In the vast slasher sequel landscape, there exists a strange breed of follow-ups that wildly diverge from their predecessors. While most recapitulate the formula that worked to diminishing returns, these oddball entries throw expectations out the window and warp the material into something new and bizarre. Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation proudly ranks among the weirdest of these cult classic freakshows.
When it arrived in 1995, the fourth Texas Chainsaw shocked audiences by tossing the brutal spirit of the original films into a blender with loopy comedy and cultural satire. Writer/director Kim Henkel, co-writer of the first Chainsaw, had no interest in repeating the straightforward horror formula. Instead, he whipped up a freaky funhouse mirror version glazed with postmodern chaotic energy.
All the familiar ingredients are mixed in – creepy rural Texas setting, cannibal family, human skin masks and revving chainsaws. But the tone chaotically veers from disturbing horror to goofy comedy, sometimes within seconds. Imagine the dark backwoods brutality of the original morphing into a deranged episode of Married…With Chainsaws directed by John Waters. That tonal clash gives The Next Generation a uniquely entertaining lunacy missing from the more one-note sequels.
For slasher fans craving something genuinely strange, The Next Generation is an underrated freakshow that earns its place among the most batty horror sequels ever made. Audiences at the time were not ready for such a radical reinvention of the franchise. But with each passing year, its bold style earns more appreciation as a cult classic.
The Original Film Was Totally Different
The Texas Chainsaw franchise built its reputation on the back of the 1974 original, a mercilessly brutal exploitation film that shocked audiences and became hugely influential. But The Next Generation ditches the raw, violent spirit that the series was founded on.
Directed by Tobe Hooper, the first Texas Chainsaw Massacre terrified viewers with its grim, unrelenting depiction of a family of cannibalistic killers in rural Texas. Especially shocking was the character of Leatherface, a silent brute who brutally murdered teens with his chainsaw and wore masks made of human skin. The gritty, visceral film became a landmark in horror cinema.
Chainsaw inspired countless other slasher films, video nasties and exploitation flicks looking to replicate its savage intensity. The series itself continued with sequels and reboots that mostly copied the vicious template of the original. Next Generation director Kim Henkel had co-written the first film with Hooper, but clearly wanted to take the franchise in a very different direction.
By 1995, the Texas Chainsaw films were drowning in diminishing returns, offering little beyond rehashing the same old formula. Henkel’s punk rock approach threw out those expectations, delivering a wild funhouse mirror take on the source material. But it still contains the familiar building blocks – the Sawyer clan, human skin masks, a rural Texas setting – twisted into bizarre new shapes.
The Actors in the 95 sequel are legends.
The Next Generation follows Jenny, a high school graduate headed to prom with friends when their car breaks down outside a remote Texas town. They become stranded at a creepy house inhabited by Leatherface’s bizarre cannibal clan.
Leatherface returns, now wearing makeup and dresses along with his human skin masks. But he’s almost an afterthought, with the manic Vilmer Sawyer as the new central psycho. Vilmer is an unhinged, mentally unstable Texan who drives a sinister looking tow truck. He serves as Jenny’s crazed guide through the warped funhouse as he torments her friends.
Henkel stuffs the movie with a carnival of eccentric bit characters like W.E., the Sawyer family patriarch who orchestrates a secret society controlling events behind the scenes. There’s also Rothman, a mysterious figure always clad in black who seems to represent this secret order.
And then there’s Renee Zellweger in her film debut as Jenny – final girl turned unhinged horror heroine. Jenny starts out as typical slasher fodder before snapping and embracing her inner madness. Zellweger’s willingness to go for broke makes Jenny a hilariously deranged and sympathetic protagonist.
The style was nothing like the 74 film
The Next Generation stands apart from other Texas Chainsaw sequels due to its chaotic blending of horror and comedy. Much of the film plays like a parody of redneck slasher films, satirizing the familiar tropes. But Henkel frequently shifts gears into disturbing moments of visceral horror and cruelty.
The outrageous characters provoke shocked laughter, especially Vilmer’s bug-eyed raging. Yet Leatherface still menaces with sudden chainsaw attacks. Jenny’s endurance of one torment after another becomes absurdly comical, even as a sinister mood permeates the kooky Sawyer house.
Henkel melds these contradictions through anarchic editing and tonal shifts. Scenes cut abruptly between Jenny snarking at her captors to being chased by Leatherface’s roaring chainsaw. The camerawork is often skewed Dutch angles or handheld chaos. Even the setting, all bright fluorescent lights, buzzing neon and carnival aesthetic, feels designed to disorient.
By the climax, the blurring of horror and comedy reaches a fever pitch. Jenny fully embraces madness, maniacally running Vilmer over with a car while making goofy quips. The final confrontation takes place in an aircraft hangar, where the secret society watches via video cameras. It’s a satirical twist on slasher climax convention that exemplifies the film’s surreal, pop culture-skewering sensibilities.
The Next Generation is as radical a franchise reinvention as can be imagined, sacrificing scares for bizarre humor and sly social commentary. Audiences may feel whiplash between laughing and cringing. But that volatile tension makes Henkel’s punk rockoutlier a true cult classic.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation Reaching Cult Status?
Upon release, The Next Generation was a box office bomb that critics mostly dismissed as an embarrassing failure. But in the years since, the film has earned appreciation as a fascinatingly weird cult item. Its reputation has grown to the point where even hardcore fans of the franchise now defend it as an undervalued entry.
A big part of the changing attitudes is the cast. Renee Zellweger was an unknown at the time, but is now admired for fully committing to Jenny’s unhinged evolution. Seeing a future Oscar winner shriek maniacally while wearing a skin mask is endlessly entertaining.
There’s also Matthew McConaughey as Vilmer, bringing chaotic energy to his most over-the-top role. Appreciation has grown for how these performers embraced the lunatic tone. McConaughey in particular has praised Henkel’s daringly different take on the franchise.
While initial reviews were scathing, even critics now recognize it as a must-see for slasher fans. Despite the drastic departure, The Next Generation retains a macabre, Southern gothic atmosphere that earns its place as part of the franchise. Appreciation will only continue to grow for how Kim Henkel crafted such a defiantly weird cult classic.
Years later, the Texas Chainsaw franchise would retreat to safer ground. But The Next Generation will always stand out as the wacky, punk rock middle finger entry in the series – a one-of-a-kind slasher oddity.
Where to watch The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation
The good news is that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation is now available to rent or purchase digitally on major streaming platforms like Amazon, Vudu, Apple, and Redbox.
You can rent the film in SD and HD quality for around $3.99 from these digital retailers. If you want to own a digital copy, prices are around $9.99 for SD and $12.99 for HD purchases.
So while The Next Generation is not on any subscription streaming services yet, you can conveniently access this underrated horror sequel by streaming it on demand through the major online stores. ( more details on imdb )
Renting digitally for $3.99 is an easy way to catch up with this installment in the Texas Chainsaw franchise. And for big fans who want the best viewing experience, we recommend buying the Collector’s Edition Blu-Ray from Scream Factory which features a pristine picture and insightful bonus features.