Written by: Kim Henkel
Directed by: Duane Graves, Justin Meeks
Starring: Ali Faulkner, Derek Lee Nixon, and Johnny Walter
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
You are what you eat.
There have been plenty of one hit wonders over the years, but few have been as single-minded as Kim Henkel, who has been chasing after that Texas Chainsaw Massacre glory for nearly forty years now, a pursuit that’s turned him into a Leatherface doppelganger flailing wildly as his target escapes him. But whereas Leatherface came this close to tracking down Sally Hardesty, Henkel has been left in the dust by that fleeting glory and hasn’t even come close to recapturing his old form.
To date, his most infamous misfire has been The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation, an especially wet-brained sequel that felt more like a parody than an earnest follow-up. Note the qualifier “to date” because Henkel has resurfaced with Butcher Boys, a film that doesn’t exactly share its title with the film that inspired it, but make no mistake: it’s set in Texas, which is once again home to a massacre or two. And the only good news is that it isn’t part of the Chainsaw franchise because it would earn the dubious the distinction supplanting The Next Generation as the worst entry by a country mile if it were.
Such a declaration should probably send most running for the hills, but since you’ve made it this far, you might as well stick it out to see how Henkel accomplished such a feat. While trite, Butcher Boys doesn’t feature a setup that immediately sets off any alarms, especially since it’s the old Chainsaw chestnut anyway: four friends are out on the town before they encounter some unspeakable horrors in the bowels of San Antonio. The trouble begins when one of the girls gets into a tiff with a couple of guys in a convenience store, which leads to an ill-fated race out on the highway that ends with the reckless drivers splattering a dog all over the road. Unfortunately, this dog was apparently a very dear pet to a gang of ruthless psychopaths who begin to hunt them down and subject them to various tortures.
I think I can say that much with some level of confidence, but really getting into the specifics is difficult because the film quickly spirals out of control into nigh-incoherent territory. It turns out that these aren’t your ordinary, standard-issue psychos but rather a cadre of guys who seem to belong to some bizarre, demented underworld group. And of course they’re cannibals because Henkel is hell-bent on cannibalizing Texas Chainsaw. Really, the entire experience plays like TCM’s greatest hits covered by a shoddy lounge act, as it not only wheels out various franchise alumni for cameo appearances (Marilyn Burns, Bill Johnson, and Bill Wise are among the parade), but also recreates entire sequences. Of course there’s a dinner scene (even the Platinum Dunes remake avoided this!), and the twisted, bacchanalian lair feels a lot like the grindhouse carnival from Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. Once the group gets whittled down to one final girl, she even bumps into an old guy looking for a missing relative, only he can’t compare to Dennis Hopper because he doesn’t dual-wield chainsaws, nor does he declare himself lord of the harvest.
Like everyone else, this geezer doesn’t say anything of note because Butcher Boys isn’t in the business of compelling dialogue or character development. Its attempt to enfold viewers in a cacophonic, nightmarish cocoon a la TCM might be effective if the film weren’t such an assault right out of the gate. The four lead characters are barely named, let alone defined in any meaningful way. You’ve got two girls—one’s the sweet, virginal one, while the other one is cartoonishly promiscuous and loves to flash her boobs. The two guys who accompany them are The Brother and The Boyfriend, respectively, and the latter’s defining trait is being called a “pussy” by his girl. None of these people act or speak like normal human beings, and it might be generous to consider them one-dimensional because they’re sketched ruthlessly thin. Even when surrounded by a bunch of homicidal maniacs who are about to do her in, the loose girl keeps her gimmick by insisting that she was willing to give them all blow jobs (apparently, she drew the line at multiple homicide attempts because she attempts to bang her way out of the situation more than once). Oof.
On the other hand, the antagonists are just as wretched and obnoxious. The first wave of maniacs just seem to be overly-aggressive greasers, but their ranks soon grow to include a cabal of weirdoes who have formed some type of secret society that gets off on capturing and torturing victims under some erudite pretenses. How everyone is connected is beyond me, but that’s my best guess as to what’s going on. Somewhat ironically, this group of faux-intellectuals proves to be just as dumb as anyone else since they often spout nonsense (one of the greaser guys is especially fond of referring to the girls as “Twinkie”). To no one’s surprise, they have a group mascot who stays chained up and spouts garbled cries until he’s unleashed to hunt down anyone who might escape. If the film has anything going for it, it’s a couple of grotesque mutilations these guys perpetrate, including some especially imaginative cannibal-themed splatter (it’s like the infamous brain-munching scene from Hannibal cranked up to 11).
All of the gore in the world can’t salvage Butcher Boys, though, which is a misfire from top to bottom. To his credit, it seems like Henkel is up to something here, what with the opening quote citing Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” and his branding the underground society’s building with a “J. Swift’s” sign (I have no idea why a place like this would want to advertise in neon, but there you go). However, Henkel treats this allusion as a license to be stupid, as if this whiff of intellectualism gives him an excuse to make a broad but unfunny cannibal farce just because Swift engaged in a Juvenalian satire that suggested 18th century Ireland eat their babies to control the population. Maybe the cannibals here have just taken Swift’s word to heart and that’s the point, but it’d be more interesting (and correct) if Butcher Boys contained some element of class conflict or even strove to make its victims sympathetic. My own modest proposal is that Henkel re-read “A Modest Proposal” and swiftly get over The Texas Chainsaw Massacre because it sailed away in the back of a pickup truck 40 years ago (and I say this as someone who even accepts The Next Generation the same way one might accept a drunk uncle).
Since Henkel merely serves as the writer, it’s hard to lay all the blame at his feet—the script might be full of rancid characters and insipid dialogue (imagine if a 14 year old tried to ape Rob Zombie's style), but it’s done no favors by Duane Graves and Justin Meeks’s nauseating direction that consists of frenetic camerawork and an incessant envelope pushing. As the proceedings escalate, it’s done with all the faux-extremity of a 90s soda commercial—you can almost hear everyone involved patting themselves on the back as they engage in vaginal mutilations and whatnot. The escalation is barely noticeable anyway because the film turbocharges out of the starting blocks, so when it yields to slapstick absurdity during the climax (let’s just say it’s an urban TCM riff that also involves a bazooka), it’s merely exhausting. Originally titled Bone Boys, Butcher Boys will come to home video courtesy of Phase 4 this month via VOD (with a DVD to follow in October), but I’m not sure you should let it in because it reeks of the raw, rotted meat of a dead horse that’s been pounded on for four decades. Trash it!
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