The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remains a pivotal modern horror film. Tobe Hooper’s nihilistic masterpiece was a forerunner to the 80’s slasher craze. Yet as compared to the film franchises it inspired, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre has a pretty spotty franchise track record. There are bad Halloween, Friday the 13th, and Elm Street movies. But those franchises have arguably been more consistent in terms of quality while also faring much better at the box office.
Perhaps the nadir of the franchise was Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation. Alternatively known as The Return of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the 1994 sequel is the kind of movie that has acquired infamy due to its awfulness. Some movies are misjudged. Others earn redemption through re-evaluation. And some movies are just plain bad. For this final edition of The Vault, I look at why this sequel misfired so badly and whether it deserves critical re-evaluation.
The Next Generation is More Soft Reboot Than Direct Sequel
Earlier this year, Scream Factory finally gave The Next Generation the re-mastered Blu-Ray treatment. Upon re-watching it for the first time in years, The Next Generation isn’t quite as bad as I recall. Oh, it’s a bad movie. Make no mistake about it. But I vehemently loathed this movie when I first saw it in the ’90’s. Contrary to my initial evaluation, The Next Generation was a bad movie laced with a few good ideas.
In several respects, The Next Generation is more of a soft reboot for the franchise than a direct sequel.
Writer and director Kim Henkel, who co-wrote the original with Hooper, clearly had something to say. In several respects, The Next Generation is more of a soft reboot for the franchise than a direct sequel. There are some callbacks to prior movies. Horror movies in the ’80’s and 90’s weren’t really known for continuity. But no one was debating the differences between reboots and ‘soft’ reboots back then either. Henkel re-visits a few set pieces from the original movie. Most notably, Henkel re-imagines the infamous dinner scene and final chase to a startling different effect.
Henkel Seemed Tired of Repetitive Franchise Sequels
By the mid-1990’s, the slasher craze had long been dead. In general, the horror genre found itself in a bit of a down cycle. At this point, all the major horror franchises had run out of gas. In the same year The Next Generation was released, Wes Craven took his first stab at some meta-commentary on the genre with A New Nightmare. Several years earlier, Tobe Hooper himself rebelled against the horror franchise sequel with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2. Though the original Chainsaw sequel has benefited from critical re-evacuation, critics and fans didn’t know what to make of it at the time. Hooper’s follow-up was antithetical to his original masterpiece in just about every way imaginable.
Everything about his [Henkel’s] sequel feels like an intentionally ridiculous flip on what worked in the original.
With The Next Generation, Henkel appears to be adding his own commentary on the state of horror and countless sequels. Everything about his sequel feels like an intentionally ridiculous flip on what worked in the original. Leatherface, for example, is played for laughs this time around, ineptly failing to kills anyone. Matthew McConaughey’s ‘Vilmer’ feels like a caricature of ‘The Hitchhiker’. Even the bizarre inclusion of a shadowy ‘Illuminati’ group serves a purpose. The group’s man-in-black, Rothman, chastises Vilmer, stressing that their sole purpose is to teaching people “the meaning of horror”. Later Rothman apologizes to Renee Zellweger’s ‘Jenny” for what he labels an “abomination”. Arguably, Rothman’s character is intended as a criticism of the stale, repetitive nature of horror sequels.
Hey, Isn’t That Matthew McConaughey
Give Henkel some credit for trying something different. Sadly, good intentions don’t always make for good movies. In spite of some potentially clever subversive dialogue and occasionally well-staged scenes, The Next Generation fails in most regards. It’s neither scary nor shocking in its execution. To make matters worse, the attempts at subtext are poorly weaved into the movie. As a result, The Next Generation is tonally jarring at best and incomprehensibly surreal at its worst.
Today, The Next Generation is most famous for being the movie McConaughey and Zellweger didn’t want you to see. Not surprisingly, both actors are probably the best thing about the movie. It’s not hard to see the flashes of talent in the young stars. They’re also far from being the first famous, Oscar-calibre stars to get their break in horror. McConaughey and Zellweger join alumni that includes George Clooney, Jennifer Aniston, Kevin Bacon, and Holly Hunter.
The Next Generation Earns Its Reputation as a ‘Bad’ Movie
Is The Next Generation as bad as its reputation suggests? In short, the answer is ‘yes’. While the sequel may be misunderstood, it really doesn’t work as either a scary horror movie or a subversive commentary on the genre. Lovers of ‘bad movies’ will undoubtedly find much to enjoy. Technically, the movie hasn’t aged well, but the unintentional humour comes off a little better. And at least it’s better than Texas Chainsaw 3D.