Saturday, April 22, 2023

First Love and Loss (or For Jimmy)

I was 18 the first time I fell in love. Not the love-is-patient-love-is-kind sort of love, but the kind of love that one—if you’re lucky—experiences at the cusp of adulthood when the emotions are adult, but the emotional processing mechanisms haven’t quite caught up. That frantic, desperate, one-minute-you’re happy/the-next-minute-you’re-an-emotional-mess kind of love. Messy, passionate, all-consuming, and ultimately doomed. That was the way it was for me with Jimmy, who I met at the first nursing home I ever worked in—the inevitably named Foothill Acres. Jimmy worked in the kitchen; I worked as an orderly. (These were in the pre-certification days when the girls were nurses aides, and the boys were orderlies.) Our fellow crew on the 3 pm to 11 pm shift of building 1 was largely comprised of high schoolers—there was my best friend at the time, Greg, a fellow Immaculatan, Sharon and Denise and Chrissy who all attended Hillsborough High, and then there was Jimmy, who attended Somerville High School.  There was another guy, too, whose image blips at the periphery of my memory—Bruce maybe?

We forged a tight bond that often led to extracurricular outings after our shift—I distinctly remember late night trips to Denny’s on the Somerville Circle as one of them. There were parties at various houses when the parents were away, and then there was the one night we all hung out at a park in Neshanic Station, near Jimmy’s old house on Pearl Street. Now, I knew I was gay from a very young age, but this was the mid-1980s at the height of the AIDS epidemic when the word “gay” was synonymous in the minds of many with the disease. So, I did what many young gay kids did back then, which was to “date” girls. I was pretty confident in who I was and the type of life ahead of me, less so in those years about how to execute said life. So, I played the role that was expected of me.

But that night in that little park in Neshanic Station changed my life forever. Our group had all been hanging out, drinking, laughing. As the hours wore on, members of the group left one-by-one or in pairs until it was just Jimmy and me, alone, under the most star-filled sky on a temperate night. I believe it was late June because I had just graduated high school. There had been no discernible flirtation or obvious attraction between us that I could recall, but that night we connected in the most beautiful and gentlest of ways. The only way I can describe the experience all these years later is that it felt organic. Don’t ask me who made the first move or how a blanket or sleeping bag suddenly appeared—because I remember so few of the details, only the feelings of the experience. And it was beautiful.

That summer was the best summer of my young life. I understood my own truth more than ever. Jimmy and I were inseparable for those months—except for an agonizing week when he flew to Seattle with his family. I still remember sending him off with a mix tape (I can only remember that Anita Baker’s “Sweet Love” was on the playlist) and a letter professing my feelings. Otherwise, we slept at each other’s houses where the biggest worry was making too much noise, or we would hop in his ’67 green Mustang and head down to the Jersey shore where we’d get a motel room for the night. There were even one or two make-out sessions in the back seat of that old Mustang, engine idling, parked down some dark, old dirt road when neither of our family homes were accommodating. It was an intense summer during which my feelings only deepened—and I never missed an opportunity to express them to Jimmy, who was far less forthcoming with what was going on inside his head and heart. Our nursing home group of friends knew on some level that there was something more than a close friendship between us, but again, those conversations didn’t really readily flow naturally back in those days. We acted out the roles prescribed to us by society.

September came and Jimmy began his senior year at Somerville High School. That was the beginning of the end for our torrid summer romance. In the end, I think I’ve always been an old soul—knowing what I wanted, which was stability and companionship…yes, even at that age. Jimmy still wanted to experience all that lay before him. I didn’t handle any of it well back in those days before I could recognize that love had turned into infatuation. I know I made a lot of mistakes and hurt Jimmy, who was doing nothing more than trying to be a high school senior. Wisely, he eventually cut me off. I remember the intensity of those emotions and feeling alone and frantic for an unrequited love. Relationships with friends suffered and I acted like a fool, culminating in a stupid act of desperation in a last-ditch effort to get his attention. Ultimately, he graduated from high school and went away to college in Syracuse without looking back. Reluctantly, I eventually found a way to move on with mine. Time has the best way of soothing over the jagged edges of painful memories.

