Do You Hear What I Hear Through The Grapevine

Happy Holidays Rotten Inkers! Tis the season for chestnuts roasting on an open fire and visions of raisins dancing in your head. That’s right, raisins..from California. Yes, I, Juliet will be your guide as we explore the 1980s sensations, The California Raisins and their journey from commercial mascots to masters of media and merchandise. I’m sure you’re wondering, other than figgy pudding, what’s the connection between raisins and the holidays? One of the best-loved appearances of the California Raisins just happens to be in William Vinton’s Claymation Christmas Special, which we’ll talk about more in depth in just a bit. Growing up, I was a huge fan of the special and of the California Raisins Show, the Saturday morning cartoon based on America’s favorite dried grapes, and I continue to have a formidable collection of California Raisins figures. So come along with me as we travel to Raisinville and learn all about the California Raisins, including the Blackthorne 3-D comics based on them.

As legend has it, in 1986, the California Raisin Advisory Board was trying to come up with an idea for a commercial when one of the writers, Seth Werner, said, “We have tried everything but dancing raisins singing ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine'” and thus the Raisins were born. Well, they were born through the claymation work of William Vinton and his Vinton Studios. The four main Raisins commercials were: Lunchbox, which featured the Raisins dancing out of a construction worker’s lunchbox on a high rise. The Late Show featured the Raisins dancing past other, less healthy snacks on a side table while a late night talk show played. Raisin Ray featured the Raisins alongside a claymation Ray Charles, and Michael Raisin featured them with, yes, a claymation Michael Jackson.

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In 1987, the Raisins appeared in something very near and dear to my heart growing up, William Vinton’s Claymation Christmas special. It hosted by Rex and Herb, two dinosaurs resembling Siskel and Ebert, who actually give some great historic context for the well known holiday carols featured in the program. The songs were done as super elaborate (and time-consuming to create) claymation-style skits, some of which were created in such a way to appear fluid, almost paint-like instead of looking like stop-motion. The songs featured were: We Three Kings, which starts fairly traditionally but get groovy thanks to singing camels, a comedic Carol of the Bells, O Christmas Tree which takes us into ornaments, Angels We Have Heard On High, which features two walruses ice skating in what feels like a subtle nod to the Fantastia Hippo Ballerinas. Joy To the World is a stunning collage of constant motion that celebrates African American culture. Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer is performed by the California Raisins, putting a little magic into the air after a Christmas eve gig (ala, as the Raisins often were, the Temptations). The hosts get their own story about wassailing, which is mistaken for waffling, waddling, wallowing, etc. This one, upon rewatch, puzzled me a bit. Are the actual wassailers at the end elves or leprechauns? When I was young I thought they were elves, but have they been leprechauns, or perhaps drunken locals the whole time? Weigh in, dear readers. The half hour Claymation Christmas Special debuted on CBS alongside the Garfield Christmas Special and the pair often ran together during the holiday season. I had one night’s CBS holiday lineup (that included Micky’s Christmas Carol, the Claymation-Garfield pairing and A Charlie Brown Christmas) taped on TV on VHS that was yearly, mandatory holiday viewing even after many of these were dropped from regular rotation.

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In 1988, the Raisins became fully fleshed out characters in their CBS special Meet the Raisins. This rockumentary mockumentary (think Spinal Tap, but with vegetables and suitable for small children) was produced by Vinton Studios and won an Emmy nomination. It actually wasn’t until this point that the Raisins got their names: A.C., Red, Stretch, and Beebop. The special also featured supporting characters such as Rudy Bagaman, the Raisins’ manager, who would go on to be one of the leading characters in the 1989 California Raisins cartoon, The California Raisins Show. That cartoon had a 13 episode run between September and December – kind of a shocker as my younger self seemed convinced that it lasted much longer. Instead of claymation, this show featured traditional cel animation from Murakami-Wolf-Swenson, but William Vinton served as creative director and executive producer so it definitely kept with his vision of the Raisins’ story. Many of the fruit and vegetable characters that were introduced in Meet the Raisins were prominent supporting characters in the cartoon, and many characters that were created for the cartoon (including my absolute favorite Lick Broccoli) then made appearances in the 1990 claymation special The Raisins: Sold Out!: The California Raisins II, which, furthering the Spinal Tap metaphor, saw had the Raisins attempting to mount a comeback with a new manager. This would be the last TV show/special for the Raisins, and they wouldn’t have much of a TV presence for many years to follow.

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During their short run, the California Raisins got a lot of merchandise created in their wrinkly image, and many of it has ended up in the Smithsonian permanent collection. Perhaps the most ubiquitous were the Raisins figurines that came out in assorted series from Hardee’s between 1987 and 1991, and were also stellar garage sale finds. I’ve been able to piece together a sizable collection of little guys, some of which I’ve had since the late 80s. In addition to the figure, there were Raisins t-shirts, Halloween costumes, lunch boxes, posters, coloring books, music albums, and a Capcom video game that was created but never officially released – though luckily it has made its way into the world via the homebrew game market. You can also check out a good representation of the California Raisins commercials, Meet the Raisins, The Raisins: Sold Out, and the entire run of the California Raisins Show on a two-DVD set called appropriately enough, The California Raisins Collection.

In 1987, as part of their series of 3D comics based on licensed properties, Blackthorne began a five issue run of comics based on the California Raisins, and these books are the subject of today’s comic reviews.  I heard it through the grapevine that here on Rotten Ink, we grade these on a star scale of 1 to 4 and are looking for how well the comic stays to the source material, its entertainment value and its art and story.  So let’s take the boat to Raisinville and get to know our new favorite band, the California Raisins!

