Cannon Fodder 6: THE COMPANY OF WOLVES And THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2!!
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What’s up, Contenders? Terry Malloy here reporting live from the Waterfront.
Cannon Fodder is an ongoing column that will re/visit the entire canon (ahem) of feature films produced by Cannon Films. Launching some of the biggest action careers in film history, such as Chuck Norris, Dolph Lundgren, and Jean-Claude Van Damme, Cannon Films were the ultimate purveyors of mid-budget cheese throughout much of the 1970s and 1980s. Cannon Fodder will explore the entire filmography of this storied production company (in no particular order) and will do its best to prepare AICN readers for the upcoming release of Mark Hartley’s definitive Cannon Films Documentary; Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films.
Although Cannon Films was not run for the entirety of its existence by Israeli cousins Menahem Golan and Yorum Globus, they are the power players that gambled big and eventually lost big with this prolific production house. Each edition of Cannon Fodder will briefly explore what level of involvement the loveable cousins had in each film. Because there are several dozen titles in the Cannon Canon, each installment of this column will cover multiple titles.
I’m sorry it has been so long since the last Cannon Fodder entry. Times have been quite busy for me lately and that is great for my pieces o’ eight, but bad for my free time. The idea with this entry went something like this: Hey, October is coming up, I’ll cover some Cannon horror films. Then Halloween came and went and I still hadn’t had a moment to write up the films I actually did watch before good old All Hallow’s Eve. But there is no way that I could bypass talking about either of these films, so I’m bringing you a little post-Halloween horror action from Cannon Films!
NEXT CANNON FODDER ENTRIES: I’m going to cover THE APPLE and RAPPIN’ before I get too far away from the similarly musical BREAKIN’ and BREAKIN’ 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO entries from Cannon Fodder a couple months back. I’d like to crank out a Cannon Fodder entry every week to two weeks until the entire Cannon Catalog has its moment in the sun. But that all depends on my work schedule. Regardless, I’m going to keep cranking these out at whatever pace circumstances allow.
UPDATE: Even since I wrote the bulk of this article, another chunk of time has passed. Bummer, I know. But interestingly, the movie marketing machine has cranked out a new and terrible TEXAS CHAINSAW film and has made the timing of this article relevant again! I guess good things come to those who wait?
I haven’t refined my system of what exactly constitutes a Cannon Film just yet. And actually writing this column has reminded me of the often complex nature of film distribution. As I write and research and seek out different titles, I realize that THE COMPANY OF WOLVES is very clearly a film conceived of, shot by, and starring mostly talent from the United Kingdom. And as such it probably stretches the boundaries of the Cannon Canon. But the film was definitely distributed by Cannon for it’s theatrical run in the United States. So for the purposes of covering a couple of horror films, I am bringing the movie into the Cannon fold.
I had never even heard of this film until this year, and upon hearing about it I instantly needed to see it. Neil Jordan directed a werewolf movie? And the poster artwork looked like this:
In the early 1980s Neil Jordan partnered up with writer Angela Carter to adapt her short stories into a feature film. They figured out that they could make a feature work out of her collection of short stories by making the film itself a bit of a tale within a tale. We begin in the modern English countryside where a wealthy family resides near a wood. The eldest daughter tries to wake the youngest by teasing and taunting her. But the younger daughter, Rosaleen (Sarah Patterson), retreats ever deeper into a frenzied sleep and we then enter into her dreams of a fairy tale forest just outside her window.
Once inside Rosaleen’s dream, the film is set in more of a fairy tale world, with Rosaleen acting as our Little Red Riding Hood and Angela Lansbury playing Granny. Within this fairy tale world, Granny becomes the story teller and we are treated to a couple of wolf stories within that world as well.
The structure is easy to follow and feels kind of ahead of its time. Unlike many modern films that tells seemingly disparate tales that all coalesce at the end, THE COMPANY OF WOLVES simply tells fantasy/horror/sexual fairy tales that are thematically related and all fit in the same world, but don’t necessarily need to connect in some mind blowing way. I guess the obvious connection is wolves!
Among the tales that Granny tells to her enthralled grand daughter Rosaleen are the tale of a widow who begins a new family only to have her not-so-dead husband return upon a full moon. She also tells a story of a she-wolf who climbs up from the nether world and walks the land of the living in human form.
The whole affair is highly effective. I found the art direction of the movie to be wonderful. It takes you to a different place that, while at times clearly a set, feels authentic to the world that Jordan was building. And, long before TWILIGHT was ever a thing, Neil Jordan managed to tell a wonderful monster story that smoldered with coming of age passion and sexuality. Pretty much this entire movie is about sex and a young girl discovering herself.
