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Vampires (1998)

I have seen many favorite directors of mine fall into a decline over a period of time.  They used to be great, but time has done something to change their ability to output work that rivals their best.  John Carpenter is one of those directors.  The 1980s were his glory years.  In the 1990s, his work started getting spotty with some hard misses such as Village of the Damned, but for me, this 1998 action horror film is still on the better side of his filmography.  It does have some problems, but the stellar performance by James Woods elevates this to a far higher level than it would’ve had otherwise.

Jack Crow (James Woods) is a professional and Vatican-funded vampire slayer.  He and his team of slayers have just cleared out a nest of vampires in the New Mexico desert, but, disappointingly, the master vampire was not there.  That night, the team is partying at the Sun God Motel, rejoicing in their victory when the master, Jan Valek (Thomas Ian Griffith), arrives to slaughter them after seducing and biting Katrina (Sheryl Lee), a hooker hired for the party.  Crow is surprised when Valek happens to know his name, but he soon retreats with fellow slayer Montoya (Daniel Baldwin) and Katrina.  They soon have the young and timid priest Father Adam Guiteau (Tim Guinee) forced upon them by Cardinal Alba (Maximilian Schell) as a replacement for their slain Father Giovanni (Gregory Sierra).  Thus, this new team heads out to find Valek with the help of Katrina’s psychic link with him, and stop him from completing a ritual which will allow vampires to walk in daylight.

This was based on the novel VAMPIRE$ by John Steakley, and while I have never read it, I’ve been told that the book has a far superior story.  Steakley himself said that the film contains much of his dialogue, but none of his plot.  Reading just the quick summation of the novel, there are heavy deviations following the motel massacre.  So, anyone familiar with the book should not expect more than a basic adaptation of it in the film, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t some very worthwhile content in John Carpenter’s Vampires.

As I said, this entire movie belongs to James Woods.  Without someone of his caliber inhabiting this hard edged, charismatic character, this film would inevitably falter.  He truly commands the screen with power and authority.  Jack Crow is a rugged man with an intense physical presence that takes nothing from no one.  He knows nothing of subtlety.  You feel his electric energy pulsate off the screen.  The back story of Crow is very painful and traumatic, but he’s not a sympathetic hero.  He doesn’t have the time or mentality of sympathy.  He’s the flipside of another Carpenter bad ass – “Snake” Plissken.  Where Plissken was pretty soft-spoken and forced to trust in unsavory people in bad situations, Crow is a hard ass that doesn’t much give a damn about the odds.  He’s got a vendetta to settle with Valek now, and there is nothing that will stop him until he gets some blood spilled.  Still, he’s keen and focused.  Crow doesn’t get blinded by rage or vengeance.  He’s a hunter, and that’s the instinct he follows the most.  James Woods has great scenes with everyone in the film as his charisma energizes every scene.  Crow really shows no fear even in the face of apparent death.  The guy’s got attitude to spare, and I couldn’t think of anyone but James Woods tackling this character.  He’s got such an energy, intensity, and authority that allows him to easily carry the entire film.  The late film critic Gene Siskel believed that Woods deserved an Oscar nomination for his performance here, and I could stand behind that statement as well.  Carpenter’s worked with some great actors before, but Woods is just another breed of animal altogether.

Another strong performer is Thomas Ian Griffith as Valek.  Griffith’s career has been mostly relegated to mediocre B grade action movies, but here, he shows that he can envelop himself in a very imposing and alluring character.  He gives us a savage, confident, creepy, and sadistic style.  Valek does have a rage, but it is controlled.  He knows what he wants, and goes about it with lustful passion.  He really holds his own against Woods, and makes Valek a very powerful and memorable villain.  Valek follows in that more romanticized style of vampire, but has more than enough gruesome ferocity to balance that out to maintain himself as a serious threat.

