New Years/Yeariversary Special: Review 70: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (original) (5/5)

A white film poster of a man holding a large chainsaw, with a screaming woman fastened to a wall behind him. The writing on the poster says, "Who will survive and what will be left of them?"; "America's most bizarre and brutal crimes!"; "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre"; "What happened is true. Now the motion picture that's just as real. "

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (original)

Directed by Tobe Hooper

Starring Marilyn Burns, Paul A. Partain, Edwin Neal, Jim Siedow, Gunnar Hansen, Teri McMinn, William Vail, Allen Danziger, John Dugan

Released on October 1, 1974

Running time: 1h 24m

Rated R (Suggested rating: PG-13 for prolonged sequences of violence and terror, and some language. Though I would rate it PG-13, I must stress that this movie is not for kids.)

Genre: Horror

I’ve been doing this for a year! That’s awesome! I have had so much fun (and suffered greatly) doing this for your pleasure and my catharsis, and I thank all of you that read my stuff for taking this journey with me.

For my Yeariversary Special, I decided to look back at the first several films I ever reviewed on this blog, and see if there was another movie I could review that was closely related to one of those. The sixth movie I ever reviewed caught my eye: the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I remember it well. Seeing how I managed to let down a massive load off my back by reviewing the original Halloween, I figured I may as well do the same for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Well, let’s see if this works.

Fun fact: Tobe Hooper came up with the idea for TCSM while standing in a crowded hardware store. While thinking of a way to get through the crowd, he spotted some chainsaws. I’ll let you fill in the rest. No, Mr. Hooper did not massacre the hardware store patrons.

John Larroquette gives us a brief but foreboding nonetheless introduction, telling us that the film is based off of actual events. This is untrue (say three Hail Marys and do an Act of Contrition), but it was, like Psycho, inspired by the real-life murders committed by Ed Gein. Well, Gein only actually killed two people, but he still made furniture and various other things out of plenty of corpses.

After the narration, the film really starts out on an ominous note by having us listen to a police report describing many graves that have been dug up, the bodies exhumed and desecrated, arranged into weird positions, and with extremities missing. After a few camera flashes showing parts of a corpse and a brief shot of another very decayed corpse holding another head in its hands, the screen cuts to the title, and then fades into a shot of a dead armadillo lying on a Texas road as a light blue van travels along it. This van is carrying five twentysomething former hippies. They are Sally (Burns), her brother Franklin (Partain), and her friends Jerry (Danziger), Kirk (Vail), and Pam (McMinn). They have traveled to the desecrated graveyard to see if Sally and Franklin’s father’s corpse has been dug up. It isn’t, and they are relieved. They then begin driving to the aforementioned father’s old house to stay for an arbitrary length of time, presumably just overnight. Along the way, we learn about our characters.

Sally brought her brother on this trip out of obligation. She undoubtedly loves her brother, but considers him as kind of a burden and is easily irritated by him. Franklin needs a wheelchair to get around; he clearly loves his sister and is trying very hard to be good company to the rest of the group, but he is somewhat immature, and is, to a slightly greater degree, socially inept. Kind of like me, except I don’t need a wheelchair. Jerry is a simple man; he has a very so-so demeanor, and also considers Franklin a burden. Kirk is a bit of a douche, acts laid back but seems like he always has something on his mind, and also considers Franklin a burden. Pam is a devout vegan, is obsessed with astrology and horoscopes, and also considers Franklin a burden.

It’s a bit sad, because if I actually knew the guy, I think Franklin would have been my friend. Though I don’t need a wheelchair, I’m immature and socially inept like him. He seems like a really decent guy. I’d totally buy him a beer.

Before long, the group passes an old slaughterhouse. It has a powerful stench coming from it. Franklin brings up the two methods of how cows are killed: with a sledgehammer to the head, or with a “big air gun” that shoots a bolt into the cow’s brain and then retracts it. Ouch.

The group sees a shifty-looking hitchhiker (Neal), and on account of the foul reek emanating from the slaughterhouse, they pick him up. They immediately regret doing so. The hitchhiker is clearly mentally challenged, unnaturally skinny, and has a blood splotch on his face. Franklin tries to communicate with him, asking about how cows are killed in a slaughterhouse. Franklin originally thought that they had sacrificed the sledge for the air gun, but the hitchhiker denies this, saying that they had gone back to the sledge after the air gun failed. The hitchhiker goes further and explains that the workers make headcheese.

That was the original title for this movie by the way. Headcheese.

Here’s how you make headcheese: Remove the cow’s brain and tongue; those can be eaten separately. Boil the rest of the head, and scrape every last bit of flesh off the skull, including eyes, jowls, ligaments, etc. Boil the scraped-off flesh into a big fatty jelly, and presto; you’re done. It’s about as unappetizing as it sounds.

The hitchhiker sees Franklin’s knife and snags it from him. He then proceeds to dig a big gash into his hand from it, and he takes it like a man, even lightly chortling at the pain. Either that, or it’s how he gets hard. He gives the knife back to a shocked Franklin. He then pulls out his camera and takes a picture of the group. The picture doesn’t turn out too well, but the hitchhiker insists that it’s a good picture and that the picture only costs two dollars. When Franklin doesn’t want it, the hitchhiker sets the picture on fire, startling the group and freaking them out. In the commotion, the hitchhiker pulls out his own straight razor and gives Franklin a nasty slice on his arm. The group kicks the hitchhiker out of the van. The scene as a whole is pretty uncomfortable; the hitchhiker is clearly not all there, and clearly has less than positive intentions. This is precisely why I don’t pick up hitchhikers.

By the way, remember the hitchhiker. He will be important later.

When the group calms down, Pam reads the horoscopes of Franklin and Sally. And now that I’ve seen this movie about five times, I can safely say that this is exactly how to do foreshadowing.

PAM: Hey, listen to Franklin’s horoscope. ‘Travel in the country, long-range plans, and upsetting persons around you could make this a disturbing and unpredictable day. The events in the world are not doing much either to cheer one up’.

JERRY: That’s just perfect. And now read Sally’s.

PAM: Oh, no. Capricorn’s ruled by Saturn. ‘There are moments when we cannot believe that what is happening to us is really true. Pinch yourself and you may find out that it is’.

Remember this foreshadowing, because as you probably guessed, the plot is going to go about as well as predicted. Hey, that’s the first time I’ve ever seen a horoscope accurately predict something.

The group goes to a gas station, where even the gas station is out of gas, and they purchase some fresh barbecued meat from the owner (Siedow). Yum. Remember this scene, the owner, and the meat. They will be important later.

The group arrives at Sally and Franklin’s father’s old house. It’s abandoned, but they’re planning on staying the night anyway. Franklin discovers that the hitchhiker smeared blood on the van door in a sort of S-like shape. A particularly personal scene happens with Franklin in which he, alone, angrily reflects on Sally bringing him on the trip only to have the group treat him like a burden. He then mocks their laughter. Kirk and Pam find him and ask him if the old swimming hole near the house is still there. Franklin gives them a general idea of where it is. Kirk and Pam leave, and Franklin happenstances on a room with some bones in it. Franklin doesn’t know this, but I do – this is ritualistic desecration.

Kirk and Pam run down to the swimming hole only to see that it has dried up. Nuts. But they see another house a short distance away, and decide to go over there and ask if they have any gasoline. Confirming their suspicions are the sounds of a generator. As Kirk and Pam get closer to the house, they discover a tree with tin cans and other clang-able objects hanging from it, a few rusting cars with a rope net a few feet over them, and finally the house. Not a bad place, that. Kirk knocks on the door but nobody answers. He sees a human tooth on the porch and drops it into Pam’s hand, causing her to briefly freak out.

With Pam off to the side, pissed at Kirk, Kirk enters the house, asking if anyone’s there. Kirk sees a room behind the staircase lined with animal skulls on the walls. A series of quiet pig-like squeals and grunts emanate from the room. Kirk steps in, and just as he does, the horror icon known as Leatherface (Hansen) appears in front of him. Stop! Hammer time! With two blows to the head from a one-handed sledgehammer, Kirk goes down, and Leatherface drags his body into the room and slams the sheet metal door behind him.

With our first appearance of Leatherface at just after the thirty-five-minute mark, the film’s mood has drastically changed from apprehensive and unfriendly to outright hostile and fearful. Nobody expected Leatherface’s face-mask-wearing mug to come out of there. It caught all of us completely off guard. I haven’t seen such a good mood change in a film since The Sound of Music in the transition from when Maria and Captain von Trapp get married to our first shot of the Nazi swastika. Wow.

