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The Saw is Family
BY G. NOEL GROSS  |  October 17, 2003

Click for the first of this two-part tribute.

Whenever he's asked to name the greatest horror picture of all time, legendary drive-in movie critic Joe Bob Briggs never wavers: "SAW IS KING!!!" Damn straight. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre IS king. Yesterday, today and forever. It's the alpha and omega. Hallelujah. Pass the plate. Amen. Saw first ripped across screens way back in 1974 -- that's coming up on 30 years to you finger counters out there -- and even today folks STILL point a freakafied finger at it when they talk about what's WRONG with Hollywood. (Never mind that it wasn't MADE by California yayhoos). We're talking coeds on meat hooks, a geriatric psychopath konkin' gals on the head and probably the most imitated horror icon ever -- the chainsaw two-stepper himself -- Leatherface. Now, with the real Hollywood version in theaters, a third generation of fans will no doubt find themselves drawn back to the source. The following survey is dedicated to these poor souls who've unwittingly worshiped false idols.

Anyone with U.S. distribution rights to a Saw picture is also eager to seduce them eyeballs. When DVD first hit the mainstream, Pioneer ported Elite Entertainment's 1996 special edition laserdisc onto the burgeoning medium. Now they've repackaged that formidable, yet technically long-in-the-tooth disc in a new "super jewel" case with a novelty sleave featuring mock ground chuck on the flip side. New Line rolls out its "uncut" version of the second sequel and TriStar has rereleased the fourth installment with star-centric cover art. Here's how they stack up.

Video: 3 Audio: 3
Extras: 4.5 Replay: 5
Advice: DVD Talk
Collector Series
THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: It's a simple story, really, yet few imitators can match its profoundly disturbing ferocity. This tall tale follows a quasi-documentary vein with a vanload of road trippers for whom a sweltering August excursion finds them running on empty and square into a macabre mess of Southern inhospitality. There's Sally Hardesty and her wheelchair-bound bubba Franklin (Mariyln Burns and Paul Partain). Both are buxom, neither wear bras. Riding shotgun is Sally's beau Jerry (Allen Danziger). Then there's wheelman Kirk and his gal Pam (William Vail and Teri McMinn). Things first start to get ugly when an insane hitchhiker and amateur photographer (Ed Neal) tries to carve his initials into Franklin's arm without permission. Then, for plot purposes, they stop for gas right down the road from the fiery gates of H-E-L-L!!! One by one they wander single file into a deceptively benign farmhouse and endure staggeringly brutal and certainly permanent consequences for their trespassing. Each is dispatched by a towering hulk masked by the filleted face of a human corpse. Sally spends the most time getting to know "Leatherface" (Gunnar Hansen) by spending the evening running over hill and dale, screaming her lungs out while he lumbers after her with a roaring chainsaw overhead. Later, they meet back at his place for the world's most depraved dinner date. Unfortunately, the big guy's brothers crash (Mr. Neal and Jim Siedow) and so does his Methuselah-esque Grandpa (John Dugan). Sally shrieks mid-course. They howl back. Then the REAL fun starts! Its sum total is enough to fray even the most steely-nerved horror hound. Meanwhile, even given their age, there's still plenty of reasons extras-wise that this is a must-own title for any self-respecting CineSchlocker. In particular, a stellar commentary by first-time writer/director Tobe Hooper, Mr. Hansen and cinematographer Daniel Pearl, plus chilling onset footage of production designer Bob Burns' boneyard handiwork. No breasts. Eight corpses. Finger suckling. Necro origami. Giant eyeball closeups. Gratuitous urination. Hand carving. Window diving. Mega raspberries. Puking. Deep-frozen coed. Listen for when Siedow hollers: "LOOK AT WHAT YOUR BROTHER DID TO THE DOOR!!!" (1974, 84 mins, 1.85:1, DD 2.0 and mono, Commentary, Deleted scenes, Blooper reel, Photo gallery, Trailers.)

Gas up the van and revisit original filming sites
on a Texas Chainsaw Road Trip.

Movie: 3 of 5 stars
Video: 2 Audio: 2
Extras: 0 Replay: 1
THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: A FAMILY PORTRAIT: As the title suggests, documentarian Brad Shellday confines his scope to Saw's killer kin through intercut interviews with Gunnar Hansen (Leatherface), Ed Neal (Hitchhiker), Jim Siedow (Drayton Sawyer) and John Dugan (Grandpa). The production values may not be that great -- beards bludgeon the mics, weird video effects distract -- but there's plenty of candid insights such as Hansen's love 'n' frustration relationship with his character and his fear it'll even overshadow him in death. While Neal channels the earnestness of an elder Jerry Lewis. Siedow offers sheepish recollections of Ms. Burns encouraging him to whomp her good. Speaking of, Dugan recalls a late-night rewrite session with designs on getting Marilyn's top off. Fun stuff that really would've worked best as a DVD supplement. (1988, Fullframe, DD mono, 60 mins, Trailer.)