The California Raisins 3-D # 1   *** 1/2
Released in 1987    Cover Price $2.50    Blackthorne Publishing    # 1 of 5

Under the cover of night, the Raisinville Chamber Orchestra is kidnapped and loaded onto a boat by masked bandits. The next morning, two young Raisins happen upon a flyer looking for musicians to play the mayoral election. As they head into town, they pick up another Raisin as a hitchiker and find their fourth and fifth potential bandmates playing a whistle on the street. As suspicious advertisements for Snax pop up around town, the new bandmates visit the music store to pick up some instruments, but find that the beloved owner has mysteriously retired, all the instruments are gone, and the store is now home to a surly French Fry Man selling Snax. The Raisins move on to the Chamber Orchestra’s headquarters where they and other raisins queue up for auditions, but something’s fishy as raisins are going in, but no one is coming out. The Raisins catch site of a group of Sugar Cubes up to no good and rush to city hall to warn the mayor. The mayor, however, is nonplussed. He’s worried that his opponent in the election, Big Burger, is trying to run him out of town, but he stops mid-thought upon chomping down on some Snax. This is when the Raisins realize that there’s something amiss; the Snax are turning their fellow raisins into zombies and the only cure is music. So they commandeer Big Burger’s campaign vehicle, which is equipped with a loudspeaker and do their thing. Mayor Van Raisin is re-elected and Big Burger and his Snax are run out of town.

This was such a fun read! It threw me at first because the Raisins (the main ones that is) don’t use their names at all in this book, but that’s because this came out before they had names. That said, all of the hallmarks of the developing California Raisins world were present: the power of music, junk food more often than not being portrayed as the villains of the story, and the delightful little details like the picture on the wall of a bottle of wine labeled Uncle Vino. The artwork was really well done by an unnamed artist, especially considering that the majority of the characters were raisins and you could still distinguish who was who. I liked the 3D effect, though quite honestly, I would enjoy this comic entirely on its own merit so it wasn’t necessarily a selling point for me (in fact, I had a harder time reading it, not because the 3D was poorly done, but just because my eyes have trouble focusing with old school red and blue 3D glasses). This five issue run is off to a strong start, so let’s see how the rest go.

The California Raisins 3-D # 2  ***
Released in 1988    Cover Price $2.50    Blackthorne Publishing    # 2 of 5

In a prologue, Big Burger looks at Raisinville from afar and vows that the town will be his as his junk food henchmen bring a display of the Raisins, Big Burger’s new sworn enemies. But never fear, our villain has a plan….we cut to the Raisins receiving an invitation to receive their complementary mansion earned by virtue of being the official Raisinville band. The Raisins are, of course, excited to reap the benefits of their newfound and begin exploring the mansion and discovering its various perks and quirks including some trap doors. Three Raisins are captured by the ever bickering Cookie and Candy, and the other two narrowly escape multiple traps looking for their friends. The fourth Raisin gets captured, but the last is able to discover the evil plot against them and devises a plan. Using the house’s recording gear and sound system, he minimicks Big Burger’s radio and lures Cookie and Candy away so he can free his bandmates. Together, they roll Cookie, Candy and some Sugar Cubes into a carpet and dump them into the water. When they float back to Big Burger, acknowledges that the Raisins may be more formidable foes than he anticipated, but the next round is his.

This is another solid comic that capture everything charming about the California Raisins. Interestingly, the Raisins’ mansion in this one does remind me of their house in the California Raisins Show (the cartoon), and an episode where Lick Broccoli’s manager bugs the Raisins’ home to steal the Sweet Currants’ new song. But this remains firmly in the pre-Meet the Raisins realm of issue #1: no names for the Raisins. It does, however, establish Big Burger as our main villain and brings back his henchman for more hijinks. I like the continuity, but I do hope that we get to see food characters in the next issue for the sheer fact that I like to check out the different character designs. The art is once again solid, and it’s easy to figure out who’s who among the Raisins. Onward to Issue 3!

The California Raisins 3-D # 3  **1/2
Released in 1988    Cover Price $2.50    Blackthorne Publishing    # 3 of 5

This issue feature two stories. In the first, Waisin Wipeout, the Raisins are lounging at their mansion when they get a call to come down to the beach to film a surfing music video. It’s there that they’re introduced to famous fim director Steven Spielbug, his frog assistant, surfing expert Gnarly Cobb and beach babe Cher Pear, who turns out to be a Valley Pear. While the Raisins surf for the camera, Big Burger and his henchmen (decked out, of course, in pirate hats!) lurk below the water in their submarine base. They use their device to create a tidal wave, knocking the Raisins off their boards and ruining the shot. But Raisins don’t let a little water defeat them. They get back on their boards and surf so well they create a whirlpool that knocks out Big Burger’s submarine…and looks super cool in the music video.

Story number two is X Marks the Spot. While out on a picnic, the Raisins find a map, which they assume will lead them to the treasure of Blueberry the Pirate. Of course x marks the spot right under where they were picniccing so the Raisins start digging, and find nothing. They then realize that they were digging in the wrong spot, and after several repeated instances of this, begin fighting amongst themselves. This results in tears until one Raisins realizes that the seemingly shifting x on the map was shifting because it was actually a spider.

While I didn’t hate this issue by any means, this is definitely the weakest of the first three issues. First of all, why two stories? Especially when the second story, for me, was pretty weak. The first story was good, but messed with a few of the things that I love about the Raisins in general and that the first two issues honored: why are the filmmakers bugs and not food characters? Also while I get that Cher Pear is supposed to the typical valley girl/beach bimbo, it took me entirely too long to realize that she was a pear because she was drawn entirely too human. These are minor complaints in the grand scheme of things as the art is still great, but for me, the fun comes from the food characters. It’s a formula that works so why mess with it? Speaking of messing with things, it looks like the next issue is going to deviate again by being an adaptation of Meet the Raisins. So let’s take a deep breath and dive in.