And yet, the movie is never overtly sexual or graphic. Rosaleen is flirting with adulthood by flirting with the boy in her village and the young men she comes across. But her Granny and her mother tell her tall tales to warn her away from men who just might be wolves in sheep’s clothing.
Because of the tale within a tale structure, Jordan is able to toy with different styles of werewolf transformation within the very same film. And the two major transformation scenes in THE COMPANY OF WOLVES are shockingly cool! I’m not quite sure why the transformation scenes from this film aren’t as widely discussed as the sequences in AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON. Sure, the LONDON transformation is probably better overall than Jordan’s sequences. But here you get a man literally peeling his own flesh off to let the wolf out, which is one of the goriest werewolf transformations I have ever seen. And you have a different visualization which is the source of that amazing poster visual of the wolf leaping from a man’s throat.
In the commentary on my Blu-ray import from the UK, Jordan indicates that he felt he should have trimmed back some of those sequences and left more to the imagination. I kind of love the transformations and would hate to see them be cut back just for “maturity’s” sake.
If you have never been treated to this horror fairy tale, definitely check out THE COMPANY OF WOLVES. While it isn’t terrifying for the horror hounds, this is a fun work of atmosphere and style combined with an early Neil Jordan era exploration of sexuality and thrills.
Things You Will Only Ever See In THIS Movie
- A severed werewolf head falling into a vat of milk, only to re-surface as a human head.
- Two completely distinct visualizations for werewolf transformation within the same film… and it works!
How Many Tablespoons of Golan/Globus Are Added?
As I mentioned above, THE COMPANY OF WOLVES is a Neil Jordan film, produced and created in the United Kingdom, but distributed theatrically in the United States by Cannon Films. So lovable cousins Golan and Globus didn’t really get their mitts on this thing until it was a completed film. Neil Jordan, in the blu-ray’s commentary track, suggests that the Cannon marketing strategy for the film was to play up the gore and horror moments in all the trailers. Which, at least from a “money shot” perspective, makes some sense. And this is clearly the way modern films are marketed even today. But since the film is more of a moody, atmospheric, gothic fairy tale, the marketing poorly represented the actual product and the film did not do very strong business in North America.
How Can You See THE COMPANY OF WOLVES?
As I have mentioned, I’m not really big in imports and rare discs. I just don’t understand all that region crap and don’t want to spend extra for a disc that may or may not work properly. And I’m JUST lazy enough to not want to do that extra research, generally. But in this case, a friend bought me the UK Import Blu of THE COMPANY OF WOLVES and it worked just fine for me and I’m glad to own it! It also appears that you can buy the film on DVD through Amazon. You can rent that same disc via Netflix as well.
[Quick Note: While the brand new TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D is being heavily marketed as the “first direct sequel” to THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, this is pure marketing bull crap. THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 is as official of a sequel as is possible some 13 years after the original was made. The very same director, Tobe Hooper, returned, and incorporated the same villains, and even some of the same actors! Don’t listen to the marketing hype for TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D, which is pretty much garbage, and is only a “direct” sequel in that it begins immediately after the events of the first film and discounts the events of this sequel and any of the other entries, too. If you want some Leatherface action here in 2013 and have seen the first film too many times to count, check out this real sequel and skip the new entry in theaters. Okay, back to the regularly scheduled program:]
As I mentioned, I chose to watch a couple of Cannon horror entries for the purpose of writing these up in October for all you Halloween people out there. Although that did not materialize, I still ended up watching TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 during a very important weekend, which was that of the Red River Rivalry.
What am I talking about? Well, as a new transplant to Austin, I have learned that the University of Texas and the University of Oklahoma play a very important football game against one another each season and that game is called the Red River Rivalry because, well, the Red River forms part of the border between our two states. Why am I telling you this? Because TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 is very firmly set during the Red River Rivalry!
It was a little bit surreal to randomly turn on this movie and have the 1985 version of the very same weekend I was living in 2012 play before my eyes. And, I’d go ahead and recommend anyone who pays attention to college football (which really does not include me) to watch TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 next year on Red River Rivalry weekend! The entire opening sequence of the film involves an extended scene between a couple of douche bag preppies who you just KNOW are going to run into Leatherface. And the payoff is pretty spectacular.
All that setting and coincidence aside, how is the movie? Well, I had a really good time with TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2, but I’m not sure I consider it a particularly good movie.
The original TCM came out in 1974 and I’m still not sure the world has recovered. I believe the entire “found footage” and “faux documentary” style of film owes quite a bit to the grainy, snuff film-esque original. Long before people were debating if THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT was real or not, the myth of the TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE had already cemented itself in pop culture. I remember feeling almost oppressed by dread the first time I saw the original film, and it has been many years since I have revisited it. I don’t remember it in detail, but there are some images that haunt me a little bit, not the least of which is the closing image of a blood-wild Leatherface screaming and flailing his chainsaw into the wind.
