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How ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation’ Was a Precursor to ‘Martyrs’

Released in 2008, the French film Martyrs is a groundbreaking and brilliantly crafted work of horror. Written and directed by Pascal Laugier, the film drew in and appealed to viewers looking for intense gore and horror, but it also offered up a thoughtful rumination on existence and spirituality that sure made a lasting impression.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation, well, it’s not as fondly remembered by horror fans. Written and directed by Kim Henkel (the original film’s co-writer) under the title The Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre before being immediately shelved by Columbia Pictures, it was finally released in 1997 when Renee Zellweger and Matthew McConaughey gained fame from other projects. It was a critical failure, and it would be nine years before the franchise would release another movie.

So how is it that Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation has any connection to Martyrs? This is your SPOILER WARNING for both films.

The big revelation of Martyrs comes at the halfway point, when lead character Anna discovers that the ravings of her friend Lucie are true: a seemingly normal suburban house hides a torture chamber underneath it, and the people who lived there were part of a program designed to systematically torture innocent people in the hopes of giving them a glimpse of God or perhaps the afterlife.

In the film, the woman who leads the program explains: “It’s so easy to create a victim, young lady, so easy. You lock someone in a dark room. They begin to suffer. You feed that suffering. Methodically, systematically, and coldly. And make it last. Your subject goes through a number of states. After a while, their trauma, that small, easily opened crack, makes them see things that don’t exist.” The whole film is colored by this haunting idea, including the unforgettable final moments when the leader of the project hears the whispered revelation from a tortured girl who has seen what lies beyond; instead of sharing it with the group, the woman simply kills herself.

Martyrs was devastating and highly original back in 2008, but a strikingly similar version of the core concept was actually written fourteen years earlier and reached screens eleven years before Martyrs did.

Yes, I’m talking about Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation.

Back in 2014, Bloody Disgusting’s own John Squires interviewed writer/director Kim Henkel about The Next Generation in an article for Halloween Love. In the interview, John posed questions about the last act of the film, in which a strange man in black shows up to interact with the cannibalistic family, eventually taking one of the victims from the family and leaving in an ominous-looking black vehicle.

Henkel himself confirmed Squires’ inquiries about the film’s largely unrecognized depth, saying, “It is implied that the Illuminati, or an Illuminati-like organization, was lurking in the Chainsaw family background. Vilmer calls his wrecker service Illuminati Wrecking. Darla describes the organization Vilmer works for in Illuminati-like terms. And then there’s the appearance of Rothman, a mysterious, Illuminati-like figure.”

Rothman’s appearance, and subsequent argument with Vilmer, starts to make his involvement clear: “You are here for one reason, and one reason only. Do you understand that? I want to hear you say you understand that. No? It’s very simple. I want these people to know the meaning of horror… horror…

Rothman then turns to Zellweger’s final girl character, softly noting, “It’s been an abomination. You really must accept my sincere apologies. It was supposed to be a spiritual experience. I can’t tell you how disappointed I am.”

When Squires asked Henkel about Rothman, Henkel said, “He comes off more like the leader of some harum-scarum cult that makes a practice of bringing victims to experience horror on the pretext that it produces some sort of transcendent experience. Of course, it does produce a transcendent experience. Death is like that. But no good comes of it. You’re tortured and tormented, and get the crap scared out of you, and then you die.”

The harum-scarum cult described by Henkel is exactly the type of program shown in Martyrs, and it is a surprising and eerie coincidence that Henkel’s off-the-cuff words about death and torture sound so similar to the words of the program leader in Martyrs. Though Laugier has never gone on record citing The Next Generation as an influence (it probably was not), it is undeniable that the two films share a very specific, very disturbing story element that hasn’t cropped up in any other horror films.

If nothing more, maybe The Next Generation deserves a revisit. It’s no Martyrs, but there’s more to it than it ever seems to get credit for.



COMMENTS

21 Comments
  • Chris W

    I totally enjoy this movie. The first 2/3rds are a good low-key dopey TCM sequel. Then act 3 is nonstop screaming and the gonzo man-in-black finish that recontextualizes everything you’ve seen.

