Episode 55: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974, Tobe Hooper) / The Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1994, Kim Henkel) aka Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1997)

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Some tales are told, then soon forgotten. But a legend…is forever.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre has been synonymous with the horror genre for almost 40 years now and there’s probably nothing new left to say about it, but that won’t stop An Alan Smithee Podcast from trying! Fortunately one of us brings a fresh pair of eyes to the spectacle, while the other has seen it more times than is healthy. If you’re a regular listener you can probably guess who’s who. This imbalance brings up many elementary points of discussion around the film which have been taken for granted so long that they’ve fallen into neglect: Hooper’s exquisite compositions, the subtle omission of any explicit gore, and the insidiously disturbing reappearance of a friendly character we didn’t yet know was part of Leatherface’s crazy family. Even the annoyances of Franklin, apparently everyone’s least favorite wheelchair–bound lamb to the slaughter, get debated as the podcast’s longstanding TCM fan defends the character’s relative whininess (given his circumstances) against the average moviegoer’s initial take on him. Finally, we’re just like Siskel and Ebert! Even if you’ve seen this film before – and you should – now you can vicariously experience the film’s famous shocks all over again through a TCM virgin’s first bloodletting.

After thoroughly chronicling the tumultuous history of Cannon Films and New Line Cinema’s attempts to turn Leatherface into the next Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees, we turn our attention to the most ill-begotten Chainsaw sequel of all.

The Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre was held on the shelf for three years before finally being shortened and released as Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation. The delay was due to stars Renee Zellweger and Matthew McConaughey hitting in big in the interim and their agents throwing a fit over what this movie could do to their careers. Easy as it is to hate those who would blacklist the horror genre itself, this movie really is wretched. The story is a sparse rehash of the original with nothing to add but lame attempts at over-the-top humor, mostly supplied by an unrestrained McConaughey whose face-biting antics would’ve been much more useful in Ghosts of Girlfriends Past or Fool’s Gold.

The only compelling idea Henkel introduces is an infamous last-act twist involving a left-field appearance by the Illuminati, favorite brand name conspiracy of international global domination conspiracy enthusiasts. The revelation of their secret involvement with the chainsaw clan at least explains the absence of continuity between sequels (each movie was some kind of separate Illuminati attempt at a hilarious prank.) We do our best to square Henkel’s intentions against the results, which may or may not have sucked on purpose. Can this documentary reveal the answer? Does it matter? Who will survive and what will be left of them?

NEXT EPISODE: AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF SPECIAL! AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981, JOHN LANDIS) & AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN PARIS (1997, ANTHONY WALLER)

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Episode 50: Death Of A Gunfighter (1969, Allen Smithee) & The Birds II: Land’s End (1994, Alan Smithee)

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Why is this Alan Smithee Podcast special different from all other Alan Smithee Podcast specials? Simple! You can only have one 50th episode special, and brother, this is it!

Although the one good movie / one bad movie / one hour format has only been in effect for 37 of our 50 episodes, that’s still 74 good movies and bad ones discussed, minus a few good ones from special episodes like our Robocop or Darkman trilogy retrospectives. To start the festivities we each take a look back at our top 5 favorites and least favorites. As most of our good movies were recommendations from one host to the other, each top 5 list is completely unique from the other. Amongst our bottom 5, there is one film so awful it cracked both lists – so listen to discover what’s agreed upon as the worst movie ever chosen for An Alan Smithee Podcast. (Hint: the director’s name rhymes with “Heaven Myth.”)

The oeuvre of Alan Smithee is a strange one: frequently awful, usually obscure and semi-occasionally brilliant. As a fictional creation himself with many authors standing behind him, this puts him in a category unique to any other amongst the rare pseudonyms in film history. Smithee has lent his name to talent as diverse as Stuart Rosenberg, Kevin Yagher, Sam Raimi and David Lynch, and not once were they proud about forfeiting their own names. Alan Smithee’s career with the DGA ended in 1997 when a man who’d never disown anything, Joe Eszterhas, thought it would be funny to write a comedy about a director named Alan Smithee who goes on a rampage when Hollywood won’t allow him to use his own name.

