This month marks the 23rd anniversary of the initial release of Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation. The movie hasn’t exactly been held in high regard by horror fans, and even was once shunned by the film’s stars, Renee Zellweger and Mathew McConaughey. While the movie is embroiled in a web of disgust, I feel a lot differently; I actually like Texas Chainsaw Massacre: Next Generation. I know—fuck me, right?
Now before you come at me with your fighting words in the comments section, here me out first. When Next Generation was released on home video, I was 12. My mind was still burgeoning and so was my love for the genre. I hadn’t even seen the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre yet, or even knew what it was. However, when I watched Next Generation, I was excited by the idea of an unfortunate prom night run-in with a crazed Texan family, and I wanted more.
I was immediately drawn to Jenny (Zellweger) because I identified with her. She was a totally shy, weirdo, but she was simultaneously likeable. Jenny may have been meek, but that didn’t stop her from expressing her opinion and standing up for herself. Plus, she turned out to be a lot stronger than the louder and more assertive characters in the film, and proved to be much braver.
Being a quiet, shy nerd that flew under the radar throughout my adolescence, I wanted to be like Jenny. Seeing her overcome so much, despite her insecurities, made me feel like maybe I could, too. And while I didn’t actually have to fight Leatherface, I did have to face the school cafeteria and social hierarchy—and at the time, that was much worse.
Zellweger’s performance sold the movie to 12-year-old me. I was absolutely terrified for her, and I wanted to see her succeed so badly. Then, a mesmerizing man named Vilmer (McCaughney) showed up on the screen, and everything I knew was flipped upside down.
I sensed that Vilmer was a bad person, but McCaughney’s presence was so undeniably charming that I couldn’t help but like him. My feelings changed as the film progressed and Vilmer displayed just how sadistic he truly was, and that’s all thanks to the laudable performance McCaughney gave.
One of the memorable moments in the film is when Vilmer has Jenny and her friends in the kitchen. It’s obviously a throwback to the infamous dinner table scene in the original, but with a lot more head-squashing. I remember being disturbed by Vilmer’s dead stare as he stomps on Heather’s head, squishing it like a grape, and then having absolutely no idea what was going on with his leg afterward. It was bizarre, and it created a warped atmosphere that left me feeling uneasy.
I felt similar when I found out that Darla—the woman from the real estate office—wasn’t as nice a person as she presented herself. Initially, I loved Darla. I thought she was this super cool lady who was really helpful to the kids, and then—BAM! She reveals that Vilmer is her boyfriend. I got schooled on the ol’ befriending the enemy trope, and I loved it.
You see, Next Generation was a learning experience for pre-teen Amanda. I had been a fan of horror movies growing up, but my obsession wasn’t fully alive yet, especially at that age. I was still coming into my own and figuring out what I liked, and this movie was like a fun re-introduction to the genre.
When I finished Next Generation and my father told me about the original—and the “true story” it was based on—I was pumped. I imagined that my prom night would consist of a chainsaw-wielding maniac in the middle of the woods too! So, I sought out the original film and when I watched it, I felt so uncomfortable and dirty. It was a different feeling than the one I got from Next Generation, and I loved it.
Now, Next Generation is in nowhere near as good as the original The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but it did its job. It made me want more of the crazy family and pushed me to want to watch the original film, its sequel, and the third movie. Zellweger and McCaughney captured my young, black heart and steered me on the right path to more horror.
So, the next time you shit on a movie—whether it be a remake or original concept—remember that there are people out there who are just getting into the horror genre. While a movie might not live up to your seasoned opinion, it could very well be unleashing a whole new world of horror fun on an impressionable young mind. And there’s nothing better than that.