Pam notices that Kirk is taking a long time, and so she goes into the house, and goes into a different room. She stumbles and falls, and plummets right onto the chicken-down-covered floor. She looks up and his horrified to see that the room is covered in bones of all shapes and sizes, feathers, bone ornaments hanging from the ceiling, and even bone furniture. She, being a staunch vegan, reacts accordingly. She starts gagging, coughing, and hacking. She gets up and runs out of the room, but runs into Leatherface. She tries to run away, and almost gets out of the house, but Leatherface catches her and drags her into the same room he dragged Kirk into. We see the inside of it now. It’s essentially a kitchen, but with a big horizontal freezer, a rack with meat hooks hanging from them, and a table in the center with Kirk’s corpse on it. Speaking of meat hooks, Leatherface shanks Pam on one. Ouch. As Pam looks on, Leatherface gets out a chainsaw, turns it on, revs it, and starts to chop up Kirk’s corpse.

Cut back to Jerry, Sally, and Franklin. When Kirk and Pam don’t come back, Jerry volunteers to look for them, and leaves. He too finds the house, and goes in. He gets into the kitchen without running into Leatherface. He sees the freezer shake, and when he opens it, Pam jumps halfway out, but collapses on the freezer. When Jerry tries to help her out, Leatherface appears. Jerry screams like a girl, and Leatherface takes him out with a sledgehammer blow to the head. Leatherface sits in a chair by the window and puts his head in his hands.

Gunnar Hansen originally had turned down the role of Leatherface due to how brutal the plot and Leatherface would be. But his friend, Marilyn Burns, persuaded him to take the role. Thank heaven for them both. Tobe Hooper allowed Hansen to develop Leatherface as he saw fit, but under his supervision. Hansen decided that Leatherface was mentally handicapped and had never properly learned to talk. Hansen went to a school for the mentally challenged and watched how they moved and listened to how they talked in order to get an idea of how to translate being mentally handicapped into how he would act as Leatherface. Hooper and Hansen would confirm later that Leatherface was a “big baby” who only attacks his victims because he feels threatened.

Hansen also said that, during filming, he didn’t get along very well with Paul A. Partain, who was playing Franklin. A few years after filming, Hansen met Partain again and learned that Partain was a method actor, who had chosen to stay in character even when not filming. The two remained friends until Partain’s death.

Also, Hansen, due to TCSM’s low budget, only had one shirt to wear as Leatherface during all four weeks of filming during the hot Texas summer. The shirt was dyed, so washing it was out of the question. By the time filming ended, no one wanted to stand near Hansen or sit next to him at lunch because he smelled so bad. Nice.

It’s night now, and Sally and Franklin have been calling for Jerry and have been honking their van’s horn. Despite their efforts, Jerry does not appear. They can’t even start the van to drive away to get help – Jerry has the keys. With no other options, Franklin and Sally go to look for Jerry themselves. They search for several minutes.

Remember how the mood of the movie switched from inauspicious and unsettling to antagonistic and intimidating? Well, the movie’s about to change the mood again. Nice.

As Sally pushes Franklin in his wheelchair, the two see the light from the house nearby. Franklin hears something, then tells Sally to stop. And then in one of the best damn jumpscares I’ve ever seen, Leatherface jumps up out of nowhere, chainsaw revving, and slashes Franklin to death. Sally stands there for a few seconds, horrified, screaming at the top of her lungs, before she remembers that she needs to run away. Leatherface, having brutally killed Franklin, runs after her.

Note how Sally was not SCREAMING AT THE TOP OF HER LUNGS, as that would imply that her screams were comical. No. She’s just seen her brother murdered in front of her in a horrible way, and now the killer is after her too, and her life is in serious peril. I would be screaming too. Jeez.

And yes, I did say that Leatherface’s murder of Franklin was one of the best damn jumpscares I’ve ever seen. The first time I watched this movie, I just about fell out of my chair. It worked that well.

And as I said just a minute ago, the movie’s mood has changed again with Franklin’s murder just after the fifty-two-minute mark. It has changed from oppressive and menacing to dripping with terror and paranoia.

And this is no more prevalent, except in one other scene, than TCSM’s psychotic chase sequences. Because wow. By the way, during the chase sequences, Marilyn Burns was actually cut quite badly by the branches, so a lot of the blood on her body and clothes is real. Even in his three-inch-heel-lift boots, Gunnar Hansen could run faster than Marilyn Burns, so he had to do random things while chasing her through the woods. You’ll notice that in one head-on shot that Leatherface starts slicing up tree branches in the background. By the way, you’ll quickly notice that during this chase sequence, Leatherface is actually running after Sally. Unlike most slasher films…or TCSM 2003. There’s no time to stumble and/or fall even once or your ass is toast. The chase sequence is shot through the trees in such a way that it looks like the trees are trying to grab Sally. The chase sequence consists of the constant sound of a revving chainsaw, the disturbingly atonal percussion-based soundtrack playing rather than blasting, and Sally’s constant screaming. All three of these factors happen nonstop until the chase is over, and because of this, the tension is almost overwhelming.

Anyway, Leatherface chases Sally for several minutes. Sally is chased into Leatherface’s house, where she briefly stops him by slamming the front door in his face. As Sally rushes upstairs to look for a place to hide, Leatherface starts sawing down the door. Sally rushes into a room to hide, but is faced with two corpses of an old man and an even more dead old woman. Disgusted, Sally rushes back to the stairs, but Leatherface has just finished sawing down the door. Desperate, Sally runs up the stairs and bursts through the window at the top. She falls down to the ground outside and – hey! The shattered glass actually cut her! Neat!

Sally keeps running until she reaches the gas station from earlier. She bursts in. The gas station owner has a hold of her. He calms her down and sits her down next to the still-cooking barbecue. He says he doesn’t have a phone, but he will get Sally out of there in his truck.

And all of my instincts are screaming at me that it’s Not Really Over, that the Gas Station Guy is in cahoots with Leatherface.

And my fears were proved right. At first, it’s just the meat cooking in the barbecue looking suspicious. And then the Gas Station Guy comes in holding a burlap sack big enough to hold Sally. Despite Sally’s protests and fighting back, the Gas Station Guy knocks her out, throws the burlap sack over her, and takes her out to his truck. I think you can guess where that barbecue meat came from.

Gas Station Guy drives back to…guess where? Leatherface’s house! And the hitchhiker from earlier lives there too! Sally is horrified to learn such, by the way.

And now the movie’s tone changes for the third time, from downright scary to absolutely disturbing.

Sally is strapped to a chair and set at the head of the dining room table. After much verbal abuse from Gas Station Guy, Hitchhiker and Leatherface bring their grandpa, the corpse of the old man (Dugan) downstairs.

John Dugan, after getting into the old age makeup, decided that he did not ever want to go through the process again, meaning that all of his scenes had to be filmed in the same session. The makeup took five hours to put on. The entire shoot was done during a brutal summer heat wave where the average temperature was a hundred degrees Fahrenheit. The largest portion of the filming was spent filming the scene I will be talking about next. Dugan not only had the makeup on, but was wearing a heavy suit and tie. He, Neal, Hansen, Siedow, and Burns were sitting in a room full of dead animals and rotting food with no air conditioning. The stench was so horrible that some crew members got sick or even passed out. And the entire shoot took thirty-six hours. Wow. Edwin Neal, who played the hitchhiker, later said, “Filming that scene was the worst time of my life…and I had been in Vietnam, with people trying to kill me, so I guess that shows how bad it was.”

And now begins one of the most disturbing scenes in all of cinema. This is where the buildup of sight and sound billows up and ultimately creates sort of an avalanche effect. An avalanche that manifests itself as a total and complete sensory overload.

We get a taste of what we’re in for when Grandpa is brought downstairs. Leatherface actually does cut Sally’s finger because he couldn’t get the stage blood to squirt out of the little tube behind the knife. Leatherface sticks the finger in Grandpa’s mouth, and the decrepit old man comes to life and starts sucking the finger. Sally passes out.

And now we get the horror full force. I’m not joking – this is the epitome of balls-to-the-wall insanity. Sally wakes up, horrified to still be around this table with this family. Despite continual arguing among Gas Station Guy, Hitchhiker, and Leatherface, they mock Sally’s screams, and gleefully threaten to murder her. And though we got an idea of what we were in for with the chase scene, here it’s no holds barred. The scene around the table becomes a discordant, jarring, and harsh visual and auditory landscape and soundscape of screaming, mocking of screaming, closeups on faces and eyes, slightly shaky camera that shakes just enough to not cause immediate nausea, evil-but-not-cliché cackling, and a blasting soundtrack made of trembling electronic notes and smears, grating, crushing, grinding, scraping slaughterhouse machines, and the electronic approximation of the howling of beasts; the sounds an animal would hear inside of a slaughterhouse. Reality collapses on itself and implodes, distorting itself into a slipshod, makeshift, ersatz mockery of itself. Even when this scene goes amazingly over the top, it is done deftly and executed adroitly with deliberation. This scene as a whole is palpably tense to such a degree that you are scared out of your mind, but you cannot for the life of you look away. This level of terror through sensory overload would not be recreated until William Friedkin’s Bug.

