Welcome to the third and final installment in my examination of Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (the sixth Halloween film in the original series) and Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation. Over the years I've come to see these two films as companion pieces for a combination of reasons: The timeframe in which they were both filmed (both in 1994 while they were ultimately released in 1995 and 1997 respectively), the ample use of conspiracy theories made by both films, and especially their linkage of serial killers to cults. In the case of Halloween 6, which I examined in great length in the first and second installment of this series, a cult originating from Smith's Grove Sanitarium (the mental hospital where Michael Myers escaped from in the original Halloween film) is revealed to have been guiding Michael over the years and through the course of his numerous killing sprees.
While there are some startling instances of conspiracy culture, twilight language and outright synchronicities in Halloween 6 it ultimately pales in comparison to Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation. Almost totally unknown to general audiences beyond the fact that it featured Renée Zellweger and Matthew McConaughey in early starring roles, The Next Generation is a truly strange film on several levels. Unlike Halloween 6, which has a dedicated group of supporters, Next Generation is almost universally panned and not without reason: First time director Kim Henkel, who cowrote the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre with Tobe Hooper (as well as the classic Eaten Alive) and has remained closely involved with the series for years, seems generally out of his element in the director's chair.
|a young Henkel|
On the flip side of the coin, Next Generation was somewhat ahead of its time. In an interview with the Austin Chronicle Henkel described the film as "a black comedy about dysfunctional families" and that ultimately seems only partly correct. If anything the film seems as though it is meant as a total satire of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, even reducing Leatherface to a bumbling, shrieking transsexual obsessed with acquiring a new face. Several classic scenes and sequences from the original film (such as the meat hook sequence and the family dinner scene) are almost totally re-created in mocking fashion.
|the saw as lipstick is as apt a metaphor for this film as any|
In those pre-Scream days both audiences and studios alike were confused by the film's comical self-awareness. Even after Kevin Williamson's Tarantino-lite shtick became all the rage in horror the film's sheer cartoonishness left audiences cold. As noted above, this is partly due to Henkel's lack of chops behind the camera -- maybe it was simply the lack of funding, but the entire film has an amateurish air about it and as a result what was probably meant to be funny appears to be incompetence on screen.
Like Halloween 6, the Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation was littered with chaos behind the scenes. The film was originally shot in 1994 and did a very limited theatrical run in the same year as well as appearing in the South by South-west Film and Media Conference in 1995 under the title of The Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
From there the film was supposed to receive a wider release, but the studio behind it (Columbia/Tri-Star) began re-editing the film and pushing back its release date. Initially they claimed that they were waiting for the release of Next Generation star Renée Zellweger's 1996 film, Jerry Maguire, which proved to be her star making turn as many industry insiders predicted.
By 1996's end Next Generation costar Matthew McConaughey was also well on his way to Hollywood's A-list. And yet Next Generation, which featured these two rising stars in the lead roles, remained on the shelves. The film's producer, Robert Kuhn, told the Austin Chronicle that it was McConaughey's agent who was putting pressure on the studio not to release Next Generation theatrically, stating:
"Then they started telling us that, off the record, CAA [Creative Artists Agency], which is Matthew's agent, was putting pressure on them not to release the film theatrically. In any event, we sued Columbia/TriStar, and then ultimately decided that we were not going to be successful because the arbitration provisions in the contract were so strong. We dismissed our cases and are now preparing to file another lawsuit against CAA, for interference with our contract. That will probably be filed this week."
Ultimately the film received a very limited theatrical run (less than 20 US cities) in an edited version: The Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre version clocked in at 95 minutes while The Next Generation version only ran a total of 86. Unlike Halloween 6, these cuts do not seem to have dramatically altered the plot line of the film though they did potentially add to the amateurish feel of it.