Daniel Baldwin plays Montoya with a lot of different tones.  He’s a bit cynical and vulgar at first, switches over into a real mean streak, but also shows us some hurt at the end.  It’s very solid performance by him.  Sheryl Lee is not only very talented, but she is sizzling hot!  We see some very nice bare skin, but nothing frontal.  She has some very intense stuff to tackle here, and does so superbly.  Tim Guinee plays the timid and inexperienced Father Adam with an endearing quality.  You feel sorry for the guy when Jack Crow is smacking him around and literally ripping on him.  There are answers that Jack needs, and he has to physically force Father Adam’s reluctant cooperation.  And of course, Maximilian Schell brings his fine Shakespearian acting talents to grace this film with a wonderful performance.  He brings a nice sense of culture wrapped in a little bit of shadiness.

John Carpenter has always been a big fan of the westerns, and that is never more apparent than in this film.  Vampires has distinct elements of those great old Spaghetti westerns.  Jack Crow truly feels like an old style gunslinger or bounty hunter.  A man hardened by life who doesn’t live by laws.  He takes what he wants when he needs it.  He’s a man who doesn’t require comforts in life.  He’s on a mission, and nothing’s going to stop him.  The southwestern American landscape is used to strikingly stunning degrees, and provides a unique backdrop for a vampire film.  The cinematography from Gary B. Kibbe really brings an amazing beauty to this classic old west style environment.  Kibbe also lensed Prince of Darkness and In The Mouth of Madness which both also had fantastic and dramatic cinematography.  Carpenter and Kibbe have worked on other pictures as well, and they seem to really mesh nicely as a team.

This western motif is further enhanced by John Carpenter’s amazing score.  The main theme has a heavy blues emphasis.  It sounds like a modern electric guitar version of an Ennio Morricone / Sergio Leone film score.  However, the more general score is very haunting and foreboding.  It creates a great atmosphere for the horror elements of the film while the theme more pops up to enhance the presence of Jack Crow.  It’s an incredible piece of work all around with a very chilling and intense orchestration.  I’ve been a proud owner of the soundtrack CD since the film’s release.

Vampires is also a great film for gore fans.  KNB EFX Group delivers again with some elaborate, blood soaked gruesomeness.   They got better with every film they worked on, and their work here is amazing.  Bodies ripped in half, throats slashes wide open, blood everywhere, and creepy vampire makeup really brought this film a major shock splatter factor.  Where John Carpenter has mainly been a suspense driven horror director, this film plunges headlong into a large vat of blood.  It flows and splatters everywhere making Valek even more of a violent, powerful threat to show he can produce this much carnage alone.

One of the detractors to this film back in 1998 was with the marketing.  The trailer actually spoils what is meant to be a startling revelation in the film.  I have refrained from spoiling that here for the sake of those who don’t already know it.  However, as I said, there are a few problems with the movie.  The plotting of the movie is pretty good, but it seems like there are some plot threads that are trimmed out.  As if there is some connective tissue that could have strengthened a few plot twists and character motivations in the third act.  That’s mainly where the problems arise is in the final act.  The climax has many good elements to it, but when it comes down to the final confrontation between Jack Crow and Valek, it couldn’t end more anti-climactically.  It does fit the attitude and personality of Jack Crow to end it how he does, but the dramatic pay-off of the story suffers for it.  Valek has viciously slaughtered Crow’s entire team and worse.  He’s a massive threat with a integral, important back story.  The dramatic storytelling really demands a fight fueled by fiery vengeance.  Something that truly has them ripping at each other with brute force, but we are not given that.  This ending does have a John Carpenter style and sensibility to it, but lacks the big punchy quality he usually gives us.