    It’s not a good movie by any stretch, but it’s neat to see McConaughey get so dark and unhinged and Zellweger gives her character more layers than are written.

    • Darkknight2149

      I didn’t like the film, but Matthew McConaughey was great! He was entertainingly deranged.

  • The Drucifer

    I don’t know why but I kinda adore NEXT GENERATION. It’s so fucking dumb and has possibly my favorite line delivery by an actor ever.

  • Christopher Perkins

    Best performance by McConaughey ever. If I ever see him at a convention I’m going try to get him to sign a TNG dvd/bluray

    • Saturn

      He may well sign it too,as it’s seems that he’s not as embarrassed by the movie as Rene is, as he’s been quoted as saying making the movie was one of the most fun movies he’s been in.

  • Darkknight2149

    The Illuminati subplot doesn’t add any depth to “The Next Generation” at all. In fact, it was a major contributor to the film’s stupidity.

    The reveal was also played more as a punchline to a joke, rather than a genuine plot twist for the series. No one will ever treat it as canon.

  • Just wondering

    I can see the similarities. As stated, most people are dismissive of TCMTNG and rightly so. Martyrs gets a ton of love and is a much better film, but the pretenders ending didn’t do anything for me.

    • Saturn

      I know, when Leatherface took off the mask and turned out to be Chrissie Hynde – that just took it toooo far.

  • Nahuel Benvenuto

    Martyrs is actually based on Mk Ultra, a real thing way more horrible than anything on a fictional movie

    • The Fucked Up

      Your source for this? MKULTRA was one of the CIA’s “finer” projects, and I’m not dismissing your theory, but a writer/director stating their inspiration will help 🙂

      • Saturn

        I like how you say MKUltra “was” one of the CIA’s projects, as if it’s ever stopped!
        It’s still happening to this day.

        • The Fucked Up

          No it’s not that’s a fake MKULTRA has nothing to do with the real one nothing to see here move along

  • Colin Perkins

    Next Generation is actually my second fave in the TCM series. I always felt the why they were cannibals eating people should never be explained and the mystery behind them was what made the original so great. So the idea of explaining them with an explanation that makes even less sense and brings about even more questions(the government is behind everything? Huh?) is very brilliant and keeps with what made the original so good. I also like just how unstable the killers in this have become. Very, VERY under rated in my book.

  • Vesuvian Villain

    I see the similarity but the organization in TCM really never made sense. It was just a shitty writer’s way of trying to deepen the storyline. An underground illuminati-like team with a goal of transcending through violence would never leave the pursuit in the hands of unhinged, unpredictably violent idiots. Martyrs works in that context because it’s a very controlled, specific violence. It was a means to an end. Leatherface might flip out over the smallest thing and brutally murder the person. That would be considered a liability to the group.

    I think the point that I’m trying to make here is that both the Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Martyrs need a reboot. Something MCU style. Lots of action. Tom Cruise. What have you.

    • Saturn

      I’m detecting a pattern here…..

  • Jada Maes

    Fascinating, but… Honestly, the only thing I remember from The Next Generation is Darla and her… Investments.

    • Saturn

      Yeah, I’d “invest” in her, if you know what I mean?

      • Jada Maes

        Looking is good, but in the immortal words of Jack Welker, chick’s probably got a wood chipper for a coochie.

  • Saturn

    I have to admit that I have a soft spot for this movie as it was the second one I ever saw of the franchise – remember that in the UK the first 3 were all refused certification up until relatively recently – this was the first to be legally available in the UK.

    On an unrelated note : Chris Cornell R.I,P,

  • Halloween_Vic

    I’ve always loved the next generation, one of my favs in the series honestly. And I came to that conclusion that rothman was some illuminati secret society type a few years back when I re watched the movie. Interesting and creepy because now the illuminati are so known and all these conspiracies coming out I just thought it was pretty funny and really makes you think what really goes on out here.

  • Nicolas Caiveau

    Problem is that the Illuminati “explanation” in TCM 4 is beyond stupid, it doesn’t really add depth… On the other way, it’s so bad that it’s a great comedy, and McConaughey is really awesome in it^^

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