The family remembers that Grandpa used to be the best cow-killer at the old slaughterhouse, so they decide to let Grandpa kill Sally. Leatherface and Hitchhiker untie Sally and drag her over to Grandpa’s end of the table, where Hitchhiker holds her over a bucket. Leatherface sticks his one-handed sledgehammer into Grandpa’s hand, but Grandpa is too weak to hold onto it. Leatherface holds the sledge in Grandpa’s hand, and Grandpa manages to score a nasty hit to Sally’s head. Sally’s will to live grows strong enough to break free of Hitchhiker’s grasp and burst out of another window. She is quickly followed by Hitchhiker and Leatherface, who chase her, Leatherface with chainsaw in tow. Hitchhiker is as fast as Sally, and he gets out his straight razor and slashes her several times.

The chase comes to a road, where Sally and Hitchhiker realize that they’ve run into the path of a semi-truck. Sally gets out of the way quick enough, but Hitchhiker cannot, and he is mowed down by the truck. Squish. Leatherface catches up to Sally, but the truck driver gets out and knocks Leatherface on his back with a big wrench. Leatherface’s chainsaw falls on his leg, where he receives a nasty gash. This was done by having a metal plate on Hansen’s leg, with a piece of meat and a blood bag on top. Ouch. The truck driver runs off down the road, and though Leatherface can stand, he is in no shape to go after him. A pickup truck drives by, and Sally gets in the back of the truck just in time. The pickup truck drives away with Sally in the back, looking worse for wear, covered in blood, and certainly less sane. By the way, by the time filming was over, Sally’s shirt was almost solid due to it being soaked in blood. Leatherface, on the other hand, in order to truly scare Tobe Hooper, furiously swings his chainsaw around in frustration until the screen cuts to black. Roll credits.

The cast and crew worked sixteen hours a day and seven days a week for four weeks during summer in one of Texas’s notoriously staggering heat waves. The daytime temperature was about one hundred degrees, and it only ever got down to about eighty at night.

Even the overall mood of America at the time filtered into the movie’s atmosphere, giving the movie an overall look of decay. It wasn’t just the war in Vietnam that the filmmakers were dealing with. The country was dealing with the Munich Olympics massacre. The country was dealing with Richard Nixon and Watergate. The country was dealing with the shootings at Kent State. The country was dealing with Charles Manson and Richard Speck. Plane hijackings. Government issues. Racial conflict. Terrorism. The movie is practically a mirror of a dark period in American history. Both the older generation of the Bible Belt and the younger hippie crowd are ridiculed.

You’d never guess that the film was shot in 16mm in poor light. The film looks and feels very hot and humid, sun-soaked and sweaty. Everything has a hot, musty, yellowish-orange glow. You can almost smell the dead, rotting meat. In fact, as the movie progresses, it loses a lot less color. By the time night falls, the colors of the azure sky, the brightness of the sunlight, and the yellow and green of the Texas outback and boondocks are gone. While the camera is clearly the most powerful entity here, the camera acts in such a way that the events in the movie never bend to its will.

The plot is simple; a group of teens get lost in the wrong place at the wrong time, encounter evil, and are stalked and killed. A group of young individuals return to their childhood home for nostalgia, and inadvertently stumble into the raw and irrational cruelty of the modern world. In fact, questions about what Leatherface and his family are or how they came to be are left to the viewer’s imagination.

The characters waste no time in developing themselves. While not always likable, the characters are definitely believable. The most interesting characters are obviously Franklin and Leatherface’s family. Franklin is treated as a nuisance by his companions. In contrast, Leatherface and Grandpa, the two characters most similar to Franklin, are treated like valued kinfolk who are accommodated and appreciated in the family unit. Though Leatherface puts up with much verbal abuse from Gas Station Guy, it is no more than is stereotypical for the trite rural family. They’re a close-knit family. (FRANKLIN: Gotta admire that.) Franklin also seems to be the only character to come close to communicating with the Hitchhiker when he starts up an at-first genial conversation with him about knives and methods of slaughterhouse killings. It’s bizarre how Leatherface’s family accepts the handicapped in their own way, and the heroes see the handicapped as a burden. It’s kind of like how former hippies who were drafted for and fought in Vietnam and returned maimed or crippled, and were rejected by their former friends for “killin’ babies” in ‘Nam. Even Sally survives only through sheer luck. She’s not intelligent or a feminist. The ignorant, rebellious youth, all jaded hippies, emerge scarred from the real world that they were unprepared for. And when they limp back home, the “old folks” who warned them of the cruelty of the real world tell them “I told you so” and kill them.

The character of Sally Hardesty is one of horror’s most criminally underrated scream queens.

The acting is fantastic all around, with excellent performances by protagonists and antagonists alike. Marilyn Burns in particular – even though most of what she does is screaming or pleading, she does it with such energy and realism that you fear for her.

The soundtrack also introduced me to something other than orchestral scores. The sounds of slaughterhouse machinery do a much better job at scaring me than any orchestral score could in this setting. All melody is destroyed in the experimental soundtrack of an industrial ambience of metallic and mechanical clangs, scrapes, clacks, bangs, and screams, not only evoking the atmosphere of a slaughterhouse through the ears of a cow, but even reflecting Leatherface’s family’s state of mind.

But what The Texas Chain Saw Massacre truly is is an exercise in terror. What makes it such a scary film is its atmosphere, from unfriendly, to outright hostile, to terrifying, to disturbing. This atmosphere, as well as the mounting dread and paranoia, is utilized skillfully to create a mind-frying experience of sensory overload, building off of what H.P. Lovecraft’s biggest fear was: fear of the unknown, from the grave desecration, to Pam’s unintentional foreshadowing, to the bone art, to the way the sun sets, to Leatherface, to the psychotic chase sequences, to the horrific scene around the dining room table, to the sheer desperation of Sally’s escape. Seeing as how an avalanche is impossible to stop once it starts, the avalanche effect of horrifying sounds and imagery inducing sensory overload causes the rest of the movie to fly by at a frenzied pace that never lets up until the movie is over.

It feels like it could happen to anyone. It is unrelentingly dark, blunt, chaotic, savage, sadistic, and traumatizing, yet fascinating. It has a very take-no-prisoners attitude. It plays on the post-Vietnam paranoia and dares to take the visceral power that cinema can deliver to the limit. It’s powerful. It’s inventive. It pushes the envelope of what can truly be terrifying. It’s one thing for a movie to make you fear for the characters; it’s quite another for the movie to make you fear for yourself.

While most directors are either scared of the censors or go too far and make the audience gag rather than scream, TCSM finds its way to balance the two out. It’s not afraid of the censors, yet never goes too far.

Tobe Hooper intentionally left out as much gore as possible in an attempt to get a PG rating. Despite his efforts, the MPAA insisted on the R rating. By not using gallons of gore and having sacrificed a slick, sleek look for a gritty, grainy one, Hooper has created one of the most bleak, down-to-earth, atmospheric, and aurally violent movies to date.

The film itself is like trying to fit a hexagon-shaped peg into a pentagon-shaped hole. Suddenly you notice Leatherface beside you, and he takes a file and makes the hole into a hexagon.

A still photo taken during filming of Leatherface’s family posing outside of their house was found and stolen by a German reporter. This reporter took it back to West Germany, and the image became the advertising poster for the first release of the movie in West Germany. (Why only West Germany? Oh, that’s right – Mr. Gorbachev hadn’t torn down that wall yet.)

When the film was released and became a mainstream hit, earning over thirty million dollars, the indie film community went nuts. It demonstrated how far its head was up its own ass by, out of jealousy, disowning it and disparaging it as a pointless exercise in tasteless violence. Strangely, twenty-five years later, the indie film community would unnecessarily praise the lousy vomitorium of shaky-cam The Blair Witch Project for having “deeper meanings”.

Since TCSM’s release, the location used as Leatherface’s family’s house has been changed completely: it is now an open field, with no indication that there was ever a house that used to be there. The house itself has been relocated and restored completely. It now operates as the Junction House Restaurant on the grounds of the Antlers Hotel at 1010 King Street in Kingsland, Texas.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre has had three sequels, a remake, a prequel to the remake, a sequel that ignored the other sequels, and a prequel to the original to be released in 2017. None have ever managed to capture the original TCSM’s true strengths. There’s something primeval about the original TCSM that simply can never be recaptured.

It is completely legitimate to say that had TCSM and Leatherface never come around, films like Black ChristmasHalloween, Friday the 13th, and A Nightmare on Elm Street would never have existed.