At the time of its theatrical release, this was the start of horror films getting gory again.  The genre had gotten mainly watered down throughout the 90s, and coupled with Blade, this was bringing back the violent and bad ass vampires to theatres.  John Carpenter’s Vampires delivers a lot of action, brutality, plenty of gore, and a nice dash of appropriate cynical humor.  There’s also some suspense mixed in at times to keep the nerves tingling a little.  So, on a pure horror front, the film essentially succeeds, and it has been one that I’ve enjoyed over the years.  I just think that the script could’ve used some stronger through lines with a few characters and certain aspects of the plot to give more purpose and build up to some of the reveals during the third act.  Ultimately, the film is mainly concerned with Jack Crow.  While that is the film’s true strength with James Woods’ incredible performance, there was enough room to flesh out other aspects of the story to make it feel more satisfying on a storytelling level.  There are those that put John Carpenter’s Vampires in the bad category of his career, and while I can see there was room for definite enhancement, this is far from being a bad movie.  Carpenter did produce a good film here which does have much going for it.  As it is, this is a hell of a fun ride that I find quite entertaining and thrilling.  It is absolutely worth your time to watch this intense, haunting, and grisly horror movie.  It’s also probably the closest we’ll ever get to having John Carpenter direct a western, and he couldn’t have gotten a better old west style anti-hero than James Woods.


House on Haunted Hill (1999)

Back in 1999, the horror genre was a different game.  We were in the wake of the post-modern, self-referential Scream clones, but there was room for something a little more creepy and atmospheric.  Remakes hadn’t become an epidemic, despite a couple of reviled ones surfacing.  Then arose Dark Castle Entertainment who wanted to re-fashion several old William Castle black & white scare flicks for a modern audience.  In the long run, their attempts took a quick, steep decline in quality, but their first effort was House on Haunted Hill, which originally starred classic horror icon Vincent Price.  This was an interesting effort that left many critics of the day very cold, but I have always found it to be an effective, if slightly flawed film that did entertain.

Eccentric millionaire and amusement park thrill ride mogul Steven Price (Geoffrey Rush) learns that his vindictive wife, Evelyn (Famke Janssen), twistedly chooses to hold her birthday party at the “House on Haunted Hill.”  The house used to be the Vannacutt Institute for the Criminally Insane until a violent mass murder marked its end decades ago.  Being an equally twisted master of thrills, Steven plans to alter his wife’s guest list, but the vengeful spirits of the house have other plans.  When the five guests arrive at the house, they are met by Watson Pritchett (Chris Kattan), whose grandfather designed the house, and whose father helped build it.  After a bit of a scare to jump start them all, Steven Price reveals himself and his intentions in grand fashion – he knows no other way.  If these guests can all survive the night, they will receive one million dollars each, and if any should die, their money shall be divided up between the survivors.  Obviously, none of them know why they’ve been invited to this place, and neither do Steven or Evelyn.  However, when the house suddenly and mysteriously goes into lockdown, sealing off all exits, and further bizarre, frightening incidents occur, they slowly begin to heed Pritchett’s claims of the house being haunted by the murderous spirits of the inmates who were killed here decades ago.

House on Haunted Hill is an immensely creepy film.  There is a wealth of frighteningly chaotic and psychotic imagery that will have most audiences jumping out of their skin.  It has a very classic haunted house ghost story, but with a modern intensity.  There’s a mix of subtle, ominous moments, and intense in-your-face, bone rattling scares.  One of the best chilling moments is when one of the characters, toting a video camera, comes across a room of ghosts who are only visible via the video camera.  She observes them for a moment before they all become aware that she is watching them.  The scene is then punctuated with one of the film’s biggest exclamation points.  It’s a deeply effective scene on multiple levels with a creepy setup and startling conclusion.

The film really incorporates plenty of dark, eerie atmosphere and a chilling sound design to keep an audience rattled and on edge.  The cinematography by Rick Bota is very powerful with an abundance of shadows and clever, moody lighting which set a very rich tone throughout the picture.  There’s a very effective score by Don Davis who incorporates some dark, heavy compositions that really drive home the imminent danger and ominous, haunting qualities here.  His score never allows you to feel very safe at any moment in the film, but still is able to strongly punctuate the right scares at the right times.

