I Love the Smell of Napalm in the Morning

Apocalypse Now is horror and moral terror personified. After experiencing almost every facet of the Vietnam War, I feel like everything was leading up to this. Apocalypse Now is the war movie to end all war movies. The ultimate statement of the many horrors of war. Some have even called it the greatest movie ever made. Something famed director Francis Ford Coppola is no stranger to. Apocalypse Now would go on to become a definitive work from the New Hollywood Era of the 70’s. Inspiring countless imitators, parodies, and even an entire comedy paying homage to it. But the road to get there may be one of the most infamously trying in movie history.

You can’t blame me for being a little fascinated by that. The film was based on the 1899 novella Heart of Darkness. The Congo was just changed to Vietnam, among other differences. The Vietnam War is still one of the most controversial wars ever fought. Always an endurance test no matter the presentation. With a little help from his friend George Lucas, Coppola’s shoot took years to finish, went over budget, and drove the crew as insane as Vietnam itself. All of which can be seen in the documentary Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse. Only the most passionate filmmaker could be dedicated enough to pull off something like Apocalypse Now

Apocalypse Now

“I love the smell of napalm in the morning”

Apocalypse Now was already a challenge since no other screenwriter successfully adapted Heart of Darkness. George Lucas and writer John Milius were both too busy to director, so Francis Ford Coppola became involved. His familiarity with character driven epics makes him an ideal choice. Casting was the next headache since it became a who’s who of 1970’s Hollywood. Harvey Keitel was initially cast as the lead, Captain Willard, before being replaced by Martin Sheen. Sheen was so drunk and facing a mental breakdown during his infamous hotel scene that he cut his hand punching a mirror. Then he suffered a heart attack that halted production and had to be temporarily filled by his brother. I’d never guess his brother was the one performing all of the narration. Sheen’s subtle performance is just as great as all the other major stars.

Robert Duvall’s war obsessed Lieutenant Colonel Kilgore earned him an Oscar nod. His most iconic line being “I love the smell of napalm in the morning.” Young Harrison Ford even appears as one of the officers who wants Willard to terminate rogue Army Colonel Kurtz with extreme prejudice. Everything in Apocalypse Now leads to his reveal. Although plenty of uncomfortable war atrocities are seen including the “Ride of the Valkyries” beach scene, a river boat is the real setting. Willard is accompanied by a variety of Vietnam soldiers with the same secret mission. Albert Hall steers the boat and questions Willard’s leadership as Phillips. Frederic Forrest cooks up a notable performance as Chef. Sam Bottoms tries to bring levity to Lance, but ultimately loses it. A 14 year old Laurence (or Larry) Fishburne had to lie about his age just to play 17 year old Mr. Clean. Ironically turning 17 by the time shooting wrapped. He’s easily the most tragic figure in this unforgiving war.

Not even a Playboy Playmate performance can distract from their mission. As they’re forced to kill innocents and question their own morality. Until only two remain. Kurtz is said to have lost his mind and present himself as some sort of god to a Cambodian tribe. Dennis Hopper doesn’t help the assumption as a war photographer who calls him a poet. The reveal of Kurtz is practically mythical. Shrouding him in darkness with philosophical lines off the top of Marlon Brando’s head. Only an actor as brilliant as Brando could make that work. His weight was just an issue since more scenes with him would be difficult to pull off. Although Willard makes it to Kurtz, he’s unsure what to do next. Kurtz makes him question the war, his role in it, and the horrors he’s witnessed. Endings vary, but Willard finally decides to finish his mission. Rising from the river camouflaged in another iconic shot. Before becoming the very thing he sought to destroy.

Other filming difficulties included entire sets being destroyed, a payroll being stolen, strained actor relationships, and the killing of a real water buffalo. The movie wasn’t even finished when it first premiered. Even then the theatrical release wasn’t the only version. As a 3 hour Redux was made with more nudity and character moments. Then again with a Final Cut that Coppola prefers. The lack of opening and closing credits still confuses me though. No matter the version, Apocalypse Now captures the look and sound of Vietnam flawlessly. Whether it’s helicopters against an orange sun or use of “The End” by The Doors. Although the Academy Awards went with the safe choice, Apocalypse Now still earned 8 nominations. Best Picture, Director Francis Coppola, Supporting Actor Robert Duvall, Adapted Screenplay, Art Direction, and Film Editing. Winning for Best Cinematography and Sound. Apocalypse Now is a lesson in perseverance that shows war for what it truly is. “The horror… the horror.”

Apocalypse Now

Willard rises from the river

Somebody’s Watching Me

Peeping Tom is the other groundbreaking slasher movie released in 1960. While Psycho was a major success from the start, Peeping Tom was initially torn apart by critics. Effectively ruining director Michael Powell’s career in Britain. It seems harsh, but standards were very different in the early 60s. Audiences weren’t used to dark psychological themes, implied murder, or lewd sexual content. Psycho at least benefited from the name recognition of Alfred Hitchcock.

