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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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JACKALS (2017)

Jackals opens in 1983 with a chilling murder of a family in the middle of the night. The film then switches to the kidnaping of a young man, Justin (Ben Sullivan) by two masked individuals. We find out they are actually Ben’s father, Andrew (Johnathon Schaech) and ex-Marine, Jimmy (Stephen Dorff). We also learn that Justin is involved with a cult and his family has abducted him to a remote cabin for Jimmy to deprogram him. But as horror fans we know remote cabins in the woods are never a safe place and soon they are surrounded by masked cultists who want Justin back and his family all dead.

Flick is written by Jared Rivet and directed effectively by Kevin Greutert (Jessabelle). The plot may be a mix of things we’ve seen before like The Strangers, Faults and You’re Next, but it works well enough. There are some chilling scenes and some intensity, especially when the cultists surround the cabin and begin their efforts to get in. There is also some brutal violence and director Greutert does give it some atmospheric visuals to support the night-set story. The film falters a bit in a few aspects. First off, the Powell Family remain far too calm and organized when the cultists make their presence known. They quickly arm themselves, make weapons and seem quite ready to defend the cabin as if they’ve done this before. Have they? Did we miss something? Did Jimmy conduct a family boot camp just in case? Also, the cultists seem like they are a large group, yet constantly attack the cabin one or two at a time, instead of rushing the cabin all at once and overrunning it…which would end the movie very quickly. That and the whole animal masked killers thing is starting to get old and is far less effective since many films have used this trope in recent years. Still the film does entertain and there are some effective moments alongside the familiar ones.

The cast are all fine enough. The vets like Schaech, Dorff and Deborah Kara Unger take the material seriously and try their best to add some dramatic intensity. Ben Sullivan is creepy as Justin and the dynamic of being a brainwashed cultist is conveyed well enough to make the story work. We also have Nick Roux and Chelsea Ricketts as Justin’s jerk brother and girlfriend/baby momma, respectively and as the cultists are masked and silent, we never really get to know any of them. Cultist “Fox Girl” (Alyssa Julya Smith) had nice abs, but that’s as far as the character development went with her.

Overall, this was a decent enough horror/thriller to pass the time and there were some effective and brutally violent scenes to punctuate the story. There visual style of director Greutert added some atmosphere and the veteran cast took the material seriously. There were some story flaws, questions and a lot of familiarity which kept this from being a real nail-biter or more original, but you could do far worse for a night on the couch with a brew or two.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 hatchets, a common weapon for jackal masked cultists.



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THE GATE (1987)

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The Gate is a fun 1980s horror flick that was geared more towards kids, but still kept enough of an edge within it’s PG-13 rating. It tells the story of nerdy young Glen (Blade’s Stephen Dorff) who discovers that when a storm blows his treehouse over, it’s left a deep pit in his backyard. When his parents go away, big sister Al (Christa Denton) is left to babysit and while she throws a sleepover party for her friends, Glen and pal Terry (Louis Tripp) discover that the hole in the yard is actually a gateway to Hell when they accidentally unleash a demonic presence into the teen filled house.

This is an enjoyable little flick with it’s cheesy 80s effects, including some stop-motion animated demon minions and their massive leader. Under the direction of filmmaker Tibor Takács from a script by Micahel Nankin, it could have been a little more energetic and benefited from a faster pace, but still has heart and a bit of a dark side which saves it from being an outright kid’s movie. Takács directs a bit too by-the-numbers for it to be a real blast, but the second half really ignites as creatures, zombies and whirling vortexes lay siege to Glen’s home as he tires to figure a way to close the portal and send it’s occupants back where they came from. Being kids, they use everything from Heavy Metal music to verses from the Bible to get results until it’s Spielbergian final solution. The SPFX are very dated, thought that does add some charm, and there is a very 80s electronic score by Michael Hoenig and J. Peter Robinson to add to the overall 80s nostalgia the flick now has.  The cast of child actors all do well in their parts and give their characters some life beyond the stereotypical suburban kid peronas that they are written as. Some like Dorff and Kelly Rowan, who plays one of Al’s friends, went on to continue acting as adults, while other’s careers faded out after another role or two.

This flick has a cult following and is considered by some a cult classic, especially memorable for Randall Cook’s (The Thing’s legendary deleted stop motion sequence) little demonic minions that were brought to life by stop-motion animation and rubber suits on large scale sets. It is fun, though director Tibor Takács could have given it a bit more energy and urgency. The pace could have been a bit quicker, too, but it is still entertaining and has a lot of charming, cheesy SPFX effects to put a smile on our face if three suburban kids battling rubbery demons isn’t enough.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 rubbery minions.

gate rating