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FROM THE SLAUGHTERHOUSE TO THE FLOPHOUSE?: ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ (2022) Review

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Our beloved face-skinning, chainsaw-wielding Bubba is back in a major way, despite the film around him struggling desperately to keep up.

When I first saw the trailer for this film, I predicted a non-stop groan fest with no redeeming qualities. This is not that, but it has as many upsides as it does problems. In short, it’s better than you’d think, but way worse than you’d hope.

Thematically, the film’s backbone is a lot like the spines the Sawyer family cover their furniture with: more decorative than they are substantive. Racism, gentrification, gun control, it’s sprinkled here and there, but all underdeveloped. There’s a line from the side character Catherine where she says people like things worn down, “they want the history,” she claims, but people don’t want the history of a place, flaws and all. It feels like an appropriate metaphor for how the film looks for meaning, but doesn’t take the time to develop that meaning through conversation.

But you didn’t come here for social commentary, did you? You want the BIG BOY. Yes, Leatherface is great in this movie; against all the odds, he’s still fun as hell to watch. He doesn’t have the depth that Thomas Hewitt did, or the big heart of the second film’s Bubba Sawyer, but he doesn’t quite need it. His personality boils down to a grieving, mentally stunted man-child, and actor Mark Burnham portrays that and the hulking hillbilly’s physicality PERFECTLY. He’s sloppy, clumsy, prone to bursts of speed and lightning-fast violence, and all in all menacing in his simplicity. Burnham carries the action, works those set pieces, and picks up the slack with kills where the effects falter.

The acting in this ranges from enjoyable to unbearable. Lila is a compelling character, and Elsie Fisher’s performance sells her. On the other hand, despite being whom we follow for most of the runtime, Mel doesn’t have the same depth despite Sarah Yarkin’s fine-tuned ability to portray pure fear. Lila falls to the background until the film’s ACTUAL climax, which is a shame because the fantastic Fisher becomes fantastically underused as a result. And what can you do about the cannon fodder cast? Everybody else is forgettable, unflavored meat for the grinder, which is fine; after all, you can’t make a sausage without chopping up a few yuppies.

The Strode-ification of Sally Hardesty, on the other hand, is truly awful. It’s downright silly in a way that is equal parts comedically bad and dramatically insufferable, so you’ll be able to source some laughs from it at least. Olwen Fouéré chews the scenery as she treats this rivalry that popped up 48 minutes ago like a clash 48-years in the making. The subplot is ultimately unnecessary and treats itself way too seriously; the writers should have probably taken a page from Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2‘s book and played her derangement more like Dennis Hopper’s chainsaw crazy Lieutenant Lefty.

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The film, in its score, tries to mimic the dark ambient noise of the original, but it doesn’t have nearly as much texture or grit; it’s not scratchy in the richly mixed audio sense of the 1974 soundtrack; it’s just grating industrial noises that scratch your eardrums unpleasantly. Nowhere is this more evident than Richter’s very loud death. They try to evoke the original through this type of sound, but it’s not nearly as impactful since it feels like a failed attempt to cover up some bad sound design. This, combined with some bad CGI for the kill, took a death I would have been impressed by and turns it into a sloppy mess.

Speaking of CGI, the effects in this film oscillate from really good to really bad at an alarming rate. The policemen and Ruth’s murders? Fantastic. Richter’s skull getting caved in? Hideous. Sally finding Mrs. Mc’s with a skinned-off face? Incredible. The bus slaughter? Woof, the over-reliance on CGI blood in that scene is a tragedy. Some parts are just egregiously bad for a film that clearly has good practical effects on hand. The cinematography altogether is nothing to write home about, with truly weird editing choices in the film’s final act, and some camerawork generating a few cool but not super memorable shots.

If there’s one positive note I can close out on, it’s this film’s ending being one of the most insane I’ve seen in a while, feeling like a Texas Chainsaw parody of A Nightmare on Elm Street. It’s a campy, ridiculous set of final frames that I’m kind of in love with for being that bold; I might return to this just for that closer, especially with that corset tight runtime of 73 minutes, not counting credits. If only the rest of the film was that off the wall.

BOTTOMLINE: I have very mixed feelings about this one. It did not commit the cardinal sin of being boring and is very entertaining at certain points, but I can’t in good faith say this is a good movie. It will most definitely generate a split audience. Fans of Leatherface like myself will enjoy his rampage, but not the kind of terrible filmmaking surrounding that carnage. If you turn your brain off, this is a fine watch, but don’t expect anything higher grade than a gory popcorn flick if you’re checking it out this weekend.