Making the house an actual former asylum for the criminally insane run by a madman was a great idea.  It opened the film up to some extremely disturbing visuals such as when Steven Price is locked in the “saturation chamber” which causes sensory overload, and forces him to become delusional.  All of that archaic, jagged medical equipment really added a creepy feeling to the bowels of the house.  It just has a very hard edged industrial look that brings out a very primal fear.  The Dr. Vannacutt character himself comes off as immensely disturbing without ever speaking a word, and seeing his ghost stalk the house always sends chills up and down my spine.  The bizarre, jittery motion of Vannacutt presents something so unnatural that it is downright creepy.  Not only is this place haunted, but it’s haunted by the mentally disturbed.  The creep factor couldn’t be richer in that regard.  It’s a very smart creative direction for this remake.  It adds something new to the mix without altering the base concept.

The cast here is all gold all the way through.  You can never deny the wonderful charismatic work of Geoffrey Rush.  He leads the film with a very sly, venomous quality and a rich helping of enthusiasm.  He was having a lot of fun playing this role.  Steven Price will do anything for a good scare.  That makes the character both very interesting and entertaining, but also, a cutthroat foil for certain characters.  Being so cunningly manipulative and dastardly egotistical, he is easily viewed as shady and coldly villainous.  Overall, Steven Price is a showman, and there couldn’t have been a better actor to bring those elegant, classy qualities to life than Geoffrey Rush.  Also, the mustache was a nice touch to his appearance emulating the look of Vincent Price.

There is a dark, spicy performance here from Famke Janssen who is right up to Geoffrey Rush’s level as a conniving, devilish woman.  There’s no lack of a dangerous edge to Evelyn as she proves to be capable of wicked, devious turns.  The love-hate relationship between the unhappily married Prices is a juicy bit of conflict in the film, and provides a lot of fine material for Rush and Janssen to work with.  Their chemistry is deliciously vile, and creates an enthralling, passionate fire to keep the film lively.

Chris Kattan has great comedic energy, as always.  He plays up Pritchett’s skittish fear in a very entertaining way.  He’s the one person that knows the dreadful reality of the house, and that frightful knowledge really manifests in a very funny yet prophetic performance.  It adds levity where needed while bolstering the grim threat that the house does possess.  Kattan’s performance really sets a foreboding tone that plays nicely off of Geoffrey Rush’s more mischievous, enjoyably despicable style.

The always vibrant Taye Diggs plays the strong heroic type in the ex-pro baseball player Eddie Baker.  Diggs is a bright talent with a lot of charm and charisma who never fails to endear himself to an audience, and that’s no different here.  The beautiful Ali Larter from Final Destination fame gives us a solid, assertive performance as Sara Wolfe that really drives her into the forefront by the end.  Bridgette Wilson does nicely as the ambitious Melissa, but has the least amount of screentime of the main cast to really breakout.  Of course, the wonderfully talented Peter Gallagher brings a subtle, engaging intelligence to Donald W. Blackburn, M.D., and showcases a fine tinge of humor and a perfectly seedy dark side.  He has a nice twist in the film that fits comfortably into the treacherous, scheming ways of the Prices.  Capping it off is genre great Jeffrey Combs who puts in an excellently psychotic and spine-tingling performance as Dr. Vannacutt.

Granted, aside from Steven and Evelyn Price, the characters aren’t given all that much to work with.  They’re essentially one-note characters, but in a lively, entertaining B-movie style with high quality talents behind them.  The film doesn’t take itself too seriously, and basically just wants you to have fun scaring you in the most effective ways possible.  With a solid cast that has very natural chemistry together, it makes that approach work very well.

The film does have some highly effective visual effects, and the practical effects are yet again done by the standard bearers of the industry – KNB EFX Group.  You’re likely to see them pop up in a lot of reviews I’m doing for Forever Horror Month because of that fact. While House on Haunted Hill is not very heavy on splatter effects, it does have its generous helping of blood, a few graphic images that required only the best to achieve them.

