How I Would Script is a weekly column at The Open Man by Joseph Nardone. In it, our favorite, most handsome Internet Scribbler maps out how he would recreate whatever TV show or movie that is on his mind. Have a suggestion? Hit him on Twitter @JosephNardone.
When is the last time you actually enjoyed one of the eight Texas Chainsaw Massacre movies?
That wasn’t asked out of an easy attempt at snark. It is sincere, because I actually thought 1997’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation was fine, if only because it featured not yet mega-stars Renée Zellweger and Matthew McConaughey when it was filmed, but was being buried do to both finding stardom.
Outside of that, the only reason to return to any of the films is for the sake of a nostalgia that hasn’t aged well.
The original Texas Chainsaw Massacre (TCM from mostly here on out) was great through the first few views, especially while young, but after you realize the origin story was “less true” than it led us to believe, the aura of it all was quickly wiped away.
Yeah, sure, there are some truths in the TCM franchise. However, they are all vague takes on a very real serial killer, Ed Gein, who not only lived in Wisconsin (not Texas), but never wielded a chainsaw.
Talk about creative licensing.
Anyway, the “star” villain of these movies is usually Leatherface, who lacks the wit of Freddy Krueger, the pure evilness that is Michael Myers, and would certainly lose in a fistfight against Jason Voorhees.
If those three cinema super-villains are in the Scary Monster Hall of Fame, Leatherface should be on the outside looking in. He’s had ONE star-turn in eight movies he’s been in-and-or-around, and every director continues to paint him in a near sympathetic light.
Not to mention, at least in some films, he’s portrayed as being mentally ill. Not in a tasteful way, either. More so in that his origin story is both family abuse AND him being mentally ill — though, for some reason, the more modern TCM flicks have the entire family taking care of Leatherface to such a great degree that his entire backstory is a cluster of f-bombs.
I don’t want to step too harshly on a few things we will talk about in trying to revitalize this franchise, so let’s just start.
TCM Is Not Just Leatherface
Hot-take: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is best served with Leatherface being a rarely used side/super-monster, not at the forefront of every gosh slam thing happening just because he has name renegotiation.
Ideally, the entire family clam dynamic would play a much larger role. Unlike some of the recent films, the family shouldn’t be 100-folk deep. A pair of parents, maybe 3/4 of the grandparents still kicking, a wacky uncle and Leatherface.
Something like that. It can be negotiable, but seven people is my hard cutoff.
If you go deeper than six or seven people within the Hewitt (or Sawyer, depending the cannon stoppage point) family, you are setting yourself up for clear failure. Too many characters, with far too many playing role of evil, and we can easily get lost as an audience.
Smaller casts just makes it easy to understand as an audience. It should also make it easier to script for the writers.
Family Dynamic Is Not Even Under An Umbrella
Man, what are the odds for a six or seven person household all having the same ideology, even if they are family?
I currently reside within a four-person household. Guess what? We — including the two monsters science is trying to claim are mine — all have different belief systems.
In our attempt to put some fresh kindle under this otherwise worthless franchise’s bum, wouldn’t TCM be better served if everyone in the house is both complex and unique? If not that, at least not backwood and bloodthirsty monsters.
Maybe the parents of Leatherface are not pure evil and the only thing they want to do is shield their son from the justice he deserves (since, you know, they know he’s evil).
The grandparents could be more evil than the parents, which can potentially explain part of why Leatherface is the way he is.
How about something even more sinister, if we want to go that route? Modernize the concept, with the Sawyers or Hewitts exploiting the more unseemly and depraved corners of the internet to make money, in the same way Tobe Hooper’s original vision used Sawyer’s BBQ restaurant.
Something, anything, other than it just being a house of evil, inbred cannibals.
Remove Any Hint Of Mental Illness/Redneck-ishness
This isn’t even about being politically correct (mostly), but rather eliminating sympathy for what are supposed to be feared and detestable villains. Using mental illness to engender sympathy is a particular no-go.
Few things irk me as much as how Hollywood, and pop-culture in general, depict any form of medical issue.
As someone who has severe social anxiety (not the self-diagnosed kind), I will literally shut off any form of entertainment when they try to show how social anxiety works — which is something too hard to do anway, if we are being honest, as it touches everyone differently.
And, yeah … some of this is about being a little more PC. Let the gore, raunch and bad-nature of the rest of the film take a dump all over the PC world. With any hint of mental illness, though, let’s be tasteful — and by being tasteful I totally mean the TCM franchise shouldn’t even broach the subject.