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Luis Pomales-Diaz is a freelance writer and lover of fantasy, sci-fi, and of course, horror. When he isn't working on a new article or short story, he can usually be found watching schlocky movies and forgotten television shows.

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Christmas Horror Parody ‘The Mean One’ Successfully Converts Christmas Classic ‘The Grinch’ into a Scary Story

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If Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch was too tame a Christmas-hating monster for your tastes, never fear; The Mean One is here.

How ‘The Mean One’ Wins as a Christmas Horror Movie

This comedy-horror slasher, directed by Steven LaMorte, tells the story of Cindy You-Know-Who (Krystle Martin) returning to her hometown of Newville – where her mother had been viciously murdered in front of her twenty years prior. The sheriff did not take the young girl’s claims that a monster had killed her mother seriously, so the murder remained unsolved. Cindy’s return to town shows a Newville that is wholly undecorated for Christmas, and as a string of murders begins to occur, Cindy knows her mother’s killer has returned.

With the appearance of the Mean One himself and a good balance of campiness and horror, all spread out amongst an intriguing storyline; The Mean One is a fun Christmas horror movie that subverts a beloved childhood classic and makes it its own.

The Horror-Parody Version of The Grinch

One thing the film did exceedingly well was its presentation of The Mean One. The makeup effects were stellar in creating a monster who is at the crossroads of a terrifying cryptid and a holiday icon. From his dirty Santa coat to his black snarl, he checked all the boxes for how a Christmas-hating monster should look.

Of course, to talk about the monster is also to talk about the man behind the mask, David Howard Thornton. After establishing himself as a horror icon in his role of Art the Clown in the Terrifier films, it was fun to see him transcend another role as a horror villain. With another horror flick under his belt, David Howard Thornton is one to keep an eye on. So far, every character he has been behind has been creepy and entertaining, perfectly matching the film’s tone.

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The Approach to Campy Horror

A horror film with rhyming couplets interspersed throughout could never be completely serious, and The Mean One succeeds because it doesn’t try to be. However, the film is not without its creepy moments that would be well-placed in any modern-day horror movie. Like any good scary movie, there are dramatic reveals, emotional turmoil, and suspense building.

It also injects a sense of fear into the holiday itself as it makes the idea of celebrating Christmas a dangerous thing. It’s a delicate balance to create something that is not very serious but simultaneously creepy, and the film does just that.

The Mean One Tells a Story That You Already Know in a Different Way

When making a horror film based on a traditional Christmas story, the added challenge is changing it enough to fit into the horror genre but not so much that it becomes unrecognizable. The Mean One was clearly up to the challenge as it was able to interweave a story that mimicked the traditional Dr. Seuss style of storytelling, with plotlines of a typical scary movie, while still paying homage to the source material. The integration into horror was so smooth that it felt like it should’ve been a scary story all along.

The idea of presenting the recognizable holiday monster as a cryptid is a genius move and calls to question why the Whos down in Whoville never inquired about the existence of the creature who descended from Mount Crumpit to steal their Christmas away in Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas.

It was not only the Mean One that saw some subversion of Christmas lore. A white-haired bearded man with a red cap who seems to watch over the beginning events of the film (and is aptly named “Doc” Zeus) integrated a little bit of a real-life Santa into the storyline.

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Make no mistake; this film is not a high-budget, major Hollywood production. The blood spray effects are campy to the nth degree, and the movie is not without its flaws. But what it does well, it does very well. The Mean One’s appearance is gritty, fun, and familiar; the storyline is immediately immersive – altogether, it is an entertaining watch.

It delivers everything the premise promises: a presentation of a fun Christmas flick that we all know, but this time for horror fans.

See The Mean One for yourself in theaters on December 9th!

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RUN RUN RUDOLPH, KILLER ROBOT SANTA’S IN TOWN: ‘Christmas Bloody Christmas’ Review

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Seasons screamings, everyone!

I have another wonderful treat for you all, hot out the Shudder ovens. If you’re like me, that means your holiday evenings as a horror fan might be feeling a little bit empty in terms of festivity, and Christmas Bloody Christmas is here to make that right. I’m cheery about the film from the jump. Que raro!