Flashforward 20 years later and through the wonder of the Internet and social media, Jimmy—who was now going by “CJ”—and I reconnected back in 2010. We caught up and stayed connected all these years. We made peace with our shared past. Apologies were exchanged and accepted. In 2011, we met up again for the first time since we were teenagers. Jimmy met me at my weekend place in Manhattan. He treated me to a lovely Italian dinner at ViceVersa on West 51st Street, and then I treated him to the theater to see the limited engagement (and Broadway debut) of The Normal Heart at the Golden Theater. That teenage love we shared briefly over that magical summer of ’86 was far back in both of our rearview mirrors, but the act of coming together again was a long overdue closure in some weird but comforting way.

That was the last time I saw Jimmy. We’ve stayed in touch regularly via text and Facebook. We’d message during his mother’s chemotherapy appointments a few years back, or I’d try to cheer him during one of his own unsettling cardiac procedures, and there was the one time—honest to God—that he saw on Facebook that Brian and I were about to meet Chita Rivera in her dressing room following a performance of Terrence McNally’s The Visit at the Lyceum Theatre and texted me a message to give to her. I did as directed, and she lit up! Jimmy last sent me a message on March 16th with a link to an interview about how Jamie Lee Curtis met and married her husband. His sarcasm and naughty sense of humor was ever present in those exchanges and never failed to make me smile.

Yesterday, I received word from our dear mutual friend, Sharon, that Jimmy died on Wednesday afternoon. He laid down for a nap and never woke up. I immediately cried and the memories flooded back as their liable to do in times of the worst news possible. I’m eternally grateful for our first shared experience with love and the lessons it taught us—and even more so that we eventually made it out the other side, neither of us worse for the wear and probably better people for it. I’m glad Jimmy got to live the life he wanted, to experience love and heartbreak, to do things on his terms. Some of the stories he shared were so colorful, and I remember being nothing but happy that he got to experience life so fully, even if it’s been tragically cut short at the age of 54.

As I wrote this blog, I stopped and searched through the shoebox I keep of old photos. I was saddened but not surprised to realize that I don’t have a single photo of Jimmy and me together from 1986. We didn’t even take one together when we met up in 2011. This left me momentarily heartbroken, but then I realized that maybe we were so busy living those moments, present and engaged with each other, that we never thought to memorialize our time together. Instead, I’ve chosen Henry Scott Tuke’s beautiful painting, “Aquamarine,” to accompany and capture my sentiments here.

Fly high, Jimmy. You will always and forever hold a very special and indelible place in my heart, even as it breaks today over your loss.

xoxo Vince

Sunday, July 17, 2022

A Tribute in Pen and Ink

When my Dad passed away this past December, I wanted to do something special with a portion of the estate proceeds—something that would have significant personal meaning. I’ve mentioned before how my Dad would take me to the movies every Saturday as part of our weekend “buddy days” when I was a kid. They were usually Irwin Allen disaster flicks or movies with a lot of car chases, but then a little film called Jaws was released. I was eight years old and can still feel the knot in my stomach the first time I heard the first notes of the film’s now-legendary theme music. I think I only made up to the point when poor skinny-dipping Chrissie gets slammed into the buoy before I pleaded with my Dad to leave. It would take three subsequent tries before I could make it through the entire film, each time making it a little further into the film before my ever-patient father heard the desperation of the “Please, Daddy…can we leave now?” in my voice. But 1978 was a game changer for ten-year-old me—on the cusp of adolescence—with the release of John Carpenter’s Halloween. If Jaws hooked me, Halloween reeled me in and cemented what would become a lifelong adoration of both slasher films and a certain actress named Jamie Lee Curtis. It therefore seemed fitting to incorporate the themes of movies and JLC into my tribute and that something special to have created in memory of my wonderful, loving father.
I’ve long been a fan of illustrator and famed caricaturist Ken Fallin, who first came to prominence in 1983 doing the posters and advertising for the popular satirical revue Forbidden Broadway in the style of the famous pen and ink drawings of the legendary Al Hirschfeld—a concept in homage to the great theatrical caricaturist. He’s since gone on to illustrate roughly 500 notable people for the Wall Street Journal and has contributed countless other illustrations to The Boston Herald, The New Yorker Magazine, The Hollywood Reporter, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, and Playbill (among others). Private collectors of Ken’s work include Angela Lansbury, Warren Buffett, Barbra Streisand, Sarah Jessica Parker, Darren Criss, Bernadette Peters, Sarah Paulson, Bradley Cooper, and Sir Patrick Stewart. Fallin did a lovely caricature of the cast of 2014’s Broadway production of Harvey Fierstein’s Casa Valentina, which I saw with my friend James and loved. I reached out to Ken and purchased a print of the drawing, which hangs today in one of our guest rooms. 

