Leatherface: The Sexy Years

Another financial quarter, another reboot/remake/reimagining of a classic horror announced. This time, it’s yet another attempt to wring any remaining pennies out of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre brand. Having exhausted almost every other option for a series that now includes as many instalments as Fast and the Furious and spans three (possibly four?) different continuities, they’ve now decided to do that most heinous of last-ditch franchise resuscitations; the “X, the Teenage Years” gambit. Now arguably, you could say this is ground that’s already been somewhat trodden in the 2006 prequel movie, but that’s set in the remake timeline and doesn’t feature a Leatherface as young as the new one is going to be. No, by all accounts this one is going to play Leatherface very young and probably go through a similar kind of origin story as Michael Myers got in Rob Zombie’s (not entirely uninteresting) Halloween remake. The most curious aspect of the whole enterprise though, is that they’ve cast attractive young-person Sam Strike as the eponymous chainsaw enthusiast.

Source: chud.com

Now, as someone who still considers the original film as one of the ‘sacred cows’ of the horror genre, I should probably be pissed off or exhausted at the idea of this, and to an extent I am, but this is a series that’s been remade, rebooted, re-imagined, taken-apart, taken-off, laughed-at, laughed-with, torn-apart and stitched back together in a homemade Batsuit, so many times (often at the hands of the original creator) that it’s hard to remain particularly invested in its well-being or legacy. (That Batsuit gag wasn’t a non-sequitur either, the last movie, Texas Chainsaw 3D, genuinely tried to turn Leatherface into a Batman-esque anti-hero. And it was hilarious.) The way I see it, these types of known properties are never going to be allowed to die in peace and someone is always going to try something like this. So, as long as they aren’t boring (being ‘good’ would just be a pleasant cherry on top), I don’t mind too much that they keep getting made (and yeah, TC 3D was baaaaaad but it sure wasn’t boring). The original film is still great, it’s still important and it’ll still be there long after these cash-grabs have come and gone. So whatever, do what you want. I am intrigued and a bit bemused by the casting though…

(Baaaad but not boring)

On the one hand I kind of like it because it means Leatherface isn’t an immediately Other-ed presence. He’s not some mouth-breathing, slack-jawed, hulking, lumbering brute that you feel you can immediately distance yourself from as an audience member. In the same way that the recent The Voices showed that the truly unsettling monsters have to be ones that look normal and that the film forces you to empathise with and feel sorry for, even when you feel dirty for doing so. Casting someone ‘pretty’ in what’s always been one of the most overtly monstrous (visually) characters in the pantheon of on-screen horror could definitely be taken to interesting places. I mean, I know they won’t take it anywhere interesting; this is the third reboot of a long-past-its-prime horror series in less than fifteen years, but still. Given, also, that Leatherface is traditionally one of the more sympathetic villains, there is a lot of room for good in this.

On the other hand there is something pre-emptively cringe-inducing about the idea of Leatherface in high school; being a loner, getting bullied, probably being doted on by one well-meaning girl who wants to help him because she can see he’s got a slightly too child-like mind. And for a while that seems to be working, he’s integrating into society better but then he misreads a romantic signal and in a fit of rejection-rage, kills her. That or she’s the prettiest girl in school and the jocks don’t like her treating him like a human so they do something bad to her and he avenges her. I mean those are generally your go-to plots for these kinds of movies so let’s hope that doesn’t happen. On the other-other hand, the above assumption is the exact one I made when I first heard the premise for Bates Motel and that turned out to be a shockingly compelling portrayal of young Norma(n) Bates (boring, sub-Twin Peaks b-plots aside). So yeah, if they can Bates Motel this film up, we’re good.

There’s still just something about that idea of someone attractive being brought to the point of willingly wearing a patchwork skin-mask that just makes me kind of laugh. I know they sort of addressed this notion in the remake, that he had some skin disease that had rotted away his nose and the mask was his solution but you just know that they’re going to have to make his face particularly disfigured in this version to justify the mask. It reminds me of Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker; Parker’s supposed to be this awkward loser who no one likes but with Garfield he looks like a male model walking around his school who isn’t even really bullied, he’s just a loner by choice because he’s just too edgy. I feel this Leatherface will have the same incongruity about him if we see him portrayed as some kind of loser in school.

Like I said above, as long as they aren’t boring I’m ok with these kinds of films continuing and this move is the kind of ‘Go Big or Go Home’ nonsense that could save a franchise or kill it stone dead. So why not take it even further. Why not go properly nonsensical with it…

Pitch: Leatherface is a male model at the height of his young powers (…in rural Texas… in the 70s… Just go with it ok). He’s got it all, money, girls, popularity. But some out-of-towners come to town for a multi-school beauty pageant or whatever. They’re better looking, his fragile ego can’t take. But he has the support of the home crowd (I guess this is being judged by public vote? Sure, yeah). So the night before the big… beauty-off (?) they disfigure him somehow. That thing with the two Stanley knives and the matchstick? Fire? They full-on Harvey Dent him? Whatever, it drives him insane. So he kills them all and makes a mask that combines all of their faces to create ultimate beauty. But he can’t stop there, any time he sees someone more attractive than he was, he must add their features to mask and this obsession drives him even crazier so exiles himself to the old family farm. That is… unless some attractive hitchhikers stumble by…

You’re welcome Hollywood. I’ll accept a cheque and a ‘Story By’ credit.