It’s a pity that Tobe Hooper never directed anything as good ever again. He came close with ‘Salem’s Lot, Poltergeist, and Body Bags, but he has never made a movie quite like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

By the way, I showed my brother this film. He loved it, and found it to be really creepy.

It’s been a fun ride this past year writing these reviews for you. I’ve had ups and downs, but I have never regretted doing this. My reviews may be popping up less often, as I am about to head off to BYU-I to study music education. But I will be trying with all my might to regularly update this blog for your enjoyment.

Well, that’s one year and seventy reviews in the can. And here’s to another and seventy more.

On this day of reflection, I thank God and all of you for coming on this journey with me.

Happy New Year. God bless.

Final Verdict: 5 out of 5 stars.

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Christmas Special: Review 69: The Christmas Tree (0/5)

The Christmas Tree

Directed by Flamarion Ferreira

Starring William Griffin, Elly Drygas, Ayal Kleinman, Karen Drygas, Paul Whyte, Helen Quinn

Released on December 14, 1991

Running time: 43m

Not Rated (Suggested rating: PG for some violence and drug use)

Genre: Kids & Family, Christmas

Just go. Leave. Just do yourself a favor and go. You’ll barely be able to sit through this awful Christmas special. I barely sat through it.

Oh, wait, I’m not in the right mindset for this. Uh…hmm…

Uh,…hey guys! Have any of you been watching the usual, cheesy, stale, or actually good Christmas specials lately, ranging from A Christmas Story to A Christmas Carol to A Charlie Brown Christmas to It’s a Wonderful Life to even films like Die Hard? I bet you have, and that you have had a silly, fun, or even heartwarming time watching those. If you are watching these specials, then don’t watch The Christmas Tree, because it’ll ruin your effing Christmas!

I’m not even going to give an introduction to this. I’m just going to get to the catharsis of typing my rage onto a Word document and then posting it to my blog. This little film is terrible – nay, offensive. This movie…hurt me.

Right off the bat, the electronic soundtrack turns me off. Screw you, Scott Broberg.

A narrator begins to speak. And I cringed as I realized that this narrator has the voice of an old man telling a child that the child will get candy if he/she takes his/her clothes off.

And the animation is already terrible. As the narrator speaks about one of his favorite Christmas stories, and that he hopes we find it “delightful”, a book next to a Christmas tree opens, revealing a few rectangular ink blots rather than text.

We then transition to an orphanage. This orphanage is the home of seven orphans who all have the same facial design, and is run by the tyrannical, Gestapo-esque Miss Hannigan – I mean, Mrs. Mavilda. The children suffer under her harsh rule. Mavilda won’t even let them feed the stray dog Licorice. I’m amazed that these children haven’t already run away and/or contacted the authorities. But hey, the police are never seen in this movie, so I guess that wouldn’t work. Also, the movie states that the orphans have no worldly possessions except for their clothes and shoes, but why does one girl have a bow for her hair, a boy have a hat, and another girl have glasses, hair ties to tie her ponytails, and a book?

By the way, the screenwriters are really desperate for us to hate Mavilda, so they describe her as “evil” and “wicked”.

Out of desperation, the children have developed a friend figure in the lone tall pine tree across the street, who they have named Mrs. Hopewell. The children unimaginatively believe that Mrs. Hopewell is magic. Uh…okay. Talk about a desperate bid to tie this movie to Christmas.

The town’s mayor goes to the orphanage to “inspect” it every year, but he is apparently too stupid to look through the entire orphanage, as he falls victim to Mavilda’s surprisingly stupid gambit. Mavilda has a set of nice clothes for a boy and a girl, and every time the mayor comes, Mavilda will select a boy or girl to dress up in these clothes, and she will present them to the mayor. The mayor buys the façade, and pays Mavilda two money bags in order to make sure that the orphans have a decent existence. And when the mayor leaves, Mavilda takes the nice clothes off of the two children and puts them away in a closet for the next time the mayor comes. And then the camera focuses for just a bit too long on the two children’s nearly naked bodies.

Yes, you read that sentence right. The mayor literally pays Mavilda in bags. Apparently direct deposits, checks, banks, bank accounts, and bank statements that have actual amounts are nonexistent in this backwards town. Jeez, is the mayor really that rich? Good heavens, the students at Columbia University and the University of Missouri should be demanding that he pay for their free college tuition, annulled student debt, and their fifteen-dollar-an-hour minimum wage!

And guess what Mavilda does with the money? Why, she blows it all on poker games with her cronies, during which she and her friends are doing some hard drinking. Why is that being shown in a kids’ movie? In fact, she is downright gleeful about gambling away the money. Does she actually prefer losing this money than…I don’t know, actually winning the poker game?

MAVILDA: There goes the children’s money again!

I have no idea how she pays for food and other goods for herself and the orphans so she and they don’t die of starvation. Poker games are clearly not a smart way to spend money.

But everything changes when the Kindle family comes to town. I used to have a Kindle. I enjoyed carrying around a literal library in my pocket or backpack. And then a water bottle burst in my backpack and soaked the thing. It died.

The Kindle family consists of Ray, the father, Judy, the mother, Pappy, the son, and Lily, the daughter.

Ray needs a job, so he goes to the mayor to ask where he can get a job. I’m pretty sure that that’s not his jurisdiction. Also, I doubt that that’s how getting a job worked back in 1991. Ray is able to get a job at a lumber mill, but this requires him to be away from his family for several months. But Judy and her kids are able to stay at guess what? The orphanage! Yaaaaay! and Judy can work as Mavilda’s assistant. Question: why are there no hotels for Judy and her kids to stay at?

Ray drops Judy and the kids off at the orphanage and bids them goodbye.

And this is where I address the voice acting, how poor it is – nay, some of the worst I’ve ever heard. Without getting into the awful child acting, the most egregious offender is Paul Whyte as Ray. Not only is he amazingly monotone and wooden, he sounds…dead. Heck, even the character looks unnaturally pale and tired. Is he overdosing on sleeping pills? He is easily the worst voice actor I have ever heard. Thank heaven that his role in the movie is small. Judy is thankfully only annoyingly bland. Mavilda is incredibly over-the-top. I’ll address her issues later. And then we have our child actors, one of whom is clearly an eighteen-year-old, and another of whom has obviously had his voice electronically pitch-corrected, making him sound not of this earth. It’s as if the creators were trying to emulate the success of A Charlie Brown Christmas by casting child actors. And the worst of these is easily the little girl who voices Lily. When I first beheld her performance, I asked myself, “Okay, whose crew or cast member’s daughter was this that these people chose to voice Lily? She can’t have possibly passed any audition. In fact, I’m not even sure there was an audition.” To my surprise, I later learned that the girl who voiced Lily was actually the daughter of the chick who voiced Judy. Lily’s performance is an emotionless and infuriatingly garbled drone. When I would much rather deal with Kristen Stewart than the voice “actors” in The Christmas Treethey did something wrong.

I may as well talk about the horrific animation as well. It is…disturbingly bad, despite having a literal army of animators. The backgrounds are okay, but the character designs are hideous. Every character has a blank expression and soulless black (literally) eyes. Whenever a character speaks, the character’s head magically grows slightly whenever the character makes the same mouth movement. The animation lacks fluidity and has very little movement. It’s very sparse and flat. It repeats itself a lot, especially when characters are speaking.  Jeez, these are errors that would make. It’s poorly lip-synched to the point where I spotted several occasions in which words were spoken with lips closed. Why is the facial animation on the adults, especially Judy, so shaky during speech? Each of the eight to sixteen frames of animation per second that shows the face of a character speaking makes the face look like its suffering from a bajillion miniature muscular spasms. I can see each individual frame pass by. In fact, I actually spotted a few moments in which there was clearly dust left on the layer. When A Charlie Brown Christmas, which was released in 1965, has better animation than The Christmas Tree, and The Christmas Tree’s animation is as bad as or worse than a Rankin/Bass special and the unholy trilogy of “Legend of Zelda” CD-I games, they did something wrong.

In fact, I would dare to say that the animation is as bad as that awful Planned Parenthood propaganda video. You know, the terrifying-looking one targeted at children that was drawn in Microsoft Paint, entitled “A Superhero for Choice”.

Anyway, during the scene in which Mavilda gives Judy her list of chores and escorts Pappy and Lily to the orphans’ bedroom, something happens. It sounds like two sentences were recorded separately and were poorly edited together, as there is not even the slightest pause between these two sentences.

MAVILDA: Come, children. Follow me – another thing.

What the heck just happened?

When Pappy and Lily enter the orphans’ bedroom and are greeted by the orphans, who all smile at the exact same time. It’s not charming in the slightest. In fact, it’s creepy.

