bad movies, Bone Boys, Butcher Boys, cannibals, cinema, filmmaking basics, films, horror films, horror franchises, Jonathan Swift, Judgment Night, Kim Henkel, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, Tobe Hooper
Journey with us to a land and time far away…or, as I like to call it, last Sunday. On this particular day, definitely lighter than the usual Sunday, I screened the polar opposites of the cinematic spectrum: a horror film so fundamentally stupid that I actually lost IQ points watching it and a historical drama that’s much deeper than I initially thought. Just another day at the theater, as it were. Since I’ve got several things to say about both films, I figured that I would split this particular day into two separate posts. First up: the cinematic marvel known as Butcher Boys.
Living up to past accomplishments can wear anyone down but it must be especially difficult for those entertainers who make a big splash upon entry only to be completely forgotten down the road. As with anything else, however, filmmakers have no more right to rest on their laurels than do the 9-5ers. If you’re only known for something 40 years in the rear-view mirror, you should probably do something else.
Kim Henkel had a bit more of an auspicious debut than many: he was, after all, the guy who wrote the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Together, Henkel and director Tobe Hooper crafted one of the most influential, legendary and flat-out terrifying films in the history of cinema. Unfortunately for Henkel, this happened back in 1974. Fast forward 20 years and we witness Henkel’s first (and last, thankfully) directing credit: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 4: The New Generation. Yes, boys and girls, that’s the one that starred Matthew McConaughey and Renee Zellweger and no, it is not worth watching, even if you’re curious. At that point, it really did seem as if Henkel would disappear into the mystical land inhabited by all former filmmakers that no longer make films: academia.
Apparently, however, this particular story would have an additional chapter. A pair of budding filmmakers in Henkel’s scriptwriting class struck up a friendship with him, got him to produce one of their films and, in the ultimate coup de grace, had him write the script for another film. This script, a slightly revised one that Henkel had been shopping around as a TCM sequel for decades, would become Butcher Boys (aka Bone Boys). It would also become one of the single worst films I’ve seen in years.
Opening your crappy Z-grade cannibal film with a quote from Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal is a dangerous proposition. By doing so, you are making the inherent claim that your film bears some slight resemblance to one of the single greatest pieces of satire in the history of literature. As such, I began my viewing experience by looking for deeper meaning in this meaningless drivel than was necessary (or expected, I’m sure): suffice to say that I realized how completely I’d been duped about twenty minutes in, by which time the film was pretty much unsalvageable.
The plot is actually pretty basic and should be familiar to anyone who’s seen Judgment Night: a group of stuck-up, obnoxious young people journey into the bad part of town for a birthday celebration in a restaurant (because the good part of town was booked solid, obviously), only to spend the rest of the film running from “the other,” in this case, a bunch of generic gang members with cannibal tendencies and vein-popping acting styles. The entire film consists of the group running away, getting caught and beaten up, escaping and running away again. Lather, rinse, repeat. The formula lasts all the way to the last 20 minutes or so when the movie goes ape-shit insane and becomes Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 crossbred with a truly awful Troma film. No shit: play any Troma fan the final 10 minutes of the film and see what they say.
At first, I found myself drawn in by the things in the film that kind of worked. Note that I didn’t say “worked”: nothing in this film really works, if I’m to be honest. Certain aspects, however, aren’t as initially obnoxious as the later become. The opening manages to capture a tiny bit of the eerie atmosphere from the beginning of the original TCM, thanks to some odd sound work. There’s a car chase towards the beginning that reminds of the similar chase in TCM 2, although it’s somewhat ruined by the absolutely ridiculous behavior of one of the shrieking idiots on the “good guy” team. The urban setting is interesting, for a time, and the film has no shortage of energy. There are also tons of cameos by original TCM cast members, which definitely serves to up the gimmick factor, although most of these cameos are of the “blink-and-you’ll-miss-it” variety. Nonetheless, it’s briefly fun to play a game of “Oh Hey: That Guy!,” but this could also be because it momentarily distracts one from the elephant in the room: Butcher Boys is completely, unrepentantly, stupid.
Some films, like Big Trouble in Little China, feel stupid on the outside but are actually quite intelligent. Butcher Boys, on the other hand, is just stupid. Not only are the kids stupid (they do everything from falling loudly while hiding to staying in the same place while stalked) but the bad guys are equally stupid. They fight with each other for no reason, speak as if delivering thirty separate monologues and overact to the point that, as mentioned above, the film becomes a Troma production. Worse yet, none of the bad guys even approach the realm of frightening, much less nightmare-inducing. Most of them look like gang member extras from Hobo with a Shotgun (a feeling I got more than once, which really made me wish I was actually watching Hobo…sigh…). Once one reaches the end, it’s become painfully obvious that the two directors (did it really take two people to direct this mess?) have little grasp on anything, including such things as decent shot selection and filmmaking basics. The script, obviously, does no one any favors: I’d love to know whether Henkel or the directing duo was responsible for the half-naked guy covered in Crisco (you know, so he slides down tunnels easier…duh!) that pops up at the end but does it really matter? I’m pretty sure that all three of them thought it was one of the coolest things they’ve ever seen and who the hell am I to ruin their party?
Ultimately, I can find very little to recommend in this and I watch (and enjoy) a lot of bad films. Butcher Boys biggest offense, larger even than all of the filmmaking deficiencies, is that it is a deeply lazy film. Henkel has, essentially, assembled a TCM Greatest Hits compilation, as it were, but with none of the atmosphere or finesse of the first two films (like Hellraiser, TCM is a franchise that is only as good as its first two films). We get a large, mute, man-monster, just like Leatherface. We get a dinner table scene, just like TCMs 1 and 2. We get a bug-eyed crazy guy breaking into the bad guys’ compound, just like TCM 2. We get a car chase and radio station interludes, just like TCM 2. In short, the only thing that we don’t get is a wholly original, interesting film.
I’ll always have a place in my heart for TCM and TCM 2: I don’t think anything could replace the enjoyment that I still receive from these movies. There’s a reason, however, why I’ve only seen the other films in the series once, the same reason that I will never watch Butcher Boys again:
They are flat-out terrible films.