Hannibal and Clarice: Forever Divided by Screens

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     With NBC’s Hannibal recently having finished its (way-better-than-anyone-had-any-right-to-expect) first season, now is the time to look toward the future. The brains behind the show Mr Bryan Fuller has made no secret that he wants this show to get seven seasons in order to tell a complete Hannibal story: seasons 1-3 being original material/setup, season 4 being Red Dragon, season 5 Silence of the Lambs, season 6 Hannibal and a final season of original material to wrap up Hannibal’s story. This would leave a notable omission in terms of a modernised version of Hannibal Rising but given the fact that Bowie (!) has been approached to play Hannibal’s uncle and that the first episode of Season 2 already has a title which intentionally references Japanese cuisine, it would seem safe to assume we’re going to be getting that story sooner than we thought. Suffice to say, this would be nothing short of amazing if the show can indeed manage to last seven seasons. And if they can maintain the quality of season one going forward. And if they can somehow convince MGM to share. And if the rival show MGM have sold the rights for Lambs to, sinks. Oh yes, we’re facing another Sherlock/Elementary situation here but this one is a bit more muddled.

 

     Here’s the skinny, the suits behind Hannibal are in charge of the rights to Red Dragon, Hannibal and Hannibal Rising and any characters which originate/are unique to those stories BUT Silence of the Lambs is in MGM’s hands and this will prove problematic if/when the show reaches a fifth season. Because they can’t use Clarice or Buffalo Bill. This means that the Hannibal version of Silence of Lambs can’t be called that and none of the characters can be used. So we can all look forward to Lilence of the Sambs featuring Slarice Ctarling (Fhtagn?) and Buffalo B-… Ok that one may require some creativity. Came Jumb? (Ew)

 

     While we can hope that four years from now the situation might have changed, we’re already seeing the effects and being given a glimpse of what a copyrights-less version of Silence of the Lambs would look like. Recall if you will two characters from this first season, Tobias and Franklin. Interesting characters, neat little mid-season arc, all good. Although one little thing stood out, didn’t Will’s pursuit of Tobias through his basement seem a bit… familiar? Well, it was supposed to because originally Fuller wanted Tobias to be Jame Gumb and Franklin, Benjamin Raspail (aka, that head in the jar Clarice finds early in Lambs). That’s right; we were supposed to have had a Buffalo, motherfucking, Bill cameo in Season 1. Why were the names changed? Well both those characters are from Silence of the Lambs and MGM refused to give Fuller permission. He even tried to bargain and offered MGM permission to use Hannibal’s letters to Clarice… Wait, what? Why would MGM want permission to use those? Oh yeah, they’re trying to make a Clarice TV show.      

 

     Now before we break out the angry rage we have saved from when Elementary was announced (but then turned out to be surprisingly good), this situation is a bit different. Apparently this Clarice series has been in development and redevelopment hell for a few years now so it’s not quite the straight case of bandwagon-hopping that Elementary was. However now that Hannibal has proven so successful, Clarice being picked up properly (and soon) seems worryingly likely.

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     Now if this Clarice show had been announced before Hannibal had come along and turned out to be so damn good, it probably would have been met with a certain amount of applause (I know I would have been excited). And much as I love Clarice as a character and would quite enjoy seeing her exploits in a full series, battling serial killers and the office-place sexism of the FBI, it would never feel right. Despite how interesting she is, she’s only at her most interesting when contrasted with Hannibal and vice versa. Her attempts to be this upstanding, virtuous character only get truly interesting when we see Lecter get inside her head, when he shows us there is a darker, angrier Clarice in there and of the course the ending of the original Hannibal novel explores this idea to its logical conclusion. But Hannibal himself is elevated by her. Sure, he’s this ridiculously posh, calculated and merciless killer but that can only get you so far character-wise. It’s his strange infatuation with Clarice (is it paternal? romantic? a mentor-student dynamic?) that makes Silence of the Lambs so interesting.

Image                                  Nope, nothing else interesting in that film…

 

     These are the issues being explored in the current series between Hannibal and Will, just minus the heavily implied romantic undertones that exist between him and Clarice. Yes I know there’s undoubtedly pages of disturbing fan-fic, that I never want to see, reading far too much into every time Hannibal so much as places a hand on Will’s shoulder but that’s not what we’re here to talk about. This is why a Clarice show is a terrible idea on its own. By isolating it from the rest of the Hannibal-verse it will just end up as oddly hollow or (more likely) will end up bringing in a cheap knock-off of Hannibal (… I’ll not use the letter switch gag again, promise.) While Clarice is still interesting, she needs Lecter as her foil and this problem only gets worse in the reverse. Clarice will be a fresh series, if Hannibal makes it to season 5 these will be long established characters by then and Will will likely be gone. There will be a certain expectation that probably the second most recognisable character in the entire Hannibal canon is going to appear and be the true counterpart to Lecter. The one that, unlike Will, has the ability to be truly moulded by him and it will be… just some chick who makes a name for herself hunting some guy who probably won’t even be making a woman-suit because MGM probably have the rights to the skin-suit too.

