Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is an American psychological crime film directed and co-written by John McNaughton that depicts a random crime spree by Henry and his protégé Otis, who torture and kill with impunity. Michael Rooker in his debut film plays the nomadic killer Henry, Tom Towles plays Otis, a prison ‘friend’ who lives with Henry, and Tracy Arnold is Becky, Otis’s sister.

The characters of Henry and Otis are loosely based on convicted real life serial killers Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole, who was famous for his claims to have cannibalised many of their victims, claiming that they also supplied women and children for human sacrifice to a cult called “The Hand of Death”.

Henry confessed to over 600 murders, which supposedly were committed between his release from prison in 1975 to his arrest in 1983, a pace that would have required a murder every week. A detailed investigation by the Texas attorney general’s office ruled out Lucas as a suspect in most of his confessions by comparing his known whereabouts to the dates of the murders to which he had confessed. It appears that the police would bring any cold case to his attention, feed him information about it, and then let him take responsibility. He had nothing to lose, and global fame and notoriety to gain. He was convicted of 11 murders and sentenced to death for the murder of an unidentified female victim known only as “Orange Socks.” His death sentence was commuted to life in prison by Texas Governor George W. Bush in 1998 due to evidence that Lucas was in Florida at the time “Orange Socks” was killed in Texas. Lucas later recanted all his confessions except for the murder of his mother, and died in prison of heart failure on March 13, 2001.

The film involves a lot of scenes of Henry driving his battered old Chevy Impala around the grey streets of Chicago, finding people to kill. Images of bloody mayhem are offered for their shock value and become repetitive, and rather fake, but then the film was made on a tiny budget.

Some narratives in the film run parallel to what we know of the real serial killers. Henry did meet Ottis, but in a soup kitchen in Jacksonville, Florida, not in prison. Henry’s father really did lose both of his legs after being struck by a freight train, leaving Henry at his mother’s mercy. But the film largely omits the long-term homosexual relationship between them (shyly hinting at it when they share the last can of beer) and, sadly, totally omits Ottis’ predilection for cannibalism.

Henry did sexually abuse Ottis’ 12-year-old niece Frieda Powell, who lived with them for many years. As in the film, Powell preferred to be addressed as Becky rather than Frieda. However, in the film Becky is Otis’s younger sister, and is presented as a considerably older single mother, not the real 12-year-old Powell.

Sexual neurosis is presented as the root cause of the violent tendencies of both men. Otis, who is shown attempting to sexually abuse his sister, tells her that Henry killed his own mother, and when Becky asks Henry about it, he tells her his mother was a sadist and a “whore”, who forced him to watch her having sex with clients, sometimes making him wear girls’ clothing for further humiliation.

Becky in response tells Henry of her childhood, in which she was regularly raped by her father, with her mother claiming not to believe her.

“He told me he had a right, because he was my daddy and I was his daughter, and he fed me and let me live in his house, and he could do whatever he wanted. And he did… I didn’t fight him, because when I did he just hit me.”

Henry introduces Otis to his world of serial killing when they pick up two sex workers and Henry snaps their necks during sex, suggesting that he is revenging his mother’s abuse. To Henry, the world is against him, and murder is “always the same, and it’s always different.”

Otis gets a taste for murder when they kill a fence who mocks them when they try to buy a television from him, and then actively seeks out opportunities when a high school boy he comes on to punches him in the mouth. Henry says it would be a mistake to kill the boy, since they’ve been seen together, but Henry wants to kill someone. It’s the world being against them, again.

Henry schools Otis to make sure every murder is different – that way there can be no M.O. for the police to follow. A particularly brutal scene of the murder of a family is videotaped by the pair (on a camera stolen from the dead fence) and Otis enjoys re-watching himself molesting the screaming woman, breaking her neck and then attempting necrophilia, until Henry orders him to stop, just as he forced him to desist from molesting Becky when she arrived. When Henry finds Otis raping his own sister, he fights him and with Becky’s help, kills him.

Henry has his own moral code, in which murder is fine, but incest, family violence and necrophilia are forbidden. The real Henry’s paedophilic involvement with twelve-year-old Becky, and the real Ottis’ interest in eating people, are never mentioned.

