Directed by: John Luessenhop
Written by: Adam Marcus, Debra Sullivan, Kirsten Elms
Featuring: Alexandra Daddario, Tania Raymonde, Adam Yeager, Trey Songz, Shaun Sipos, Keram Malicki-Sánchez
I have a confession. Despite living in Texas, I've never been a big fan of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise. I actually didn't see the original film until I was 25 years old, which shocked most of my friends considering what a horror buff I am. But it just wasn't a staple in my household. (My mom and I were both Jason fans to the core.)
I'm also not as venomously anti-remake as most of my friends. Do I wish Hollywood would get new material and invest even a fraction of those monumental budgets into indie films and original ideas? Absolutely. But from a marketing perspective, it's easy to see why they don't; these franchises are guaranteed cash in the bank, and many younger audiences aren't even familiar with the originals. Therefore, these major studios are trying to revamp the franchises, lend them new blood so to speak, and lure in a new generation of fans. Unfortunately, today's fans aren't, for the most part, the fans of yesteryear. In the age we live in, fans want instant gratification; films with a slow burn never go over as well as the splatterpunk torture porn flicks. How else do you explain the success of the Saw films and the sleeper status of The Innkeepers.
So, considering my neutrality toward both the TCM franchise and the overall flood of remakes in today's horror market, I decided to take myself to see the new 3D reimagining of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I was a little baffled though; didn't Michael Bay's company Platinum Dunes just do a pretty bang-up remake of this series a few years ago, even going so far as to produce a prequel as well? Were we really needing another reboot so soon?
Don't be fooled — the new Texas Chainsaw isn't a remake. It's a sequel. Kind of. And if you can skate around plot holes the size of craters, it's actually a half-decent watch for younger horror audiences and gorehounds.
The film opens with footage from the original movie, remastered for 3D viewing: a brief recap of the 1970s version, complete with that final iconic shot of Sally screaming in the bed of a pickup driving off into the sunset while Leatherface swings his chainsaw. Then we cut to the new film, which picks up exactly where the original left off. Sally made it to a police station and told the authorities about her friends being murdered, and the sheriff, a well-intentioned man named, what else, Sheriff Hooper, heads out alone to the Sawyer house to deal with the mayhem. This scene is rife with cameos of familiar faces. TCM franchise veterans Gunnar Hansen, Bill Moseley and John Dugan all appear as members of the Sawyer family, with Moseley filling in for the late Jim Siedow as Dayton "The Cook" Sawyer.
The local band of merry rednecks, however, don't believe the cops are going to do their job accurately, and touting the old adage "An eye for an eye; justice must be served!" they ambush the Sawyer homestead with Molotov cocktails and shotguns. The family shoot back in a scene reminiscent of the opening sequence of The Devil's Rejects, and one of the rednecks finds a young Sawyer woman hiding in the garage with a baby against her chest. He takes the child from her (we later find out that his wife is barren) and kills the mother, then heads back to the lynch mob to join in on the fun (including a group photo of the lynch mob posing with a severed leg and the infamous chainsaw, which then RUNS ON THE FRONT PAGE OF THE LOCAL PAPER.)
We jump forward to modern day...and herein lies the problem. That baby was born in 1974 if that shootout happened the day Sally escaped Leatherface. Yet in 2012, the baby is presented as an incredibly hot, albeit eccentric semi-goth girl named Heather (Alexandra Daddario) who is in her mid-twenties. Heather works as a butcher at a grocery store and other than a weird habit of bringing home bones and making art sculptures out of them, she seems fairly well-adjusted. She has a sexy kickboxing boyfriend named Ryan (Trey Songz) and a slutty carefree best friend named Nikki (Tania Raymonde). Nikki is dating a schlubby wannabe-chef named Kenny (Keram Malicki-Sánchez) despite him being several steps below her on the attractive ladder — Nikki is a Maxim centerfold, walking around in minimal clothing at all times, and her primary purpose in life seems to be to dick-tease every male within a thirty-mile radius, even going so far as to change clothes for absolutely no reason while in a van full of guys. It isn't even clear why Heather, who's being painted as an intelligent, sensitive girl with a dark side, would be friends with a vapid slutbag like Nikki. It's pretty clear the film is just setting up our cannon fodder, and seeing as how we're a bloodthirsty audience, we're ready for some blood to be shed.