The Evil Family Is Witty, Charming
I am about to talk on something that feels weird since it is like double, behind-the-back co-opting. Something that has bothered me far more than it should over the last few years.
Rob Zombie’s House of 1,000 Corpses really felt like it took some not so subtle ideas from the original TCM. Oddly enough, the TCM remake (or reboot or re-whatever) Texas Chainsaw 3D began nearly the same way as Zombie’s The Devil’s Rejects (for what it is worth, The Devil’s Rejects is good, but not horror).
And all of those odes and homages or straight stealing of materials, fell short because the evil family is always too aloof and weird — although, to be somewhat fair, Zombie fixed some of that in The Devil’s Rejects.
Random aside, aside; Why can’t our evil clan be charming or even affluent people? Why is it always some form of redneck inbreeding gone wrong?
The idea here is pretty simple. For our victims to make it to the house, they shouldn’t be captured. Rather, they should be tricked.
Maybe their car broke down and these “nice” people offered a hand. Hell, maybe something more along the lines of one of our potential-victims being a distant cousin who brought his friends to a family reunion type of deal (s/he can be evil … or not).
I don’t know. Call me new-fashioned, but the trope of these people in Texas being dumber than a box of doorknobs, but somehow magically getting away with murder for a bunch of years, seems implausible.
Our Victims Should Be Likable
That should go without saying, but rare is a horror movie that features characters we like. Rarer than that, characters who do not fall in lazy stereotypes or race-rooted roles.
As I’ve mentioned in other horror-based How I’d Scripts, I also don’t love the idea of the film screaming to us that Character-Y is the important one. The one we need to focus on because s/he is clearly the person who will be last to die or make it out alive.
For what it is worth, specifically for horror movies, I do get it being difficult to create complex characters in a 100-minute film, especially when you need to have enough of them that the body count ends up being more than three.
How do we go about doing this? Well, that’s the difficult part.
In my mind, it isn’t just a group of couples randomly backpacking across Texas … because who in the hell does that?
It could be a high school or college field trip. Thanks to that, we have 20 or so (immediate) disposable characters that can be used to help quench our thirst for blood and violence and murder and scares. Then leave us with four or five “real” characters who can be more central to the story.
If we are being truly daring, make them all non-white. Let’s create some weird, under-the-hood analogy to how some people view Donald Trump’s perversion for a wall at the Mexican border and have them all be of Mexican decent.
Leatherface can be the embodiment of Trump, the kids that of the wall, and the family — who is only siding with Leatherface/Trump because of the outdated idea that family/party status >> all — can try to figure out what they “really want” as all the horrors unfold.
Whatever happens, no one kneel when Leatherface is wielding his chainsaw. That is disrespectful to the troops.
Tension Is The Horror, Not The Jump Scares
We recently rebooted the Resident Evil franchise, but from its video game iteration is something we should want to steal.
Tension and the unknown are often far more terrifying than what we see. Also, jump scares are just too bluh at this point in horror movies. Far too many “steady-cam” flicks have been made in which the only scares happen because something randomly pops out at us.
My hope would be that, at least in a roundabout way, after the initial luring of our field trip kids, and then subsequent murdering (unbeknownst to our central four/five characters) of most of them, we get a far more cat-and-mouse feel to the movie.
Could be something as simple as each member of the Hewitt clan luring each central hero-character to the wayside for what appears to be good reasons. A younger Hewitt girl hitting on a guy; Parent Hewitts wanting to show one of them their “three season room”; or whatever.
I just hate the idea, especially after we have witnessed eight movies that have already done the slasher-to-campy-to-slasher genres, that the TCM can’t try to be something more.
How one feels about the kind of horror they like is subjective. That is not lost on me. If you hate the slow-build to the scares, or if the slow-build ends up being the actual scare, I sincerely understand. At the same time, we are trying to save a franchise that has been awful doing what it has been doing for decades now.
And that is it. The ending here doesn’t really matter. It shouldn’t, at least. Whether or not one or more of the characters make it out alive is not important in trying to save this bad boy. It is more about scaling back Leatherface’s usage, making him special via the “less is more” routine, and creating a more complex family dynamic for the bad guys.
As it is for most horror movies, the “good guys” don’t drive the movie. They are there for levels of fodder and for a rooting interest to pop up, but they certainly don’t exist in a way that someone goes — “Hey, you see the new TCM trailer? I really want to go see it because Good Guy Character-Y seems neat.”