Plot wise, there really isn't much to report until the third act of the film. Up until that point the movie is a generic slasher scenario in which four 30-something high school students (including Zellweger) depart from the prom and become lost on a back road in Texas. From there the inevitable happens: Their car breaks down, they become separated, and are ultimately terrorized by various members of the Slaughter family (seriously), which includes: Vilmer (McConaughey), his girlfriend Darla (Tonie Perensky), and his two brothers, W.E. (Joe Stevens) and Leatherface (Robert Jacks).
|three of our four unfortunate youths with Darla, who moonlights as a real estate agent|
As noted above, Next Generation lifts liberally from the original Texas Chainsaw film in a seeming attempt to parody it as well as the slasher genre in general. Thus the audience is treated to a performance by McConaughey that borders on high camp (was he trying to out do Viggo Mortensen's turn from the third Texas Chainsaw movie?) and an interpretation of Leatherface that would make many drag queens blush, among other things. Still, there are hints throughout the film that something far more ominous is being depicted in it than a conventional slasher blood bath, most notably in the character of Vilmer with his bizarre robotic leg and his wrecker truck that happens to have "Illuminati" written on the door.
Then there's the appearance of a five pointed star on the screen door of the Slaughter home that is displayed prominently in several scenes. In Freemasonry the five pointed star is symbolic of Sirius, the Dog Star.
"To find in the BLAZING STAR of five points an allusion to the Divine Providence, is also fanciful; and to make it commemorative of the Star that is said to have guided the Magi, is to give it a meaning comparatively modern. Originally it represented SIRIUS, or the Dog-star, the forerunner of the inundation of the Nile; the God ANUBIS, companion of Isis in her search for the body of OSIRIS, her brother and husband. Then it became the image of HORUS, the son of OSIRIS, himself symbolized also by the Sun, the author of the Seasons, and the God of Time; Son of Isis, who was the universal nature, himself the primitive matter, inexhaustible source of Life, spark of uncreated fire, universal seed of all beings. It was HERMES also, the Master of Learning, whose name in Greek is that of the God Mercury. It became the sacred and potent sign or character of the Magi, the PENTALPHA, and the significant emblem of Liberty and Freedom, blazing with a steady radiance amid the weltering elements of good and evil of Revolutions, and promising serene skies and fertile seasons to the nations, after the storms of change and tumult."
(Morals and Dogmas, Albert Pike, pg. 15)
|Sirius, the Blazing Star of Masonry|
Sirius has long been suspected of being highly important to ancient pagan practices, especially those concerning the Mystery schools. Much more on Sirius and the festivities and rituals surrounding it can be found here and here.
But back to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation. It's not to nearly an hour into the film (specifically, around the 55 minute mark) that it becomes truly mind blowing. It all begins with a strange conversation between Jenny (Zellweger) and Darla while the latter is helping the former prepare for one of the Slaughter family's infamous dinners. Darla blames Vilmer's new job on his psychotic behavior, which spurs Jenny to ask what type of job involves killing random people. Darla's explanation doesn't disappoint:
James Gale) makes the scene. His entrance is set up by a re-creation of the notorious dinner sequence from the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, with Jenny begging Darla to help her and Darla declining to do so because Vilmer has implanted a device in her head that will blow it up if he presses a trigger. Just as Jenny is beginning to call Darla's story BS Rothman appears.
"Like the German Hanoverian kings, the Rothschild banking empire was British only in the sense that it had been in England for a long time. It's roots were actually in Germany. the House of Rothschild was founded in Frankfurt in the mid-eighteenth century, when a moneylender named Mayer Amschel Bauer changed his name to Amschel Rothschild and fathered ten children. His five sons were sent to the major capitals of Europe to open branches of the family banking business. Nathan, the most astute of the sons, went to London, where he opened the family branch called N. M. Rothschild & Sons. Nathan's brothers managed N. M. Rothschild's branches in Paris, Vienna, Berlin and Naples.