Peeping Tom deals with a peeping tom named Mark. He’s a sick voyeur who works for a film studio, takes provocative professional photos, and always carries a camera. Mark is a murderer who kills unsuspecting women just to film their fear. Using a bladed camera leg and adding the footage to his documentary. There are many similarities to Psycho. Namely the killer being an innocent looking everyman who has trouble around women. Not to mention an unsettling connection to a parent. The primary difference is how much more Peeping Tom gets into the disturbed mind of Mark.

His neighbor Helen gets dangerously close to Mark and nearly becomes a victim herself, but a lot of slasher traditions are unknowingly established. Since Peeping Tom isn’t black & white, atmospheric color is used to great effect. Despite its reputation, Peeping Tom doesn’t show any on screen murder. Women wear lingerie, but only one is seen topless for a few seconds. What sticks with you is the fear of being watched. The idea that someone could be filming you at any moment will always be effective no matter the decade. Making Peeping Tom more relevant than ever.

Peeping Tom

Mark shows Helen his film

Building a Butcher

Leatherface is the simply titled second prequel in the consistently all over the place franchise. Doing yet another origin for how infamous slasher Leatherface came to be. Except this one makes less sense than the remakes attempt with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning. Leatherface traces the origin of young Jedidiah Sawyer in the Texas Chainsaw 3D continuity. As he refuses to use a chainsaw to do his first killing. A more active grandpa does it instead.

He seems to grow out of it since the cow-headed Jed doesn’t flinch when a member of the Hartman family is killed. Giving the corrupt Hartmans good reason to hate the Sawyers. Texas Ranger Hartman takes Verna Sawyer’s child away from her and he’s raised in a 1965 mental institution. Once again the story is more complex than it needs to be. Verna tries to get Jed back, but his name is changed. So we follow an escaped band of youths wandering rural Texas, unaware who Leatherface is. The group consists of final girl nurse hostage Lizzy, well adjusted Jackson, the silent hulking Bud, sadistic Ike, and his equally psychotic pyromaniac girlfriend Clarice.

The couple is way too evil with their excessively mean spirited murders. They engage in the franchises only real nude scene, but it’s just plain gross. Gore is even more excessive with far more lingering deaths. SPOILER ALERT! Although Bud is clearly the logical Leatherface, it was friendly and skinny Jackson all along. Even with a newly deformed mouth and mental trauma that doesn’t make sense. Jed chainsaws Hartman and chases after Lizzy. Since it’s a prequel, no one good survives once again. Ending on Jed sewing up his first leatherface. Leatherface is further proof of why I’d put this series low on my list of favorite slasher franchises.

8. Leatherface

Leatherface pulls out the chainsaw

Followed by: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) & Texas Chainsaw 3D

Country Cousins

Texas Chainsaw 3D is the most needlessly complicated massacre in the confusing franchise. Complete with obnoxious 3D. After 7 installments, they decided to make a sequel that ignores the tone shifting sequels and pointless remakes. Meaning Texas Chainsaw 3D takes place immediately after The Texas Chain Saw Massacre in 1974. The decision isn’t entirely unwelcome since it brought back Gunnar Hansen and Marilyn Burns one last time. Even John Dugan returns as Grandpa. Along with Chop Top actor Bill Moseley as Drayton Sawyer.

Mild Part 2 acknowledgement like the Sawyer name is kept, but the cannibalistic family is the most generic they’ve ever been. None of its many members stand out since they’re all killed when the perfectly recreated home is burned to the ground. A rival clan called the Hartman’s kill them with vigilante justice. All except the now Jedidiah named Leatherface and a baby survive. A baby who somehow grows into the gorgeous Alexandra Daddario despite being a baby in 1974. Heather is the final girl who takes her equally sexy sex-crazed friends to the house she’s inherited. Yet somehow there’s still no overt nudity. All the legality, familial ties, and warring clan stuff don’t belong in a slasher movie.

You shouldn’t have to think when the elderly Leatherface is more murderous than ever. This is one of the goriest installment with very brutal chainsaw and meat hook deaths. SPOILER ALERT! The biggest insult is making Leatherface sympathetic. Since it’s the corrupt Hartman’s who kidnap Heather. Revealing her to be a Sawyer is a serious suspension of disbelief since she’s just too hot to be related to this family. What’s worse is her embracing her cousin, allowing him to kill, and taking care of him like her grandmother Verna Carson requested. Texas Chainsaw 3D is just another mess in an already messy franchise.

