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Reed Alexander’s Horror Review of, the one, the only, ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ (1974)

A timeless legend

Lets talk about one of the greatest classics in the slasher genre. This movie set a standard that raised the bar far beyond what other slashers in the genre were ever capable. There was a level of unhinged insanity captured in this movie and the effect really deserves more credit than it ever gets.

As I previously explained about Friday the 13th (F13), the acting was abysmal, the premise laughable, and the overall execution was generic, but it was still fantastic and became the standard for slashers as a genre. That’s because The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (TTCM) was more than just some slasher. It predates both Halloween (1978) and F13 (1980), and basically blows both of the out of the water.

Let’s talk about why. Leatherface walked onto the scene and stunned with everything that he was. They didn’t save him for some big reveal, they put his ass right up front and center with the first kill of the movie. Jason Voorhees doesn’t make an appearance until the second F13, and doesn’t even get the iconic hockey mask until the third F13. Leatherface is also deeply developed. Hell, Michael Myers doesn’t even get an actual back story until the fourth movie. Leatherface never speaks, but he still emotes. He reacts in tangible ways that allow the audience to ponder his thought process. They make a very specific point of showing the eyes underneath the human skin mask he wears, darting back in forth in worry and confusion. The director wanted you to think about what Leatherface was thinking, wanted you to try and process that there is a consciousness behind each horrific acts. Leatherface wasn’t just some slash’o, killing the kids fucking in the woods, he’s a mass murderer with thought and drive. He has reason, warped and insane as that reason might be.

It’s fair to say the acting was on point. At least equal to the acting in Halloween. And it wasn’t just Leatherface, every member of the cast was solid, even the bit rolls. The setting was marvelous and the atmosphere meticulously constructed. You could smell the rot through the theater screen. It was gritty, grimy, dark; just absolutely caked with filth. The FX were bargain barrel but they were used perfectly. Camera filters, lighting, the occasional smattering of fake blood. Simple. And the story is powerful enough to be an urban legend. It is, after all, looooooosely based on a true story called The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. They even have the real radio report during the opening of the movie. Mind you, there was never any mass murderer, just a grave robber who stole and skinned corpses. But it was enough to send the imagination reeling.

TTCM is special. It wasn’t just some slasher. Perhaps that’s what it became over the years and perhaps that’s what was wrong with the latter 2003 adaptation, but originally it was beyond standards. This movie is absolute required viewing for Horror Heads.

SPOILERS!!!

Lets talk about what made this movie perfect. Absolute, unhinged, madness. By the end of the movie, the actual actress was pushed so hard by her involvement in the movie, she snapped. We get to witness one of the most honest moments in horror ever presented; a person actually losing their mind.

Everything in the movie is so insane, so violently warped, that the madness is real. The effect was real. I can only imagine that the unprepared minds of 1970’s audiences were simply incapable of processing it. The actress might have actually snapped, but nothing less could have been expected of the character she played. Anyone confronted with the same psychotic circumstances would have lost their wits as well.

Heck the last survivor doesn’t get away because she formulates a plan. She flails and claws like a trapped animal until one of the Sawyers makes a mistake and she pulls herself free. Her only escape, flinging herself through a window. That is just fucking brutal. You get the feeling that she just flung herself aimlessly through the nearest exit, no sense of the consequences. And at that point, the actress was so flustered, it’s hard to know if she was acting or out of her damn mind.

That’s what makes this movie so great. Real, tangible, madness. Again, this is required viewing for all Horror Heads.

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Reed Alexander’s Horror Review of ‘Mandy’ (2018)

‘Going Full Cage: The Movie’

With The Color Out of Space soon to be released, I figure I’d give Cage one last chance, and see if he has what it takes to pull off Cosmic Horror the likes of H. P. Lovecraft. I wrote an article a little while back, skeptical of Cage’s ability to do the genre any justice. You can read that article at the following link: Nicholas Cage: What Does He Contribute to Horror?

However, at the time I wrote the article, I’d yet to see Mandy. Lovers of the Lovecraftian genre hailed it as the best in a long time. And I’ll admit, I instantly noticed similarities to some of my favorites Lovecraft styled movies. Most notably was Lord of Illusions. The cult leader, Jeremiah is styled similar to the cult leader Nix, and his second in command is even named ‘Brother Swan’ which seemed like an intentional head nod. Director Panos Cosmatos must have also felt a little upstaged by Rob Zombie’s Lords of Salem, as the two movies have a very similar feel. Until Rob’s throws with the brown acid, Panos firmly held the title of ‘horror weirdo’ with his movie Beyond the Black Rainbow.

Technically Mandy failed my 30 minute rule, in that nothing really happens in the first 30 minutes of the movie. Every scene was irritatingly drawn out to the point where one scene was even in slow motion, and another scene was devoted, no shit, to waiting impatiently. It’s like Panos knew he was being a dick by making the audience wait, akin to the Family Guy gag where Peter Griffin skins his knee. And that was the first 45 minutes of the fucking movie. Needlessly drawn out setup, that seemed to intentionally punish the viewers, and go abso-fucking-lutely nowhere. It’s like Stanley Kubrick who always had two distinct movements in all of his movies… except annoying and not at all clever.

