“Whatever happened to Kim Henkel?” isn’t a question that comes up often with horror fans. Henkel, by the way, is the writer of the original The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Henkel has written other films (including the notorious Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation, but everyone remembers him for the 1974 classic. After some time away, Henkel is back with Duane Graves and Justin Meeks’ The Butcher Boys, which was inspired by Jonathan Swift’s tongue-in-cheek story, A Modest Proposal. Does Henkel recapture the mayhem and terror in this screenplay that catapulted him to stardom all those years ago?
While out celebrating a friend’s birthday, a group of four friends — Sissy, her brother Mikey, Kenny and Barbie — are pursued by two guys after a member of the foursome starts a fight with the two guys at a gas station. While following the foursome, the two guys run over and kill a dog. Unfortunately for them, the dog belonged to a group known as the Butcher Boys. After making quick work of the two thugs who made their dog into roadkill, the Boys turn their attention to the foursome, seeing more than just revenge in the group.
Given Henkel’s past efforts, it should come as no surprise this film gets quite dark. After being chased by the two thugs, the four friends end up in what can essentially be thought of as the Butcher Boys’ turf: a dark, deserted town, with a sprinkling of nutty folks who seemingly have more sinister motives than offering cookies to the group. The Boys themselves are brutal and unrelenting in their pursuit. While blood isn’t overly on the menu, there are enough brutal beatings that elicit more than a few winces.
Unfortunately, much of what’s good about the film ends there, as there are some glaring issues that really just bog the film down. For starters, the film’s pacing lags for a better part of it’s duration. It’s hard to believe, given the majority of it’s runtime is spent on chase scenes. But when you have your protagonists running around in a seemingly abandoned town with the killers right on their tail (unbelievably, given how slow the Butcher Boys walk), it gets tedious, to say the least.
Secondly, our characters are given next to nothing in terms of development, leaving us in the “Who cares about ‘X’?” mode for much of the film. Worse still, it’s not good when you present your protagonists (you know, the people you’re supposed to be rooting for?) in such a way that you want them to die in the worst possible way. Then again, it wouldn’t be in this film, since the Butcher Boys look and sound like dumb jocks with the personality of dry wall. There are moments where there is tension (such as the cliché “hiding in the lockers” scene), but it’s ruined by the frat boy talk. Seriously, when your dialogue mainly consists of expletives, it’s hard to see any real depth.
As for Henkel’s input (since he seems to feature so prominently in promotional material), it relies far too much on aping scenes and characters of films like the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Hannibal and others to really be considered scary. The infamous dinner scene from the original Texas Chain Saw? That’s here, although Henkel has seen fit to meld it with the dinner scene from Hannibal, though instead of Ray Liotta’s brain, we get a more crude version that when you think about it makes less sense than what it was originally based on. At least Ali Lautner looks good in the red dress, although she doesn’t quite scream as well as Marilyn Burns did. Speaking of Ms. Burns, she’s in the film as well, along with other TCM alumni in Ed Neal, Perry Lorenz, Bill Wise, Ed Guinn, John Dugan, Terry McMinn, James Bargsley and Bill Johnson. Unsurprisingly, they get cameo treatments that amount to nil.
To say that Butcher Boys is a disappointment is an understatement. Despite something of a novel setup, it’s all down the drain with cardboard characters and borrowing from much better films, topped off with pacing issues and a genuine lack of anything interesting. While it’s nice that Henkel sought to give his fellow Texas Chainsaw Massacre participants some work, it does nothing to add to the film, and just cheapens the overall experience. There are better ways to spend 90 minutes of your time. Don’t spend them watching this.