The digital effects near the end when the full dark spirits are unleashed are arguable if they’re up to the standards of 1999 era CGI.  Regardless, they still come off as very lacking, in retrospect.  To my eyes, they just seem rather typical and not exceptional in conception or execution.  They seem more akin to what you’d see if this were adapted into a video game at the time, but for the big monstrous evil to cap off the film, it is a definite nose dive.  While some effects in this climactic sequence are a little better than others, the CGI apparition just doesn’t do much at all for me.  It’s a failure in design, primarily, and quite lackluster in execution.  For a film that showed some strong creativity in its scares and production design, this feels like someone running out of good ideas at the last minute.  This digital creation definitely could’ve used more creative thought put into it for a more unique impact.

The ending overall is not the best it could have been.  It just sort of shifts into high gear racing to the end credits in the last ten minutes discarding with much of the plot and suspense it had built up, and it dispatches of its characters very swiftly.  The richly enjoyable characters just don’t have a conclusion befitting their performances, and are disposed of like ripe smelling trash.  While the “darkness” is setup early on, the creep factor of the film is so focused on the Vannacutt spirit and the other twisted ghosts that it just goes a little off-kilter when it takes a turn into that full-on CGI creation stalking the characters.  The film could’ve used a far smoother and natural transition into its final act, and had a more prolonged climax to allow for a more graceful resolution for each member of this stellar cast.  As it is, a great scene of Steven and Evelyn literally at each others’ throats is cut short to unleash this manifestation of evil.  It’s an abrupt shift in the momentum and direction of the film, and in this case, it works against the better strengths of the film.  It’s not a bad ending, just one that disappoints when the build up had more potential.  A better setup would have been showing this darkness slowly leaking out throughout the film until it finally forms out in the open, thus, allowing for an underlying foreboding tension to build as the film goes on.  It would allow the knowledge that this darker, more powerful evil is soon to befall these characters instead of springing it onto an audience in sudden fashion.

I do like the reveal of why the ghosts chose these people to invite to the party.  It fulfills the vengeful spirit angle smartly, and gives a purpose to collecting an unlikely group of strangers here.  How it pays off at the very end is rather cheap, and adds to the weakness of the film’s conclusion.  That whole ending just feels like a different screenwriter took over without a fraction of the ambition for creativity as the rest of the movie.  I will give credit to how the Steven Price character continually enhances the danger, tension, and distrust as the film goes on.  Giving everyone a handgun is the first unsettling step.  The fact that he has the house wired up with video cameras, and likely has plenty of wild tricks setup throughout the house, heightens that shady air of distrust.  He establishes the intense, sly situation with a devilish smirk so that everyone can easily accuse Price of these strange occurrences, and they constantly do so throughout the film as people die or go missing.  This creates a strong conflict as Price sees the ghost of Vannacutt stalking through the house, knowing exactly who is responsible, even if he doesn’t believe what he is.  It’s a smart dynamic which maintains a level of heightened tension, paranoia, and suspense amongst these diverse personalities.  There’s enough uncertainty circulating amongst these characters to constantly question what to believe.  It keeps them nicely off-balance for an exciting, intense ride.  Generally speaking, the premise is nicely laid out with a tight pacing that keeps the thrills coming at a regular interval.

The direction of William Malone is superb as he easily gave us the best film from Dark Castle Entertainment.  Obviously, it has its flaws near the end, but up until then, it is a film of solid, spine chilling scares with plenty of creepy atmosphere.  It has plenty of fun thrills that will satisfy a late night desire for a haunted house tale.  The film is worth seeing just for the entertaining cast with Geoffrey Rush and Chris Kattan the most enjoyable among them.  House on Haunted Hill was a decent success for Dark Castle that I think holds more entertainment value than most critics gave it credit for.  It’s certainly not a great horror movie, but it’s definitely a good one that delivers on the scares.  I do recommend it, but just don’t expect much from the ending.  Enjoy the good while it lasts!


Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1990)

This is an unusual horror franchise in that it never really took off.  The original is a bonafide classic of extreme, gritty frantic madness.  From there, it went in all kinds of sporadic directions never really settling into a consistent style.  The first sequel ventured off into quirkiness, and the later sequel disregarded continuity entirely creating what is considered one of the worst films you could ever fear to endure.  This entry was a little more stable in line with slashers of the era as it came from New Line Cinema.  They honestly had a good approach that would make the franchise accessible to the general horror masses, but not laying back on the blood letting.  However, this was the age where the MPAA was striking back at gory horror, and hacking and slashing the films down to extremely tame levels.  The volume and style of violence in this film is comparable to any gory horror film of the last decade., but in 1989, this was threatened with an X rating (prior to the introduction of the NC-17 rating).  Goes to show just how inconsistent the MPAA has been over the decades.

It has been several years since Leatherface last terrorized the Texan backwoods with his Sawyer family, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t continued his cannibalistic ways.  In fact, Leatherface has been “adopted” into a brand new family of crazed Texan cannibals.  The film begins with an effective scene of Bubba “Leatherface” Sawyer (R.A. Mihailoff) sewing together a fresh mask of flesh while one of his victims attempts to escape, but gets gutted with a chain saw instead.  From then on, we follow the eventful journey of siblings Ryan & Michelle (William Butler & Kate Hodge) as they drive from California to Florida to deliver a car to their father, but they’ve just entered into the desolate Texas landscape.  As they drive into the night, Texas state authorities are cleaning up a hazardous mess of bodies which have decomposed into toxic material – remnants of past Sawyer family massacres.  The brother and sister pairing drive into the next day and a gas station where they encounter a hitchhiking cowboy named Tex (Viggo Mortensen,  The Prophecy, The Lord of the Rings) and the wild-eyed store owner Alfredo (Tom Everett).  Tex gets friendly with Michelle and Ryan, to a lesser degree, but the cordial moment is cut short when Alfredo pulls a shotgun on the threesome, and the siblings haul ass out of there, watching Fredo blast away at them and Tex.  The two siblings quickly take off down a deserted road, but soon find themselves stalked by Leatherface and his new cannibalistic and homicidal family.  Ultimately, their only hope for escape is in Benny (Ken Foree), a survivalist who not only has the firepower, but also the training to take down the entire psychotic family.

To start off, this was a very troubled production.  I can’t even begin to list the ways, but let’s just say that the film was so excessively violent that the repeated runs through the MPAA forced the release date to be delayed from early November, 1989 to January, 1990.  At one time, director Jeff Burr was fired on Friday and re-hired on Monday.  The shooting schedule was rushed, and the budget was tight.  Also, I would have to say that calling this a “massacre” is false advertising as only two people outside of Leatherface’s adoptive family are killed in this film.  There’s a lot of violence, but not a lot of death.  Although, despite all this, Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III is quite a good film.