Over the next few days, as Judy gets to know the orphans, the orphans introduce her to Mrs. Hopewell. Seeing some wood boards next to the side of the orphanage, Judy decides to build a makeshift playground around Mrs. Hopewell. Yes. She’s making a playground around Mrs. Hopewell out of Mrs. Hopewell’s dead brothers and sisters. That’s just tasteless.

The mayor comes to the orphanage that night. Again, he’s literally counting his money in bags. Don’t believe me? Get this.

MAYOR: I’ve got enough money to get the children new clothes… (odd pause {why is this pause here?})… and still some left for their Christmas presents. Here you go, Mrs. Mavilda. Here’s the two bags.

But that’s not the only thing that made me gawk.

MAYOR: I’m glad those poor little things aren’t going to have to spend another winter in patches and rags. (Does the mayor not remember seeing two well-dressed children every time he’s come to “inspect” the orphanage?) By the way, where’s Judy? Oh, Mrs. Kindle!

CUT to next shot, showing Judy standing next to MAVILDA.

I’m sorry, but where the hell did Judy come from? I didn’t even hear a footstep to indicate her arrival in the room!  Is she just a female version of Nightcrawler from X-Men?

Anyway, the mayor gives them the money, and Judy says to Mavilda that she plans to shop for new clothes, presents, and red velvet for stockings for the orphans. Obviously, Mavilda has no intention of letting that happen.

What follows is the worst-edited scene I have ever seen. It starts with Judy and the orphans together in the orphans’ room. Judy mentions Christmas, and the orphans speak up, saying that they don’t know what Christmas is. Bullcrap. Surprised at first, Judy attempts to explain to the orphans what Christmas is. Yet she somehow never actually talks about what Christmas is.

JUDY: Christmas is a time when people get together. Friends with friends, children with their parents…

Uh, you may not want to talk about parents around these orphans.

But intercut throughout the scene are random shots of Mavilda and her cronies playing poker, and Mavilda wasting the money and losing it all in an all-or-nothing bid. And these wedge-cut-transitions are so sudden, awkward, unnatural, and interruptive. Heck, some of these shots barely reach a few seconds in length.

If you’re trying to make a Christmas special, and you’re trying to tell the audience about the true meaning of Christmas, then you DON’T EVER cut away to a different scene!

By the way, I was looking at the clock on the wall in the orphans’ bedroom, and I couldn’t help but notice that it read 2:00. Really? 2 in the morning? The kids should be exhausted! Why are they still up?

Mavilda wakes up the next morning at about 9:00, according to the clock on her nightstand. Why is she getting up that late? Also, she has a hell of a hangover.

Judy walks into Mavilda’s bedroom, where Mavilda says that Judy will not be shopping today. Judy deduces that Mavilda wasted the money on the poker game and that she’s been doing this for years, and calls her out on it. Mavilda confesses, and threatens Judy with eviction if she sings. And I’m pretty sure that if Mavilda was going through a hangover, she would be a lot more lethargic rather than…hyper. Judy breaks the bad news to the orphans, and yes, children. Don’t make this more difficult for Judy’s vocal range to not break an octave.

Before I get to the next sequence, I must address Helen Quinn as Mavilda. Her emotional range of annoyingly bland to holy-crap screaming is so volatile that it gives her the unintended effect of having some sort of multiple personality disorder. She is so strange to hear that it becomes uncomfortable and awkward.

Mavilda, still in bed, and with only her mouth and eyelids moving, plans to use one of her cronies to frame Judy for theft. And she speaks all of this out loud. And then she mentions that she’d done this same thing to the previous assistant. Wait, what? When the flaming hell did Mavilda have another girl work as her assistant before? We never saw that!

Mavilda calls her crony, telling him that she will have Judy deliver a package to him. The crony will then slip something valuable into Judy’s purse. An hour after Judy leaves, the crony will call the police, who will arrest her. Mavilda also tells her crony to come over and bring his “electric chainsaw”, even though the actual chainsaw is clearly gas-powered, to chop down Mrs. Hopewell. By the way, of course Mavilda’s crony has a Brooklyn accent. But one of the orphans has been listening in on the call, even though she had no reason to do so. She tells the other orphans of the trouble, but Mavilda bursts in. Mavilda briefly interrogates the orphans, knowing something’s up. She drops the subject and leaves rather quickly, but not before the most terrifying close-up I have ever seen.

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!

Seriously, what the actual eff? Just a minute ago, she looked like this,

and now she looks like this!

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!

The orphans are too late to stop Judy from leaving, and with allegedly nowhere else to turn, they turn to their last bastion of hope: Santa Claus. Uh…maybe you should go to the police. I’m sure they’ll be of much more help. The orphans know that Santa Claus lives up at the North Pole, but they don’t know where the North Pole is. The orphan with the book shows them a map of the country and tells them where to go. And I don’t know whose ass this map was pulled out of, because I have yet to see a landmass anywhere on Earth that looks like a decapitated gingerbread cookie that bleeds white frosting out of its stump. Licorice (oh yeah, the dog is still in this) barks, causing Lily to respond with

LILY: (garbled) He knows where the North Pole is!

I don’t know how the kids do it, but they somehow make a sled out of the remaining wood planks, and somehow tie Licorice’s collar to the sled on two-foot-long strings. Pappy and Lily volunteer to go, and set off with Licorice to the North Pole. Yes. Good luck getting through one night without freezing in those threadbare clothes.

Somehow they do, and the three come across a sign on a candy-cane-style pole that actually points to the North Pole. I don’t know about you, but I’m going to call BS on that and on Pappy, Lily, and Licorice having traveled that far in a day. They briefly stop, and uh, did Pappy go blind last night? Because Lily’s not up there, she’s down there. You’re staring at nothing right now. You’re just looking off blankly into the distance. Please look down. Please look down. Please look d – thank you.

And then the three are attacked by…Baloo? What? This is near the North Pole! It should be a polar bear! Get simple science right!

The bear makes clearly-not-a-bear sounds, and chases the three to the edge of a cliff. Licorice tries to fight off the bear. I call BS on the chase and the fight. Pappy, Lily, and Licorice should have been bear chow in about five seconds. Lily is knocked off the cliff, and grabs onto the edge before she can fall. And then Lily, you’re hanging from a cliff! Show some emotion! Pappy tries to help Lily, but Pappy! Your sister is hanging from a cliff! Show some emotion! Licorice knocks the bear off the cliff, but Lily loses her grip and falls, and Lily! You’re falling from a cliff! Show some effing emotion! I was not surprised to learn that Pappy! Your sister is falling from a cliff! Show some effing emotion!

CAN SOMEBODY IN THIS MOVIE JUST TRY?!

Pappy, emotionless as usual, Licorice by his side, tries to find Lily or her corpse, but cannot, and sets off back to the orphanage.

Judy gets back to the orphanage, and Mavilda, pissed at Judy, fires her.

MAVILDA: YOU’RE FIRED! (Loud enough to blow out the microphone)

Wow!

Wait, where did the “Mavilda framing Judy for theft” subplot go?

Mavilda’s crony arrives with the chainsaw, and he and Mavilda prepare to cut down Mrs. Hopewell. Judy and the remaining orphans refuse to let that happen, and gather around the tree. Mavilda orders her crony to cut down the tree anyway. As the crony moves over to the tree, suddenly WHERE DID THE MAYOR COME FROM? The mayor shows up, tells the crony to stand down, and WHERE THE EFF DID PAPPY AND LICORICE COME FROM? Pappy and Licorice show up, and Pappy starts to try to inform Judy about Lily’s fate when WHERE THE FLYING FRICK-A-FRACK DID RAY COME FROM? Ray appears out of nowhere, and Pappy informs Ray and Judy about Lily’s demise. And I balked at Ray and Judy’s reaction to hearing this: they widen their eyes for half a second. Yes. Way to have an appropriate reaction to YOUR OWN DAUGHTER DYING!

The mayor berates Mavilda for her neglect of the orphans, and reassures the orphans that Mrs. Hopewell is going to be all right. But I had to gawk at the mayor rather than being angry at the orphans’ condition, but being fearful that the inspector might come. Yes. Voters don’t exactly like politicians with the blood of children on their hands.

Also, why has the mayor’s voice changed from similar to Ray and the narrator to high-pitched and nasal? Nitpick: the mayor’s hat strap continually switches positions on the hat.

All of a sudden, the townsfolk show up.

From here until I say so, all of the following takes place in a minute or less.