Incest, murder and cannibalism are the three great taboos of our civilisation according to Freud, the driving forces behind the creation of laws and morals, which stop us destroying our communities by doing those things. The movie sadly concentrates on the murders and has references to incest, but totally ignores the cannibalism.

Unlike the film, the real Henry did not kill Ottis – both men died in separate prisons, Ottis in Florida State Prison in 1996 and Henry in Ellis Unit, Huntsville, Texas in 2001.

Due to the violent imagery, the film was censored in many markets and the original poster (above) was banned. The controversy brought it some very valuable publicity. The reviews were also mostly positive – it has an 89% “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with Roger Ebert observing that the film does not “sugar-coat” or trivialise violence as most slashers tend to do, and calling it:

“a very good film, a low-budget tour de force that provides an unforgettable portrait of the pathology of a man for whom killing is not a crime but simply a way of passing time and relieving boredom.”

It’s well made (considering the miniscule budget), the cast are terrific (in both senses of the word) and the plot, if somewhat out of step with the reality of the case, is well presented and never dull. But why should it stick to the “facts” of the case, when clearly neither Henry nor Ottis were too sure what was real and what simply bravado?

A sequel, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer Part II, was released in 1996, but without any of the cast or crew from the original.

BLACK CHRISTMAS (Glen Morgan, 2006)

Black Christmas is the middle film in what is sometimes called the “Black Christmas series” – three films that actually have very little to do with each other, except that they bear the same title, one made in 1974, one in 2006, and one in 2019. The original was made in 1974 and widely panned, but has since been revived as the proverbial “cult classic” and hailed as one of the earliest slasher movies – it was released on the same day as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and is considered an influence on the making of the Halloween series (crazy killer, young women, buckets of gore). The remake in 2019 presented a completely different story and character list.

I am reviewing the middle, 2006 movie not because it’s the best of them, but it is the only one featuring CANNIBALISM, which is what this blog is all about. Also because I needed something uplifting to review on Christmas Day, 2022.

The films all involve a group of co-eds (young female college students for those of you who don’t speak American) being slaughtered by a serial killer. The 1974 film was about to be released for television in 1978 but was withdrawn because serial killer Ted Bundy had just murdered two young co-eds sleeping in their sorority house on the campus of Florida State University in Tallahassee. Bundy had started his killing spree in 1974 before being captured in 1975, incarcerated and then escaping, and there is some speculation that the film was based around his brutal murders, and that he in turn, might have been motivated to escape and return to his pathological ways by the imminent TV release of the film. The film may also be partly based on the exploits of Ed Kemper, who killed his family and then a number of co-eds in 1972-73, although his M.O. was to offer them lifts as they hitchhiked which, as we all know (I hope), is a very bad choice of transportation.

But Bundy was not a cannibal to the best of our knowledge, and nor was cannibalism mentioned in the 1974 film. Ed Kemper did admit under truth serum to slicing flesh from the legs of his victims and eating it in a casserole, although he later changed his mind and denied it. So Kemper, who is still locked up the California Medical Facility in Vacaville, may well have been an inspiration for this 2006 version. It is a very loose reimagining of the 1974 film, with the added frisson of child abuse and a bit of paedophilia, as well as incest and cannibalism – the taboos that Freud described as “the two original prohibitions of mankind”. Director Glen Morgan, who wrote several episodes of X-Files and The Twilight Zone reboot, is not skimping on any taboos in this one.

It starts off with a murder of course, then moves swiftly to an asylum for the criminally insane (a nice nod to Hannibal’s residence through all of Red Dragon and most of Silence of the Lambs, and quite a bit of the third season of Hannibal too). Here we come across Santa Claus, as you’d expect in a movie called Black Christmas, and we get the back story on the dude who killed his family many years ago, and is, we expect, going to kill lots more people before this movie drags itself to a gruesome end.

The asylum caterer, a very careless man who lets the high security door get jammed open with a carton of milk, says they are giving him a special Christmas dinner.

“It tastes like chicken, because it’s chicken. It’s the closest we could get to how Mom used to taste.”