Video: 3 Audio: 3
Extras: 0 Replay: 3
Advice: Highly
THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2: Sometimes dubbed "Leatherface in Love," Hooper's second chapter smartly skews toward a near-slapstick parody of his first flick. The Texas Longhorns are set to meet the Oklahoma Sooners in the fabled Cotton Bowl, but on the way there, a couple yuppie Longhorns rile the wrong pair of homicidal-maniac brothers along the highway. Only the college kids just happen to be crank yanking a radio station at the time, so their deaths are broadcast clean to Oklahoma (as it WAS a clear night). The chick deejay freaks out, but nobody but Dennis Hopper believes her story. He plays the Texas Ranger uncle of Franklin and Sally Hardesty, who's spent 14 years on the Leatherface family's trail. There's not a whole heckuvalot of plot getting in the way of Tom Savini's glorious grue. Basically, Leatherface shows up at the radio station with the idea of ventilating Stretch, the deejay, but instead he turns sorta sweet on her -- in a sputtering, quasi-masturbatory scene that ribs feminism's view of the chainsaw as a toothy phallic substitute. Anyway, toward the final reel, Hopper holsters a couple chainsaws himself and heads out to the subterranean lair of cannibal chili champ Drayton Sawyer (the original's Jim Siedow) and his killer kin to whup up on them in the style they're most accustomed. But Bill Moseley steals the movie as the big guy's Vietnam vet brother. Ol' Chop Top has a steel plate in his head, which remains exposed, mostly because he enjoys snacking on tiny toasted morsels of his own scalp. Otherwise, he's a charmer. And yes, even at 137, Grandpa is still the life of the dinner party as he feebly attempts to crack Stretch over the head with a hammer just like last time. No breasts. Eight corpses. Coat-hanger fiddling. Mailbox abuse. One french-fry cabin. Loogie hocking. One Sonny Bono wig. Gratuitous hymn singing. Hiney sawing. Mr. Hopper wages holy war: "I'M THE LORD OF THE HARVEST!!!" (1986, 100 mins, 1.85:1 and Fullframe, DD 2.0, Trailer, Printed insert.)

Video: 4 Audio: 4
Extras: 4 Replay: 1
LEATHERFACE: THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE III: It's always delish when a disc's copious extras illuminate WHY the featured presentation is such a steaming stinkeroo. Finger pointing abounds in all directions during the cast-of-thousands commentary and the additional ruminations of a 30-minute "making of." Director Jeff Burr apparently suspects everyone at New Line was out to oust him. While the folks at New Line still have no idea WHO he is. That's not to say there's no common ground, because everyone involved seems overjoyed to poo-poo Hooper's sequel, whilst sidestepping their own effort's failings, such as the inconceivable fact it wasn't even shot in TEXAS!!! They're a riot. Flickwise, Kate Hodge and William Butler are a feuding couple who turn down a dirt road to hell. He gets strung upside down like Ed Gein's Christmas turkey and beamed with a sledgehammer contraption by a giggly little yard monster (Jennifer Banko). Kate is the THIRD gal of honor at the fam's demented dinner party, only experience guides them to adopt the Roman-inspired notion of NAILING guests to the chair. The Unrated footage restores some cringe-worthy closeups of her punctured hands, but overall, it's clear the MPAA only pumped superfluous rounds into this stone-dead horse. CineSchlockers will STILL drool for the big guy's new three-foot bar'd coed mangler inscribed with: "The Saw is Family." Guess they didn't hate Saw 2 so much as to not steal Drayton's classic line. No breasts. 28 corpses. Face peeling. Peeping. Gratuitous O.J. Simpson ref. Corpse kissin. One firesuit stunt. Can't beat tiny Ms. Banko's logic: "If you don't poke 'em, they don't leak, and if they don't leak, we can't feed Grandpa, silly!" (1990, 81/86 mins Rated/Unrated, 1.85:1 anam, DD 2.0 & 5.1 EX & DTS ES 6.1, Crew commentary, Documentaries, Alternate endings, Trailers.)