Christmas Bloody Christmas follows what happens when an attempt to turn surplus military technology (a.k.a. killer robots) into friendly department store Santa animatronics backfires; our jolly old Saint Nick ends up painting the town redder than a candy cane’s stripes, terrorizing coworkers Tori (Riley Dandy) and Robbie (Sam Delich) amid their budding romance. Is the premise kind of dumb? Yes, but if you’ve been reading my reviews, you know dumb fun horror is my wheelhouse just as much as the highbrow stuff is. And just because something is silly doesn’t mean it can’t be well made.

Writer and director Joe Begos is getting my second shoutout of the year for his work. I thought the foul-mouthed dialogue of this movie sounded familiar, and that’s because he headed another Channel 83 venture I recommended for October, the 2019 vampires-on-drugs film Bliss. There are many similarities between the two directorially, though this is much more oriented for fun than the psychological nightmare Bliss was. Where Bliss was a dark game of Vampire: The Masquerade, Christmas Bloody Christmas is your classic slasher during the holiday season.

We’ve also left the Panos Kosmatos-esque territory of Bliss’s cinematography, which might be due to the influence of cinematographer Brian Sowell who previously made the film Beyond the Gates, another fun little low-budget horror flick I remember enjoying. Neon wasteland cinematography that is replete with a color palette tuned for blacklight posters and Christmas lights in every single shot, and every scene outside being caked in fake snow and decorations help the aesthetic this movie is going for feel fully realized.

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Composer Steve Moore who worked on both Mayhem and The Guest, two of my favorite action horror films, provides an impeccable score for this film of heavy synth rock with homage to some of the band’s name dropped in the film by our leads. And Josh Russell, who did makeup work for The Night House and a little horror remake you may have heard of called Hellraiser (2022), rounds out that group. The crew on this one is practically a perfect assortment of horror movie production irregulars.

Delich and Dandy have pretty good on-screen chemistry as dirtbag crustpunks who need several mouthfuls of soap scrubbed onto those tongues. Dandy in particular is a veteran of fun, romantic holiday movies, and it’s nice to see she can extend her range beyond being a forgettable Hallmark protagonist whose outfit stepped out of a JCPenney catalog. She makes for an enjoyable final girl for this.

The duo talk like their dialogue is on loan from the Hellbillies of a Rob Zombie film, but they’re believable as coworkers in a long-term “will-they-wont-they” relationship. Their exchanges are genuinely funny at points, even if they stay a bit longer than welcome. These don’t veer into trying to impress you with the character’s pretentiousness about music; they’re just two friends drunk and high on Christmas eve, talking about their flailing romantic lives and which of their bands has the best Christmas song.

Beyond characters, the meat of the film is Silent Night Deadly Night by way of The Terminator in its premise. And in its execution, it feels like a lower-grade SNDN film for how cartoonishly violent and mean the kills can get, and I mean that in the best way. A single axe swing chops a guy in half like it’s a board of wood at a kid’s karate class, several people get thrown around like ragdolls through objects, and there are plenty of fake heads and bodies getting demolished for the gore hounds in the audience. Even the robot gets severely jacked up with sparks flying and explosions.  The special effects are hammy, and I love it more for that.

But as much as I like it, this one isn’t flawless. I feel like our dear Santa could have had a stronger design, maybe with a solid mask, and played with more robotic physicality beyond what we get in the third act. The camera work can sometimes be distracting in its attempts to convey high tension, ending up feeling fidgety instead.

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And to be quite honest, I’m very torn on the films ending. While it’s very entertaining and we get to see the full depth of the crazy animatronic Santa we’ve been waiting for all film which I love, it also drags in a way that is funny for some and might be a bit grating for others. Ultimately some editing flaws are exacerbated by the film being an exceptionally tight 86 minutes (we’re talking stocking stuffed to the brim tight), so it could serve well to have a director’s cut.

BOTTOMLINE: Christmas Bloody Christmas is an over-the-top, grindhouse-y spectacular that gives you exactly what’s in the title. It isn’t your standard holiday horror fare where there’s usually more about the film to laugh at than laugh with, but it definitely isn’t humorless. It’s a solid little film that looks like it could make a reliable staple in the rotation of dumb fun holiday horror for many Christmases to come. You know, assuming you don’t get killed by a robotic Santa Claus before then.

Watch Christmas Bloody Christmas starting 12/9 on Shudder!

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