Billy Lenz is clinically insane, so that may explain why he thinks his Mom tasted like chicken (humans are red meat, and most cannibals claim the taste is like pork or veal). Anyway, he scoffs his chicken/Mom substitute through the feed-hole on his door, pockets the candy cane as a handy weapon, and we are told that he tries to escape each year; he wants to go home for Christmas. And the Delta Alpha Kappa co-eds, whose sorority house at Clement University in New Hampshire is Billy’s old house, are not going to enjoy his visit.

Well, we don’t have to sit through all the jump scares, because they are just slasher gore with no one getting eaten (as far as we can see). There are some amusing rants against Christmas though. The girls know the history of the house, and their “Secret Santa” ritual includes someone having to buy a present for Billy each year. It’s a pagan sacrifice to ward off evil spirits on Christmas.

“What Christmas shit in this room resembles anything Christian, huh? It’s all neo-pagan magic. Christmas tree – a magical rite ensuring the return of the crops. The mistletoe is nothing but a conception charm. Fifth century Christians jacked a Roman winter festival – twelve days in December where the nights were long – and the Earth was roamed by the demons of chaos.
And fucking Santa Claus? This fat voyeur that watches you all year long to make sure you live up to his standards of decency, before breaking into your house? And that is different from what Billy did – how?”

So what, we wonder, did Billy do?

“Billy Edward Lenz was born with a rare liver disease that gave him yellow skin. His parents hated each other. The mother hated Billy. He was not the child she always wanted.”

When Billy is five, on Christmas Eve, his mother tells him the Russians shot down Santa.

He then witnesses his mother’s new boyfriend kill Billy’s father, who is the only one who ever loved him. Realising he saw it all, they lock Billy in the basement (did they see Tommy?), where he spends his time rocking (as in, in a rocking chair, not engaging in popular music).

When he is twelve, his mother, frustrated by her new husband who falls asleep mid-coitus, climbs up into the basement, drops her gown and reinstates the original meaning of “rock and roll”, adding incest to insult and injury. Not to mention paedophilia. This show has it all!

So Billy has a sister and a daughter and Mom has a granddaughter and a daughter, and step-dad is still snoring through copulation, so everyone lives happily ever after.

Just kidding – nine years later, Billy has been driven insane by isolation, while his sister/daughter is doted on by his mother, who constantly tells her “you’re my family now”:

Billy escapes from the attic and disfigures his eight-year-old sister by gouging her eye out, and then eating it.

Much of the terminology of love and sex derives from cannibalism. When we tell a child “I could eat you up” or (at a different time and place presumably) perform oral sex on a lover, we use the metaphors of cannibalism.

Billy murders his mother and her sleepy lover, and the cops find him eating cookies made out of his mother’s flesh. There’s a cookie-cutter involved, and a hot oven. Not sure where he got the recipe.

The rest is pretty standard slasher stuff, with some inventive deaths, but at least Billy has qualified as a cannibal, and it’s about time, because we’re 36 minutes into the film by now. If you can’t be bothered watching the whole thing, there is a trailer at the top of this blog that covers a lot of the good bits, plus a whole lot of other stuff that never made it into the movie, apparently filmed at the insistence of the distributor, Dimension Films, run by Bob and Harvey Weinstein, who have, between them, much expertise on matters of horror, family discord, and the abuse of young women.

Look, if you want an entertaining slasher with lots of gore, you might like this. From the point of view of Cannibal Studies, the film is interesting mainly as an example of revenge cannibalism – eating the rude and abusive, like Son or Titus or even Sweeney Todd. Also, horror movies timed to coincide with Christmas are very often based on some aspect of revenge, such as The Twelve Deaths of Christmas, also featuring a cookie-cutter used to make people-bread men. It’s a fascinating genre, in which the audience is offered the opportunity to sympathise with, or at least understand, the act of cannibalism as homicide and anthropophagy justified by grievance.

Not so much with Billy. The sorority sisters are treated the way humans treat animals contingently labelled as “vermin” – they are swarming around his house, and he exterminates them but, significantly, he doesn’t eat them. His Mom and his sister/daughter, though, they’re family, and the only way to keep them with him, restrained, constrained and compliant, is to eat them. It’s Billy’s version of love.

Merry Christmas and Gory in Excelsis to all my readers!