The California Raisins 3-D # 4  ***
Released in 1988     Cover Price $2.50    Blackthorne Publishing    # 4 of 5

The Raisins (there are four of them now) are excited because their show is getting ready to come on. We go into the TV documentary where our host tells the humble origin stories of A.C., BeeBop, and Red (names!) as they formed their first band with bass singer Zoot, who introduced them to his eventual replacement, Stretch. From there we see the Raisins’ slow rise to fame with the help of their young manager Rudy Bagaman. From impressing Ed McMelon and being literal smash sensations to rebuilding their shattered careers by working with quirky director Frederico Rasperini and playing a series of concerts in the arctic. Their eventual, triumphant return comes when Rudy Bagaman nearly crashes a plane, providing an amazing introduction to the band. The documentary concludes there, and the Raisins are pleased with what they saw.

Admittedly, I’m a little torn about this one. I would have preferred an original story as opposed to a straight adaptation of Meet the Raisins, but this was extremely well done and captured the charm of the TV special so I can’t be too mad. As I’m sure you noticed above, the Raisins now have their names, and they’ve gone from being a band of five to a quartet with a completely different back story. I wonder if these Raisins are the next generation of California Raisins, or is there some sad fifth Raisin out there in the word waiting to write his tell-all book about how his band abandoned him. The artwork in this one is the same as the rest of the comics so far: really great! Needing to be able to distinguish the Raisins from each other isn’t as big a deal though, because along with their names come new, more distinct character designs. The cover features our newly revamped Raisins rocking out on the stage. I wonder if the next issue will be an original story or another adaptation (though the next special wasn’t for a few years). Might as well take a look and see….

The California Raisins 3-D # 5  **1/2
Released in 1988   Cover Price $2.50    Blackthorne Publishing    # 5 of 5

Back to multiple stories so: In the Music Mash, the Raisins (there are still four of them, but they’re not the same four from the last issue) are in the studio preparing for a gig and arguing over a new song. They decide to visit their friend Gigo who’s created a new machine that can create hit songs on the spot. Everything is going well, and they bring the device to a gig with them, but when a workman leaves his toolbox too close, the machine malfunctions creating chaos onstage. In the end, the Raisins realize it’s best to go back to basics and sing one of their classics.

In California Battle of the Bands, the Dough Buys and Richter are headed to the semifinals, and the Raisins (all FIVE of them) are late to their recording session. When they arrive, an oddly cartoony Rudy introduces them to three Lady Raisins who are their new backup singers. Back at the battle of the bands, Cookie, and Candy French Fry are sabotaging the competition for their boss, Big Burger. They plan an earthquake device and play a few more pranks on the Raisins when they show up to play. When the Raisins discover the mischief, they interrupt Ratchet’s set to warn them about the earthquake device, and the two bands work together to defeat the bad guys. They celebrate their victory with a concert all together.

I have SO MANY questions. Are there multiple bands performing as the California Raisins? This kind of follows my theory from last issue, and we do learn that there’s a whole Raisinville from which these bands could have been formed. This is all to say that these Raisins are different, unnamed Raisins than the ones we saw last issue. And then there’s the numbers issue. Was Fifth Raisin on vacation for the last story and a half? Also, what is Gigo? He’s not a discernible fruit or vegetable? Is he an alien? That said, there are so many things right about this, like Shrapnel, one of the battle bands that are clearly an homage to Guns N Roses. It was also amazing to see Shirelle, Dixie and Crystal, aka the Sweet Currants, in this issue even though they, like the Raisins this time around, weren’t called by name. I’m also glad we got one more chance to see Big Burger try to thwart the Raisins and thus conquer Raisinville. The art was great, but the latter story was a little more cartoony than anything else we’ve seen in this series. All told, this was an extremely fun and solid comic series that served these classic characters well.

So there you have it, the life and times of the California Raisins with a sprinkle of holiday cheer.  I hope it’s merry, warm and bright for you and yours, and that you’ll join Matt back here on the blog for his big holiday update.  He’ll be taking us from the land of singing fruits and vegetables into animated knights and dragons when he covers the comic adaptation of Dragon’s Lair. In the meantime, make sure you’re well stocked on hot chocolate, support local and indie businesses as you’re able this holiday season, and read a comic or three.

The Saw Is Law Here at Rotten Ink!

For the second Halloween update I had a hard time choosing what comic series to do. I thought to myself, should I pick one of Marvel’s classic horror titles like Tombs of Dracula or Werewolf by Night.  Then I thought, why not do something from Dead Dog Comics or Fangoria Comics, two horror comic companies that disappeared way before they should have and had a lot to offer in the comic world in my opinion.  But finally I decided to stick to a film adaptation of a classic horror film, and I was torn between Psycho and Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III.  While Psycho is the better film by far, I chose to go with Leatherface because I felt the need to speak about the Texas Chainsaw Massacre this Halloween season. I first saw Texas Chainsaw Massacre with my brother when I was young as he bought it on VHS from Half Priced Books and hyped it up to me as one of the first slasher films made.  My expectations were high as we watched it and after that first viewing I was not as impressed as he was. I was still very much into the classic black and white horror film stuff, and I just felt while Leatherface was scary he still was just a man. Now being older I see that Leatherface being just a man is way more scary then The Wolf Man who is a unreal creature because people like Leatherface are real and are the true terrors that walk among us. But even in my teens I grew to to respect the film and what it had done for the world of horror films.  Not to mention I truly thought star Marilyn Burns was a super fox! So with that let’s first take a look at the real life killer that inspired Tobe Hooper and Kim Henkel, and then we will look a little deeper into each Chainsaw film among other things as we travel to the heart of Texas on this October night and stop along the way for some good old BBQ and remember The Saw is Family.  Fair warning, this update will have spoilers.