So, the idea came to me: To commission an original caricature of Jamie Lee Curtis, in character, from some of her most notable film roles—in honor of my Dad and the love of movies that he endowed in me. I reached out to Ken who, despite being in the process of undergoing radiation therapy at the time, graciously agreed to accept the commission. Flash forward six-plus months later, and my original, hand-drawn caricature collage of Jamie Lee Curtis arrived yesterday. Featured are her characters from Trading Places, Blue Steel, Freaky Friday, True Lies, Knives Out, Scream Queens, and Halloween II—all surrounding a lovely portrait of her taken at last year’s Venice Film Festival. There will also be a colorized print version on its way to me shortly. To say that I’m beyond thrilled with it would be an understatement.

Once properly framed, this exquisite and one-of-a-kind piece of art will hang proudly somewhere where I’ll see it every day and think of my beloved Dad and our “buddy days” at the movies all those years ago. 

Speechless with gratitude. Thank you, Ken.

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Call for Submissions: 'Unspeakable Horror 3'

Unspeakable Horror 3: Dark Rainbow Rising
Edited by: Vince A. Liaguno

When the pendulum of civil rights and social change initiatives swings toward progress, the LGBTQIA community often holds its collective breath in anticipation of the inevitable backlash when the pendulum swings back. Even with these gains, we are constantly looking over our shoulder—waiting for the next shoe to drop, for the next attack on our personhood. The community’s enemies see progress as a perceived danger to their own heteronormative bubbles—and any advancement threatens to burst those fragile bubbles. Even as we hoist the rainbow flag in celebration, a dark rainbow rises on the horizon…

For this third volume of the award-winning Unspeakable Horror series, we are seeking original short stories up to 6,000 words that explore this idea of great terror growing from the LGBTQIA community’s great strides forward. We want your terrifying interpretations and extensions of this theme—not a literal reading.

Questions to explore:

  • Does the unspeakable horror manifest in a subtle, growing sense of unease that our enemies must surely be plotting to thwart our efforts—or does it present in outward paranoia?
  • Do we settle into a false sense of security and not see the unspeakable terror that rises behind us?
  • Do we turn on each other now that our external enemies are (seemingly) defeated?
  • Do we leave part of our community behind in some misguided act of self-preservation? 

Stories can be set in any time period, as long as the narrative includes some historical LGBTQ+ civil rights/social movement/moment as a direct or indirect backdrop. Think:

  • Homosexuality and the Holocaust;
  • the Stonewall Riots;
  • the Mattachine Society and its 1966 “Sip-In”;
  • the first Pride parades in the early 70s;
  • the American Psychiatric Association’s  removal of homosexuality from the official list of mental illnesses;
  • the assassination of Harvey Milk;
  • the Upstairs Lounge fire in New Orleans;
  • the AIDS crisis at its advent, at its peak;
  • Proposition 8;
  • Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell;
  • the murder of Matthew Shepherd;
  • DOMA and eventual marriage equality;
  • the growth of LGBTQIA families;
  • One Millions Moms and their crusade against inclusive Hallmark Channel programming;
  • serial killers that have targeted the LGBTQIA community (be careful with your handling of the internalized homophobia elements here);
  • calls for the end of conversion therapy;
  • the current rise of anti-transgender legislation;
  • how LGBTQIA inroads in America affect LGBTQIA persons in other places around the world.

The above list is NOT inclusive nor is it mandatory that one of these events must be included—these are merely prompts to get the creative juices flowing.