The full movie is available (at the time of writing) on YouTube:

Young Leatherface: THE SAWYER MASSACRE (Steve Merlo, 2022)

This full-length feature was released on YouTube on 21 October 2022. It is a “fan film” – you’ve heard of fan fiction, where people like Fannibals extend the stories they love into new avenues (often erotic ones). Well, this team made a whole tribute movie to the cannibalism classic, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (TCSM) came out almost fifty years ago, and was named by Total Film as number one of the fifty greatest horror movies of all time, as well as being the one that began the boom in slasher movies.

The Sawyer Massacre is the brainchild of Steve Merlo, a Canadian Musician from Kelowna British Columbia, who also wrote the score. Merlo described the original TCSM as “the first film to truly give him nightmares”. He financed the production through crowd-funding site Indiegogo, and somehow produced a film at least as well made and arguably better written and acted than the other sequels and reboots that have come out in the past several decades.

Presented as a prequel to the original TCSM, the film is set during the Vietnam War, as America fed half a million young soldiers into a futile conflict, thousands of whom did not come home alive. The pointless violence of that war and the battles between young counter-culture demonstrators and Establishment law enforcement is reflected in the gore that this film so generously doles out. The original TCSM was set in the Nixon years as the “silent majority” was taking control, the hippie dream having died at Altamont, in the streets of Chicago and on the campus of Kent State. This is a prequel, so it’s set a bit earlier – LBJ is in the White House and America still thinks its invincible military can defeat the Viet Cong. The young people who blunder into the wilds of Texas are not looking for gravestones as in the original movie, they are looking for themselves, seeking enlightenment and adventure. Jimmy has gone away with his friends to seek redemption for a family tragedy for which he blames himself, another family is looking for a camping site where they can get away from it all, and they certainly do. They inevitably end up on the point of the same knives, meat-hooks, and chainsaws as in the original. Some things remain constant, regardless of politics. And of course, movies like this always start off with a decrepit, run-down gas station.

If you’re not familiar with the TCSM, there is a review at this site, but basically it involves a lot of young city folks blundering in to an inhospitable part of Texas, where a family of killers, formerly abattoir workers, now ply their trade by slaughtering passing visitors and selling their meat to other tourists. In other words, they have done what business coaches always tell us to do – they have diversified. They are still killing animals for food, but now a different species – Homo sapiens. The original film did not go much into explanations, but the characters are there – Leatherface, the hitchhiker, even grandpa, who is rather more sprightly in this version.

In fact, the characterisation is far better in this one than the original, in which few characters lived long enough to have a back-story. And this Leatherface, with his range of masks for any occasion (including, shall we say, love interest) is much more a real person, showing not just the expected psychotic rage but fear, disappointment and even lust.

I’m trying to avoid any spoilers because the film is meant to be seen – it is available on YouTube in its entirety. If you loved the original TCSM, I think you’ll love this one too – for a film made on a tiny budget, it feels well made – the cinematography, direction, scenery, special effects, even the acting (which was pretty woeful in some of the sequels) is spot on. The feeling of claustrophobia inside the house is palpable and dials up the suspense – watching the film requires some restraint to avoid yelling at the victims to get the hell out of there – in that sense, it’s like the old pantomimes. The film also works well as a prequel – it feels like you could finish it, have a strong drink, and move straight into watching the original TCSM without losing any continuity, a tribute to the esteem in which the director holds the original.

 Steve Merlo also has a YouTube session in which he comments on the making of the film and explains some of the questions you may have, but [spoiler alert] don’t watch it until you’ve seen the movie at least once.

The full movie is currently available to watch at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a-GssBcG5fk

“They’re not psycho killers, they’re small business owners” 100 BLOODY ACRES (Colin and Cameron Cairnes, 2012)

There just aren’t enough Aussie cannibalism films (IMHO), particularly since the earliest movie I could find showing (purported) cannibalism, The Devil’s Playground, was made in Australia, way back in 1928. What few have been made are pretty great, including movies like The Last Confession of Alexander Pearce (about a cannibal convict) and more recently Two Heads Creek, which saw immigrants to the Australian outback being cooked and eaten. There was also a movie made about the so-called Snowtown murders (most of which did not take place in the town of Snowtown) but it avoids mentioning the cannibalism of the last victim, for some reason.

