The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is one of the most infamous, endearing horror films in history. It has lasted for 40 years, and by this point it’s probably safe to say that it will probably never go away. It will never be forgotten. The franchise is not nearly as remembered. Unlike Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street, the title is not immediately tied to its sequels. They don’t immediately come to mind when you hear the name.
The one sequel that does come to mind when people talk about Texas Chainsaw Massacre is the fourth film, Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation. This has nothing to do with the quality of that particular production. If anything, it’s the opposite. The sheer lack of quality has made Next Generation something of a cult classic of its very own.
The major reason for the movie’s notoriety is the fact that it stars Matthew McConaughey and Renee Zellwegger, right before they both launched to stardom. In a sheer stroke of bad luck, the film was released in 1997–despite being finished in 1994–just after they had broke into the mainstream. McConaughey’s agent actually pressured Columbia Pictures not to release theatrically. Instead of being aided by the stars they had unknowingly cast, the leads actually hurt the production because they really, really didn’t want it to be released.
Having seen it, it’s hard to argue with them. The entire thing is a mess. Zellwegger seems incredibly uncomfortable from beginning to end, but McConaughey at least has fun as an over-the-top antagonist with an RC-controlled leg. It’s the blandest rehash of the original possible, yet there are some twists thrown in that only make it all the more baffling. Kim Henkel, who co-wrote the original and directed Next Generation, didn’t like the idea that up until this point everything in the series had been realistic. There were aspects of the first film that he had problems with, and Next Generation certainly suggests a mentality that the notion of a backwoods family making masks and lampshades out of human skin—things which were directly based on serial killer Ed Gein—could not possibly exist in reality.
With that in mind, story elements are introduced into the movie for the purpose of giving a logical, realistic explanation for Leatherface and the cannibalistic clan. This explanation comes in the form of a shadow organization, heavily suggested to be the Illuminati, who reveal that the family has been deliberately placed in Texas to balance the scales of good and evil. Even the men that Vilmer—the chief antagonist, taking center stage over Leatherface—works for do not know how high up this organization goes and tease that they may actually be or be working for aliens. The entire last third of the film feels like a cross between a History Channel special and a Z-list Cabin in the Woods.
Leatherface, like most everything else from the original, is written to be a parody of himself. Initially there was an interesting play on gender with the character, with Leatherface seeming to not have a gender of his own, only taking on the identity of the mask he wears. His killing mask is a man’s face because it was considered to be a manly activity, his cooking mask is a woman’s face because it was considered to be feminine.
Somehow, Henkel never got that part of the movie, or never really understood how it worked. Here, Leatherface is only ever effeminate, actually sobbing for every single second that he is on screen. What was an extremely interesting implication of character in the original has been transformed in the fourth into the most blatant, over-the-top homosexual stereotype imaginable.
The cast tried to bury this movie and it should have stayed buried. Yet, by and large, this is the only Chainsaw sequel that the average person has seen. Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation has its own cult following, small as it may be. I suspect it will only grow over time.
It really is worth a watch, once and only once. Just to see it. Just to look at it and wonder what the hell happened? It’s a shame that it gets noticed more than Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, which is a genius satire in its own way or Leatherface, which is at least an entertaining popcorn movie. But bad films have their own following. In fact, as proven by things like Sharknado and The Room, bad films have the most loyal followings. I don’t think Next Generation will ever be remembered over the original. Yet, strange as it is to say, I don’t think this sequel will ever be forgotten either.