Color, 1995, 87 mins. 18 secs. / 93 mins. 18 secs.
Directed by Kim Henkel
Starring Renée Zellweger, Matthew McConaughey, Robert Jacks, Tonie Perensky, Joe Stevens, Lisa Newmyer, John Harrison, Tyler Shea Cone
Scream Factory (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), Sony (DVD) (US R1 NTSC), Lionsgate (Canada R1 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generationfourth installment in one of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generationstrangest horror series in the genre's history thanks to a slew of prequels, sequels, and reboots, the much-maligned Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation had a tortured path to viewers despite the pedigree of its creator, Kim Henkel, who co-wrote the classic original film. The casting of two future Oscar-winning actors in the leads would normally be a huge selling point for any genre film, but in this case it proved to be a millstone that led to a two-year delay, a drastic recut and title change, and a legal block from promoting either of its stars when they hit the big time in the late '90s. Henkel's avowed approach to going back to the original film and making a direct sequel also irritated some fans when they realized that this one was nearly bloodless, similar to Hooper's "suggest and not show" approach in the first film versus the heavy buckets of blood in Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 and Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III that landed both films in hot water with the MPAA. However, the ensuring two decades have allowed a more realistic perspective on this film; though it will never be a critical darling, it has amassed a reasonable fan following and can now be appreciated more clearly as a satirical and sometimes gleefully subversive entry worthy of a second look.

The actual plot Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generationsticks to the tried and true formula of some kids heading out into the less charted areas of Texas where they run into a cannibalistic clan intent on turning their night into a grueling exercise in terror. This time Jenny (Zellweger, pre-Jerry Maguire) is ready for a night at the prom with Sean (Harrison), Barry Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation(Cone), and Heather (Newmyer), but some unrelenting bickering sends them heading back out on the road on a shortcut that results in a collision with another car. The nearest help they can -find is a real estate office run by Darla (a scene-stealing Perensky), who calls in trucker boyfriend Vilmer (McConaughey) to lend a hand. Of course it turns out to be an insidious plan to corral the teens to that nightmarish farmhouse where the depraved family, also including Leatherface (Jacks) and W.E. (Stevens), cooks up an unrelenting night of terror.

Besides its startling cast, the strongest aspect of this film is the fact that it captures a sense of location and convincingly captures the feeling of mid-'90s Texas, which isn't too surprising given that the Austin locations and multiple crew members are carried over from Dazed and Confused. (If that weren't enough, McConaughey even offers a variation on his most famous catchphrase from that Richard Linklater classic.) It's still a very odd film that can be something of an acquired taste, especially in its portrayal of Leatherface that runs rampant with the gender bending shadings of the first film now complete with Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generationa Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generationblack dress, lipstick, and strange caterwauling. The absence of any actual chainsawing is another stumbling block, but that's almost easy to ignore with all the oddball touches like some back story involving the Illuminati and two wacko deus ex machinas during the climax that will have you scratching your head. It's worth noting that the original director's cut (as The Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre) is radically different from the more widely available version released in the U.S., which lost six minutes including a vital opening sequence showing Jenny's abusive, molesting stepfather. That opener really sets the tone for the film's depiction of a kind of gender war playing out in the middle of nowhere with Leatherface's appearance (more like kabuki here than a human skin mask) reflecting that unease and confusion.

Sony has released the tweaked theatrical cut on various home video formats over the years with the director's cut being much harder to find (including a Japanese release first and then an elusive Lionsgate DVD in Canada). Fortunately you can finally compare them back to back with the 2018 Blu-ray from Scream Factory, which presents both cuts: the theatrical Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generationcut in complete HD (looking fine and probably as good as possible given the gritty, dark nature of the film itself) Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generationand the director's cut, using SD inserts for the scenes exclusive to that cut. The difference isn't as jarring as you might expect; it doesn't look amazing, of course, but the upscaled scenes blend a lot more seamlessly than you might expect. If you're a fan, it's a solid effort all around and a huge improvement over any options out there before. The DTS-HD MA 2.0 English tracks for both are good for what amounts to a fairly limited sound mix (Ultra Stereo, which speaks for itself). The director's cut also features a new (and unadvertised on the packaging) audio commentary with the "gracious but somewhat reluctant" Henkel, Stevens, and Brian Huberman (who crafted a behind-the-scenes documentary that's MIA on legit home video for some reason), in conversation with Fangoria's Phil Nobile Jr. The featurette "The Buzz Is Back!" (11m42s) with director of photography Levie Isaacks covers his admiration for the Hooper film, being part of the filmmaking fold around Austin, and getting this gig on the heels of Tales from the Crypt where he got to shoot "on somebody's ranch" filled with poison ivy. In "Marked for Death" (16m1s), Cone recalls the casting process (for a part that was apparently very hard to cast), his director's subdued temperament, taking "cinema's shortest pee," and a very, very funny story about the Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generationfirst Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generationtime he encountered Jacks (who ended up dying far too young). Finally, "If Looks Could Kill" (19m3s) with special makeup effects artist J.M. Logan and production designer Deborah Pastor focuses on the threadbare nature of the production (including working out of a shed), the determination to "make things right" after the two earlier sequels (though of course all of them turned out to have very different personalities), the creation of Vilmer's leg, and the logistic of that meat hook scene. The rare original 1995 theatrical trailer (did this actually run anywhere?) is also included.

Reviewed on December 17, 2018.