[Another quick note: I just saw the first film again, on the big screen, last night at the closing night festivities for the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar location. Everything I said above remains true. ]
The mere existence of a TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 dulls the potency of that closing image from the first film a little bit, in my opinion. But that is the kind of thing people have been saying about sequels and remakes for years, so I won’t go too deep into that point. Still, although I’m glad TCM 2 exists, and had a blast with it, it certainly doesn’t have the blunt force impact of the original.
Not only does TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 come some 13 years after the original, but it is set that way as well. Meaning inside the film, it is acknowledged that the chainsaw murders were a long time ago, and have sunk into local lore. I really like that. Leatherface and his family have disappeared in the eyes of law enforcement, but live on in infamy around campfires and as urban legends.
And this time around, after Leatherface dispatches of the aforementioned UT football douchers, a vengeful Texas Marshall picks up his trail and goes on the hunt. That marshall? None other than Dennis Hopper himself!
Hopper plays Lt. Lefty Enright, mourning father of the young man in the wheelchair from the first film. Hopper teams up with a cute radio DJ named Stretch (Caroline Williams) and the two go on the offensive, seeking out the Sawyer clan on their home turf.
Dennis Hopper is the aspect of this film that gives it an eternally awesome quality. His performance is typical Hopper. Amped up and unhinged. Totally insane. Willing to use a girl as bait just to get his revenge on the cannibals who took his son.
But while all of this sounds very psychotic, it is also a full on comedy. Yes, that’s right. Director Tobe Hooper swapped out the oppression of the first film for a playful sense of humor this time around. That clan of cannibals that terrified you so in the original? This time around they are a comedy troop.
They’re feeding their award winning human chili to the Red River Rivalry masses. They bicker and monologue throughout, with broad swaths of almost slapstick comedy. TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 is a radically different beast than the first film. And it feels right, actually. Being a 1986 film, TCM 2 is a product of its era. It feels more like some of its slasher film cousins who dispensed with the grueling terror in their early installments and just gave audiences some boobs and creative kills from that point on. But TCM 2 is a little bit smarter and funnier than many of its cousins.
Look, this has historically been a devisive film. The radical shift in tone from the first will put off many. And now TCM 2 has many worthy cinematic comparisons in the horror-comedy-slasher subgenre. But at the time, I have to believe that Tobe Hooper was making a pretty radical decision to skewer Texas and College Football culture while still bringing the gore. And if nothing else, Hooper does an awesome job of turning his own first film on its head and closing out the movie with an awesome homage to the closing images of the first film! Plus, Dennis Hopper duel wields.
I can’t leave off without mentioning that I had only ever seen the first film before seeing TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2. I’ve still not seen any of the reboots or other iterations. But I have seen TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D, and damn if that movie doesn’t immediately ramp up the quality of the 1986 sequel. TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D is a chore to experience and makes me love Dennis Hopper’s antics here in the “real” sequel seem like entertainment gold.
Things You Will Only Ever See In THIS Movie
- Dennis Hopper, dual-wielding chainsaws in an operatic physical confrontation with Leatherface himself.
- Drayton Sawyer (portrayed in both of the first two films by actor Jim Siedow), AKA The Cook, lovingly accepting an award for the best chili at a Texas cook off while surreptitiously attempting to mask the clearly human ingredients of his sloppy, prize-winning product.
How Many Tablespoons of Golan/Globus Are Added?
From what I have heard and read around the web, director Tobe Hooper actually had a 3 picture contract with Cannon Films, of which TCM 2 was the last film, and the only profitable one. His first two features for Cannon were LIFEFORCE and INVADERS FROM MARS, which you can pretty much count on being a double feature in an upcoming Cannon Fodder article. Sadly, Hooper’s career never really became a success story and his prickly relationship with the Cannon producers was probably a serious contributor to that fact. As a matter of fact, since his first two films did not do well at the box office, TCM 2 was given a shrunken budget AND a truncated shooting schedule. It seems to have worked as far as turning a profit is concerned, but it seems like Hooper and The Cousins may have both been happy to wrap up their 3 picture deal in the end.
Yoram Globus and Menahem Golan are credited as Producers on TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2.
How Can You See TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2?
Amazon is actually selling a Blu-ray of TCM 2 for just around $10 as of this writing, which is a pretty great price! I didn’t watch the film on Blu, so I can’t speak to the quality of the transfer or anything like that. Any talkbackers have word on how good this Blu looks? There is also a DVD called “The Gruesome Edition” which I also didn’t get a chance to check out. When I rented the disc via Netflix, I got an older DVD that was bare bones.
And I’m Out.
Terry Malloy AKA Ed Travis
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