"The family fortunes got a major boost in 1815, when Nathan pulled off the mother of all insider trades. He led British investors to believe that the Duke of Wellington had lost to Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo. In a matter of hours, British government bond prices plummeted. Nathan, who had advance information, then swiftly bought up the entire market in government bonds, acquiring a dominant holding in England's debt for pennies on the pound. Over the course of the nineteenth century, N. M. Rothschild would become the biggest bank in the world, and the five brothers would come to control most of the foreign-loan business of Europe. 'Let me issue and control any nations money,' Amschel Rothschild boasted in 1790, ' and I care not who writes its laws.'"
(Web of Debt, Ellen H. Brown, pg. 75)
|good ole N.M...|
But back to Rothman. He is apparently Vilmer's employer and their exchanges are priceless. It begins with Vilmer leaving the dining room to answer the door for Rothman, greeting him with: "Well, what the hell do you want?"
Vilmer is able to force the RV off the road, which Jenny emerges from seemingly unharmed. Leatherface and Vilmer prepare to give chase after her on foot, but then a remote controlled airplane appears and kills Vilmer with the propeller blades. Leatherface, in full drag, begins to scream and spin around in a circle frantically as a limousine comes upon the scene. Jenny takes refuge in the back and naturally finds Rothman there waiting for her. The limousine takes off, with Leatherface giving it ample distance while Rothman gazes upon the horror icon in disgust. He then returns to Jenny and delivers another peculiar monologue:
Apparently Jenny chose the former as that is where the movie picks up in the next scene. There she is seen sitting in a waiting room and talking to a police officer (played by John Dugan who appeared as Grandpa in the original Chainsaw Massacre) who is saying "You know, this isn't the first time something like this has happened." Suddenly a wild-eyed woman is wheeled by on a gurney who makes eye contact with Jenny. The woman is played by Marilyn Burns, who was the protagonist in the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and the insinuation seems to be that it is the same character. After exchanging terrified stares with the woman Jenny watches her being wheeled away by an orderly (Paul A. Partain, who appeared as the wheelchair-bound Franklin in the 'Saw '74) while the cop askes in the background: "Miss, do you know who that is? Miss? What the hell is going on here?" With that the film briefly turns back to Leatherface, who is still screaming and spinning in circles with his chainsaw at the spot where Vilmer was killed before fading to black.
|the downward spiral of Hooper's career|
"Henry, as it turns out, has some interesting tales to tell. Just a couple of years into his incarceration, he told his story in a book written for him by a sympathetic author. The book, entitled The Hand of Death: The Henry Lee Lucas Story, tells of Henry's indoctrination into a nationwide satanic cult. Lucas claimed that he was trained by the cult in a mobile paramilitary training camp in the Florida Everglades. His training, he said, included instruction in abduction and arson techniques, as well as in the fine art of killing, up close and personal. Henry further claimed that leaders of the camp were so impressed with his handling of a knife that he was allowed to serve as an instructor. Following his training, Henry claimed that he served the cult in various ways, including as a contract killer and as an abductor of children, whom he delivered to a ranch in Mexico near Juarez. Once there, they were used in the production of child photography and for ritual sacrifices. Henry has said that this cult's operations were based in Texas, and including trafficking in children and drugs, among other illegal pursuits."
(Programmed to Kill, David McGowan, pgs. 73-74)
Needless to say, virtually every aspect of Henry's story is highly controversial, his innocence being proclaimed by no less an organization than Amnesty International while Henry himself later alleged that he had been induced into making such claims after being tortured by the police. Indeed, it would be most easy to dismiss Henry's Hand of Death were it not for the Matamoros cult.