Presenting country folk as hicks, rednecks, hillbillies, etc is certainly not exclusive to Australian films. In the US, such plots are usually presented as slasher horror, such as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes, and their endless sequels and prequels. In Italy during the “Cannibal Boom”, the primitives were tribes of savages, eating people for revenge, but also because they were yummy. But Australians love to see the humour, even (especially?) in a rapidly mounting body count and spurting arterial blood. 100 Bloody Acres is right in that tradition, filled with colourful rural characters who mispronounce words and aren’t that smart, taking it out on city slickers who stray into their territories.

This one stars two brothers, Reg (Damon Herriman, who (fun fact) played Charles Manson in both the Netflix series Mindhunter and in the Quentin Tarantino film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) and Lindsay (Angus Sampson who was in Mad Max: Fury Road, Fargo and most recently The Lincoln Lawyer). The Morgan brothers own and operate a small blood and bone fertiliser business in South Australia, the motto of which is:

“We’ll fertilize ya!”

Their business has been booming in the area, we are told, where six Salvos (Salvation Army workers – everything in Aust. is abbrev’ed) have disappeared without trace – not hard to see where this plot is going. Reg is on his way to deliver blood and bone fertiliser when he sees a road accident, hauls out the body of a man and puts him into the back of his van, less a few fingers, due to his clumsiness in closing the doors. Meant to be shocking or hilarious? Subjective I guess. Reg then picks up a young woman and her two male companions whose car has died on the way to a music festival, because he fancies the woman. The men go in the back of the truck with the bags of fertiliser and the car crash victim, and predictably freak out when the body is revealed by the bumpy road. Reg takes the trio to the factory, where they are tied up and made to watch the car accident victim, who turns out to be alive, lowered into the meat grinder.

Reg tries to rescue him, but ends up covered in blood and holding just his legs and, perhaps the area between them that attracts his befuddled gaze. There is a theory that movies, particularly thrillers and horror stories, are aimed at 14-year-old boys, and I’m sure they would find this scene side-splitting.

Turns out that blood and bone made from humans is far better (as fertiliser) if they are alive and scared and in agony; it’s all in the hormones. This why torment is a crucial part of the dog-meat industry, and also not far from the way we treat other animals we confine and slaughter.

The older brother, Lindsay, tests the blood from the mixture and declares it “liquid gold”.

The rest of the movie is slapstick gore involving chases, more victims being killed or losing body parts, and other merriment. Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 77% fresh rating, and Matt Zoller Seitz of RogerEbert.com called it:

“a smartly written and acted and exceptionally well-directed movie.”

The Guardian’s Australian Editor, Lenore Taylor, was not so enthusiastic, declaring it,

“a splatterfest that abandons suspense in favour of sniggers.”

100 Bloody Acres is not nearly as shocking as it imagines itself to be (unless maybe I’ve watched too many cannibal movies) but it is entertaining, well made, stylishly directed, and the actors are top-notch. It hums along, and may even be seen as satirising the more strait-laced and dour cannibalism films from the USA and elsewhere. If you like black comedy and gore, this one may impress.

From the point of view of Cannibal Studies, it raises some interesting questions.

  • Is it still cannibalism is you kill someone not to eat, but to use, for example, as blood and bone (or for their skin and bones, like Ed Gein or Jame Gumb)? Does cannibalism require oral ingestion, or does any use of the human body count?
  • Is cannibalism of the dead less repugnant if the intended meal is already dead? In this film, the brothers collect dead bodies from road accident sites (human roadkill) and grind them up into blood and bone. While roadkill of wild animals is not a hugely popular source for food or other uses, it is actually more acceptable to some animal activists than confinement and slaughter, in that the animals may not have known what hit them, and in any case are killed without murderous intent. So why not human roadkill (maybe making sure they’re actually dead)? Is it really worse to eat (or otherwise utilise) a dead human, who can feel no pain, than a living, terrified cow or pig? Consider the outrage in Illinois when a satirical site claimed the local morgue assistant was using body parts from deceased men to help her win a spaghetti-cooking competition. It was a hoax, but there have been other cases, such as journalist William Seabrook, who purchased human flesh from a hospital and cooked it just to see what it tasted like. What exactly is the problem?
  • And most intriguingly, why do we stroll nonchalantly past the blood and bone bags in the hardware store, yet can be shocked at the thought of human blood and bone? As Shylock asked, “if you prick us, do we not bleed?”

