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

Butchering vegans: SOME LIKE IT RARE – Barbaque (Eboué, 2021)

The French are sticklers for correct grammar. Bien sûr! Grammar, and particularly syntax, are importants! For example, there is a tendency in animal rights literature for people to declare: “I am vegan.” Simply untrue – you are made of meat, comrade, red meat to be precise, as this film sets out to demonstrate, and at some length.

The correct syntax is “I am A vegan”, that is, a person who tries to avoid eating the flesh of, or otherwise exploiting, any animal. This is usually for ethical reasons to do with the undoubted suffering caused by the modern industrial animal businesses, but sometimes for health reasons (e.g. Bill Clinton) or the environment, because the animal industries cause massive amounts of greenhouse emissions, use absurd amounts of land and water, and are the main cause of deforestation, particularly in the Amazon.

But none of these arguments are likely to persuade the protagonists of this quirky French comedy Barbaque released, for those of us outside of France, under the title Some Like it Rare. Husband-and-wife Vincent (Fabrice Éboué who also wrote and directed the film) and Sophie (Marina Foïs, who managed to make three other movies in that same year) are running a failing butcher shop called Pascal Boucherie, assailed by vegan activists who throw blood (I guess red paint) around their store in protest at their bloody business.

When they see the man who threw the paint riding his bike on the road (of course he rides a bike – this is satire), they stop their van suddenly and reverse, unintentionally (perhaps) causing him to crash into their vehicle and die.

What to do with the corpse? They can’t call the police, because Vincent has already reported the damage done to his store by the dead vegan activist, and it would be assumed to be a revenge murder. But alors, they run a butcher shop, so they have all the tools to dispose of the evidence. Sophie is watching true crime documentaries on TV (aren’t we all?) and tells Vincent to chop the body up and dump the pieces in the garbage. Vincent starts chopping, watched by his dog, who eagerly gobbles up a piece of the vegan that falls onto the floor. Vincent gives the dog an ear, then realises – hey, humans are made of meat!

Chopping up bodies is easy for a butcher, but then Sophie, thinking he has already thrown out the body parts, puts the meat on the shelves. Turns out the flesh of vegans is delicious (grain fed?) and there is a rush of customers seeking what Vincent decides to call “Iranian pork”. With enthusiastic customers in the store, Vincent does not stop Sophie tasting it. Afterwards, she asks

“Vegan” says Vincent.

It’s the perfect crime, the evidence is not just eaten but, as Sophie says, “shat out” afterwards. There are lots of cannibalism jokes, such as the local policeman promising to catch the vegans who attacked the store,

It’s not exactly a new idea. Mads Mikkelsen had the same problem and the same solution (after accidentally locking their electrician in the meat freezer) in the Danish movie The Green Butchers, together with a haircut that would have shocked the normally unshockable fans who loved him in Hannibal. And let us not forget the many variants of the Sweeney Todd story which saw the “demon barber of Fleet St” feeding meat pies filled with his hairdressing clients to the grateful populace of nineteenth century London, as well as a classic of kinky Hollywood cannibalism, Eating Raoul. Butchering people for meat has appeared in several other movies including the much-underrated film The Butchers and the animal revenge movie The Farm.

At first glance, this is a satire on veganism, but then there are all the references to how delicious their flesh tastes.

The only really dislikeable character in the film is their extremely carnivorous and insufferable friend who owns a chain of butcher shops and makes a fortune selling inferior and tainted cuts of meat. He is racist, sexist, and talks only about money. When Vincent has a scuffle with him and bites his ear off, he says “you taste disgusting – you should eat more veg.” Eating meat, Vincent has discovered, makes you taste bad. Maybe that’s why we don’t eat lions.

Vincent and Sophie discuss the logistics of their new business, in the same way other meat and dairy executives talk about the “growing” and “finishing” of the victim animals, as production units. They could farm vegans, they say, and she could milk them. Vincent points out that the best meat comes from castrated steers, he wants to find

There are references to Hitler being a vegetarian (it’s not true) and still being a butcher. Sophie tells how the rabbit she loves when she was little was turned into a stew by her father, and

“although I loved Thumper more than anything in the world, I loved him more as stew.”