Mavilda suddenly grabs the chainsaw from her crony, turns it on, revs it, and screams some drowned-out inflammatory spiel to the orphans, and moves over to Mrs. Hopewell to cut her down. And then HOLY CRAP! DON’T MESS WITH MRS. HOPEWELL! Lightning appears from out of nowhere and strikes Mavilda. Oh, never mind, it was Santa Claus who blasted Mavilda with lightning and somehow rescued Lily offscreen. Well, you certainly don’t want to get on his naughty li – Wait, what? He rescued Lily? Oh, come on! Lily reunites with her parents, Santa uses a blast of magic to decorate and light up Mrs. Hopewell, with the decorations spawning slightly to the left of Mrs. Hopewell. Santa uses another blast of magic to replace the orphans’ raggedy clothes with nice ones. And Santa’s Christmas Eve present run seems to be just letting parachuted presents fall out of the sleigh and into the houses. Yes. Santa can shoot magic out of his hands and fry a crusty old woman. He can make decorations materialize out of thin air. He doesn’t personally go into each house to place presents under the Christmas tree. His voice is just some guy’s voice put through an electronic filter to make it deep. And his creepy character design is eerily similar to the Coca-Cola Santa.

And from when I said so up until this point, all of these events have taken place in the span of one minute.

The mayor declares Mrs. Hopewell the official town Christmas tree. The townsfolk applaud by raising their arms and putting them back down repeatedly. Judy is given the post of running the orphanage with Ray, and they decide to adopt the seven orphans. By the way, the kids have been out in the snow and cold wearing only threadbare clothing. How are they not freezing?

And wh – Mavilda survived? How? She doesn’t even have a scratch on her! And…she’s a good person now! Was the lightning Santa struck her with magic lightning that turned her good? What?

The narrator returns to close out the movie, giving a very bored attempt at laughter about the irony that Mavilda went back to work at the orphanage as Judy’s assistant. Idiot narrator; just because you’re good now, it does not automatically excuse you from your past actions.

And then the narrator drops this bombshell:

NARRATOR: As for Mrs. Mavilda…well…she’s going to be all right. She’s good now. And you always win when you are good. Merry Christmas, everybody.

I’m sorry, what?

“You always win when you are good.”

That’s your idiotic attempt at a half-assed, tacked-on moral, huh? “You always win when you are good”.

What blobs of cranial tissue running on low-octane gasoline came up with this atrocity? Not rational ones, I can tell you that.

The story is the worst. (What about Chaos?) I stand corrected. The story is almost the worst. It is lazy. It is mean-spirited rather than heartwarming. It is dull instead of thrilling. It is full of padding and many pointless scenes that go nowhere. It even has little to nothing to do with Christmas until well after the halfway mark.

The characters are the wo – sorry, almost the worst. They are about as undeveloped as characters get, and are as flat as a pancake. They are dull and obnoxious. We have no reason to care for them, and we cheer at the temporary “death” of Lily rather than cry.

The dialogue is almost the worst. It is awfully written, makes little sense, and conveys absolutely no notions about the true meaning of Christmas.

The acting is almost the worst. It is beyond exasperatingly monotone, stilted, garbled, and lifeless, except in the case of Mavilda, who is startlingly over-the-top.

The animation is the worst. (Chaos was not animated, so I can say this.) It is disturbingly hideous. It is blank, bleak, bare-bones, flat, scant, and soulless. It never misses an opportunity to repeat split-seconds of itself. The voices never match the mouth movements. It lacks fluidity, or, hell, actual movement.

Its morals are almost the worst. It clearly doesn’t understand the meaning and – dare I say it – magic behind the spirit of the season. Instead of the villain getting her comeuppance, she is magically transformed into a good person. And then it neglects to present us with an actual moral. Oh, I’m sorry, they did at the last second. “You always win when you are good.”

The Christmas Tree is only forty-three minutes long, but trust me when I say that you feel every minute of those forty-three. I cannot fathom the damage it did to the TV station(s) that premiered it.

It is an agonizing little train wreck in every sense of the word. So many moments induced anger in me, and the movie as a whole is awkward and uncomfortable. It is so to such a degree that you will inadvertently laugh, even though what you are watching isn’t funny. It will turn even the most joyous and optimistic Christmas celebrator into a bitter, heartless Grinch.

Even the worst Christmas specials at least try to give out something informative, inspirational, enjoyable, humorous, or uplifting. They do it because they know how powerful the season is, that they feel that they owe it to God and/or the goodness of humanity, and that this is the time of year to celebrate the happiness and beauty in our world.

It’s hard to get into the Christmas spirit with its forsaking of its Judeo-Christian origins and the replacement of such with rampant consumerism and commercialization. While it is important to mention that Christmas is about celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, I’m talking about the positive aspects of what Christmas has evolved into as a worldwide holiday and how it has become part of the actual culture of many countries around the world. Christmas is the season of love, joy, and togetherness with family and friends. It is a time of showing how much you love someone by giving him or her a meaningful gift. In fact, this idea has become so all-encompassing that every year around this time, charities all over the world go up. People donate more money and material goods than any time of year to these charities to help those who are not as fortunate as us have a merry Christmas, and expect nothing in return. They do it because it’s the right thing to do, and that this time of year carries a unspoken undertone of love and compassion. In fact, the Christmas spirit is so strong, that people don’t even have to be a member of any particular religion to feel the positive aura of the season and join in the celebration.

Christmas singlehandedly brought World War 1 to a halt in many locations all across Europe. A brief halt, but a halt nonetheless. God’s and humanity’s message of peace on earth and goodwill toward men was that strong. The spirit of Christmas was a sign to stop the war, the hatred, the atrocities, the killing, and anything that didn’t equal love, kindness, compassion, and respect for all. Christmas is that powerful.

And what is The Christmas Tree’s informative, inspirational, uplifting, celebratory, loving, charitable, kind, compassionate, respectful, war-stopping message? What does The Christmas Tree say that the true meaning of Christmas is?

“You always win when you are good.”

No.

Do you want to know what Christmas is about? The warm feeling a child feels when he gives a gift to his elderly great-grandmother? The warm feeling you get when a person wishes you “Happy Holidays”, and you say “Merry Christmas” back. That sense of desire that a mother feels when she is shopping for presents for her kids, or when a husband is endlessly searching for just the right gift to give to his wife? That sense of happiness you feel when you volunteer at a soup kitchen working to feed the many homeless people forced to live outside on the freezing streets even on Christmas? That sense of accomplishment that you feel when you donate money, clothes, books, and toys to impoverished children? That sense of joy you feel when you celebrate Christmas with your family? That sense of appreciation and gratitude you feel when someone gives you a gift you didn’t even know that you wanted? Do you want to know what that’s about?

What Christmas is about, from Jesus Christ’s birth, to the goodness of humanity, to family togetherness, to charity, to even briefly stopping a war, can all be summed up in one simple word.

Christmas is about love, and the effort we will put in and the lengths we will go to in order to prove our love for not just our families and friends, but for everyone, from the lowliest homeless child giving his mother a hug to a rich man giving millions of dollars of his own money to charity. Anyone can just say that they love someone. But it’s what we do to show it. Give a gift to someone who cannot afford it. Reach out to someone who is lonely and/or having a hard time. Be with your family.

And love and effort are completely absent from The Christmas Tree. And that is something that you simply cannot do on Christmas.

You need to put effort not just into proving your love, but into something even bigger than yourself. It doesn’t need to be large, but it needs to be sincere. That’s why anyone can say Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Holidays, or Season’s Greetings. That’s why I’m sitting up into the wee hours of the morning writing this review for you. It’s because we believe that we are celebrating something bigger than ourselves. It’s an attitude, a spirit that we carry in our hearts. And we see it every day, with every little kind deed that I or you would do for another person.

Christmas is something that lasts, that endures, and that will continue to be celebrated in this hard-hearted, stiff-necked world.

I thank God and all of you for celebrating this happy, joyful, beautiful time of year with me.

Merry Christmas.

Final Verdict: 0 out of 5 stars.

A Charlie Brown [CENSORED]mas

Earlier this month, in Kentucky, Johnson County School District Superintendent Thomas Salyer sent a memo to the schools in his district, ordering them to abstain from performing any Christmas plays that identified with any particular religion. W.R. Castle Elementary was planning on performing the stage version of A Charlie Brown Christmas. At the behest of just a single parent, Principal Jeff Cochran simply decided to censor the scene from the play in which Linus quotes verses eight through fourteen from the second chapter of the Gospel of St. Luke. And the superintendent okayed this decision. As you can imagine, the parents of these students were none too pleased. Glenn Beck, on The Blaze, voiced his disappointment and annoyance, and asked for the parents to protest. Of course, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) was pleased at the decision to censor the play. But for several days, there were indeed protests by the parents outside the school district offices. I don’t know how many of these parents were influenced by Beck.