7. Texas Chainsaw 3D

Leatherface pulls out the chainsaw

Preceded by: Leatherface & The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

Family Splatters

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning is the other forgettable massacre in the franchise. It’s practically a copy & paste of the unnecessary 2003 remake. Now a prequel since Leatherface would’ve been armless with the biggest scene stealer dead. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning traces the origin of every question that wasn’t asked about the remake. Like showing the icky birth of Thomas Hewitt as a deformed baby taken in by Luda Mae.

4 years before the previous movie in 1969, the now hulking Thomas wears half a leather face and kills his boss when the slaughterhouse closes. He picks up a chainsaw and later skins a face both for the first time. Since R. Lee Ermey was sadistic enough to make an impression, we also see him kill the real Sheriff Hoyt before assuming his identity. And double amputee Uncle Monty’s legs were sawed off by Leatherface. None of which needed any explanation. The Hewitts become cannibals as a means to survive and another disposable batch of sexed up non-nude teens are their first victims. Michael Bay may still just be a producer, but his fingerprints are all over it.

The minor difference is a Vietnam draft dodging subplot and bloodthirsty bikers. Everything else is the same, only with way more graphic kills. Since torture porn had vastly increased the use of blood & gore since 2003. I could barely stomach it, but it’s the ending that really turned me off. SPOILER ALERT! The very interchangeable Chrissie is the final girl. Equally sexy Jordana Brewster notably plays Chrissie before her career got even faster. But since it’s a prequel with an obvious outcome, she’s killed last minute. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning is grim and pointless.

6. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre The Beginning

Leatherface pulls out the chainsaw

Followed by: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)

Slaughter House

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003) is arguably what truly started the modern slasher remake craze. It was first on Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes unnecessary remake hit list. Although I completely ignored the remake growing up, it’s really to blame for the excessively graphic, gore filled horror movies of the 2000’s. The remake has no reason to exist, but at least it isn’t exactly the same. It’s pretty effective as a brutal standalone slasher flick. The film is still set in the 70’s for some reason. Only with grainy documentary footage replacing the opening crawl. Played over the infamous lightbulb score.

There’s another group of drug-fueled sex-crazed teens who also pick up a hitchhiker. Except it’s a traumatized girl who commits suicide in their van. They encounter increasingly off individuals in backwoods Texas who are obviously part of the cannibalistic family. They’re just called the Hewitts this time. Each demented family member stands out well enough without overshadowing the true star. Leatherface is just as hulking with bodybuilder Andrew Bryniarski wearing the warped human face and carrying the much more used chainsaw. Now he’s named Thomas Hewitt and has a skin deformity we didn’t need to see.

Second to Leatherface is his scene stealing brother Sheriff Hoyt made extra sadistic by the great R. Lee Ermey. Luda Mae is the protective matriarch, Monty is the bitter double leg amputee uncle, and Tea Lady & Henrietta are keeping a kidnapped baby. Only the creepy child Jedediah has a soul. SPOILER ALERT! Erin is the final girl who’s chased by Leatherface in the never before seen slaughterhouse. A sexy often wet Jessica Biel fresh off 7th Heaven notably plays Erin. Despite the lingering shots, there’s still no nudity. Just a ton of blood when Erin chops off Leatherface’s arm and runs Hoyt over. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003) set off a chain reaction of unneeded horror remakes.

5. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Leatherface pulls out the chainsaw

Remake of: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) & Preceded by: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning

Lady in Leather

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation is the embarrassing final installment of this convoluted timeline. After Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III failed to make an impression, original co-writer Kim Henkel leaned heavily into the satirical feel of Part 2. Only now it’s too uncomfortable, demented, and ridiculous for its own good. Initially called Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Next Generation was shelved for 2 years until the late 90’s. The biggest draw became before they were famous Renรฉe Zellweger and Matthew McConaughey.

The Next Generation returns to the sex-crazed teen formula by basically making an inferior version of the first movie. Zellweger is timid final girl Jenny who’s practically unfazed by all her prom friends being killed. Since continuity is meaningless, the Sawyers are now named the Slaughter family. McConaughey hams it up as the primary family member. He’s way too over-the-top evil with a bionic leg and mean spirited torture methods. Other members are his abused power suit wearing girlfriend who feels very out of place. Same with his cultured brother. Leatherface, now just named Leather, is easily the worst part of the movie. His mullet looks stupid and all he does is scream like an idiot.

It gets worse when Leatherface’s drag tendencies are dialed up with a full body woman suit, wig, and dress. The more ridiculous dinner scene is recreated (with Grandpa) yet again. SPOILER ALERT! Until it’s interrupted by an out of nowhere member of a secret society that’s fond of sadism. As if that wasn’t dumb enough, McConaughey’s character is killed by a plane, and Leatherface’s frustrated flailing is practically a parody. Leaving survivor Jenny to see the supposedly dead Sally Hardesty alive and well. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation fails at whatever it’s trying to say.

4. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre The Next Generation

Leatherface pulls out the chainsaw

Preceded by: Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III

Roadkiller

Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III is the first forgettable massacre in the franchise. As nothing about it really stands out. The insane comedy of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is ignored in favor of straight forward horror. Forget the Lady of the Lake chainsaw wielding teaser trailer, since none of that craziness is featured here. Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III does put more emphasis on a grungy 90’s Leatherface with a more grown up mind.

The uninspired plot follows a couple on the road in rural Texas. They encounter the same old unusual Texans who are obviously members of the Sawyer family. Only none of them are people we’ve seen before. There’s a voice box speaking mother figure, one who’s crazy like the hitchhiker, one with a hooked hand, a just as demented little girl, and a surprise member played by before he was famous Viggo Mortensen. The only returning member is Grandpa. Despite the size of the family, none of them overshadow the depraved Leatherface, now named Junior, as he saws through any random victim on the road.

The problem is a noticeable lack of gore. All because the movie was butched in editing just to retain an R rating. So none of the occasionally bloody kills standout. SPOILER ALERT! One half of the traveling couple, Michelle is the final girl. Along with horror icon Ken Foree as survivalist Benny. They drive off after finishing off the last Sawyer, unaware Leatherface is somehow still alive. Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III is as rotten as roadkill.

3. Leatherface The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3

Leatherface pulls out the chainsaw

Preceded by: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 & Followed by: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation

The Cannibal Club

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is the insane 12 year follow up to horror classic The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. You’d swear it was a parody if Tobe Hooper wasn’t the director. He wanted to make a black comedy since he claims it was present in the first movie. As if you couldn’t tell from The Breakfast Club inspired poster, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is completely different. As the only installment in the slasher dominated 80’s, Part 2 is over-the-top with fountains of blood.

The now named cannibalistic Sawyer family were never arrested. So a dress coat wearing Leatherface named Bubba continues to terrorize Texas with the corpse of his hitchhiker brother Nubbins. Get used to the increased gore from here on out. The cook named Drayton gets uncomfortably close to society while winning a chilli contest. The final girl is sexy disc jockey Stretch. Without the traditional slasher set up, she’s the one who investigates the family along with unhinged police officer Lefty. Before Dennis Hopper rose in popularity he was Sally and her brother’s uncle who took revenge using dual chainsaws.

But it’s the family that really takes center stage. As Leatherface is a slasher who’ll constantly be shown up by his more demented family members. Like his weirdo hippie brother Chop Top. A bizarre scene stealer with a plate in his head. If that wasn’t strange enough, then Leatherface having an impotent chainsaw after falling for Stretch is. Everything else takes place at their lair under an amusement park. Where they do the dinner scene with Grandpa all over again. SPOILER ALERT! Except everyone but Stretch is killed. Leaving her as the one flailing the chainsaw in the air. Maybe it’s the random silliness or the hillbilly feel, but The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 just didn’t win me over with its drastic tonal shift.

2. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2

Leatherface pulls out the chainsaw

Preceded by: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre & Followed by: Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III

Blood(less)bath

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is arguably what truly started the modern slasher genre. It’s just that it came out in the 70’s when traditional horror movies were at their peak. What made The Texas Chain Saw Massacre really stand out, is that it’s hardly a massacre. Since there’s actually barely any blood in it. Director Tobe Hooper wanted a PG rating, but I would agree that it’s just too disturbing. Which is why Leatherface is the last of the slasher icons I ended up seeing. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is based on true events. Not really, but the grainy quality makes it feel realistic.

An early group of possibly sex-crazed teens travels to Texas. For some reason they pick up an obviously crazy hitchhiker. Then they attempt to get gas, but the proprietor tells them they’re out. So they stay at an abandoned house. Next door they’re introduced to Leatherface. A huge apron wearing, chainsaw (or mallet) wielding inbred maniac. He’s played by the hulking Gunnar Hansen and is inspired by serial killer Ed Gein. The name derives from the human skin he wears on his face. He also decorates with human bones. He’s silent like other slashers, but he does make noises since he has the mind of a child.

SPOILER ALERT! After killing her wheelchair bound brother and all her friends, final girl Sally Hardesty’s nightmare is only beginning. It turns out the hitchhiker, proprietor, and Leatherface are all part of one big cabalistic hillbilly family. A family that includes a practically dead Grandpa. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is scary because of its eerie atmosphere, uncomfortable dinner scene, and implied killings. A victim being impaled on a meat hook is disturbing whether you see it or not. Despite the title, only one person is killed by a chainsaw. In the end, a Leatherface in drag lives, flailing his chainsaw in the air as Sally escapes. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre doesn’t need gore to be disturbing.

1. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

Leatherface pulls out the chainsaw

Followed by: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2