If Looks Could Kill: A Look at Trans-Hysteria in ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation’

We all know the story. Many of us grew up renting the DVDs, and watching the remakes. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre has become a staple in the horror community. In 1994, a sequel was released titled Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation. This instalment tried to boost itself up by making it clear that this was from one of the minds behind the notorious original: writer/director Kim Henkel. Something was different about this particular instalment though. The film was heavily marketed with a cross-dressing Leatherface (Robert Jacks) front and centre: fishnet stockings and all. It’s here that we’ll be taking a critical look at the film.

As someone who identifies as transgender/non-binary, this movie is complicated to say the least. Right from the beginning we’re presented with femme imagery in the form of Jenny (Renée Zellweger) applying lipstick in the mirror getting ready for her prom, vanity in its purest form—the obsession of beauty. We’re soon introduced to her friends among them being Heather (Lisa Marie Newmyer), and their prom dates Sean (John Harrison) and Barry (Tyler Cone). Jenny is portrayed in a “girl next door” archetype and Heather as the “hot girl” archetype. Two sides of the same coin for what are the perceived goals of femininity. 

Through a series of events, the group end up at the house of cinema’s most notoriously murderous family. Here we’re introduced to Leatherface and his cohorts which include Darla (Tonie Perensky) and Vilmer (Matthew McConaughey). Darla being the “bad girl” archetype with her sultry demeanour and Vilmer being the unhinged matriarch of the family. This is where we get into our main topic of discussion: Leatherface. In the original film it’s shown that he is no stranger to wearing the skin and clothing of the opposite gender, but here it’s dialled up to 11. For the entirety of the film’s climax, he’s adorned with a black sheer dress and a female face with full-faced makeup. A stark contrast from the example of femininity set by our protagonist Jenny. There could’ve been opportunity to explore the dynamic of gender dysphoria and the cisgender and transgender argument, but instead it’s played here for laughs as it turns him into a wailing caricature of trans-panic. It soon results in a pseudo-empowering scene of Jenny yelling at Leatherface to sit down as he wails back to his seat.

Jenny seems to represent the idea of a strong female rising up against her hostile environment but unfortunately it’s never taken as serious as it should be. When topics like these are explored but never with serious intent, it comes off as borderline offensive and half-hearted.

Leatherface is pointed out time and time again throughout the film that he’s a man in women’s clothing and skin, reinforcing negative transgender stereotypes as cross-dressers and ‘monsters’, for lack of better term. Horror can be one of the most progressive genres in the medium of television and film, but what holds Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation back is the insistence in villainising and characterising trans and non gender conforming people while propelling two cliched example of femininity above them.

The series was put on ice after the release of this particular instalment, resulting in the series being rebooted in 2003 featuring none of the problematic trans stereotypes to much success. There are some good ideas in Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation, such as the exploration of femininity and gender dysphoria but they’re never fully explored to its fullest potential. Instead it all comes off as parody and satire to such sensitive and progressive topics. A movie that thinks its ahead of its time but is dreadfully living in its own past.

 

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