Please welcome Joanna Skrabala to this year’s Halloween Horrors line-up!
Joanna is one half of the dynamic duo behind Bloody Popcorn, with her husband Johnny (who will be joining us later on in the month). Together, they bring their unique perspectives on horror to their Facebook page, website, and podcast. Quite honestly, I sometimes find myself more than a little jealous of their working relationship. I would love nothing more than to have my own wife more involved with what I do here at Horror And Sons (whatever that actually is), but she’s just unfortunately too busy with her own demanding career to be able to participate in any real involved fashion. Until then, I’ll just live vicariously through these two.
For her Halloween Horrors debut, Joanna takes aim at the protagonist in what is widely considered one of the least popular entries in one of the genre’s most enduring franchises. If you are one of those that feel that same way, maybe, just maybe this piece will help change your mind. Either way, please show her a warm welcome!!
Jenny from ‘TCM: The Next Generation’ Is An Underrated Heroine
By Joanna Skrabala
Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation was filmed in 1994; briefly previewed in 1995; and then later released in 1997 to limited, controversial screenings and harsh reviews from both critics and fans alike. I saw it when it hit videos stores, and then proceeded to immediately forget about it.
At the time, its only lasting impression was the kinda-sorta awesome VHS cover art:
A few months back, on the Bloody Popcorn Podcast, we decided to rewatch a couple Chainsaw flicks – this and 2013’s frustrating Texas Chainsaw 3D. As a result, we enjoyed one entry a whole lot more than the other, and—surprise, surprise—it was The Next Generation!
Remembering very little, I was curious to see it again after 20-ish years. After all, it was directed by Kim Henkel, co-writer of the ’74 original. And thanks to the online horror world, I was even more intrigued after learning the movie had a steadfast fan base.
And, hey, the movie is fun! It’s goofy, bloody, bizarre ‘90s fun. A younger cousin of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 and an older relative of House of 1000 Corpses. Leatherface’s progressive transgender tendencies are expanded upon; new mythology, including a wealthy secret society is introduced; and Marilyn Burns (credited as “Anonymous”) has a neat little cameo at the ending. But there’s one standout aspect that needs to be praised: its headlining A-list cast of oddly placed actors in weird roles.
While Matthew McConaughey is great as a villainous Vilmer, he’s merely McConaughey dialed up to 110 with crazy eyes and a blood thirst. He even gets in his wonted “Alright, alright, alright” catchphrase. And it all works very well. Of course.
But let’s dump the dude. I’m here for Renée Zellweger’s “Jenny”.
It’s prom night and Jenny and her friends—though, I’m still not quite sure how she fits in with these kids—ditch the dance, head into rurality (first time I’ve ever used that word), and get caught up in the scheming antics, mutilations, and murders of Leatherface & co. Your typical post-prom party, am I right?
It’s the standard teen assembly—a dick boyfriend, a flighty hot girlfriend, a forgettable first victim, and then there’s Jenny, our final gal.
From first sight, we know Jenny isn’t the prom queen type. I mean, it’s 1994 and she wears glasses. Nerd chic wasn’t an overused thing yet. She’s hiding her face, so she can’t be very attractive, yeah?
But Jenny doesn’t give a single fuck and she’ll let you know.
After the group’s car crashes in the woods, Jenny remains calm and even. Prom fashion be damned, she even takes off her sensible heels and travels down the dirt road for help.
While Jenny is stoic and practical at her core, she still gets spooked at the right moments. One of which is being startled at a plastic bag. Another being her first interaction with Vilmer and Leatherface.
Stranded on the side of the road, Jenny gets picked up by Vilmer, your friendly neighborhood tow truck guy. Only, he’s really Vilmer, your nutso neighborhood madman. So, Jenny gets uneasy real quick and jumps out of the moving car and into Leatherface’s sights. And so, the battle begins.
As with anyone who encounters this bad guy gang, Jenny endures quite a bit. She’s chased and beaten. She jumps through a glass window and plays cat and mouse with Leatherface on a roof. She shimmies across an electric pole wire before crashing into a greenhouse. She gets duped, cattle prodded, bagged, and tossed into the back of a car all in the span of a couple minutes. She runs—a lot. And she becomes pretty when she loses her glasses.
Even so, Jenny also observes and fights back when it’s appropriate—okay, and sometimes when it’s not appropriate. Being in the midst of this frenzied family, Jenny finds opportune moments. While Vilmer and his lady, Darla, (physically) fight, Jenny grabs a nearby shotgun and says, “Okay, maybe it’s not loaded, but maybe it is, so fuck you!”
That’s some brazen, badass behavior. And while this particular move ultimately doesn’t pan out for Jenny’s escape, her role shifts away from victim. She becomes a nuisance for Vilmer and the fam because she battles (and talks) back.
After the altercation, Jenny is recaptured and gets knocked out. She awakes for family supper and is all gussied up to Darla’s flashy standards. (I mean, this look has future Halloween costume written all over it, if I’m being honest.)
As you know, family meals inherently breed awkward conversations and truth speak and dinner guest Jenny is no exception. Shit gets real when she unleashes this truth bomb about Vilmer: “The only reason for any of this is he’s a psycho and he gets off on it.”
So, dinnertime violence ensues. Leatherface wants Jenny’s now-pretty face. Vilmer hits Jenny—and she slaps him back … multiple times! It’s wild.
And then Jenny has her defining moment. After Jenny lays into the idiotic lunacy of the group, an exasperated Leatherface gets up to leave, to which Jenny points and says, “YOU SIT THE FUCK DOWN!”
Again, this doesn’t immediately lead to her escape or “win,” but holy hell, Jenny just became my hero. It’s this moment and the chaotic/comedic ‘remotes vs. electric leg battle’ with Vilmer that seal the TCM: TNG deal for me.
In the vast TCM franchise universe, Zellweger’s Jenny is a character often overlooked, forgotten, or even ignored. But don’t give in to the critics. If it’s been a while, give this odd ‘90s sequel a redemption viewing. There’s good there—and it’s okay to admit it. You don’t have to hide behind your stylish nerd glasses any longer. Embrace the weird and have fun with it.
In the immortal words of her late friend Heather (the flighty girlfriend), “If I wasn’t such a chicken, I’d be more like Jenny.”
Folks, let’s all be more like Jenny. Don’t give a fuck, but fight when it matters.
Joanna (and her husband) own and operate the horror website, Bloody Popcorn. They can also be found on Facebook and Instagram.