This past Thursday night, when the play was performed, and the parents saw that the aforementioned scene had been cut, a miracle happened. The people in the audience stopped the play, stood up, and recited Luke 2:8-14. The principal was disappointed in the parents’ reaction, and blamed them for trying to censor the kids, even though he had already done so. But from the parents, there were tears and applause for their act of courage in the face of censorship.

I read a litany of articles online surrounding this occurrence, from Christians and conservatives praising these parents for their act of heroism to atheists and liberals screaming bloody murder and sometimes outright demanding the death of each of these parents. Of course, I sided with the former.

By siding with the former, I have to ask the same question that every other Christian and conservative is asking. With A Charlie Brown Christmas having been a staple in Christmas TV specials since 1965, why has the American public decided to, now, in 2015, label it as potentially offensive and inflammatory, and go so far as to censor the Bible reference in there? I really want to hear an answer to that question, and I have yet to hear a legitimate explanation.

While atheists and liberals exhaustively insist that A Charlie Brown Christmas is flat-out Christian forced indoctrination, I say different. It is simply a quick, twenty-five-minute look at the Judeo-Christian origins of the most beautiful time of the year, and a child’s take on its corruption by the masses.

While I very much enjoyed it, I have to admit that A Charlie Brown Christmas is a flawed product. It’s very simple and minimalist. Its story is barely existent, its animation is pretty simple, its acting is pretty wooden, and its soundtrack isn’t very well edited into the product.

But in this case, it’s the message that counts. And it’s a classic Christmas special that is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary, and will hopefully be playing on television for fifty more.

LINUS: “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them, and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.’” That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

Thanks, Linus. Indeed it is. And I’m happy to be celebrating it with you.

“Hark! The herald angels sing,

‘Glory to the newborn King!

Peace on earth, and mercy mild,

God and sinners reconciled.’

Joyful all ye nations rise!

Join the triumph of the skies!

With angelic host proclaim,

‘Christ is born in Bethlehem!’

Hark! The herald angels sing,

‘Glory to the newborn King!'”

Merry Christmas.

Review 68: Krull (4/5)

Krull

Directed by Peter Yates

Starring Ken Marshall, Lysette Anthony, Freddie Jones, David Battley, Bernard Bresslaw, Alun Armstrong

Released on July 29, 1983

Running time: 2h 1m

Rated PG

Genre: Fantasy, Adventure

Well, I certainly reviewed this movie at a convenient time: the release of Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens.

After the bombastic success of the original Star Wars, suddenly epic sci-fi/fantasy movies became immensely profitable. Most of them ranged from really mediocre to absolutely terrible, such as Galaxy of Terror, Saturn 3, Star Odyssey, Message from Space, The Black Hole, Hawk the Slayer, Starcrash, and Battle Beyond the Stars, with the most blatant of these being Starchaser: The Legend of Orin, and the worst of these probably being Dünyayı Kurtaran Adam, also known as The Man Who Saved the World or Turkish Star Wars.

But in 1983, the best of these movies came out.

I’d been meaning to watch it for a long while. I don’t know why I had delayed it until now, but I’ve finally watched it.

The movie was known as Krull.

There is a prophecy: A girl of ancient name shall become queen. And she shall choose a king. And together they shall rule our world. And their son shall rule the galaxy.

Cool.

But all is not well on the planet of Krull. From the blackness of space comes the Black Fortress, a spiky mountain-shaped spaceship similar to the Skeksis’ castle from The Dark Crystal. It holds legions of alien soldiers known as Slayers. They are led by a fearsome monster known as the Beast. No one knows what galaxy far, far away they came from or why they came at all. But they have arrived on the planet of Krull, and have begun to quickly conquer the planet. They are dressed like over-armored knights, use similar weapons, and ride horses. Odd, but cool.

Before knowledge of the Slayers’ invasion reached them, the rival kingdoms of King Turold and King Eirig brought themselves together with the marriage of Turold’s son Colwyn (Marshall) to Eirig’s daughter Lyssa (Anthony, but poorly dubbed by someone else). During this wedding, an actually interesting cycle is brought up. Colwyn gives fire to water, and it can only be taken from it by the woman he chooses as his wife. Lyssa takes fire from water, and she shall only give it to the man who she chooses as her husband. By the way, the fire effects in this scene are pretty awful. But before the wedding can be completed, the Slayers attack the castle in which the wedding is being held. Both armies are destroyed, both kings are killed, and Lyssa is kidnapped. Why would they kidnap Lyssa? It will be explained later. And it’s not pleasant.

Also, the fight choreography during the fight is pretty shoddy.

These Slayers look awesome. They are dressed in spiky armor, and they wield cool weapons. One end is used as a rifle that shoots laser bolts, and the other end is a short sword on a long handle. They’re kind of goofy, but they are much more menacing and are significantly better shots than Stormtroopers. While we’re on the subject of how cool the Slayers look, I must mention the fantastic costume design, in particular the Slayers’ costumes. The costumes of them and everyone else fit in perfectly with Krull’s sets and environments.

Speaking of the set design and environments, they look gorgeous. Awe-inspiring. Clearly the budget was utilized well in order to create some of the most beautiful sets, costumes, environments, and practical effects I’ve ever seen. It’s a beautiful landscape of castles, mountains, deserts, forests, canyons, caves, swamps, and fields. It’s as if da Vinci, Monet, Bottecelli, Van Gogh, and Picasso got together and decided to sculpt and paint a wondrous world grounded in reality yet still surreal.

Colwyn, having been incapacitated after the Slayers’ attack, awakens to find himself being tended to by an old man named Ynyr (Jones), and to avoid any confusion, his name is either pronounced “yin-eer” or “yin-yeer”. I heard it pronounced as both during the movie. Ynyr tells Colwyn that Lyssa has been taken to the Black Fortress, and that the only way to destroy the Beast is with a mystical weapon known only as the Glaive. The Black Fortress is incredibly hard to find, as it changes location with every twin sunrise.

Colwyn and Ynyr travel to the mountain where the Glaive is rumored to be located. Colwyn climbs the mountain and enters a cave filled with streams of lava. Yes, ‘80s style lava. Just reddish-orange-colored gel that gives off a bit of a glow. Okay. Colwyn then sees the Glaive at the bottom of a stream of lava, and, surprisingly, just reaches into it and takes the Glaive. Bullhonky.

Nitpick. A glaive is a type of sword on a polearm. But in Krull, the Glaive is essentially a five-pointed shruiken. That’s…weird, but the Glaive itself looks pretty kickass.

In fact, here it is.

Ynyr tells Colwyn that knowledge of where the Black Fortress is can be given to them by a man known as the Emerald Seer. Another traveling sequence later, Colwyn and Ynyr have stopped next to a pond. A red glowing ball flies out of the trees and lands in the pond, transforming into a person. That person is Ergo the Magnificent.

ERGO: Short in stature, tall in power, narrow of purpose, and wide of vision!

Ergo is a bumbling magician who’s not very good at what he does, as he temporarily turns himself into a goose. He’s going to be the comedy sidekick of the movie, isn’t he? Surprisingly, Ergo’s comic relief actually isn’t nearly as painful as I expected it to be. Heck, it wasn’t even painful at all, just a little annoying at times.

Ergo starts heading off in the opposite direction of Colwyn and Ynyr, but he sees a cyclops, quickly changes his decision, and goes with Colwyn and Ynyr.

The three travel through a rocky hollow and are ambushed by a group of nine thieves. Colwyn asks them for their help, but they refuse. After Colwyn proves that he is the king now that his father is dead, and promises the thieves their freedom, the thieves agree to help. By the way, this group of thieves includes such names as Alun Armstrong, Robbie Coltrane, and … sigh … Liam Neeson, playing Torquil, Rhun, and Kegan respectively.

By the way, the story so far: A wise old sage is mentoring a young man whose family was just murdered by the forces of an evil Empire. This young man is carrying a weapon of mystical power with him. And he needs to go rescue a princess from a massive enemy fortress. And this man is enlisting the help of a couple of rogue smugglers. I did mention that this was inspired by Star Wars, right?

After another traveling sequence, Ergo stops to do something when a Slayer tries to sneak up on him. The Cyclops from earlier, whose name is Rell (Bresslaw), saves him, and joins the group. The backstory of Cyclopes is revealed: They once lived on another planet, and had two eyes. They made a deal with the Beast to see the future at the cost of one eye. But just like making a deal with the Devil, making a deal with the Beast backfired. Instead of seeing into the future in general, the Cyclopes were allowed to see one particular moment in the future: the moment of their own death. It’s an interesting backstory, and allows us some sympathy for Rell and his kind.

We then see the inside of the Black Fortress, where Lyssa is being held. And it turns out that the inside of the Black Fortress is its own surreal dimension. It’s very off-putting, and is the oddest set of the movie. We now learn the Beast’s motivations for conquering Krull and capturing Lyssa. The Beast knows of the prophecy, and he wishes to be the king Lyssa chooses so that his son will be the one who rules the galaxy. Interesting. Also, eww.

