Thursday, February 09, 2006

“Texas Lethal Injection Massacre”

Movie Review: Texas Lethal Injection Massacre

This Grade B horror show has become a cult classic. Gore and corpses abound as a seemingly endless parade of inmates are strapped to gurneys and meet their fate. The movie seems to have no purpose other than to disgust the viewer with a series of pointless executions, each shown in gruesome detail. As Roger Ebert wrote about the film’s obvious prototype, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, “No motivation, no background, no speculation on causes is evident anywhere in the film. It's simply an exercise in terror.”

But perhaps the point was to advance the career of the male lead, who was catapulted to stardom by the film. The star is a young George Bush, playing governor of Texas in a role later reprised, with less success, by Rick Perry in TLIM 2.

Bush’s performance lacks heart and nuance. We see him go through the motions of reviewing each capital case, but his thoughts appear to be elsewhere. It’s almost as if he finds reading the anguished case histories of many of the prisoners both laborious and boring. The film aborts the drama inherent in a series of Death Row appeals, once we catch on that nobody ever receives clemency. And yet, in its own appalling way, the movie is disturbingly effective. Its oddball genius is that Bush’s seeming detachment from the mayhem he supervises renders it almost normal.

Although Bush’s limitations in this role are painfully obvious, Texas Lethal Injection Massacre served as a vehicle to jump-start his career, thanks to a clever, well-bankrolled promotional campaign. Karl Rove, who wrote, directed, and produced the film, has been widely credited with arranging for favorable reviews. The two collaborated again on the blockbuster hit The White House, a complex war/spy/adventure epic featuring Bush in the role of Commander in Chief.

The rest of the casting is equally lackluster, including a monotonous series of look-alike executees, almost all of whom appear to be low-income black and Hispanic males. A nod is made toward variation with the execution of several juveniles, some mentally handicapped prisoners, and a few women—most notably, one great-grandmother.

Texas Lethal Injection Massacre is devoid of the titillating sex featured in many films of this genre, but earned a “PG-13” rating for its occasional use of profanity. The deaths of one hundred and forty-seven inmates, shown in excruciating detail, were not deemed violent for rating purposes, since reviewers considered these executions to be the norm in Texas.

Texas Lethal Injection Massacre’s success at the box office only serves to validate Ebert’s earlier conclusion: “Horror and exploitation films almost always turn a profit if they're brought in at the right price. So they provide a good starting place for ambitious would-be filmmakers who can't get more conventional projects off the ground."

© Tony Russell, 2006

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