 

     Here we are in the golden age of television with two of the most memorable and interesting cinematic characters of that genre (yes, they’re literary characters first but they’re not quite as high up on that list, that field is a bit wider), both capable of carrying their own television shows and being given the chance to do so. And yet, they’ll likely end up separated, always on one side of the screen but never together at the same time and likely flanked by crude, differentiated-for-copyright-reasons, imitations of the other. Both characters deserve better than that. Such treatment, as Hannibal himself might see it; it can only be considered rude.   

A Master and a Slave

Well here we are; the first post. I wish I could say it has some great meaning or purpose but really I had to start somewhere and it may as well be something current. So, onwards…

Of all the films I’ve seen in recent months two in particular are sticking with me and for largely the same reason, and that’s confliction. I just don’t know how much I liked them. The first, and more recent of the two, is one Django Unchained. You may have heard of it. Tarantino’s latest excuse to claim that he’s “finally” getting to make his Spaghetti Western may actually be true this time (but that’s not to say he won’t make something else in a few years’ time that’s even Spaghetti-ier which will be his “true” Western, you know how he is). The other is P. T. Anderson’s The Master; an interesting, ambitious, thoroughly cinematic yet strangely empty experience.

Both films are highly episodic and arguably too long. The Master in particular feels like little more than a series of, beautifully crafted, vignettes which in isolation are really quite good but together just amount to very little. You could almost take out any scene without affecting the whole. A problem exemplified by the film’s trailers which, as many people noted displayed numerous scenes that weren’t in the film. And even with the benefit of seeing the finished film, these missing scenes don’t appear to add anything to it. They seem well-acted, wonderfully constructed but devoid of any greater meaning and this really is an issue with the whole film. As an incredibly self-conscious film-hipster, the film got my non-committal approval upon leaving the screening. That was until I asked my fellow filmy-people acquaintances what they thought of it and was relieved to hear they felt as cold toward it as I did. So the problem wasn’t just me ‘not getting it’ and therefore can be complained about. Etiquette and all that.

See Above: very pretty cinema-ings

Django similarly feels like entire stretches of the film could be removed without affecting the film. The last fifth (or the fourth act as I’ve taken to calling it) is completely needless and seems to only exist to allow Tarantino his cameo. The real climax is an excellent gunfight which is unmistakably the end of the film and yet then things continue on for another twenty minutes. Looking back on the film as whole you could argue that any number of sequences in the first hour could be lost and not be missed. Like The Master (and indeed most of Tarantino’s work) the film can feel like a series of well-done scenes that almost work better individually than as part of a whole. There’s a key difference between both films though, Django has an overarching plot (basic as it is). The Master doesn’t and this is its greatest misstep.

In trying to be narratively innovative, Anderson just dropped narrative completely and left a lot of people with a very frustrating viewing experience. The lack of an overarching plot makes the film feel like meandering filler while the audience sits there waiting for it to come together which it simply never does. It even appears to reach an emotional climax of sorts (the bikes in the desert) which would have served as a conclusion of sorts and made the journey seem meaningful but it doesn’t, it just continues to drunkenly wander on to an ending which somehow feels unsatisfying even by the negation-of-closure game the film had been playing with the audience up until this point. Django could easily have fallen into the exact the same trap but simply by virtue of having the simplest, most archetypal of stories (the prince must rescue his princess, stated in those terms exactly) even the inconsequential scenes don’t make for frustrating viewing because the story is still moving in a direction, even if that direction is rather simplistic, that the audience can follow and rely upon the film to continue down once Tarantino’s finished indulging himself in the present scene.

That’s the best I could do for self-indulgent…

While I’m still unsure of how I feel about Django (I simultaneously agree with those who gave it five stars and those who were exhausted by it), watching it and understanding why its meandering, plodding nature didn’t frustrate my viewing allowed to me realise just why The Master didn’t work for me. And this coming from someone who loves every second of Inland Empire’s anti-narrative. Lynch gets away with that because it’s an exercise in stream-of-consciousness but Anderson’s film is set in the real world and is grounded in it without any hint of what we’re watching being an abstraction and as such requires some form of narrative framing.

No reason for this, I just love this picture.

No reason for this, I just love this picture.

The Master is in no way a poorly made film but the addition of a simplistic narrative structure (even were it never resolved/negated at the end) could have made the film as a viewing experience more meaningful and less frustrating. Say what you will about Tarantino’s self-indulgent, undisciplined filmmaking; the man understands the value of storytelling.