I've already discussed Adolfo Constanzo's outfit at great length before here, here, and here so I shall only give a brief rundown for our purposes now: Constanzo, born on November 1, 1962 (the Celtic New Year, Samhain, was traditionally celebrated from sundown on October 31 till dawn on November 1), was a Cuban-American who spent part of his youth in Miami. During his childhood he was schooled in the arts of Santeria and Palo Mayombe by both his own mother as well as a Haitian padrino. He began to establish himself in Mexico City around 1983, where he first supported himself as a tarot card reader. By 1984 he moved to Mexico City permanently and began setting up a cult based upon the Santeria and Palo Mayombe practices he had learned as a child. Constanzo also began forging ties with drug dealers, Mexican celebrities, and high-ranking law enforcement officials (several of whom allegedly had CIA links).
By 1989 Constanzo had set himself up in Matamoros where he and his cult trafficked drugs for the Gulf Cartel (which I documented before here) while also performing human sacrifices upon victims who ranged from rival drug dealers, random individuals taken off the streets of Matamoros and at least one American college student visiting there for Spring Break. The latter would prove to be Constanzo's downfall as the college kid, one Mark Kilroy, came from a politically connected family in Texas that was able to bring pressure on US and Mexican authorities to find their son's murderer.
Authorities eventually traced Constanzo's cult to a ranch located in the countryside between Matamoros and the US border. There they found well over a dozen bodies killed in a variety of ways, including beheadings and machete blows to the head. In many cases brains, heart, lungs, and other internal organs had been torn from the bodies, some of which were found stewing in a cauldron at the ranch. Some victims had been raped by Constanzo (who was bisexual) before being killed and ritualistic cannibalism reportedly took place at times involving the body parts.
|images from Constanzo's ranch|
The revelation of the Matamoros cult, which came in April of 1989, added much validity to the accusations made by Maury Terry in his 1988 work The Ultimate Evil and the longstanding rumors of an underground cult network with ties to organized crime as well as serial killers. Stranger still was a map drawn by Henry Lee Lucas for Texas authorities outlining various locations his Hand of Death cult operated out of, one of them being near Brownsville, Texas, which is just across the border from Matamoros.
"One of the more compelling aspects of Henry's story was his contention that he had ties to cult-run ranches just south of the U.S. border. In 1989, just such a ranch was excavated in Matamoros, Mexico --just south of Brownsville, Texas --yielding the remains of fifteen ritual sacrifice victims. The Matamoros case so closely paralleled the stories told years earlier by Lucas that some law enforcement personnel in Texas chose to take a closer look at Henry's professed cult connections. In fact, Jim Boutwell --the sheriff of Williamson County, Texas --later told a reporter that investigators had verified that Lucas was indeed involved in cult activities.
"Following the discovery in Matamoros, Clemmie Schroeder -identified as Henry's spiritual adviser -sent to the state attorney general a map Lucas had drawn for her in 1985 that identified locations where murder, kidnapping and drug-running operations were conducted. She told a reporter for the Brownsville Herald: 'Henry told me there were a lot of different cults in Mexico who were involved in satanic worship and everything. I found the map and realized he had marked this cult and drug ring near Brownsville.' The attorney general's office chose not to take action."Whether Kim Henkel was aware of these things at the time is difficult to say but it would hardly be surprising if Henry Lee Lucas's stories of the Hand of Death cult and the actual Matamoros cult at least partly inspired the bizarre plot line of Next Generation. In general, Next Generation seems ahead of its time in terms of conspiracy theories. Conspiracy culture had just begun to go mainstream in the early 1990s, in no small part due to the massive success of the X-Files, but strands such as the Illuminati and especially the whole serial killer cult notion did not begin to gain much traction until the late 90s/early 00s. What's more, there's a possibility that Henkel had been toying with such a plot line well before Next Generation actually began filming. Fearnet.com remarks:
(Programmed to Kill, David McGowan, pg. 88)
"Rumor has it that Henkel had submitted this script to be Texas Chainsaw Massacre III and New Line rejected it. In fact, when Leatherface director Jeff Burr initially met for that movie, his recollection was that the original treatment involved a group of kids going to a prom. So once the rights expired at New Line, it seems Henkel made the sequel he had always wanted to make."
Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III was released in January 1990 so Henkel's pitch could have been no later than 1989. I've been unable to verify whether or not Henkel's treatment for Leatherface included the Illuminati/serial killer cult subplots, but it would be quite incredible if it did. Indeed, it could almost be insinuated that Henkel was trying to make a veiled statement about something.
Especially striking is the final scene involving Jenny and Rothman. Rothman refers to Jenny's encounter with the Slaughter clan as a "spiritual experience" and compares himself to Jenny in at least one instance. The insinuation seems to be that the Slaughter clan was some type of test which Jenny passed despite the failings of her instructors and that Rothman is offering her a position in whatever organization he works for.
Jenny of course refuses and ends up at a local hospital where she seemingly witnesses a former participant in Rothman's test who wasn't so fortunate (or who attempted to expose it). The implication seems to be that the Slaughter clan (and similar such setups) have been administering their unique form of "spiritual experiences" for a long time and will likely continue to do so for the foreseeable future . But so much for the conspiracy angles.
On a third and more abstract level Next Generation and its allusions to the "meaning of horror" can be seen as symbolic of the purpose of horror movies as a whole in our society. For any number of pre-teens they are a kind of modern day rite of passage in which the viewer overcomes their childhood fears. In a way this is not unlike the rituals of terror, rooted in the ancient fear of the dark, that any number of religions have practiced as part of their initiation ceremonies involving the young. Frequently such rituals were performed in caves.
"The fear of the dark, which is so strong in children, has been said to be a function of their fear of returning to the womb: the fear that their recently achieved daylight consciousness and not yet secure individuality should be reabsorbed... A terrific sense of claustrophobia, and simultaneously of release from every context of the world above, assails the mind impounded in those more than absolutely dark abysses, where darkness no longer is an absence of light but an experienced force. And when a light is flashed to reveal the beautifully painted bulls and mammoths, flocks of reindeer, trotting ponies, woolly rhinos, and dancing shamans of those caves, the images smite the mind as indelible imprints. It is obvious that the idea of death-and-rebirth, rebirth through ritual and with a fresh organization of profoundly impressed sign stimuli, is an extremely ancient one in the history of culture, and that everything was done, even in the period of the paleolithic caves, to inspire in the youngster being symbolically killed a reactivation of their childhood fear of the dark. The psychological value of such a 'shock treatment' for the shattering of a no longer wanted personality structure appears to have been methodically utilized in time-tested pedagogical crisis of brainwashing and simultaneously reconditioning of the IRMs, for the conversion of babes to men, dependable hunters, and courageous defenders of the tribe."
(Masks of God: Volume I, Joseph Campbell, pgs. 65-66)The similarities between the paleolithic caves in which these rituals were performed and modern day movie theater should be obvious. In this way virtually all movies are a type of initiation, but horror films with their emphasis on terror seem especially close to their prehistoric predecessors. In our modern society they are a way of overcoming our fears of the dark and the monsters which reside within. They also have the added benefit of desensitizing us to violence and death via their "shock treatment," though whether this is for good or ill is highly debatable. Perhaps then in this interpretation we find the "meaning of horror" that Rothman spoke of.
Taken on this level Henkel's take on horror in Next Generation seems to be either a rejection or mockery of this form of initiation. Or perhaps Henkel himself failed his initiation into the studio system because of insistence upon being a "silly boy." Either way, it certainly makes for far more profound thinking than one would imagine a film of this nature would inspire.
And it is at this point that I shall wrap things up. over the course of this series we have seen some quite remarkable instances of synchronicity and zeitgeist and some most unexpected places. But then again, as we've seen over the course of this series, horror films (much like other much-maligned genres such as science fiction and fantasy) into something very primitive in the human experience, especially in a spiritual sense. It is not then surprising that so many horror films have achieved an iconic status that more "serious" films could ever hope for.