We are all made of blood and bone.

Leatherface is back (again): TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (David Blue Garcia, 2022)

Netflix released the latest Texas Chainsaw instalment (the ninth!) on February 28th. It’s beginning to feel a lot like Easter (as in: how many ways can you tart up hot cross buns?) but there are some nice features to this one. For a start, well, it’s on Netflix, so a bit less likely to disappear into the Texan mud without trace, like some of the earlier versions. There have been eight sequels and prequels and unrelated but similar-named movies in this franchise, as well as comics (sorry, graphic novels) and a video game of the original.

The original film, in which “chain” and “saw” were two words, is still widely acknowledged as the best, despite its paltry budget and apparently impossible working conditions for the crew. It was released in 1974 by Tobe Hooper, who made a somewhat light-hearted sequel in 1986. It was a pioneer in “slasher” films and drew cannibalism out of the gothic into the sunlight, showing an alienated workforce in “flyover” states turning their (now unwanted) skills in killing steers toward killing tourists instead. It finished with Sally, the “last girl” escaping from a frustrated Leatherface, who was wearing his mask of human skin (fully biodegradable but not much use against viruses) and wielding his chainsaw in a way that buzzed of potential sequels.

This sequel takes place 48 years after the original (yep, now) and blithely ignores any plot points from the intervening movies, comics, etc. Leatherface is back, older but no wiser and still intent on killing teenagers, and so is Sally, the survivor, who is now a Texas Ranger and set on revenge.

And the cute teens, well, they’re everything that the locals hate – inter-racial, trendy, Gen Z “Influencers”, what the creepy gas-station owner (and there’s always one to set the scene) calls “gentrifuckers”.

They want to gentrify the town and set up a trendy area of gourmet cafes and authentic looking but modernised shops and galleries. Leatherface is in retirement in an abandoned orphanage, and Sally, well, she’s been looking for him for a long time apparently, although when last seen in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (not an episode of Star Trek), she was catatonic and strapped to a gurney. But now she’s hardass. When we first see her, she’s gutting a pig, just as Leatherface is slaughtering humans. The special effects are pretty similar for both, as are the body shapes, and, frankly, the characterisations. The original actors who portrayed Leatherface and Sally are both dead; the only original cast member is John Larroquette who does the voiceover, which half-heartedly tries to sound like a true-crime documentary, as he did in the original. The new Sally is Olwen Fouéré, the Irish actor, although this Sally seems to be more based on Jamie Lee Curtis’s Laurie Strode in the 2018 reboot of Halloween.

The class struggle of the original Chain Saw has been lost here. The Texas of the original was filled with pockets of people abandoned by modern capitalism and so falling into degeneracy and violence. The new movie seems to valorise the “ordinary” folks who brook no bullshit from the “me generation” and defy the dehumanising effects of capitalism. It’s hard to feel sympathy for the influencers with their real estate auctions and cutesy town planning, or to feel terror at the thought that people might chop you up, but only if you insist on being a dick.

The terror of Leatherface himself revolved not around his nasty dental problems, badly fitting masks and noisy chainsaw, but around his family, the Sawyers, a group of odd but not obviously psychotic individuals who nonetheless were more than happy to chop up and eat innocents from the outside world, which had forsaken them. It felt like this could be any of us, screaming and dying and becoming the family’s dinner, should we venture into the wrong part of the Badlands. This new version is all Leatherface. Somehow, he now has a “mother” who looks after him in an abandoned orphanage, and she dies of a heart attack when the trendies tell her she has to move out, leading to his much delayed rampage. But Leatherface was always the weapon, not the villain, sometimes killing, and sometimes donning an apron and cooking for his dominant family. He doesn’t really work as a lone psycho, particularly when we sort of sympathise with him – he’s just lost his mum, weeps as he wears her face as a mask and then applies her makeup like Norman Bates in Psycho. Who can stay mad at that?