The Saw is Family

Edward Theodore “Ed” Gein is a killer from Plainfield, Wisconsin who killed two known females and may have killed others including his own brother. Ed, who was attached to his mother, slipped into madness after her death in 1945 and took to digging up bodies from the local cemetery and making not only furniture from the bones and skin but also a suit that was made up of human flesh to make himself into a woman. Ed’s first victim was Mary Hogan, a saloonkeeper that he killed with a shotgun in 1954.  His second victim was hardware store owner Bernice Worden who was also shot in her store.  Both women were dragged back to his farmhouse where they were cut up, skinned and treated like cattle at a slaughterhouse. Ed not only was a grave robber but he also took part in cannibalism as he ate pieces of his victims. Ed was busted for the second murder and was sentenced to life in an asylum where he died in 1984 from respiratory failure at the age of 77. The Gein’s farm house was set on fire, and his truck was sold to a carnival where people paid a quarter to see it after his death. Ed’s tombstone is the target for vandals and thieves as pieces are broken off for keepsakes and graffiti placed on it. As I have stated, Gein was only convicted and only admitted to two murders but there was the possibilities of many more including his brother who was found dead years before on the property during a controlled burn.  The authorities ruled that he died from asphyxiation from the smoke but wounds were found around his skull leaving some to wonder if Ed had attacked and murdered him. Ed also has been the inspiration for many Hollywood bad guys like Leatherface from Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Norman Bates from Psycho, Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs and Ezra Cobb from Deranged. Not to mention Ed has had a few bio films based on him and has had such actors as Kane Hodder and Steve Railsback step into the role of portraying him. To this day Ed Gein seems to catch the attention of many true crime followers and seems to never be forgotten as his name lives on in film, comics and songs.

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Let’s take a look at the films of Texas Chainsaw Massacre….and these do have spoilers! I will include standard 1-4 star rating as the end of each small write up.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre – Sally Hardesty, her wheelchair bound brother Franklin, her boyfriend Jerry and friends Kirk and Pam are on a road trip through Texas in 1973 to see if their grandfather’s grave has been disturbed by a rash of grave robbers and to go to their family’s old home that is now in ruins. Along the way, they pick up a crazed hitchhiker who attacks Franklin before being booted from the van. They also meet a gas station owner named W.E who warns them not to go to the old house and warns them his station is out of gas. The group doesn’t listen and heads for the farm where their fun and games turn into a nightmare as a killer known as Leatherface (because he wears human skin as a mask) picks them off one by one. Leatherface uses all his tools of the trade to dispose of the teens like his trusty hammer, chainsaw and meat hooks. Finally Sally is the only one left alive and comes face to face with the true horror of Leatherface and his deranged brothers that include W.E., the hitchhiker and their wheelchair bound blood-drinking Grandpa who was a slaughterhouse worker. Sally is chased, beaten and forced to have a cannibal dinner with the family before she tries to escapes the madness with her life as Leatherface with chainsaw and hitchhiker with straight razor are in hot pursuit. In the end the hitchhiker is smashed by a semi truck, Leatherface takes his own chainsaw to the leg and Sally escapes with her life but not her mind. 4 Stars!

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Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part II – Stretch is a DJ for a popular rock radio station that captures the deaths of two callers on her request line by the killer known as Leatherface. In town, Lefty Enright, uncle to Sally and Franklin Hardesty and a former ranger, wants to capture and kill those responsible for the murders taking place in Texas. The Sawyer clan now lives in an abandoned amusement park, and the Cook (Drayton) is now in the catering business selling his human BBQ and chili all around town and soon at the big football game. But when Lefty talks Stretch into playing the kill call live on the air, she and her coworker L.G. become the targets of Leatherface and his brother Chop-Top (a vet with a metal plate in his head) who want the tape and want them dead. The attack leaves Stretch’s co-worker at death’s door and Leatherface with a crush on her, which saves her life. The Sawyer clan heads home as Lefty and Stretch follow and get lost in the maze. Stretch is found and forced to eat dinner with the family as Leatherface’s new “girlfriend.” Meanwhile Lefty spends time trying to bring the whole place down. After he finds Stretch and saves her from the hammer what follows is a showdown between a crazed family of killers and a crazed man who lost it all when his family was taken away. The result is chainsaw duels, hammer blows to the head, the return of the blood-drinking Grandpa, the hitchhiker’s corpse as a puppet and the death of many of the Sawyer family. 3 1/2 Stars!

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Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III – Michelle and Ryan are driving cross-country and made the mistake of driving through Texas as another Sawyer body pit has been found. It throws them off the normal highway and to the Last Chance Gas Station run by a pervert named Alfredo Sawyer who gets into a fight with a hitchhiker named Tex after he catches him peeping on Michelle as she uses the restroom. Before Tex is “gunned” down for being a hero, he tells them to take a back road that leads to a run-in with Leatherface and an accident with a survivalist named Benny. With no cars and no hope, the three along with a crazy young woman who has escaped the Sawyer clan become the prey as Leatherface and his brothers Tinker (a hook handed technology lover and tow truck driver), Tex (the hitchhiker) and Alfredo (the gas station owner) hunt them down and kill them for meat. Michelle is alive after the others are killed and taken to the Sawyer farm were she gets to meet Mama Sawyer, Grandpa and Leatherface’s young daughter. But when Benny, who’s not dead, comes to her aid the two must kill or be killed to stay alive. Do they make it out of Texas alive, and if so, what is left of them? 2 1/2 Stars!

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Texas Chainsaw Massacre The Next Generation – It’s prom night in 1994 as mousy Jenny, a young woman who is being abused by her mom’s boyfriend, is on her way to the prom with Sean and her friend Heather and Heather’s asshole boyfriend Berry. They get into a wreck in the backwoods of Texas and meet Vilmer Sawyer, a towtruck driver with a mechanical leg brace, Darla an insurance agent with fake boobs, W.E. a shotgun welding history quoting asshole and of course Leatherface. One by one, like before, the friends are killed off as Jenny is the only one left to spend a horrific dinner with the Sawyer clan, but this time it’s different as they spend time playing mind games and cat and mouse chases with her. Weirdly, they refer to all of this as a job given to them by a secret government agency. But strangely a man dressed in black, a clear member of the secret government agency named Rothman, shows up and yells at the family but lets the madness continue. Jenny escapes the house with Vilmer and Leatherface in pursuit as a plane swoops down from nowhere killing Vilmer and stopping Leatherface dead in his tracks. Jenny gets to a limo where Rothman apologies for all she has been through and drops her off at a local hospital where she sees a crazed Sally Hardesty. The two lock eyes as we end with Leatherface swinging his chainsaw as the sun sets. This film was also known as “Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre”. 2 stars!