What we want:

  • This is an LGBTQIA/horror anthology. Stories must have a strong, central gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or queer focus/slant/theme.
  • Stories with a strong, literary feel and crafted with language that captivates
  • Stories with a strong sense of atmosphere
  • Stories that shock and/or provoke—but for the right reasons. We want that shock and provocation to sneak up on us versus clobbering us over the head. We want material that elicits an emotional response of some kind and leaves us with our jaws hanging open upon conclusion.
  • Above all, this is a horror anthology—we want stories that are scary and unsettling, stories that evoke a sense of dread or unease or excruciating tension. Think horror that’s rooted in existentialism, folklore, psychology, the avant garde, body horror, survivalist horror, eco-horror, the supernatural, occultism, urban gothic, suburban gothic, and weird fiction.

What we don’t want:

  • Straightforward erotica;
  • Stories that confuse or conflate sexual orientation or gender identity with pedophilia or bestiality (It’s happened more times than we care to admit on past calls for submissions!);
  • Science fiction or fantasy;
  • Zombies, werewolves, vampires, and other traditional monsters will be an exceptionally hard sell unless you’ve got something singular to offer;
  • Humorous horror;
  • Poetry;
  • Stories with graphic descriptions of violence/abuse against children, women, or animals.

Tips from the submissions process for the first two volumes of Unspeakable Horror:

  • It doesn't take an authentic LGBTQIA person to imbue a work with an authentic LGBTQIA POV. It takes talent. The Unspeakable Horror anthology series is an inclusive project that welcomes all writers from all backgrounds, abilities, orientations, and gender identities.
  • There's a difference between seamlessly weaving keen political commentary throughout the fabric of a story and dropping a political rant into the middle of it. Save the political speeches for <insert name of favorite politician here>.  Chances are, they’re better at them.
  • We want to experience terror from the stories—not suffer nightmares from the grammar. Line edit, proofread, line edit some more, proofread again. Repeat until verb tenses agree, the punctuation doesn't upstage your characters, and sentences enjoy self-actualization.
  • The stories that blew our socks off on previous calls for submissions were the ones with a strong sense of setting and mood.
  • Please. We beg of you: No psychotic trans killers or lesbian revenge tales in which someone's unmentionables are chopped, eaten, or otherwise lopped off. Cliché is dead.
  • This is a queer-themed horror anthology. We’re looking for horror tales with a strong queer subtext—not straight horror stories with a gay character or two thrown in to meet a quota.
  • Horror sometimes demands a suspension of belief—not a suspension of logic.
Terms: Pays $0.10 (ten cents) per word upon acceptance for All Rights throughout the world and 12-month exclusivity from date of publication. Payment will be made within (10) business days of acceptance.

To be published by Crystal Lake Publishing in the 2nd quarter of 2023—subject to change.

Original stories only—no reprints.

Word count up to 6,000 words. Stories of 6,001 words or more will be rejected instantly.

No simultaneous submissions.

Follow Shunn format.

Submissions open on 8-01-22. Submissions close on 9-30-22. All authors will be notified of our editorial decisions by 10-31-22. Contributors and TOC announcements will follow.

Submissions can be sent to beginning August 1st.

Please format subject line as follows:

UH3 / Author Last Name / “Name of Story”

Any submissions received prior to August 1st will be deleted without being read.

Sunday, April 17, 2022

The Transcendent Chaos of ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’

Be forewarned: There is no way to adequately craft a proper review of Everything Everywhere All at Once without an inordinate number of adjectives and other qualifiers. In fact, it would likely be easier to create an extensive list of adjectives—with adverbial modifiers to drive the point home—to critique this extraordinary achievement in American filmmaking.

Everything Everywhere All at Once is the bombastic brainchild of the directing duo collectively known as Daniels—Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert. The filmmakers previously helmed the 2016 surrealist comedy-drama Swiss Army Man, which saw Daniel Radcliffe playing a corpse with propulsive flatulence and an erection that doubles as a compass. Daniels bring that unique brand of off-kilter kookiness to their latest effort and then turn the sensory overload dial way up past the point of no return. Daniels effectively throw everything and the kitchen sink at the wall and—remarkably and improbably—everything sticks, everywhere, and (yes) all at once.