The group reaches the home of the Emerald Seer, and his child apprentice Titch. The Emerald Seer uses his special magic crystal to view where the Black Fortress will appear next, but the Beast doesn’t like being watched, as his hand magically appears and crushes the crystal. The Emerald Seer informs the group of a swamp nearby that cannot be penetrated by the Beast’s magic, and he travels with the group as they seek for said swamp. But as they travel, they are ambushed by Slayers. A small group literally rises out of a pond nearby in a fantastic visual, and others surround our heroes. The group fights them off, but two of the thieves are killed in the process. A third is lost to quicksand as the group makes their way through the swamp. Unbeknownst to the group, the Emerald Seer has also been killed, and a Slayer changeling has replaced him. The “Seer” informs the group that he and Colwyn must go to the center of the swamp alone. Meanwhile, Rell has fallen behind, and he discovers the Seer’s corpse. He runs to catch up with the group, and just as the “Seer” starts to try to kill Colwyn, Rell kills the “Seer”. By the way, the sequence that involves the “Seer” taking Colwyn farther into the swamp is surprisingly creepy. Exhausted and nearly hopeless, the group has no idea what to do next. But Ynyr brings up what could turn out to be their last hope: The Widow of the Web, who can tell the future.

The group travels some more. On the way, Ergo notices Titch’s state of mourning for the Emerald Seer, and so he transforms himself into a puppy to comfort him. How kind.

The group rests in a forest. Kegan goes to a nearby village, bringing back his wife Merith and her helper, as well as some food. Another Slayer changeling has taken the place of Merith’s helper, and she tries but is ultimately unwilling to seduce Colwyn, and so the Beast magically kills her. By the way, this attempted seduction was being shown to Lyssa by the Beast.

The group travels to the mountain where the Widow of the Web is located. Ynyr says that he must go alone, as he happens to know the Widow’s true name. He does so, and he finds the large opening that the Widow is located at the center of. The opening is filled with spider webs, and there is in fact a very cool-looking giant spider who patrols the web. This was still in the age of practical effects, and so the spider is animated very decently through stop-motion. Ynyr makes it to the center, and confronts the Widow, who for some reason is also named Lyssa. Ynyr and the Widow are revealed to be former lovers, and that the Widow had been exiled to the Web because she killed her and Ynyr’s child. Ynyr and the Widow toss aside their grievances and forgive one another, and the Widow provides Ynyr with tomorrow’s location of the Black Fortress: in the Iron Desert. The Widow gives Ynyr the sands from her hourglass, and tells him that as the sands slip through his fingers, so shall his life, and when he runs out of sand, he will die. That’s a pretty cool idea. Ynyr escapes from the Web and makes it back to the group just in time to tell them that the Black Fortress will be in the Iron Desert tomorrow. He then runs out of sand and dies. The group loses hope, as the Iron Desert is a thousand leagues from their current location. But Rell informs them of another Deus ex Machina:

RELL: Fire Mares! Fire Mares can travel a thousand leagues in a day!

Frankly, I don’t mind reliance on one too many Deus ex Machinas in a movie. At least, I don’t mind them if the movie is good. And Krull is.

After another traveling sequence, the group comes across a herd of wild Fire Mares, which are just a group of beautiful Clydesdale horses. Titch informs the group that Rell’s time to die has come, and that he must stay in his current location to accept his fate. Also, if Rell opposes his fate, his death will be painful. After capturing enough of the Fire Mares, the group sans Rell sets off toward the Iron Desert, and the Black Fortress.

The reason that these creatures are called Fire Mares is this: they gallop so fast that they leave fire in their tracks as they gallop. And they can fly. And another beautiful visual is given: the Fire Mares leap over a canyon, leaving fire in their tracks, and it is all set against a lovely sunset. Wow. I mean, wow.

The group makes it to the Black Fortress before the twin suns rise. They try to climb up the side amidst a hail of laser fire from the Slayers, and Robbie Coltrane’s character is killed. When hope seems lost, Rell appears on a Fire Mare, and quickly scales the Black Fortress’s walls. Rell makes a break for the door, sustaining a few hits, and gets to the door. The door starts to close, but Rell holds it open long enough for the group to make it inside. Rell is trapped in the closing door and is crushed. Yikes. Well, that’s an incentive to not oppose Fate. She will exact her revenge. The group has now made it inside, and the Black Fortress teleports to a new location: a lovely meadow. Okay.

Two more thieves are killed, and Kegan sacrifices himself to save Torquil. Ergo and Titch are separated from the others and are accosted by Slayers. Ergo turns himself into a tiger, and despite some injuries, saves himself and Titch.

Torquil and two other thieves are trapped in a room in which walls studded with spikes begin to close in. One of the thieves is killed.

Colwyn knows that the time to use the Glaive is now, and he extremely slowly breaches a dome in which Lyssa is held and the Beast is located. After reuniting with Lyssa, Colwyn injures the Beast with the Glaive, and attempts to retrieve it. But the Glaive is now embedded within the Beast’s body. Unable to defend themselves from the Beast’s counterattack, this exchange happens:

LYSSA: Colwyn, it’s not the Glaive. It’s you.

COLWYN: No. Lyssa, it’s us. (Beat.) I give fire to water. It shall not return except in the hands of the woman I choose as my wife.

LYSSA: (Realizes what she and COLWYN must do.) I take fire from water. I give it only to the man I choose as my husband.

Lyssa gives the much-better-looking fire effects to Colwyn, who shoots a blast of fire out of his hand at the Beast. He continues to do so until the Beast is dead.

Yes. Lyssa and Colwyn defeated the Beast with the power of Love. It’s a very silly plot device, and I am totally okay with that.

With the Beast’s death, Torquil and the other thief are released from the spike room. They as well as Ergo and Titch reunite with Colwyn and Lyssa, and the group escapes from the self-destructing Black Fortress. They get outside and well away from it, and continue to get away as the Black Fortress crumbles into the sky.

The group realizes their victory. Colwyn names Torquil his Lord Marshal. Our heroes depart from the movie across the field, and the prophecy is restated.

NARRATOR: A girl of ancient name shall become queen. And she shall choose a king. And together, they shall rule our world. And their son shall rule the galaxy.

But that story unfortunately will not be told, as Krull bombed badly at the box office, losing over thirty million dollars. Ouch.

It’s a pity that it bombed so hard, because this movie is both awesomely stupid, and stupidly awesome.

If you want joyfully silly ‘80s sci-fi/fantasy fare, this is the film for you.

Obviously, the story makes little sense, was clearly inspired by Star Wars. The characters are pretty bland, especially Colwyn and Lyssa, the acting is very mediocre, and the dialogue is really clunky.

But there’s undoubtedly something surprisingly charming about the whole debacle.

Apart from some story elements being drawn from Star Wars, the mythos of Krull and Krull is surprisingly original.

Its casting was pretty decent. Each actor is clearly very enthusiastic about his or her role, and Ken Marshall as Colwyn in particular is really trying earnestly to do well. It’s like the full motion videos in the beginning of the Magic: The Gathering RPG. The actors are clearly trying to be serious, but they know full well the silliness of the situation, so they juxtapose their seriousness with hamminess. The best execution of this was Jeremy Irons’s performance as Profion in Dungeons and Dragons. Thankfully, such over-the-top acting was absent from Krull.

The cinematography is damn near perfect. I presume that this is because Krull’s cameraman was Peter Suschitzky, who also shot The Empire Strikes Back.

While the characters are pretty bland, they are still memorable, especially the Slayers and the Beast, who are surprisingly intimidating and threatening, perhaps even rivaling Darth Vader.

While Star Wars was undoubtedly the better movie, I found Krull to be much more kickass.

The overall set design and look in general of the movie is absolutely gorgeous. It has some of the best sets I’ve ever seen.

The soundtrack by James Horner is beautiful, and kicks serious ass. I’m serious – James Horner can make pretty much anything sound awesome. It screams epic adventure and rapturous beauty. He drew a little less from “The Planets” than John Williams did. God rest Mr. Horner’s soul.

The movie as a whole is simply a fun, nostalgic experience in which you sit back and enjoy it without thinking. It may not make much sense, but if you bring popcorn and beer into the mix, you’ll have the time of your life.

My initial reaction at the end of the movie was this: I thought that it was one of those movies that needed to be remade. A talented team could make a fantastic three-and-a-half-hour-long epic out of this.

It’s a guilty pleasure.  It’s lively. It’s hokey. It’s corny. It’s cheesy. It’s goofy. It’s fun. It’s fantastic.

Final verdict: 4 out of 5 stars.