Alan Smithee’s first credit, the 1969 western Death Of A Gunfighter, is An Alan Smithee Podcast’s first western and probably the best film ever branded with what would later be the infamous moniker. Richard Widmark plays an aging sheriff marked for early retirement by the crooked town council, and by any means necessary. Lena Horne, John Saxon and Carroll O’Connor round out a great supporting cast. Particularly O’Connor, whose character devolves from bemused onlooker to manipulative opportunist to back stabbing murderer by the end of the story. Originally helmed by Robert Totten, a TV western director, the film got reassigned to the great Don Siegel when Totten and Widmark began feuding and delaying production. Siegel refused credit and in compromise, Mr. Alan Smithee was born. Little did anyone know they were creating a monster.

Rick Rosenthal already has a history with An Alan Smithee Podcast, being the director of the first film for which we recorded a commentary track, Halloween II. Not content directing the sequel to one classic horror film, Rosenthal returned to the world of thankless, unnecessary tasks by directing 1994′s The Birds II: Land’s End, which makes Halloween II look like The Birds. His decision to rescind credit is curious: the movie is absolutely awful, but was he planning on ducking responsibility if he took the job just for the work? Did he think it was going to turn out better than it did? Certainly the name Alan Smithee was known amongst genre fans by the time David Lynch wanted his name off the extended TV cut of Dune. In any case, movies like The Birds II are the type of film for which the pseudonym was not made, but destined.

NEXT EPISODE: PIRANHA SPECIAL! PIRANHA (1978, JOE DANTE) & PIRANHA (1995, SCOTT P. LEVY)

Episode 45: Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991, Rachel Talalay) / Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994, Wes Craven)

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With the remake of A Nightmare On Elm Street upon us, we take a look back this week on An Alan Smithee Podcast to praise Freddy and bury him. The remake is taking care of the latter while spitting on his grave, unfortunately. We can’t believe that there’s a nightmare on our street and this time staying awake won’t save us. So are you ready for Freddy?

New Line Cinema was known as “The House That Freddy Built” after the monumental success of the original A Nightmare On Elm Street(1984, Wes Craven) and the hastily produced, homoerotic sequel catapulted the company into the black. After the second and third sequels, the series’ increasingly budgeted elaborate special effects showcases had turned a sadistic and disfigured child murderer from an object of fear into simply the villain of a fantasy-adventure film franchise and an international pop culture phenomenon. The spectacle took the edge off Freddy Krueger’s scariness, and by the time of the 6th film Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare he’s reached a crescendo of corniness even in spite of his final outing, the wisecracking Master of Ceremonies on the last night of his own Las Vegas variety show. Special guest stars! 3D! A highlights reel from the previous films! More Robert Englund out of his Freddy makeup!

Freddy’s Dead is the slightest trifle that anyone ever funneled a lot of money into out of ceremonial obligation while leaving the details to take care of themselves. The film’s story is so convoluted and idiotic as to be rivaled only by Marvel and DC comic book specials in terms of requiring previous familiarity with a series to attempt comprehension. The special effects are perfunctory and the scares are not even attempted, in some weird acknowledgment that no one was seriously expecting them from the series by this point. Directed by Rachel Talalay, who started as a Production Assistant on the first film and worked her way up through each successive Elm Street film until Robert Shaye could one day finally say “She’s earned it, and what the hell, it’s the last one anyway. I’ll write the script to make sure it works.”

Three short years after writing the supposed final chapter of his cash cow, Robert Shaye would be playing himself and explaining to Heather Lagenkamp (the star of the original film, also playing herself) that the public’s insatiable appetite for Freddy is what actually keeps him coming back to life. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare is the least successful Nightmare On Elm Street film ever, and also the most intelligent, which is a shame.

Craven actually wanted to tell the postmodern tale of a real life Freddy coming after the people who made him seven years earlier. Had the film been made then it would have at least made a lot of money and been critically ignored. Instead the opposite happened, not that Roger Ebert’s 3 star thumbs-up review got anyone to see it who wouldn’t have otherwise. Had the film been made a few years later, after the snark milestone Scream made ironic self-reflexiveness in horror trendy, New Nightmare might have been too sincere in its considerations of what Freddy means to our cultural consciousness to catch on with anyone, but it would have gotten a lot more attention initially.