Tobe Hooper’s classic broke new ground in cannibal films and in horror generally. It encapsulated the early 1970s as the endless war in Vietnam and the demise of the hopes of the flower power generation ran into the chainsaw that was Nixon’s silent majority. The new one seems to reflect our time, where the young and idealistic are capitalistic exploiters and Leatherface and the Texan gun-toters are just being pushed too hard into the chainsaw of QAnon. Politics and war are no longer about truth and justice but just fake news in pursuit of tribalism. The film sums this up sardonically in the climactic scene where the busload of influencers are confronted by Leatherface and his chainsaw and respond by pulling out their phones and live streaming the whole massacre.

As Marx said, great historical entities (like Leatherface) appear in history twice – the first time as tragedy, the second time (or perhaps the ninth) as farce.

But here’s my problem with this film. After 83 minutes (which seemed much longer) I looked up from the screen and screamed (internally) “where’s the cannibalism?” Yes, there was a lot of flesh on display, and broken bones, and the occasional internal organ. But none of it got eaten, which, if I had more time, would have disqualified it from this blog. The thing is, cannibalism is not just one more nasty thing that mean people might do to you and me. It is the ultimate act of dehumanisation. Sally’s friends and family in the original were turned into slaughter-animals, chopped up, eaten, and presumably ended up in the family’s outhouse. That’s what we do to those we objectify: pigs and sheep and cows, and we do it to distinguish ourselves from other animals as somehow non-animal, part-god. The slasher might kill us, but the cannibal converts us into shit. Otherwise, we are all potential wielders of the chainsaw.

Without the cannibalism, this is just another slasher with too much emphasis on special effects rather than characterisation.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2022 has a 33% “rotten” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with one audience critic summing up:

“it isn’t very scary — and it definitely doesn’t help that the story hardly makes any sense.”

Young Leatherface: THE SAWYER MASSACRE (Steve Merlo, 2022)

Whether you loved or hated (or anything in-between) Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, it is widely acknowledged to be a seminal work in the history of slasher movies generally, and specifically of cannibal films. Total Film made it number one of the fifty greatest horror movies of all time (Psycho was number 6!) and Richard Zoglin of Time said that it set “a new standard for slasher films”. Ben Woodard called it “unambiguously the greatest horror film ever made.” That makes creating a sequel (or actually a prequel) all the more fraught!

Chainsaw was based partly on the real-life (real-death?) exploits of Ed Gein, the “Butcher of Plainfield”, who decorated his house with all sorts of furniture made of human bones and skin, but Gein had dug most of them up from graveyards. The man-monster from TCSM was Leatherface who wore a mask (well before the rest of us) and even made it himself (far more sustainable than the rest of us). It was, however, made of human skin, which you can’t get readily even on Etsy, and he sourced his raw materials from those travelling through his little corner of Texas, cutting them up with a large and noisy chainsaw, often bashing them on the head with a mallet first, as the more primitive slaughterhouses used to do to the cattle in their yards.

But why did he do that? We get some hints in the movie from his brother, the Hitchhiker, who makes it clear that the family had been “in meat” and worked in the local slaughterhouses, which had closed as industry fled the “fly-over” states. But a lot of people lost their jobs in the seventies, and most of them did not go out and buy chainsaws with murderous intent. So how did Leatherface get started? And whose idea was it to eat the victims?

Such questions have clearly been on the mind of TCSM fan Steve Merlo, who recently sat down for an interview with Bloody Disgusting about his intended feature film THE SAWYER MASSACRE, intended as a prequel to the 1974 classic.

The film has been crowdfunded through Indegogo (now closed unfortunately) but should have raised enough to see it released in about August 2022.

Here’s the plot from the Director:

While recovering from the loss of someone close, Jimmy’s friends bring him to the Texas countryside to escape city life. In need of supplies for their cabin, they head to a gas station where they are directed to an isolated farmhouse. The property is not as it seems. They find themselves hunted by the cannibalistic psychopath known as Leatherface.

Clearly, it follows the formula that was also seen in The Hills Have Eyes, Wrong Turn, The Farm and loads of other slasher movies where humans are on the table instead of sitting around it. But, as Merlo says,

“It is our intent not to copy what the original did, but use it as influence in a stylistic way. Our film will have more blood and kills, but will still be very subtle in its delivery.”

The film is due for release in 2022, the date that appears in IMDB. The film also has a Facebook, Twitter and Instagram page if you wish to follow its progress.