Kim Henkel’s “Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation” is a re-titled and retooled version of “The Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (originally reviewed March 20, 1995), a horror opus filmed in Austin long before leads Matthew McConaughey and Renee Zellweger achieved prominence in more upscale film product. Pic may score middling B.O. in limited theatrical run, but won’t really draw crowds until it hits video-store shelves.
Originally 102 minutes, “Next Generation” currently clocks in at a brisk 86 minutes. Surprisingly, the trimming has had little effect on pic’s continuity (or the lack thereof). Even in the original version, writer-director Henkel emphasized a kind of nightmarish dream logic, so that the usual laws of cause-and-effect had little relevance.
On the other hand, the cutting slightly undercuts Zellweger’s strong performance as Jenny, the sort of virginal wallflower who’s inevitably the heroine of this kind of melodrama. A key scene that was left on the cutting-room floor revealed that, way before she and her friends took a wrong turn in the woods on prom night, Jenny frequently had to defend herself against the sexual advances of her mother’s husbands and boyfriends.
And that’s a pity, because, as the original version of the film makes clear, after Jenny’s altercations with sexual predators in her own home, it would take something a lot more formidable than some masked doofus with a chain saw to keep her intimidated for long.
Not so much a sequel as an unofficial remake, “Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation” begins as a semi-parody, then gradually evolves into something deadly serious. Henkel, who co-wrote Tobe Hooper’s 1977 “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” is ferociously efficient at keeping the audience in a constant state of jumpiness as Jenny tries to escape the old dark house where the Leatherface clan resides.
The tension has little to do with brandishing chain saws, though there is plenty enough of that. It has everything to do with priming the audience to expect the worst at any moment from Vilmer, the crazier and far more dangerous brother of the blade-wielding Leatherface (Robert Jacks).
As Vilmer, McConaughey goes way, way over the top with his mood-swinging menace and trip-wire temper. And he often is hilarious in his efforts to control his high-tech artificial leg (shades of “Dr. Strangelove”). But instead of seeming like a comic figure, McConaughey’s Vilmer is all the more terrifying for his utter lack of restraint. He seems the very embodiment of the old expression “He’d kill you just as soon as look at you.”