They then proceed to kill a plump vegan who they’ve tied up in a bathtub. Most of the film’s action is slapstick hunting sequences as Vincent and Sophie stalk and kill vegans for their shop, interspersed with discussions about hunting a black woman, from which Vincent recoils, until Sophie tells him

They both spot a plump young boy, but Vincent draws the line at killing children, with Sophie complaining

It’s easy to see it as a commentary on the commercial meat corporations, which kill most animals when they are still little more than juveniles or (for veal) babies, and exploit female animals twice – for the production of their young (and sometimes their milk) and then for their flesh when they are worn out – what Carol Adams calls “feminized protein”. All Sophie wants to do (or wants Vincent to do) is apply the same methods to human meat.

The film currently has an unbeatable 100% “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with The Guardian critic Cath Clarke saying:

“Some Like It Rare is a tasty treat for herbivores and carnivores alike, and it honestly doesn’t feel like an anti-vegan film.”

Martin Unsworth in the Starburst magazine said:

Some Like it Rare is a non-meat eater’s idea of extreme horror, and if you’re upset by the sight of meat being prepared, you should avoid it at all costs.”

Yes, but that’s not really true. I know plenty of meat-eaters who scrupulously avoid knowing the source of their main course. That’s why animals are butchered in remote slaughterhouses with high walls and maximum security, by anonymous, minimum-wage workers. On the other hand, it is the vegans who climb those high walls and take videos (YouTube is full of them). So while they don’t like what’s going on, the “extreme horror” is probably more applicable to those who are assailed with the cognitive dissonance of knowing they support corporations that do what Vincent and Sophie do, albeit to other species (as far as we know).

If you don’t mind subtitles (or are fluent in French) this is well worth a viewing. Let me know what you think the message is.

Man-eaters – POSSIBLY IN MICHIGAN (Cecilia Condit, 1983)

I don’t usually review short films in this blog, only because there are so many feature-length films demanding my attention, as well as news stories filling my feeds. But this one caught my eye. It’s the story of two young women who are followed home by a cannibal, and that dynamic of the apparently vulnerable females turning against the aggressive male reminded me inexorably of a movie I reviewed recently – Fresh, in which a young woman meets and dates a charming guy who turns out to be an entrepreneurial cannibal.

This film, Possibly in Michigan, is a 1983 musical horror film by artist Cecilia Condit about two young women, Sharon and Janice, who are stalked through a shopping mall by a cannibal named Arthur. The three protagonists (there is no one else in the mall, adding to the dreamlike mood) have two things in common – violence and perfume. Perfume of course is the distillation of desire, as shown in the film Perfume. Arthur follows them home, and the victims become the attackers. Is violence the only possible response to violence? Perhaps, the film seems to suggest. But the key song line is:

“Love shouldn’t cost an arm and a leg”

All the men in the film are masked as animals – pigs, dogs – and all have an aura of violence. But the actual violence, the offer to eat the women one limb at a time, comes from an unmasked man named as “Prince Charming.” The modern monster is always indistinguishable from the “normal”.

This is not the kind of short film created in the hope of discovery and a career in blockbusters. The artist is a retired professor in her seventies, a video artist who creates feminist fairy tales, and the film itself is in the permanent collection of the New York Museum of Modern Art. The New York Times called it a

“brutal, surreal and darkly funny 1983 art musical”

I loved the comments on YouTube, many of which said that it was “unsettling” rather than scary. Exactly what horror should be – like dreams, horror is really a release of repressed feelings. Some of the scariest dreams don’t involve slashers or monsters, they just touch a nerve; something we have kept buried inside is, for a few unconscious seconds, brought to the surface and examined in the light.

Another comment stated:

“As someone who’s been repeatedly abused by narcissists where it felt like they were eating my very energy and being, this was extremely ‘healing’ in a weird way. Thank you.”

Cannibalism is about power, and power can be transferred, as happens in this film. But the original monster is Arthur, a faceless man wearing an expressionless mask, the very image of impersonal, brutal menace. Cannibalism bothers us because it reminds us we are made of meat like the animals we eat, but meat is, in Western cultures at least, a symbol of male power over nature, which includes and is represented by the female. Carol Adams sums this up by saying meat is “the final stage of male desire” – men eat red meat, which comes from animals, the females of whom have already had their babies, their milk and their eggs taken from them for human consumption, until they are “spent”, at which time they are minced up for ‘pet’ food. What Adams calls “feminised protein” represents the suffering of female animals for the appetite of male humans like Arthur.

The film was rediscovered by Gen Z when a 15-second clip from one of the songs was loaded onto TikTok. I recommend the film to you – the link to the clip is at the top of this blog, where I usually load trailers – this is the whole work.