The incredible Michelle Yeoh toplines as Evelyn Wang, a Chinese-American immigrant and laundromat owner who, while being audited by the IRS, discovers that she must connect with different versions of herself from parallel universes in order to prevent the destruction of them all by an evil entity known as Jobu Tupaki. That’s a dramatic oversimplification of the plot, which also has Evelyn grappling with her daughter’s sexual orientation, learning of her husband’s petition for divorce, and stressing over the arrival of her judgmental father (the legendary James Hong) from China. Looming over all of it is frumpy, humorless IRS inspector Deirdre Beaubeirdra (Jamie Lee Curtis), who warns of foreclosure and repossession due to Evelyn’s woeful mismanagement of the business’ taxes.

Through a variant version of her husband, Waymond (The Goonies Ke Huy Quan all grown up), Evelyn learns that every choice made creates a new universe; these innumerable parallel universes make up the multiverse. In order for Evelyn to defeat Jobu Tupaki—a version of her daughter, Joy (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’s Stephanie Hsu) who’s capable of experiencing all universes at once and manipulating matter at will—she must repeatedly “verse-jump” and connect with the different versions of herself to access the skillsets and memories of her parallel universe counterparts. But there is inherent danger in verse-jumping with such abandon; Evelyn risks splintering her mind, which is what drove a once benign version of her daughter to become the self-hating Jobu.

In her many verse jumps, Evelyn sees how her life would have turned out having made a single different choice. In one, she’s a glamorous martial arts movie star who encounters a sophisticated version of a Waymond she left and never married—one who now rejects her. In another, she’s a lesbian married to Dierdre, in a bizarre world where humans have hot dogs for fingers and play the piano with their toes. In yet another, she and Joy are merely two rocks with googly eyes living on the edge of a cliff. Daniels excel at creating madcap, boundary-pushing dreamscapes within these multiple realities existing at once within the known realm of time and space.

Within their evocative and cacophonous labyrinth of storytelling, the directors employ an anything-goes audacity—a swirling cyclone of fertile ideas and heady concepts—and straddle the worlds of science fiction, comedy, drama, action, and martial arts. The nearly two-and-a-half-hour film moves at a frenetic pace, with nonstop martial-arts action and in-your-face slapstick that allow for no bathroom breaks. (Word to the wise: Only buy the small soda and sip judiciously). Despite the complexity of their convoluted plot, Daniels admirably keep things surprisingly coherent—even the technobabble makes sense.

Yet, despite its massive interdimensional scope, Everything Everywhere All at Once is surprisingly intimate in scale. Even as the film slingshots between realities, somewhere between super-powered pinky fingers and weaponized butt-plugs, its absurdity is matched only by its heart. While you’re strapped in and relinquishing yourself to the cathartic rush-release of Daniels’ delightfully gonzo rollercoaster ride of psychedelic visuals and bold tonal shifts, you don’t expect the film’s emotional core to sucker punch you so hard by the end. With its larger, overarching message about kindness being the strongest weapon, it’s a story of human connection explored here in the conflict and reconciliation between an Asian mother and daughter who learn to cherish each other again.

Anchoring that emotional core is Yeoh’s Herculean performance. The film reads like a love letter from Daniels to the 59-year-old actress, who’s given what’s easily the best role of her career. Yeoh adeptly juggles the myriad nuances of Evelyn’s multiverse counterparts with aplomb, never losing track of who she’s supposed to be at any given moment. That she’s able to play so many versions of, essentially, the same character is no small creative feat. She effortlessly switches from comedic to dramatic, from martial arts maestro to overwrought mother, without missing a single beat anywhere in the film. Yeoh’s Evelyn shows us that even when you feel like you are the worst possible version of yourself, there is hope.

Likewise, the film’s supporting cast is a treat. Arguably, Quan does as much heavy lifting as Yeoh, especially in being tasked with having to explain the more technical aspects of Daniels’ plot. Hsu is a pure joy (pun intended) as both disaffected twenty-something daughter and as the colorful, villainous embodiment of all that disaffection. (Fun fact: Hsu got the role after Awkwafina dropped out due to scheduling conflicts.) Hong, a legend in his own right, lends gravitas to his role as Evelyn’s father and it’s a hoot to see him deployed in the multiverse. Tallie Medel as Becky, Joy's girlfriend, also makes the most of what could have been a pedestrian role. Curtis, who’s become so comfortable in her own skin as an actor as she’s matured, is a real scene-stealer here. In the hands of a lesser actor, her crotchety Dierdre could have been played as a one-note comic relief character, but Curtis imbues her with so many subtle humanities, that she elevates Dierdre beyond the periphery. There’s a scene between Evelyn and Dierdre outside the laundromat toward the end of the film that is utterly pitch-perfect and shows why these two women are Hollywood royalty.