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Texas Chainsaw Massacre – In 1973 Erin, her boyfriend and a van full of friends are driving back home from Mexico and make the mistake of taking the backroads of Texas. After picking up a hitchhiker who blows her head off, they are lead to Sheriff Hoyt who makes them stay until this case can be closed. Erin and her friends soon learn that something is not right with the small almost abandoned town as everyone they meet seems a little off. When Erin’s boyfriend goes missing and becomes the first victim to Leatherface’s hammer, Erin and her friends start becoming human cattle to the Hewitt family that includes crazy Sheriff Hoyt, wheelchair bound Monty, little boy Jedediah and old lady Luda May. One by one the friends die. Erin is the last survivor who must escape her hellish nightmare, but before she does she saves a kidnapped baby, kills Sheriff Hoyt and chops off Leatherface’s arm. It ends with Erin driving off as a one-armed Leatherface makes one last attempt on her life. 2 1/2 Stars!

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Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning – In 1939 a deformed baby is born in a slaughterhouse and is quickly thrown away in the trash can out back where Luda May Hewitt rescues it and takes it home to raise as her own. Flash to 1969, and the small Texas town is dying as the baby grows up to be Thomas Hewitt, working for the very same slaughterhouse that threw him away just some 30 years before. Brothers Eric and Dean, along with their girlfriends Chrissie and Bailey are on their way to be dropped off to go to Vietnam as Thomas kills his old boss and his Uncle Charlie kills the sheriff to protect his nephew and becomes Sheriff Hoyt. The Hewitt family stays in the town and makes a vow that they will do whatever it takes to keep the family farm, including eating human flesh to never go hungry. Eric and crew get in a wreck as a female biker tries to rob them. This brings Sheriff Hoyt who kills the biker and takes Eric, Dean and Bailey under custody and to the Hewitt farm. Chrissie comes to the rescue with the help of the leader of the biker gang. But one by one they start meeting an end at the hands of Leatherface who ends up cutting Eric’s face off and taking off his leather strap mask to truly live up to what he is to become. Finally, after being caught and watching her loved ones get killed Chrissie escapes or so she thinks. 3 Stars!

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Texas Chainsaw 3D – The Sawyer family is under attack after the events of the first film as the Sheriff wants Leatherface to come out and turn himself in.  Things go south when some good old boys show up and kill the Sawyer family and burn down the farm house. One baby survives the attack and grows up thinking she is the daughter of some of the rednecks who killed her real family. When she gets a notice that her real grandma has died and left her a mansion, she finds out the truth that she was adopted and returns to Texas to acquire her family’s estate. But she and her friends get more than what they bargain for as Leatherface is still alive and lives in the basement and worse the towns redneck get wind of a Sawyer being back in town and are not happy. In the end the young woman must join forces with her chainsaw welding cousin and stop the rednecks that wish them nothing but harm. The film was the first in the series to be shot in 3D and is a direct sequel to the Tobe Hopper original. 2 1/2 Stars!

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The films have over the years built up a huge cult following, and while none of them were huge box office winners, they all are still well made fun horror films that deserve their spot in horror history. If your interested in reading my full reviews of most of the Texas Chainsaw films, then take a look at my old review site Bloodline Video for those and many other film and video game reviews. And speaking of video games we can’t talk Texas Chainsaw Massacre without talking about the 1982 Wizard Video Game based on the film for the Atari 2600 and that turned out to be a major flop but is now highly collectible today. The game has you play as Leatherface and armed with your trusty chainsaw and a select amount of fuel, you must chase after screaming females and hack them to pieces to gain points.  But the whole time you must also dodge obstacles like bulls skulls and wheelchairs because if you get caught up in one you lose fuel and your score will drop.The game when released was considered too adult for the video game market and could only be bought from select stores that chose to stock it and was sold behind counters limiting its sales. The game tested poorly with critics and gamers at the time and over all was trashed for its terrible plot and stiff gameplay. I happen to have an original copy of the game complete with its manuel that I bought from Ebay for $150.00.  While it’s a terrible game, it still holds some charm when you think about the fact it was one of the first horror themed games and the fact that Wizard Video, who was a popular VHS horror film distributor who was owned by Charles Band (Full Moon Entertainment) was the one to put it out. Only time will tell if Leatherface will ever get a full modern game again, but at this point I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre Atari 2600texas chainsaw massacre atari adAtari 2600 Leatherface

Speaking of the Atari 2600 game based on the film one of the funniest reviews I have ever seen about this game was done for The Angry Video Game Nerd’s two-part Halloween special where he looked at this game as well as Haunted House, Frankenstein’s Monster and Halloween all for the Atari 2600. In the episode The Nerd buys both the Texas Chainsaw and Halloween Game (both who were rare and released by Wizard Home Video) from a garage sale run by a banjo playing hick smart ass. When he gets home, he plays the game and rips it to shreds for being a poor programed and thought out game. After the review he gets a visit from Chop Top and Leatherface who give chase and he is attacked by the Banjo Hick who is also part of the Sawyer Family. They force The Nerd to play the game longer until he escapes and is chased by Leatherface who gets hung up on a bike and allowing The Nerd to get away. This episode is so much fun and his Halloween specials always stand out for being well done and a great way to remember the horror games of the past. If you have not seen this episode, you should check it out on his website Cinemassacre or his Youtube page.

