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David Zucker’s involvement in Scary Movie 3 should be seen as a blessing and a curse. The man who, along with brothers Jerry and Jim Abrahams, popularized the movie parody genre with the Airplane! and Naked Gun series, brings his brand of everything and the kitchen sink non-sequitur humor to a movie franchise that, quite frankly, was growing stale under the control of the Wayans brothers (who made the delectably funny Scary Movie and the significantly less amusing Scary Movie 2). For his part, Zucker tones down the raunch — Scary Movie 3 is rated PG-13 — and turns up the pratfalls.
That’s the blessing.
It’s also the curse.
Much of Scary Movie 3 is profoundly dumb, as though it had been directed by a high school freshman (sophomore would be too high a reach). It’s less clever than it is blatant in its attempt to lampoon several recent blockbusters, including The Ring, Signs and The Matrix. Trouble is, if you haven’t seen the films, you won’t get most of the jokes — they’re that tightly woven to the originals.
Zucker’s modus operandi is to dump everything into a really big blender and turn it on high with the top off. Sometimes what spews forth is worthy of a chuckle. More often, however, it’s not.
Still, Zucker is not without comic gifts, and when he and writers Craig Mazin and Pat Proft put their minds to it, they score a few juicy tidbits. Among the best moments are a dead-on parody of the creepy videotape from The Ring and the flashback scene from Signs in which a minister learns of his wife’s fatal encounter with an automobile.
But a scene at a funeral in which a corpse is dismantled is loud and interminable. The same goes for an almost reliably unfunny encounter at the White House where a buffoonish president (Leslie Nielsen) mistakes a group of handicapped guests for space aliens.
The best stuff in Scary Movie 3 are often the small cast asides — such as when a mass of pop-up ads clutter a screen when someone logs onto a website or when a dimwitted newscaster recites gibberish off a teleprompter.
The movie is at its worst when straying into territory it has no business being in — the movie 8 Mile, for instance, which Scary Movie 3 skewers with the comic force of a pinprick.
As she has in the past two Scary Movies, Anna Faris takes the lead, proving herself an enjoyable screen presence (at least in these types of movies). A stiff, rigid Charlie Sheen is less engaging as Father Tom, but Simon Rex is an overwrought delight as Tom’s wannabe rapper brother, George. The game-for-anything cast also includes memorable cameos from Queen Latifah, Denise Richards, Camryn Manheim, Jeremy Piven and Darryl Hammond, hilarious as a pedophilic priest.
Reportedly, Zucker has been tapped to create Scary Movie 4. That’s overkill, if you ask me. Still, as long as there’s money to be made in satirizing popular movies, you can be sure that this is one genre that won’t die anytime soon.
Perhaps the biggest misconception surrounding the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre is that it’s a carnival of carnage, a festival of gore beyond all belief. Fact is, there’s hardly a drop of blood contained within its 90 minutes and most of the violence is quick and implied.
Directed in 1974 by Tobe Hooper (who went on to helm Poltergeist), the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre (recently released on DVD with a new pristine digital transfer) was classic drive-in fodder. Five teenage friends on a road trip are economically dispatched by Leatherface, a rampaging, chainsaw-wielding hulk wearing a mask made of the flesh from past victims). The movie gets progressively stranger as it progresses — like a really bad acid trip — and it rigorously adheres to the structure of horror movies of the time in which a running, shrieking woman is relentlessly pursued for a long period of time by a madman.
Allegedly “inspired by a true story, ” Texas Chainsaw Massacre attained cult status, earning more than $100 million over the decades, as well as spawning three increasingly wan sequels. While Leatherface hasn’t enjoyed the same iconic success as the supernaturally-drivenÂ Freddy or Jason, he remains a mythic figure in the annals of horror.
His status may change with the remake of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which has been cleaning up at the box office since opening a few weeks ago. The Chainsaw has, in effect, gone mainstream.
Directed by Marcus Nispel, the Chainsaw remake is stylishly glossy and slick. It’s unnerving, but rarely shocking — and it hardly leaves you unsettled. The problem is we’ve seen too many similar visions of dripping, grisly gore in too many other films. It takes a lot to overcome desensitization, and Nispel, while a more than competent visualist, isn’t up to the task. There’s nothing quite as creepy as the scene in the original where a girl stumbles into a room overflowing with chicken feathers and elaborately arranged human bones. Nothing in the new Chainsaw can claim such a moment of pure, unadulterated unease.
And that includes the unforgettable meat hook encounter. The scene is included here, but it’s needlessly protracted. And the unfortunate victim is kept alive so that the hook can be revisited whenever Nispel feels the film’s repulsion gauge is in need of a quick refuel.
Fans of the original will be amused by a couple full-circle references — one being the deployment of John Larroquette as the film’s narrator (the actor read the same lines thirty years ago). Similarly, cinematographer Daniel Pearl began his career by shooting the original Chainsaw. Needless to say, his work has improved considerably in nearly three decades. Of course, it helps to have more than a $100,000 budget.
As for Leatherface, he’s still a hulking, aggressive force, a powerhouse with a powerful weapon. His rampage lacks the offbeat, pig-squealing appeal of Gunnar Hansen’s original characterization, but it’s still a menacing centerpiece. Then again, give anyone a chainsaw and tell them to run amuck and they’re going to be threatening.
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