The cast is solid, very solid.  There are no amateurs here like in many slasher films.  R.A. Mihailoff was an experienced stuntman at the time, and did a great job as a slightly more evolved Leatherface that is more focused in his mayhem than before, but still remains very youthful in mind and impulsive in action.  He was also one strong dude having to lug that HUGE 80 lbs chain saw around almost everyday.  William Butler had some previous experience in slasher flicks, but this was his most featured role and he does well in it.  As Ryan, he’s a bit pensive and uneasy trying to deal with heavy situations.  Of course, Viggo Mortensen delivers an entertaining and intriguing performance as the crazed Tex with a bit of an odd cross-dressing undertone.  He pulls off the insanity and the charm very well, and proves to be a solid and impressive actor more than a decade before The Lord of the Rings made him a household name.  Viggo was a great actor that existed under the radar for a long time before that big break, and even this early on, you can see his quality and versatility.  Tom Everett really fits perfectly as the wild-eyed, fidgety, and probably schizophrenic Alfredo.  Definitely a classic character for these films.  Dawn of the Dead alumnus Ken Foree brings a lot of energy and a decent amount of humor to the role of Benny.  He truly endears himself as the hero of the film whereas there are usually only perilous heroines.  Benny gets to kick some ass, and really give our psychotic villains someone to tangle with.  Also, with the character being an armed survivalist, we get some nice action scenes and fiery moments.  Definitely a worthwhile and enjoyable character.  Finally, there’s the female lead in Kate Hodge.  She really rates high as Michelle among the other female leads of the series who go through maddening events and experiences, but this time, she doesn’t breakdown into a traumatized pile of emotional goo – so to speak.  Michelle comes out as a far tougher character, and proves that she might not only survive, but also endure in the aftermath of this Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

KNB EFX have been an industry leader in special make-up effects for a long time, and this is another excellent example of why.  The MPAA would not have so much an issue with the gore level if Kurtzman, Nicotero, and Berger weren’t so amazingly good at their jobs.  Everything has such detail and texture to really drive home the squirming realism of the graphic violence and trauma that characters are put through.  While the film itself might not be very highly regarded, the effects work here should be given high praise and special notoriety.

Cinematographer James L. Carter gives the film a very strong look.  Personally, I see a resemblance in the visual tone of this film and Jason Goes To Hell, despite having different cinematographers.  Both films have a very dark, dense landscape at night with a tinge of blue that makes these two films look very similar.  It adds a more grounded, hardened look to the filmed imagery.  The filmmakers wanted this to have a real horror feel, and maintained a gritty look throughout that really enhances the horror aspects entirely.

I believe Jeff Burr did a fine quality job despite the turbulence of production. He crafted a film that probably shouldn’t have turned out nearly as good as it did.  The screenplay was well-written by David J. Schow in his first break.  While he had been writing material for a long while, this was the first script of his to get produced.  Although, he hasn’t had a wondrous career with a couple of Critters films, an episode of The Outer Limits, and two episodes of Ridley & Tony Scott produced anthology series The Hunger under his belt, but he did deliver us the screenplay to the cult classic The Crow.  So, he is highly capable of delivering brilliant work, but hasn’t had the rich opportunities to demonstrate that much.  All in all, he did a good job here with probably the only consistently worthwhile TCM sequel.

I’m not giving this a great endorsement because it is almost perfectly formulaic for a Texas Chain Saw Massacre film, but it’s the characters where this movie holds strong.  The story is mostly a direct template from the first film, but the characters are more original than the story.  There’s also more suspenseful and intense action than before or since.  Also, I like this design of Leatherface the best, and who can resist the massive chain saw given to him with the phrase “The Saw is Family” engraved on the side?  Mihailoff’s representation of old Bubba Sawyer has a lot more aggression and coordination than before.  Kate Hodge brings a much stronger and tougher heroine to the series, and I can’t help but enjoy every role I see Viggo Mortensen in.  Plus, there is an entertainment factor here beyond the terror, but it never overwhelms or damages the integrity of the horror elements.  So, I do recommend this film to anyone looking for a hardcore slasher film with a healthy dose of gore and action.  The DVD that’s been available for a long while has both the theatrical R-rated and full unrated cut of the movie.  It’s always been nice how New Line Cinema was generally comprehensive about those things, but any true horror fan would likely never mind the censored version, anyway.  Considering the sporadic quality of this franchise, I feel this entry is among the most accessible, sensical, and satisfying of them all.  As for the remake and prequel?  I do have reviews for them, but I’m saving them up for the September / October Halloween season.  A long way to go, but I’m definitely saving the meatiest horror reviews for that part of the year.