Going Full Cage

What’s worse, this movie started out pretty riffable, and for the most part, actually enjoyable because of how hammy it tended to get. It’s caused my wife to coin a new trope she calls ‘ForeCaging.’ It’s like foreshadowing, except rather than hinting at plot to come, it hints at riff worthy material to come. I was promised that I’d get Nicolas Cage, completely untethered and further out of his mind than I’d ever seen him. But what I got was actually pretty good acting for horror. That’s not what I expect from Cage, I expect him to deliver the ham of godly proportions. For a short scene, there was ton of ‘ForeCaging’ setting up all sorts of quintessential Cage moments that he frankly failed to deliver on. I’m waiting for something well beyond ‘Not The Bees’ and what I got was standard hammy horror acting.

Some of the acting was actually even good. Richard Brake and Bill Duke made spot appearances that really amped things up a notch. The cultists and Mandy herself were even pretty solid actors, including names like Ned Dennehy.

And frankly a lot of the stuff in this film was too campy to even merit decent actors. There are these four bikers, who are actually more like mudders, or what I jokingly referred to as The Four Mudpuddlers of the Apocalypse. They were clearly intended to be serious antagonists, even perhaps demonic, but came off more like ‘The Plague’ from Hobo With a Shotgun. It’s cool, and pretty metal, but its also rather silly. As a mater of fact, a lot of this movie came off as a sort of half-cocked, death-metal video. Some of it was even seemed to be a head nod to the animated classic, Heavy Metal. It was the sort of thing I expect out of an episode of Metalocalypse. Brutal, but impossible to take seriously.

Were it not for the scenes that were just impossible to take seriously, this movie would have been visually stunning. The lighting, filters, and practical FX were all very compelling. It made for a deeply gritty and murky atmosphere that forces you to turn off the lights, just to see the movie. Normally I’d applaud this, but then I go back to The Four Mudpuddlers of the Apocalypse, and it just ruins it.

All of that being said, this should have made the movie so campy, it should be riffing gold. But it’s like they tried to make a movie that was both intentionally good and intentionally bad at the same time. A sort of “Let’s make a movie out of some young metalhead’s wet dream, but try to make it serious.” Those two things just don’t mesh.

I don’t think I can recommend this movie to anyone. Me and my wife did enjoy riffing it, and she really didn’t pull any punches, but too often it left us bored and it underwhelmed at the end. I can’t even recommend it to Riffers.

SPOILERS!!!

I think the problem with this movie is, at its core, it’s really just lame revenge porn. Mandy and Cage’s Character, Red, are taken by a cult. The cult leader, Jeremiah, fails to seduce Mandy, burns her alive, and leave Red to bleed out. Red survives and goes on a murderous rampage intent on killing, not just the cult leader, but the ‘biker’ gang that helps the cult. Yeah, Panos tried to have the same kind of feel as Beyond the Black Rainbow, and yeah, there is clearly something otherworldly going on in the background, but all of that is lost in the dull overarching plot.

And for revenge porn that’s supposed to be revolutionary, it brings nothing new to the table. The kills are even in the wrong order. Cage’s character fights The Four Mudpuddlers of the Apocalypse in the first go, leaving half of the lame cultists to fight next. Yeah, there’s a chainsaw fight, which is both a head-nod to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, and Phantasm 2, but its nothing new or even special. I mean, if they were going to go with a lame ripoff of ‘The Plague,’ they might as well have hired actor Robert Maillet, strapped a logging chainsaw to each of his arms and stepped the chainsaw fight up a notch. Make a real effort to go full death-metal.

Instead, what should be the biggest fight is at the beginning, followed by a slow culling of the cultists, interrupted by the usual chainsaw fight, and ending with a monologuing Jeremiah, who even offers to suck Red’s dick in an effort to save his own life. There’s no demonic presence that tries to repel Red, there no Nix like manifestation. Whatever the supernatural element is supposed to be, it just disappears completely. At least it wasn’t ‘the flying eye poke’ from Lord of Illusions, but it’s still pretty lame.

There is nothing in this movie to give me hope that Cage won’t fuck up The Color Out Of Space. If anything, it proves that when Cage is given permission to go ‘Full Cage,’ he can’t even do that right.

Give this a pass.

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Reed Alexander’s Horror Review of ‘The Intruder Within’ (1981)

From the Bargain Bin: ‘Consistently inconsistent’

This is the last stop on Reed’s history or shitty creature features. While none of them were particularly good, every one was a part of my childhood growing up and shaped the horror nut whose reviews you read today.

Continue reading Reed Alexander’s Horror Review of ‘The Intruder Within’ (1981)