Studio: Phase 4 Films
Director: Duane Graves, Justin Meeks
Writer: Kim Henkel
Producer: Kim Henkel
Stars: Ali Faulkner, Johnny Walter, Derek Lee Nixon, Tory Tompkins, Gregory Kelly, Sonny Carl Davis
An unexpected detour into the inner city of San Antonio uncovers a fearsome ring of cannibals who traffic in human meat.
Kim Henkel is neither afraid nor ashamed of leaning on his heritage as co-screenwriter of Tobe Hooper’s original “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” when it comes to selling a movie. Nor does he shy away from it when it comes time to produce a new story for the silver screen. “Butcher Boys” mirrors so much of Henkel’s work from the 1974 classic that it can be considered a contemporary retelling of the same story updated for a new generation. And not just the generation that includes Matthew McConaughey and Renee Zellweger, either.
In fact, “Butcher Boys” began its life on the page as another chapter in the Leatherface family saga before undergoing rewrites to make it a new property. This fact will not be lost on anyone who sees the film. Formerly known as “Boneboys” before someone realized that sounded like a porno film title, “Butcher Boys” could have used at least one more pass to make its DNA not so brutally obvious to even the most casual viewer.
It is more than just the chainsaw, cannibalism, and meta themes of stumbling into a place that is best kept a secret, too. “Butcher Boys” lifts entire setpieces wholesale from “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” including a feral beast man, a cannibal in drag, a cook who refers to dimwitted henchmen as “sh*tbirds,” a dinner banquet scene, and a desperate heroine who escapes her horror by crashing through a window to the outside world. There are also a number of cameos from TCM alums. These wink/nod scenes add nothing to the plot, and arguably slow it down, although I found them subtle enough to be fun Easter eggs for fans without being a shameless crutch to attract interest.
After a prologue that can be forgotten, since the screenplay forgets it as well, the story kicks off at a San Antonio hotspot where Kenny is celebrating his seventeenth birthday with his insatiably trampy girl Barbie, his bud Mikey, and Mikey’s sweet sister Sissy. Outside, a rabble-rousing group of meat is murder protestors tries disrupting the restaurant’s steady patronage. Courtesy of Barbie’s firecracker behavior, the four friends end up in a car chase joyride that takes them to the wrong side of the tracks. There, they run afoul of a gang of thugs feared by everyone who knows their true nature. These are the “butcher boys,” and they are hungry for human meat.
“Butcher Boys” exchanges the dusty open country setting of “Chainsaw” for an urban industrial Texan cityscape. The choice of locations works to the film’s advantage in depicting a seedier side of San Antonio. It plays right into the fear of being close to home, yet stranded in unsafe and unfamiliar territory.
The cannibals themselves are a combination of greasers and a fashionable biker gang. They come with an unspoken menace because their intentions are not quite clear. The audience is caught right alongside the teenagers being hunted for unknown reasons in a nonstop nightmare of blood and brutality.
The story sets up a world somewhere between identifiable and hyper-real populated by uniquely eccentric characters with mysterious motivations and outlandish behavior. The cuts are brisk and the camera setups keep on coming, creating a great visual canvas for the directors to paint on. There are plenty of weird things to feast upon, and for a time, that is enough. Things then go suddenly off the tracks when “Butcher Boys” goes on too long without a purpose before ultimately leaving its intrigue unsatisfied.
The “butcher boys” have a backstory that is never developed. They are feared, revered, and important to the city’s underbelly, but for reasons unexplained. The main storyline is bookended by scenes of animal loving protesters outside a steakhouse. It seems like the movie might be leading to a clever message about perspectives on the food chain. That too, never comes to be. “Butcher Boys” plays as a shell of “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” when a rocket launcher appears from nowhere to be fired in broad daylight. With that missile comes the suspicion that the script thought it could get by with flashes and bangs instead of adding real meat to its plot.
A crisp look, inner city vibe, and cavalcade of creepy people suck in the audience. And then the frustration and disappointment from a story that reveals nothing spits everyone out on the other side. “Butcher Boys” leads nowhere. It is fitting that the film features numerous overlong chase sequences because the entire experience comes off as a hamster on a wheel that spins while remaining in place. The viewer is then left to feel like the hamster, wondering if anything was accomplished by the experience besides becoming tired and confused.
Review Score: 60