AVGN LeatherfaceAVGN Texas Chainsaw MassacreAVGN Chop Top

A cool short film that thus far has never been released and was directed by William Hopper, the son of original director Tobe Hopper, called “All American Massacre” was started in 1998 but not fully finished, It was supposed to be about Chop Top (played by Bill Mosley once again) and picks up after the events of part 2 and has Chop Top in jail spilling his guts to a Tabloid Magazine about the history of his family. The music score was being done by strange guitarist Buckethead, and the film had a lot of buzz after a teaser trailer was released. In 2011 the film tried to get the remaining funding via Kickstarter but the online attempt failed. At a convention a few years back I spoke to Bill Mosley about the film and he expressed that he wished it would come out as well. So here is to hoping that one day fans of Texas Chainsaw Massacre will be able to see this 60 minute sequel gem. I for one would love to see this because I am a fan of the character Chop Top and would love to see how he survived the chainsaw gut check from part 2 and see how he was captured by the police. So spread the word about this film, and let’s see if we can all help get this made.

All American Massacre Chop Topall american massacre posterAll American Massacre Chop-Top

The Sawyer family is also very popular when it comes to the merchandise department and have had so many product based around them.  They have had comics, shirts, toys, a video game, models, Halloween masks, soundtracks, jewelry and so much more. So if you’re a fan of this film and or Leatherface, then you should be happy at the amount of collectibles out in the world for you to own. I for one have a cool retro Leatherface T-Shirt, the video game and some of the action figures. My favorite Leatherface item I own is the 3 3/4″ action figure that is in scale with classic Star Wars and G.I. Joe’s.  Now that’s a cool toy. And I also love my CD soundtrack done by an old website called Roger’s Basement that has music and sound clips from the first two films.  Around Halloween time I play some tracks off these on the WYSO show Alpha Rhythms.

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One little unknown fact is that back in 2001 while Independent B Movie was still going strong I wrote and was going to direct and star as Leatherface in a fan made film based on this series called “Texas Chainsaw Massacre:Return Of The Saw”! The film was taking place after the events of Texas Chainsaw Massacre the Next Generation and would have followed a beauty queen named Gabriella and her photographer friend Paul as they make the mistake of having a run in with the Sawyers who consisted of Leatherface, The Hitchhiker, Vilmer, W.E., Grandpa and Rose who was based on the young girl from part III. The film also had a bounty hunter on the trail of the Sawyers named The Cobra who was hired to kill them by a family member of a past victim. The film was slated to star all the old fimilar faces of I.B.M like Matt Hoffman, Josh Weinberg, Andrea Seay, Dave Wean, Garrison Kane, Jeff Ricks, Brandon Womeldorff and Patrick Neeley. The script was finished and most the props were bought as we got a Leatherface and Grandpa Halloween Mask, lots of fake blood and body parts and even fake brown slime to use on the fake decomposing bodies. The film was about to go into production but it was pushed to the back burner when original scripts started to come in and films like Who Keeps Feeding Grandpa, Farmer Joe and Razor were made instead. Josh Weinberg was a true sport as he acted as the producer of this unfinished project and for many years after we kept talking about getting it into production, but sadly we were never able to.  The film’s script has fallen into the big blue folder of un-shot scripts along side Dracula film Eternal Sleep, Farmer Joe 2 and Matt Hoffman’s fan made Creature From The Black Lagoon film. Below is a fake teaser poster done by my friend Eric Shonborn just for this blog so take a look and think about the no budget fan film that never was.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre Return of the Saw Poster

While on the topic of Texas, I just want to also mention that I don’t watch much TV these days and when I do watch TV shows they are on DVD.  But one show that I do watch is a really silly reality show called “American Hoggers”! I know right now many of you are laughing at me and shaking your heads at how I can watch such a dumb show, so allow me to explain. Last year Juliet and I were having some issue with our apartment, and while it was getting fixed I stayed at my parents’ house or we would rent a hotel room.  While at my parents’ house I would stay up late and have the TV on. A show that I kept catching was called American Hoggers, and the first thing that caught my eye was one of the show’s stars Krystal “The Pistol” Campbell and the second was Lea Penick.  Both are good looking women who were taking down giant hogs in the state of Texas, and this was mesmerizing to me late nights. The show is about The Campbell’s, a father and his kid team that go out and get wild hogs in Texas before they can cause more damage to peoples property or cause physical harm to kids and animals.  The show is so much fun and I enjoy the wild antics of father Jerry and the hotness of Krystal and Lea who also seem like really cool people and both girls are great at what they do and are down right fearless. After the apartment was fixed I still found myself watching the show with my Mom and Dad on Wednesdays. I know it’s a sickness.

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Now before we take a look at Northstar comics four issue loosely based comic adaptation of the film Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III, I would like to also take a moment to talk about another planed adaptation from them that never happened, a mini series that was in the works based on the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre film. By the midway mark of the Leatherface series, the sales of this title were high and issue one was a total sell out and helped the company gain momentum who were only a gore and horror comic company who made many original titles like KlownShock and Splatter and those titles sells were never as solid as they were on the Leatherface series, making them look at The Sawyer Family as a cash cow and a quick way to become a player at the growing comic shops around the United Stares and hang with the big boys of Marvel and DC. The fourth and final issue in the Leatherface mini series revealed that the company was working on a adaptation of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre and many new original Chainsaw stories that was in the works.  The adaptation comic was said to have J.J. Birch who worked on the Catwoman comic on board and was going to be the kick off to this new series of books. Fans were hyped and the comic even had advertisements for these comic books.  Years passed and the comics never seen the light of day nor did Northstar ever speak of them again making many forget that they were even in the works and others who did just moved on to other comics. I spent hours looking into why this book was canceled and could never find an answer. I for one would have loved to have read both the film adaptation and the new series and know that I would have bought them when they came out. I am wondering if the book was finished and if so who owns it and is there any chance that it would ever come out! Fangoria Comics would have been a great company to put this out if they didn’t go south way too soon. Below is one of the ads that was published in issue 4 of Leatherface so that we all can look at it and wonder what it could have been.

Northstar Leatherface adNow that we have taken a look at Leatherface in film, video game and merchandise I think it’s time that we dive into the backroads of Texas and adventure into reading this series! When I was younger I only owned issue 4 and always looked at local comic shops like Mavericks and The Bookie Parlor for the other three and was never successful in my quest. Years later thanks to the team up of Lone Star Comics and Amazon, I was able to find the other three and replace the issue four I sold off to pay rent way back when. I just want you all to remember I grade these on a standard 1-4 star rating and base it on entertainment value, quality of the story, the art and how true it stays to the source martial.  So let’s gas up the chainsaw and have a bloody good time.