The kids are planning a road trip to New Orleans when Heather gets a certified letter summoning her to Texas instead. A lawyer outside of Dallas says her grandmother Verna Sawyer has just passed away and she needs to come settle the estate since she's the only living descendent. She confronts her trailer-trash parents, who admit that she was adopted but tell her that she came from a "shitheap," refusing to tell her who her birth family is. The road trip gets re-routed with her friends in full support. They even pick up a hitchhiker, Darryl (Shaun Sipos), who looks like a walking Abercrombie ad, to accompany them. The "estate" turns out to be an absolutely gorgeous, lush Southern mansion set behind huge wrought-iron gates on many acres of property. The house is full of valuable antiques and is impeccably neat and extravagant. The kids immediately set about making themselves at home as Heather's lawyer, Mr. Farnesworth (genre favorite Richard Riehle, also seen in films like Hatchet, Chillerama and Rob Zombie's Halloween 2), tells her that Verna has left her a letter that it's imperative she read. There are only two rules to her inheritance: the house can never be sold, and the letter must be read immediately. Of course, Heather shoves the letter into the folder and forgets all about it. Instead, she begins exploring the property, checking out the family cemetery and the grounds. After they leave on a grocery run, Darryl stays behind to "unpack." Instead, the moment they're gone he begins helping himself to the family silver and looking for valuables. Of course, in exploring the wine cellar he sees a certain paneled metal sliding door that Chainsaw fans know all too well, and Darryl meets a gruesome and well-deserved end.
With Leatherface on the loose, hell has come to the group; they're picked off so rapidly, we actually don't get time to feel anything for them. An infidelity subplot is completely unnecessary and yields nothing to the story. It feels like the director and writers just wanted the main slasher body count out of the way so they could get to the heart of the story.
The heart being, of course, Heather's true identity and her reckoning with her family's blood-soaked past, as well as coming to terms with the fact that the entire town of Newt, Texas, is hiding the dirty little secret of slaughtering the Sawyer clan all those years ago. The man who threw the first Molotov is now the mayor and everyone else involved have moved on with their lives as local heroes with no repercussions for what they did. And poor Jedidiah Sawyer has been locked up in his aunt Verna's house all these years, just waiting for a chance for revenge.
I can see why the film would upset die-hard TCM fans as well as people who focus on logic in horror movies. For one thing, the "baby" would be nearing middle-age now, which is something that many people have pointed out already. Also, Leatherface would now be in his 60s, possibly even 70s, right? He wouldn't still be running around like a maniac. There's no way that vigilante justice like this would've prevailed, although in movies like this and Nightmare On Elm Street, we as an audience are taught that the law will look the other way if you form a giant lynch mob and kill the local weirdoes. The film also turns Leatherface into a sympathetic character, which might work better if he hadn't spent the first half-hour of the movie slaughtering mostly innocent young people after torturing the shit out of them. But we're supposed to feel for him, to sympathize with this poor, misunderstood, "slow" boy who was orphaned when the big bad townspeople burned down his house and killed his family. And we're supposed to empathize with Heather, who's always been an outsider, who is having to reevaluate her identity and her lot in life. In fact, in a matter of less than 24 hours, Heather not only comes to terms with being adopted, inheriting a huge sum of money and property, surviving a serial killer with a chainsaw, watching her entire circle of friends and long-time boyfriend get slaughtered, and then finding out she's related to said serial killer, but she dies so with remarkable grace and resilience. The film repeats the ideas that "blood is thicker than water," "no one loves you like family," etc., drilling home the trite belief that simply being related to a psychopath means you have to condone and protect his craziness from those who "don't understand." I'm sorry, but if my cousin was a chainsaw-wielding maniac who wanted to wear my friend's face, I would probably not be open to the idea of hugging it out with him.
If you're going to see the film, take the following nuggets of wisdom with you: (1) Forget everything you know about TCM except the original 1970s film. Forget the sequels (especially the one with Renee Zellweger, which is a good rule of thumb overall), forget the Platinum Dunes remakes where his name was Thomas Hewitt for whatever reason, and forget anything else in the canon up to this point. (2) Don't question things like the space-time continuum. Heather is in her 20s despite almost 40 years passing. Don't think too hard about it. And Leatherface is still spry because maniacal mongoloids age at a slower rate than regular people — hell, Jason Voorhees would be in his 70s by now too, and the two would be in some nursing home for aging psychopaths playing Mah Jongg or something if this was real life. (3) Just because you CAN make a movie in 3D doesn't mean you should. This film at least doesn't have the over-dark problem that many 3D films do, but it isn't effectively utilized and for the most part it's just jump scares anyway.
Texas Chainsaw 3D offers very little in ways of actual thrills; it's mostly a gorefest with some heavy-handed dialogue and half-assed backstory thrown in. But it tries to be a true sequel to the original, which is very ambitious considering how well-loved this franchise is. Unfortunately, I just wouldn't call it a terribly successful ambition.