Video: 2.5 Audio: 3
Extras: 0 Replay: 0
Advice: Rent It
TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: THE NEXT GENERATION: Solely noteworthy for before-they-were stars performances by two-time Oscar nominee Renee Zellweger and nekkid bongo enthusiast Matthew McConaughey. She's a four-eyed prom refugee who wanders down the road to hell. Wait ... now even I'M repeating myself! Let's see, what's new? Well, Leatherface may be at his most terrifying only because he's somehow transmutated into Mrs. Doubtfire. No, really, and there's a disc of your choice in the Gunnysack O' Goodies for anyone who can explain that pig-nipple'd Frenchman. Tangentially, perhaps only the most eagle-eyed CineSchlockers will grasp the flick's "Twilight Zone" ending that features cameos by Marilyn Burns, Paul Partain and John Dugan. Two breasts (A franchise first!) 11 corpses. Fan-friendly "door" reference. Gratuitous blonde joke. Hair sniffing. Quotation spewing redneck. Gratuitous urination. Criminal abuse of classic car ('60s model Lincoln Continental with suicide doors!) Head crushing. Unsanctioned use of cattle prod. Jenny's had enough (and so have we): "If you're gonna kill me, then DO IT! I'm not going to put up with any more of your crap!!!" (1994, 87 mins, 1.85:1 anam and Fullframe, DD 2.0, Trailers.)


THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (2003): Yep, TWO stars. One for each of Jessica's Biels. Beyond those, only CineSchlocker idol R. Lee Ermey is even remotely reason enough to endure this effing disaster. Initially, yours truly was enraged by the notion of this Hollywood remake, then totally backpedalled upon seeing its knockout trailer and chatting with R. Lee about his deliriously demented role. So, I purposefully hit the pre-release screening with a burning desire to LOVE this movie! But it's awful. Terrible. And they do something that not even THREE sequels dared -- that's UNMASK the big guy. Unforgivable! As any CineSchlocker will tell you, yours truly is no stickler for "realism" except, and yes I'm putting a fine point on this, I most certainly DO demand realism in breast acting. Jessica spends the whole flick oiled up and jiggling all over Texas, yet never once did her nipples strain against the confines of her wifebeater. NOT ONCE!!! Now, that wouldn't be any big crime if they hadn't purposefully stuffed her in a sub-zero MEAT LOCKER -- in a state of hysteria -- in a WET T-SHIRT!!! Nothing. Not a hint. I suspect CGI shenanigans. They actually digitally removed those high beams! Sheriff "R. Lee" Hoyt says it best: "I SMELL BULLSHIT!!!"

After TCM: Cannibal see, Cannibal do

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2
Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III
Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre ('03)
The Big Guy: Faces only a mother could love
Bill Johnson presents a lovelorn and sexually frustrated "Bubba."
R.A. Mihailoff's childlike turn babysteps back to wholesale butchery.
Robert Jacks makes "Leather" a 'fraidy-cat drag queen.
Andrew Bryniarski is all boogeyman as zit-faced Thomas Hewitt.

Advantage: Saw '03. Jason Voorhees, er, Leatherface regains his ferocity.

Paying Respects: Nods to the original film
Bouncy-leg death throes of brained victim. Dead armadillo gets more screen time. Flashbulb sounders punctuate prom shots. John Laroquette revisits his earnest narration.

Advantage: Saw II. Hooper plays all the fan-friendly notes.

Energizer Bunnies: These damsels of perpetual peril just won't die
Caroline Williams tests limits of human lung capacity.
To her credit, Kate Hodge really nails down her role.
Renee Zellweger takes her share of licks as a geek gone glam.
Jessica Biel's abs of steel will clobber that cranky cannibal.

Advantage: Saw '03. Ms. Biel is Hollywood's most smokin' scream siren in years.

Ticket, Please: Best dispatching of a pesky trespasser
A freshly filleted L.G.: "I guess I'm fallin' apart on you, honey." All hail that pigtailed tike and her swinging sledge of death. Poor Heather gets the hook just for being a self-styled bitch. A draw: When Kemper loses face or Andy's failure to get a leg up.

Advantage: Saw II. Funny, disgusting and horrifying all in one grisly basket.

Leatherface's Crib: Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home
Beneath abandoned amusement park.
A woodsy mountain lodge in Texas?
Reverse image of original farmhouse.
More mileage from Amityville miniature.

Advantage: Saw IV. While compact, this homestead gets it right inside and out.

Will Work For Food: Participation by original Saw cast and crew
Directed by Tobe Hooper. Jim Siedow reprises his role. Zilch. Co-writer Kim Henkel directs. Three stars have cameos. Cinematographer Daniel Pearl returns.

Advantage: Saw II. Hooper and Siedow bridge the gap with heaping helpings of ham.

Insane in the Membrane: Best performance by a supporting maniac
Bill Moseley makes homicidal flowerchild "Chop Top" a plate-licking good time.
Before Middle Earth, Viggo Mortensen played a cross-dressing killa.
Matthew McConaughey explores new frontiers in scenery noshing.
R. Lee Ermey as a sadistic sheriff: "Protect and serve. That's what we do!"

Advantage: Saw II. Ermey's a close second. Chop Top says: "Peel that pig and slice him thick!"

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G. Noel Gross is a Dallas graphic designer and avowed Drive-In Mutant who specializes in scribbling B-movie reviews. Noel is inspired by Joe Bob Briggs and his gospel of blood, breasts and beasts.