Leatherface 1

Leatherface  # 1  ***
Released in 1991   Cover Price $2.75   Northstar Comics   # 1 of 4

Leatherface bashes a young woman’s head in and removes the skin around her face to make a new mask from it, as a woman outside watches in horror and flee’s into the woods. Michelle and Ryan are stuck in a traffic jam that’s caused by the discovery of a massive body pit that is housing the remains of 70 to 80 victims. When they can finally hit the road, Michelle hits an armadillo and when Ryan goes to kill it she finds a chrome skull ear ring at the side of the road. The couple stops at the Last Chance Gas Station run by a eye patch wearing goon named Alfredo who speaks like a pervert, and they also meet Tex a hitchhiker cowboy who just wants to get home.  After Tex catches Alfredo peeping on Michelle as she uses the restroom he flips out and gets a shotgun and shoots the cowboy and tries to blast the couple who speed off and turn down an old abandoned road where they are chased by a giant monster truck that throws a decapitated dogs head at the window and causes the couple to wreck and get a flat tire. As the monster truck speeds off, Ryan is trying to fix the flat tire as a noise is heard in the woods, a simple squeak noise that turns into the sound of a chainsaw as Leatherface is upon them!

This issue is a fun way to start off this movie adaptation and uses Leatherface in only two spots: killing the person at the start of the issue and the quick flash of him getting ready to kill our heros. Leatherface in this issue seems very mean spirited and is very much like he is in the film this comic is based on.  His look is also great, and he is sporting long hair and a giant knee brace. Michelle and Ryan are a good couple who are clearly at odds with each other.  In this comic they seem to argue a lot and Ryan is pretty much a pure ass who takes any chance to try and push Michelle’s buttons trying to get her to fight with him. Tex comes off as just a cowboy who is a drifter and is a puzzle as he is the one who gave them the route they took when they were attacked by the monster truck, and Alfredo is a pure sleaze ball who is crazy as Ygor from the Universal film Son of Frankenstein. The comic has a nice amount of gore to go along with the plot of a couple driving a car across Texas who are fighting over a break up that is in the works and make a mistake of stopping at a gas station that is run by the Sawyers. One nice touch is that in the body pit part two of the workers are FX maser Tom Savini and classic b-actor Dick Miller! The art work by Kirk Jarvinen is good stuff and is the style of 90’s horror comics that I like, and the cover is also well done and eye catching. I can see why this first issue sold so well, and I for one wish I would have gotten it off the stand when I was a kid as I am sure both The Bookie Parlor and Mavericks had it stocked. While it’s very close to the film, the changes are well done and make this first issue a good read.  I don’t know about you but I am pretty hyped to see what issue two brings to the table. 

Leatherface 2

Leatherface  # 2  ***
Released in 1991   Cover Price $2.75   Northstar Comics   # 2 of 4

Ryan and Michelle are shocked at the side of the road as Leatherface comes at them with his chainsaw a buzzing.  Ryan thinks fast and kicks Leatherface in the balls and as the killer drops, he and Michelle speed off! Leatherface tries to stop them but breaks his chain on his saw, and they get away. While speeding Michelle crashes into a truck driven by Benny, a weekend warrior who is a survivalist, after she thinks she sees an injured Tex in the road. They couple tell Benny about Tex and the chainsaw madman who tried to kill them, as he thinks they are just talking smack after being shook up from the accident. Benny goes to the road to get his gun just in case and waiting up there is Tinker, a tow truck driver with a hooked hand, who turns out to be yet another crazy member of the Sawyer family.  Benny is able to get his gun and escape being run over just in time, but his escape is short lived as he is now being attacked by Leatherface! Benny fights his hardest but just as it looks bad, the woman who at the start of issue one saves him and has Leatherface chase after her! Meanwhile Michelle and Ryan are trying to shake off injuries when a shotgun carrying Tex comes for them and fights with the couple to keep them captive. While the poor woman who saved Benny’s life is captured by Tink and is cut up by Leatherface.

Issue two is all action and does not pull the punches with the gore, action and blood! This time around Leatherface is given more depth and at one point when he breaks his saw takes to bashing his own head against a tree as punishment! Leatherface is also way more blood thirsty in the issue and takes glee in chopping up the woman in the end, not to mention it’s super cool as they put dialogue in as to what he is thinking. Ryan is still an ass even being in danger, and the character is not likeable at all.  When he gets his face smashed with the butt of the shotgun you don’t feel sorry for him, but you feel sorry for Michelle who is left to fight of Tex alone. Michelle is likable but does make dumb mistakes in the comic just as she did in the film and the top one being getting into the crash with Benny. Tink is an odd duck who it’s clear he is now the brains of the family after the death of Drayton Sawyer aka The Cook from the first two films, and seems to love technology. Tex is shown to be a part of the family and is a sick son of gun who uses his looks to trick people into going along with what he says. The art work is now being done by Guy Burwell who also did the cover, and while his art work is good, it kind of lost some of the charm of issue one.  Plus the cover is not as eye catching. Over all this is a good issue and keeps you entertained with all the action and blood.  I also love the changes from the film like Leatherface slaughtering the girl, being pissed about his saw breaking and even Tex fighting with Michelle and Ryan; all nice touches and truly flushes out the story a little more. Let’s get onto issue three, shall we?

