The thrill of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre is just about gone from this fourth installment in the Massacre series, now replaced by abject weirdness and a little off-camera bone-crunching. And don't go expecting the "guts" that the title always calls up in your imagination -- come to think of it, the Tobe Hooper original was a masterpiece of anticipation, not splatter.
After some obligatory prom-night shenanigans and insipid dialogue, four teens meet up with the "family" of their worst nightmares. Whereas earlier versions played on the cannibalism of these redneck psychos, writer-director Kim Henkel fills the screen with images of sexualized abuse, even adding a silicone-implanted babe to the gang in this latest (hopefully last) incarnation.
Henkel collaborated with Hooper on the screenplay for the first Massacre and includes transplanted shots of a hauntingly full moon to remind us where he and the story have been. Leatherface is here too, a handy leitmotif of the series, now reduced to a hulking, pathetically whining transvestite, joining the tradition of homicidal cross-dressers from Psycho to Dressed to Kill to Silence of the Lambs (though the only thing sinister about your neighborhood Victor/ia might be his taste in clothes).
The most interesting part of Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation is a longish dining room sequence toward the end that feels like the offspring of a demented copulation between William Burroughs and Hieronymus Bosch, with a little of Clive Barker and Luis Buñuel's chromosomes added for spice. A lovely, stunned uncertainty as to what might happen next wafts over the whole twisted affair.
The film's best acting happens when Vilmer, the family's handsome crazed leader (Matthew McConaughey), torments Jenny, the nerdy yet increasingly foxy final girl (Renee Zellweger). Could these attractive kids be sketching an itinerary for Gen-X relationships: He grabs her by the throat; she cringes but says, "get fucked"? The chemistry is undeniable and this installment of Massacre suggests that terror is the secret ingredient in a postmodern girl's libido.
But be forewarned: These and other moments of edgy S&M are surrounded by genuine stupidity in an awkward film.
George Tysh is Metro Times arts editor. E-mail him at email@example.com.