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(Clicking the highlighted links brings you to corresponding reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

Latest in this franchise, inspired by the late Tobe Hooper’s original horror classic, is a prequel that attempts to take us back to the youth of one Jed Sawyer, aka Leatherface. The film opens with young Jed (Boris Kabakchiev) getting his trademark chainsaw as a gift from his deranged mother (Lili Taylor), but not too keen on using it on the captive pig thief they mean to teach a lesson. When the clan murders a lawman’s daughter (Lorina Kamburova), her father, Texas Ranger Hal Hartman (Stephen Dorff) can’t prove it, but does get young Jed removed from the Sawyer house for child endangerment. He’s committed to an institution for wayward youth and there he is raised with a new name and identity. When four young inmates violently escape the institute with a pretty young nurse (Vanessa Grasse) as a hostage, their trail of blood will transform one of them into the mass murderer known as Leatherface.

Latest film in this series is written by Seth M. Sherwood and directed by the duo of Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury who directed the over-the-top French gore-fest Inside. As such, the film does have some nasty gore and some really disturbing moments, including a shiver inducing scene of necrophilia. What the film doesn’t really have is a purpose. Do we really need to see Leatherface’s teen years? It may be somewhat clever that we don’t know which of the teens…well, it’s obviously not psychotic Tammy (Nicole Andrews)…is the grown-up Jed. We are kept guessing if it’s crazy Ike (James Bloor), the hulking Bud (Sam Coleman) or the somewhat noble Jackson (Sam Strike), who will turn out to be Jed. Once we find out though, it’s not the powerful revelation it should be. And this is where the film falters. Most of the flick is focused on these youth on the run causing bloody carnage wherever they go. It removes Jed from his clan for the first two acts and thus we really don’t get a sense of how the man became a monster, as we don’t really see him with his deranged kin and in their influence till the last third and then the transformation seems to happen all too quickly. True, the institute was almost a worse place than his childhood home and there is plenty of violence when they’re on the run, but like Rob Zombie’s Halloween, it almost takes away from the randomness of the character to try to explain his behavior through his constant exposure to horrifyingly brutal acts, even outside his bonkers family. Isn’t the maniac scarier when he is simply a maniac?…a natural born killer? Even in it’s final moments, we never really connect this young man with the monster, even when he dons his first face mask. At least Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury deliver some really twisted moments to keep the film entertaining on a basic horror film level and the carnage is very well rendered. It’s just it never completely feels like a part of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre legacy or adds anything really worthy to the lore.

The cast are fine enough. The teen leads all do their parts in playing their respective roles. Nicole Andrews is chilling as the completely deranged Tammy, as is James Bloor as the violently inclined Ike who becomes her lover. Sam Coleman is the large but outwardly timid Bud, who becomes extremely savage once provoked. Strike is solid as the only escaped inmate with somewhat of a moral center and Vanessa Grasse is a likable heroine as the hostage Lizzy. The real standouts here, though, are veteran actress Lili Taylor as the out-of-her-mind Sawyer matriarch, Verna and Stephen Dorff as the equally psychotic Texas Ranger Hardy. The film should have focused more on them.

Leatherface was a decent edition to the Texas Chainsaw franchise and better than some of it’s predecessors. But it’s also one that never really seems necessary or overly relevant. The events portrayed can be disturbing and gruesome, yet we never really feel we are watching the birth of a monster, as we did in Bereavement for example. It is interesting that the film tries to keep us in the dark as to who actually is the grown up Jed Sawyer, but once we find out, it lacks the impact it should have, even when iconic chainsaw and skin mask come into play. Worth a watch for some chilling moments, but the sum of the parts is greater than the whole.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1/2 chainsaws.








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Much like his Insidious, James Wan delivers some very spooky goods during the first two thirds of his latest haunted house chiller, but as with that film, loses his grip somewhat in a theatrical and overly familiar last act. The Conjuring takes place in 1971 and is based on a supposedly true case-file from world renown paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (played here by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga). It tells of one of their most horrifying cases, the haunting of a remote, old Rhode Island home bought by Carolyn and Roger Perron (Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston) and their five daughters. Soon after they move in, things start to go bump in the night and the family, especially the children, are increasingly terrorized by a malevolent entity and a variety of other spirits. Carolyn comes to the Warrens for help and what results is a paranormal investigation that turns into a battle against the vengeful spirit of a woman accused of being a witch and Satan worshiper, who wants to use Carolyn as a vessel for her malevolent deeds.

For the first two thirds of this flick, the skillful Wan is very good at utilizing the time honored haunted house conventions and using them well to give us some nice chills and scares. But despite Wan’s craft at scaring us in the first 2/3 of this horror flick, he once again, as he did in Insidious, looses his grip on us with a finale that is theatrical and far too routine, as it presents yet another by-the-numbers exorcism scene that brings nothing new and therefore no suspense to the story. It’s just more levitation and vomiting and scary contact lenses that adds nothing remotely fresh to the convention. And this is odd because, Wan is good as making the conventions effective such as birds flying into windows and the customary furniture moving and shadowy phantoms. We’ve seen it all before, sure, but Wan presents them well. Yet while the rest of the movie is grounded in these basic conventions, he goes full blown Hollywood horror with his last act and we get a finale that is stale and predictable right down to characters being dragged around the floor by invisible assailants. Granted he is following a supposedly true tale, but it disappoints that he can’t seem to maintain the level of creepiness and loosens his grasp on us in the over-indulgence of giving us a ‘big finale’ as he did in his last haunted house horror. And even with that, Conjuring ends suddenly and with kind of a whimper when all is said and done. You’re like ‘that’s it? it’s over?’ This is supposed to be one of the Warrens’ worst cases, yet it doesn’t seem any worse then their Amityville Horror or Haunting In Connecticut cases. The film never really takes us on the decent into Hell you’d expect when someone like The Warrens makes claim that this is one of their worst encounters. It isn’t any more severe then Insidious or any other haunted house movie.

But, still, it is effective enough to entertain to a decent degree and Wan’s visual style is great to look at as always. Despite some hokey dialog, the cast all perform well, thought I again feel Patrick Wilson is a bit wooden especially compared to the livelier Farmiga and Lili Taylor, who really does strong work here.

All in all, The Conjuring is effective enough to amuse and entertain, but in the end, is far too routine and familiar to really be something special or truly scary enough to make it stand out from the rest. Go in with moderate expectations and you might have a good time.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 spooks!