My only beef with Everything Everywhere All at Once has nothing to do with the film itself and more to do with its distributor, A24. Arguably one of the most ambitious and prestigious film outfits out there today, I’m baffled why they chose to release this virtuoso cinematic triumph so early in the year. My fear is that the film will be overlooked come awards season later this year—and that will be nothing short of criminal. The film, its directors, its screenplay, its score by Son Lux, Larkin Seiple’s cinematography, its countless technical achievements, and at least three of its actors—Yeoh and Quan in lead acting categories, Curtis in supporting—should all receive nominations from multiple awards bodies. I hope the members of these various awards institutions will remember this masterpiece film a few months from now amid the noise of the year-end slate of “prestige” films that take over the narrative leading up to nominations.

Somewhere between death and taxes are beautiful moments—and these brief snippets of time are what make life worth living. This is the essence of Everything Everywhere All at Once and Daniels—aided immeasurably by Yeoh and their ensemble—employ an unmatched artistic aptitude in bringing their vision to whimsical, technicolor life. It’s a masterclass in filmmaking that will enthrall you with its exquisitely choreographed martial arts sequences before bringing tears to your eyes with the weight of its profound questions and truths about life. Unlike anything you’ve seen before, Everything Everywhere All at Once is destined to become a classic, an amalgamation of genre anarchy that defies classification, subverts expectations, and explores existential matters with empathy and insight. This marvelously unhinged slice of cinematic maximalism is nothing short of a work of art—and not to be missed.

Just let go—and let Yeoh. 

Sunday, February 20, 2022

Buckets of Blood and Gerontological Madmen in 'Texas Chainsaw Massacre'

Horror fandom is a curious thing indeed. This week’s bemusement has been watching the horror faithful on social media extolling the original The Texas Chainsaw Massacre—the story of young people from out-of-town trespassing on other people's property and getting butchered by a chainsaw-wielding maniac named Leatherface—as a virtuous classic while in the same breath decrying the new TCM—a  story about young people from out-of-town trespassing on other people's property and getting butchered by a chainsaw-wielding maniac named Leatherface—as the stupidest thing they've ever seen. It's literally the same plot, just updated. It’s hard not to laugh out loud at the computer screen some days. I’m reminded of the tagline from Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left: “To avoid fainting, keep repeating, ‘It’s only a movie…’”

So, let’s unclutch those pearls and talk about the latest installment in the franchise that began with Tobe Hooper’s gritty 1974 slasher. Texas Chainsaw Massacre (the ’22 film drops the “the” from its title) is directed by David Blue Garcia, with a screenplay by Chris Thomas Devlin, from an original story co-written by Fede Álvarez (also a producer on the film) and Rodo Sayagues. Originally, the production began with brothers Ryan and Andy Tohill (who directed 2018’s The Dig) at the helm, but the directors were replaced with Garcia after studio displeasure with the footage they shot. That’s never a good sign.

Ripping a page from the playbook David Gordon Green used for his 2018 relaunch of the Halloween franchise, the new Texas Chainsaw Massacre serves as a direct sequel to the original film—however it doesn’t necessarily retcon the sequels the way Green’s film trilogy does, with Álvarez stating in interviews that it's up to audiences “to decide when and how the events of the other movies happen.” Fair enough—and who cares, anyway, right? To tackle direct sequel problem #1—the 2014 death of Marilyn Burns, who played TTCM Final Girl Sally Hardesty—the filmmakers cast Irish actress Olwen Fouéré, an especially accomplished stage actor with about a dozen movie and TV credits each to her name. It’s excellent casting and Fouéré does the best with what she’s given; unfortunately, she’s not given anything other than a watered-down version of 2018’s Laurie Strode. To tackle direct sequel problem #2—the 2015 death of Gunnar Hansen, TTCM’s original Leatherface—Mark Burnham was cast in the role of the iconic horror villain. Burnham does a most respectable job given the big shoes he has to fill, but of course his character’s agility and stamina at (at least) age 70 requires a huge suspension of disbelief. Suffice to say that 2022 Leatherface is one fast, strong-ass motherfucker.

