TCM Sequel Round Up Part 3: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre – The Next Generation

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In honor of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre‘s 40th anniversary restoration release, we’re taking a look at some of this classic film’s less-than-heralded sequels. Read on for the next installment of the series: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation.


The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1994)
Directed by Kim Henkel
Written by Kim Henkel

Well, here it is. The most infamous of the Chainsaw sequels (at least until last year). The one where the series completely jumped the shark. Matthew McConaughey? Renee Zellweger? Almost no cannibalism to be had? How is this a sequel to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre?

Alright, I’ll admit. This movie has its flaws. Kim Henkel may have co-created the series with Tobe Hooper, but he took so many liberties with The Next Generation that I wouldn’t blame most fans for believing he had no respect for his own film’s legacy. I, for one, don’t feel that way, but judging by the horrible reputation this film has, I assume most of you do. I’m not sure what prompted the complete change in direction, but if you’re willing to consider the movie on its own merits (and overlook a few things), it’s actually a lot of fun to watch.

The Next Generation’s set up starts predictably enough: Jenny (played by pre-household name Renee Zellweger), along with her date Sean and her two friends Heather and Barry, are at their senior prom. It turns out Barry’s kind of an asshole and he winds up making out with another girl at the dance which pisses Heather off enough to try to hit him with his own car. Barry finagles his way into the passenger seat (Jenny and Sean are making out in the back) and soon the four of them are driving around on the back roads of Texas. Fantastic idea. Heather unfortunately manages to get the group into a car accident and after finding a phone at an out of the way real estate office run by the sexy Darla (who may or may not be who she says she is), they call a tow truck and head back to the car.

Enter Vilmer.

Matthew McConaughey’s performance as Vilmer is the single best reason to watch The Next Generation. Like co-star Renee Zelweger, McConaughey hadn’t yet achieved super-stardom, gotten into his 2000’s career slump, and reemerged as the force to be reckoned with we all know and love today. But even in this, one of his very first roles, he brings such a delightful madness and brilliant sense of humor to Vilmer that it’s hard to imagine the picture without him. A lot of film snobs will tell you that good acting doesn’t exist in the modern horror genre. Wrong. As off the wall as The Next Generation gets, the quality of McConaughey’s performance never wavers. Vilmer’s manic outbursts and deranged outlook on life are absolute gold, completely overshadowing the other characters, Leatherface included.

Well, now that Vilmer’s got the unsuspecting teens rounded up, we all know what’s going to happen. Everyone’s invited to – excuse me, for – dinner and insanity and blood-letting ensue. We’re eventually introduced to the other members of Vilmer’s family, including literature-quoting redneck W.E. and, of course, Leatherface who doesn’t seem as attached to his chainsaw in this installment, though it invariably does make a few appearances.

I guess I’ll start by pointing out that even though I do love this movie, the continuity in regards to the previous sequels is all screwed up. Vilmer and his cohorts don’t go by the surname Sawyer either. In The Next Generation they’re known as the “Slaughter” family. There is, of course, a scene with grandpa (almost a prerequisite for a TCM film), but we don’t know if perhaps he’s Drayton Sawyer from the first two outings, or someone else entirely. The movie’s title would suggest that at some point, the Sawyers (or Slaughters, whoever), produced offspring. It’s just not made very clear if this new family is any relation to the last one (or even the one from Leatherface). The only constant link between all the movies is Leatherface, though in The Next Generation he’s much more docile than even his previous two appearances. At one point the big bastard is actually frightened of Renee Zelweger which is a pretty astounding conceit if you stop to fully consider it.

And the ending. Well, I’m not here to spoil it for you, but it comes completely out of left field. The justification for who this family is, why and how they exist, and what they want to achieve, is absolutely mind-bending. And I don’t mean that it’s some kind of David Lynchian, I-need-to-Google-this-because-I’m-not-smart-enough pseudo wrap-up. The ending’s just so bananas it will tie your brain in a knot.

All complaints aside, I wholeheartedly believe that The Next Generation is a worthwhile film. I find it much more entertaining than Leatherface and Matthew McConaughey’s performance is really something to behold. The amount of black comedy in the story does liken it a bit to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, but The Next Generation’s different enough to stand on its own. Aside from Vilmer, everyone manages to turn in pretty decent performances and almost none of the comedy falls flat. If you’re open-minded enough to experience a much different interpretation of the Chainsaw story, I highly recommend giving The Next Generation a chance. In hindsight, Kim Henkel’s solo take on the series far, far outshines the 2013 ret-con Texas Chainsaw 3D, the only film in the series I absolutely cannot abide.

Up next, 2003’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre reboot and its 2006 prequel, The Beginning.

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