The real discovery of New Nightmare is actually a rediscovery of Lagenkamp, who proves herself a more than capable actress in selling concern for her child, Miko Hughes – better known as the creepy little kid in Pet Semetary and running on all cylinders for creepiness here as well. Craven actually wrote the events of Lagenkamp’s life into her self-portrayal so much – stalkers, special effects artist husband, et all – that it’s almost a method performance. However she and Craven arrived at her postmodern persona, this film remains all the better even after Freddymania has faded for telling the story of a scream queen whose work literally comes back to haunt her. New Nightmare is more than just a Freddy film, it’s one of the best horror films ever made about horror films.

Over the closing credits montage of Freddy’s Dead, Iggy Pop rhetorically asks us: Do you really think…Freddy’s….dead..?” One unfairly forgotten pseudo-sequel, one delightfully shlocky franchise crossover and one soulless Michael Bay remake later, we all know the answer to Iggy’s world weary query.

NEXT WEEK: GEORGE ROMERO SPECIAL! THE DARK HALF (1993, GEORGE A. ROMERO) & DAY OF THE DEAD (1985, GEORGE A. ROMERO)

Episode 31: Cops & Robbersons (1994, Michael Ritchie) & Barton Fink (1991, Joel & Ethan Coen)

This episode of An Alan Smithee Podcast is about banality and the people who make it by trade.

In the heat of anger Bill Murray once yelled “medium talent!” in Chevy Chase’s face. Few knew then that that name would be synonymous with mediocrity of talent and unspectacularly fatal career killing behavior of drugs and personal boorish behavior. Rather than go on in a flame of major flops, Chase’s film career descended by inches. By 1994 the depths were already being dug as low as they’d go before coming out the other side of the Earth into a postscript career of being in on the joke in small roles like Dirty Work, the Comedy Central Friar’s Club roast special and a pundit on MSNBC.

Director Michael Ritchie of past glorious like The Bad News Bears doesn’t help any more than he could for Chase in Fletch Lives although the timing of the mostly horrible supporting cast is as well paced as can be. Chase probably got him the job for a quick buck a chance to work with Jack Palance, whose late 80s mainstream career resurgence was waning. Unlike his assured, auto-pilot screen persona, Chase struggles to define his personality beyond the goofy dad act the Vacation movies branded him by and settles for acting as mentally disabled as we’d see before Tom Green in Freddy Got Fingered.

The Coens can’t catch a break. Yes, they’re beloved by the critics and fans. Yes, they’ve won Oscars including Best Picture for No Country For Old Men just a couple years ago. However, when they’ve consciously tried to please the common man with stuff like The Ladykillers, The Hudsucker Proxy or Intolerable Cruelty, the common man ignores them. When they’re true to their own backgrounds as in Fargo people think that’s all they are, and when they go off on a lark of casual comedic brilliance as in The Big Lebwoski it takes the common dudes ten years to recognize their ultimate icon.

Barton Fink has a lot of the same problems and a lot more delusions. He’s also a 1940s playwright turned screenwriter and his Hollywood is another world. To this effect, the first pairing of Coens with their future preferred director of photography makes Barton’s descent into the hells of writer’s block, pushy bigwigs and above all his own dangerously naive delusions a formal exercise in a nightmare on film. This is one of the driest black comedies ever made and John Goodman is as unforgettable as he would be in Lebowski in his role as a common man.

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Show Notes: Episode 3: The Trial of the Incredible Quentin, Part 1 of 2

This episode, Matthew and Andrew start their examination of Quentin Tarantino–discussing his “original trilogy” of RESERVOIR DOGS, PULP FICTION and JACKIE BROWN, as well as his steady screenwriting work during the 1990s.

It surprised me we never got around to discussing Tarantino’s iconic soundtracks, but they fall under my basic rubric for the guy: he appropriated other peoples really cool stuff so that his name would forever be associated with it.

- Chip

Films discussed:
Maximum Potential (1987), Reservoir Dogs (1992), True Romance (1993), Natural Born Killers (1996), Pulp Fiction (1994), Four Rooms (1995), From Dusk ‘Till Dawn (1996), Curdled (1996), Girl 6 (1996), Jackie Brown (1997), Clerks (1994), Badlands (1973)