Factory exclusive commentary is hosted by, to my surprise, Fangoria editor-in-chief Phil Nobile, Jr., who, I’m afraid, is a friend, so I’m going to have to suddenly pretend that I enjoy the movie. He also does a fantastic job herding the discussion.
The Buzz Is Back (11:42, HD) – The new interviews begin with director of photography Levie Isaacks, who discusses his early career as a DP, film work, developing a working relationship with Tobe Hooper, and shooting [i]The Next Generation[/i].
Marked For Death(16:01, HD) – Actor Tyler Shea Cone talks about life as an Austin-based actor and playing the most hateable victim in the entire movie.
If Looks Could Kill: The Return Of a Chainsaw Massacre (19:03, HD) – Special makeup effects artist J.M. Logan and production designer Deborah Pastor close things out with a look at their versions of the classic film’s sets, props, and Leatherface masks.
Fans have noted that Brian Huberman’s The Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Documentary (who, again, is on the commentary) is missing from this collection. Fortunately, it is currently on Youtube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yhr3OWnrSt0).
The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page, but due to .jpg compression, they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer. Full-sized .jpg versions can (currently) only be accessed by right-clicking/ctrl-clicking the images and opening them in a new window/tab.