Leatherface 3

Leatherface  # 3   ***
Released in 1991   Cover Price $2.75   Northstar Comics   # 3 of 4

Tink and Leatherface are having a blast playing around with the body parts of the woman they had just killed, even playing baseball with her skull! Tink finds Ryan’s cassette tape walkman and gives it to Leatherface as a gift and has Leatherface do the classic chainsaw dance for his amusement. Meanwhile Michelle has escaped Tex and is wandering the woods and finds that the Sawyer family have traps set everywhere to capture and kill anyone who stumbles onto their place.  As she is wandering, she finds a normal looking house with a Little Girl sitting on the porch and asks her for help. The Little Girl takes Michelle inside and soon enough she finds out she is in the killers’ home as Tex and Little Girl try and capture her yet again. Meanwhile Benny in the woods finds a pond where Alfredo is dumping body parts of victims, and the two have an exchange of words that leaves Alfredo knocked out and thrown into the pond. Michelle meanwhile is captured and meets the family from Mama to a crazed old man who the family has taken in as their own, and she is forced to watch as Leatherface bashes in the head of Ryan who they have brought home to slaughter and eat!

This third issue is more about suspense and builds up a very gloom and doom feeling for Michelle who is truly on her own against a family of crazed rednecks. Michelle is a likable killer.  While she fights back a tad, you really keep wanting her to fight as hard as she can to get away from the Sawyer family. Ryan in the issue is nothing more than a dead man walking as his date with the sledgehammer is near. Benny is trying his best to find the couple and get rid of the Sawyer family but is always a few steps behind. Tex and Little Girl make a good team of trying to capture Michelle, and Little Girl is just as nuts as the rest of the family. Mama is not given to much in the issue but now it’s clear her word is law. Leatherface is still the mean brute he is in the first two issuea and once more seems to get pleasure in bashing in Ryan’s face. The issue is a nice set up for the big blow out you know is coming up in issue four, the final issue in the mini series, and makes you wonder what changes will be made next. Art in comic and cover is done by Guy Burwell again and once more is good work with an improvement on the cover. So with this let’s get into issue four and see how the story ends. 

Leatherface 4

Leatherface # 4  **1/2
Released in 1992   Cover Price $2.75   Northstar Comics  # 4 of 4

Tink is happy with Leatherface and takes him out to the barn to give him a giant chrome chainsaw, but the gift is cut short as Benny has found them and opens fire, killing Tink with a wave of bullets.  As the war outside is going on, Michelle escapes and kills Tex with a butcher knife leaving the cowboy a bloody mess. Benny enters the house and has a standoff with Mama, but she is quickly killed as he bashes her head in with his gun.  Leatherface is now in the action and chops off some of Benny’s fingers and causes him and Michelle to flee into the woods, but while by the pond Alfredo pops back up and attacks Michelle as Leatherface catches up and fights with Benny! Michelle wins her fight and drowns Alfredo in the dirty pond water as Benny is decapitated by Leatherface’s chainsaw and Michelle uses the head to bash Leatherfaces brains in! In the end Michelle is by the side of the road, deathly sick from the pond water that was covered in disease from the dead bodies in it as a sheriff’s car drives by containing Leatherface, the old man and Little Girl as they are just driving on to make home somewhere else in Texas.

This last issue is what I would call Faces of Death of the Sawyer Family as members of the family are shot, stabbed, drowned and bashed! Michelle in this issue has had enough and kills two of the family members and even beats Leatherface down with a human skull! The change in Michelle builds up in all four issues so as she snaps and kills her would be murders, you find yourself cheering for her to get them. Tink is wasted in the issue as for the most part the whole mini series as it’s clear he’s crazy but is also kind of the brains of the brothers. Tink’s death in the film is similar to the comic as in he is shot in both. Alfredo is out of his mind crazy and is a character I love seeing both in the comic and film get his.  His death in the comic is way different from that of the film as in this one he is drowned and in the film he takes a shotgun blast to his face. Tex is the suave brother and it comes across in the comic that while he will kill and do violent acts, he just doesn’t get into it as much as his brothers. His death is way different in the comic as he his stabbed and gutted by Michelle and in the film he is set on fire by Benny during an ax fight. Mama is just around in the comic and seems not as important as she does in the film.  Her death is also way different as in the film she is shot up by Benny and not getting her brain bashed in like the comic. Little Girl is pretty much the same nut job little kid, and her character is well done because it adds the uneasy feel to all the deaths that she sees before her. The Grandpa in the comic is some coot who just babbles and his over all a waste. Leatherface in this comic mini series is a pure blood and gore crazed bad ass who is after one thing and that’s to make his family proud! I truly do like the way he is written in this mini series, and I think adding what he is thinking is a thing of pure genies when it comes to horror comics like this based around an over all mute character. The art work and cover is once more done by Guy Burwell, and while I don’t like his style as well as I liked Kirk Jarvinen’s work in the first issue, I would say that over all the artwork for the whole series is well done and fitting for such a grim story. To round up this review I would say while it kept some of the core things from the film it’s based around, it adds enough change to make this comic series seem like a “Marvel What If” version and gives the reader a new ride on what could have been a bad paint by numbers comic adaptation. As Joe Bob Briggs would say over all “Three Stars. Check It Out.”

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So thanks for traveling the back roads of Texas with me and looking back at Texas Chainsaw Massacre III. I do have a quick story about this film that I will share with you. Growing up I collected horror films on VHS and I had a really good collection going.  This was before the days of online shopping, and I would spend a lot of time looking at places like Second Time Around, Half Price Books, Replay Media, West Coast Video and Blockbuster Video looking for more horror films to add to my collection.  One film I always wanted was “Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III,” and the only place I could find it was at the little video store K&L Video that me and my brother would rent from and I can remember harassing him forever about buying it, and the owner Kenny would always give me some super high quote like $50-$80. Years passed and when sadly K&L went out of business I was finally able to buy the VHS, but what should have been a happy day for my collecting ways turned out to be a sad one as I would lose a place that always felt like a second home. But the next update will be our first Halloween update and I will post it on October 31st and we will be taking a look at custom comics based on Hammer horror films that I will be reading at haunted places in and around the Dayton area! So make sure to come back for that spooky good time! Until then watch a horror film, play a horror game and always make sure to read a horror comic, and stay scary!

HAMMER HORROR comic logo