It’s been said time and time again by Joe Bob that “‘Saw is king,” meaning that, apart from it being narrowly defeated by the original Night of the Living Dead in his 1982 newspaper poll about the world’s greatest drive-in flick, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre probably will be pointed at for all time as one of the pinnacle horror-movie achievements.
I mean, his introductory monologue for The Texas Chain Saw Massacre during the Dinners of Death marathon was 45 minutes — that’s half the flick’s running time to prep folks for what was to come. There’s been discussion about making a miniseries out of JBB’s epic Texas Monthly article “They Came, They Sawed” about the making of Tobe Hooper’s flick. Yes, TCM in the subsequent half century might have been outgored from an effects standpoint by other movies. But it’ll never be outhorrored. If it had never been made, there’s a branch of horror from The Hills Have Eyes through Motel Hell through Evil Dead to Pieces to Wrong Turn to Hostel and beyond that might have been lopped off right then and there. And also, while the 1980s slasher boom owes more to Black Christmas, which begat Halloween,which begat Friday the 13th which … well, you know the rest. TCM’s masked maniac running around slaughtering folks with a variety of heavy and painful instruments in a brutal manner can’t be discounted as being influential.
And that’s on the macro level. From a more zoomed-in through the bottom of an empty Lone Star bottle perspective, TCM has its own bloody prints in the state. If you’re a horror fan and you live in Texas, you swear by three things — Joe Lansdale’s fiction, Joe Bob’s Drive-In Totals and that yeah, you probably won’t make a Texas-based horror movie that surpasses Saw, but you darn well can make one that pays respect to it.
And that’s where co-directors Duane Graves and Justin Meeks come in.
Years ago, these regional moviemakers met Kim Henkel, aka the co-writer of TCM who wrote and directed TCM: The Next Generation where he had the foresight to cast the guy from the Lincoln commercials, Matthew McConoughey, and Renee Zellweger, the woman who played Bridget Jones. Graves and Meeks were students in one of Henkel’s classes at Texas A&M Kingsville. While working on a Bigfoot flick, they reached out to their former instructor Henkel for some advice.
This got them to thinking, and led to a collaboration on a flick that fell immediately adjacent to the spirit of Saw — 2012’s Butcher Boys, which had its production title altered from Boneboys.
In it, you’ve got some creepos in a black windowless van cruising around and abducting young women around the San Antonio area
Four friends in their late teens — two guys (Kenny and Mikey) and two gals (Sissy and Barbie) — go out to eat, stop at a gas station and Barbie, the wild one out of the bunch, keys the hell out of a fox-body Mustang after getting into a dispute with a couple guys inside the store and the subsequent car chase leads em to the wrongest side of town.
The Mustang wrecks into a parked car in this warehouse district and a group of guys who witnessed the crash weren’t too pleased since they hit a dog AND the car, so they kill the guys who were in the Mustang.
Then, before the kids in the other car can get away safely, another car rams into them and now we’re in Judgment Night (or Little Red Riding Hood) territory with folks who are way, way, way out of a friendly environment stumbling into the territory of some brutal cannibalistic greasers who might very readily eat em alive (or dead).
Best Cameo: Although Edwin Neal (the original crazy hitchhiker from the original TCM) shows up, it’s pretty random and brief. Better are the cameos of the original Grandpa Sawyer, John Dugan (he’s a store clerk who interacts with Neal), Leatherface 2, Bill Johnson (he’s a baker who gets slaughtered) and Marilyn Burns as a dog owner. Also keep an eye out for Bill Guinn (the heroic truck guy with the chain who teleported away from Leatherface in the first TCM) and Terri McMinn (Pam on a meathook) carrying a pickaxe near the end.
Best Understanding of How to Distract Folks: Barbie (Tory Taranova) flashes the guys in the other car, but I’m fairly certain they used stunt garbonzas. She also tries that on the Butcher Boys, but it doesn’t really work because they’re not interested in that.
Best Revenge: The passenger in the Mustang gets a compound fracture of his arm and bludgeoned with a crowbar after trying to buy off the guy whose car they hit. The driver, meanwhile, gets stomped to death.
Best Fixation/Foreshadowing: Mikey, brother of Sissy, is terrified of, yet obsessed with, dying: “Sometimes I wonder what it would be like if a terrorist cut my head off with electric scissors.” Being familiar with a certain indy rock band from the area, could this be a nod to the Butthole Surfers song “Pepper?”
Best Depiction of a Feral Cannibal Nutjob: Bossboy (Johnny Walter) leads the gang of toxically masculine cannibals, has a nose for tracking, sniffs a lot and puts out cigarettes on his tongue (I think). He also has superior cell phone service when compared with the victims, who can’t even get in touch with the cops on their phones.
Best Maniac: Doc (Tom Byrne, Teeth) keeps the Butchers Boys’ urban harvest of meat and zaps anyone in range with his cattle prod and calls everybody a “s—bird.”
Best Ally: Carl (Sonny Carl Davis, who was in all the Evil Bong movies) shows up practically naked and covered in Crisco with a firearm looking for his abducted daughter and he shoots a couple of the Butcher Boys to help out Sissy.
There’s at least half a dozen dead bodies in the first 20 minutes alone. Things slow down a touch after that as the teens start getting dispatched and it becomes a bit more cat-and-mouse with assorted maniacal loons with traits grafted from the original TCM and Rob Zombie’s House of 1,000 Corpses in pursuit. Lead girl Sissy (Ali Faulkner) gets pursued through a warehouse, an underground cavern, gets violated and goes through her own little version of the infamous dinner scene and the famous Marilyn Burns “get out of Dodge in a Dodge” moment before everything gets wrapped up. Nobody gets chainsawed.
Sure, it’s a pastiche of what made the original Saw king. There is some clunky editing as the nightmare of what’s inside the J. Swift’s (that’s short for Jonathan Swift, who wrote a satire about upper-class cannibals that Henkel took cues from) building never is completely explained. There are women in cages, a girl gets the chopped-off skull treatment from Hannibal, there’s a hulking Leatherface- adjacent rage monster in chains and a decadent party room with topless women who may or may not be cannibals and a dapper dude with a long pinky nail.
Compared with the towering horror majesty of the original, Butcher Boys does rank a squire. But 60% of all horror flicks since Texas Chain Saw Massacre changed horror forever in 1974 are even worse than that. If you are a fan of the original, seek this one out as it ranks well above the weakest TCM sequels and arguably better than all the remake series except maybe the one with Jessica Biel that Darcy prefers. It’s not as visceral or as sinisterly polished as Hooper and Henkel’s tar black gem, but how many flicks out there are?
Three stars if you’re a big Saw fan, two and a half if you’re not.
Butcher Boys is available streaming on Vudu, Google Play and YouTube and on physical media. Graves and Meeks run Greeks Films and I checked out their Western Kill or Be Killed a while back, which I liked a whole lot.