The new film opens as San Francisco speculators Melody (Sarah Yarkin) and Dante (Jacob Latimore)—with Melody's sister Lila (Elsie Fisher) and Dante's girlfriend Ruth (Nell Hudson) along for the ride—travel to the remote, long-abandoned Texas town of Harlow. Melody and Dante plan to auction off the town’s properties to create a trendy, heavily gentrified area for hipsters of every persuasion. Why, you ask, would said trendy hipsters with ample cash to burn pick an out-of-the-way, hot-as-Satan’s-ass locale like bumfuck Texas as an investment opportunity? No one really knows—and Lila even questions it aloud at one point in the film.

Upon the foursome’s arrival, they discover that one of the buildings—the town’s orphanage—is still occupied by the elderly Mrs. Mc (a welcome cameo by the wonderful Alice Krige) and a silent, towering older man. While enjoying some sweet tea provided by the congenial Mrs. Mc, a kerfuffle over who holds the rightful deed to the orphanage breaks out—and ends with Mrs. Mc suffering a heart attack. Fearful of the bad publicity, Ruth offers to accompany the sheriff and his deputy as they transport Mrs. Mc—and the not-so-mysterious hulking man—to the hospital. En route to the hospital, things go awry—so much so that hulking mute guy goes ballistic, kills almost everyone in the emergency rig, and peels the face off one of them. Leatherface is back—and he’s pissed. Cinematographer Ricardo Diaz shines in this gorgeously shot scene that has Leatherface standing in a field of dead sunflowers, holding up the skin of his new face. Ruth, who’s injured but alive, witnesses the rebirth of Leatherface and manages to get a radio transmission off before she’s (literally) gutted by him.

As Leatherface makes his way back to Harlow, a charter bus full of potential investors arrives and the property auction ensues. As word of Mrs. Mc’s death makes it back to Melody via Ruth’s last text before Leatherface’s ambulance ambush, local contractor Richter (Moe Dunford) hears her and Lila talking about it and takes Melody and Dante to task for causing Mrs. Mc’s heart attack and subsequent death. He confiscates the keys to the bus and their sports car, demanding proof that they had the right to evict Mrs. Mc before he’ll give them back. Discovering they don't have the deed showing they own the orphanage after all (oops!), Melody and Dante return to the creaky home for wayward boys to find it. Elsewhere, Sally Hardesty—her long grey hair and tank top giving us immediate Laurie Strode vibes—takes a call from the local gas station clerk who received Ruth’s last radio transmission, and he informs her that Leatherface is back. She arms up and heads out, adding an awesome cowboy hat to her survivor ensemble to perfect effect.

It's not giving too much away to say that Leatherface makes his way back to Harlow in what seems like record time and resumes his titular massacre once again. There are some over-the-top set pieces here—one of them pushed to the point of pure camp—and gorehounds will delight in the plethora of practical special make-up effects. The film is lean (at one hour and twenty-three minutes) and meaner than a rabid dog in the midday Texas sun getting poked repeatedly with a big stick. It’s all a heck of a lot of fun, even if the creative forces miss the boat almost entirely with the Sally Hardesty character. What could have been an awesome final chapter for survivor Sally is reduced to a mere sidenote, largely wasting Fouéré’s considerable talent. If anything, Texas Chainsaw Massacre reminds us how very important—crucial even—writers are to what we see and experience onscreen.

No, none of the characters are particularly memorable nor do we care when it’s their turn to meet the end of Leatherface’s chainsaw. No, making this film’s Final Girl a school shooting survivor adds nothing of note to her character or the plot. No, Leatherface’s speed and agility don’t make a lick of sense in the context of his chronological age. But 2022’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a lot of fun despite its myriad flaws—in that kind of mindless Saturday matinee, popcorn movie kind of way.

How best to enjoy this latest entry in the venerable horror franchise? Let go and let Garcia.