Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Texas Chainsaw Massacre has so much spoon feeding, you’d think you were at a long-term care home. And that makes sense, as at this point, if this is a direct sequel to the events of the 1974 movie, Leatherface would be clad in adult diapers.

Hey, Netflix idiots*, YOU retconned the interceding films. I’m just pointing this out.

Anyway, you have the lone survivor from the first movie, Sally, whose background and character is thoroughly and utterly underdeveloped, other than for the fact she’s hellbent on Leatherface’s destruction. That’s it. Not a single kernel of intrigue, interest, past, present, future, dreams, aspirations, nothing. Nada. At least Halloween 2018 gave us a broken down Laurie Strode and a family torn apart at the seams.

And Mustang Sally wields a shotgun, wears a cowboy hat, and is busy staring forlornly at an old polaroid, that cliché of action movies when the hero is about to open a can of whupp-ass on some unsuspecting unibrows. And if that’s not enough to bring everyone up to speed, there’s a local store discussion of the events of the first film, in case there were a few people scratching their heads about what the abstruse and enigmatic title, “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” could possibly mean.

The plot, if you can call it that, is fiberoptic cable-thin: a group of venture capitalists come into Harlow, Texas to buy what is essentially a derelict, abandoned town. But these are silly, rather than Sili-con valley types, a bunch of crudely-drawn SJW stereotypes that wouldn’t even pass muster in The Green Inferno and who arrive on a party coach. Why, you ask, would a bunch of investors not have their own vehicles but would instead charter a Greyhound? Beats me.

They’re welcomed by a toothpick chomping self-sufficient local yokel type, who’s character is about as well-developed as one of the charioteer extras in Ben-Hur. And he welcomes the youngsters with eyes on turning Harlow into Portland-lite, with a jaundiced eye. Shocker. He even asks, “are you guys in a cult?” despite nothing whatsoever indicating they would be. And that’s meant to be a zinger.

Among the investors’ ranks, a college student who survived a school shooting, as evidenced by the scar on her chest. And lest the POLITICAL MESSAGE is lost on you, don’t worry: the desiccated town still flies a Confederate flag and the entourage scrolls through BLM social posts to demonstrate their lefty bona fides. That has all the subtlety of a tornado, and blows just as much.

The gentrifiers inadvertently boot out one of the townsfolk, a lady who…well, that’d spoil something that’s already spoiled like a rotten carcass.

There are so many things wrong with Texas Chainsaw Massacre it’s impossible to know what to touch on first. Is it the cheap, Potemkin village sets that have this town looking like a WB backlot or a B-western? Is it the party bus, brought in just to pad the body count with a bunch of people who utter no lines of dialogue? Is it the stereotype of social justice warriors turning the town into an artisanal brunch utopia, absent any backstory save for the school shooting survivor, who’s not even the movie’s bloody star? Is it the lazy pot-shots at activists, including the “you’re cancelled, bruh” snappers looking to live stream Leather? Is it the fact that this is obviously not shot within several time-zones of the Lone Star State? Is it the torrential downpour to bathe everything in Gothic lighting? (because if it’s one thing you associate with Texas, it’s not longhorns, barbecue, cowboy hats, Tex-Mex or The Alamo, it’s rain??)

Much is being made online about Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s gory kills. Which is interesting, as Tobe Hooper’s original had none of that. And that’s decidedly not the film’s draw. FYI, it’s not a selling point. It’s like getting Spike Lee to direct Richard Linklater’s Before Trilogy, known for focusing on the lives of two, yes only two characters – and ending up with 75.

Funny, that. It’s one thing to take a movie known for throwaway kills (say, oh, The Friday the 13th series), and double down on the nastiness for a new audience…After all, nobody turns to the series for fulsome political discourses or higher order visual metaphors, so might as well have Jason skewer people in novel ways. But to take a movie that was understated in its violence yet still scary, and negate the latter by ramping up the former…well, it all amounts to a big, sad heap of nothing burgers.

There’s little atmosphere, nobody, save for the shooting victim and her sister evoke even a scintilla of sympathy, the dialogue, rather than to round out characters, is there to enforce caricatures. Somebody, make it stop.

Just because the film went through production hell, doesn’t mean this has to be inflicted on the rest of us.

* (out of 5)

[Editors’ note: Netflix didn’t produce this, only distribute it. So are only partly to blame]

Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood

Art house, meets funhouse? Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood is a no-budget 70s exploitation film with Gothic and other aspirations, which, even if frequently unmet are nonetheless well worthy of your time.

The brainchild of director Christopher Speeth, for whom this is a singular achievement – literally, as he never made another film – this one concerns people going missing at a carnival, as the film’s title suggests.

The Norrises are concerned that their daughter Vena has run off and joined the circus, as it were. Truth be told, she’s seen canoodling with carny Kit, who runs the Tunnel of Love and probably has designs on getting lucky with Vena.

Other patrons have gone missing too, including park interlopers decapitated on a dilapidated coaster. But it’s not the built out narrative that’s the draw here, as it’s, let’s be honest, somewhat…deficient.

It’s the characters…who are….well…real characters that make this one a delight.

There’s a cross-dressing soothsayer we’re introduced to reading cards, and doing so on a table that’s spinning, a disorienting and fever-dreamish way to begin proceedings.

The theme park manager is one very pale Mr. Blood, a pretty obvious tell and a character who underscores the point by saying he has unusual metabolism (!).

There’s a phantasmagorical dwarf, Bobo, who appears then disappears to Vena, then appears again armed with a shotgun.

And who can forget the amusement park employees? They’re cannibalistic zombies fully enraptured by some kind of early silent-era horror film a la White Zombie and are all under the spell of titular Malatesta, a mysterious, robed Svengali (or Sven Jolly, if you’re a fan of Seinfeld).

Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood is a pretty messy affair, the byproduct of something at times hastily shot. Still, the dizzying swing rides, hall of mirrors, and dunk tanks are vividly rendered, giving this a very arthouse European feel. There’s simply nothing quite like it, and it has more in common with say, Hammer Horror, Mario Bava and The Sinful Dwarf than Manos: The Hands of Fate, to which it’s oft compared by detractors.

**** (out of 5)