The original TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE was probably the most gruesome movie that people never saw. Oh, they may have watched some crappy bootleg videotape, or heard stories from their older brothers, and even spread the rumours about the unlimited amounts of gore in it, gore that was hardly there in reality. Made in 1974, Tobe Hooper’s legacy in the horror world became fixed forever (let’s face it, when he dies, he’ll be remembered for this more than SPONTANEOUS COMBUSTION or THE MANGLER, though I’ll have a soft spot for LIFEFORCE – and a harder one for the naked lady vampire in it – Bah-Dumph!)
Made for under $300,000, it eventually grossed over $30 million in the domestic box office, got itself banned in more countries than there are actually countries, and was credited with introducing horror film tropes such as the huge, faceless, silent killer, and the use of power tools as weapons of choice. And its killer, Leatherface, became a modern icon alongside Michael Myers, Jason, Pinhead and the guy with the finger blades. But not the Leprechaun, the Leprechaun can kiss my shamrocks. (Sorry, Leprechaun, but when I caught you and got that wish, you misheard what I wanted. Which reminds me, does anyone want a twelve-inch pianist?)
Since then, numerous movies, sequels, prequels, remakes, comic books and video games have been produced. No television shows, however, since there isn’t enough coke in the world to fuel a network decision that batshit. To be honest, I’ve only ever seen one of the other movies, the direct sequel that Hooper had done with Dennis Hopper, and that was so long ago The Facts of Life girls were still barely legal. Despite the numerous attempts to make the franchise as high-profile (read: profitable) as Freddy Krueger or Hellraiser, it didn’t seem to catch on. Did the original movie’s intense reputation sit like an open wound, frightening anyone too much to take it on?
Evidently not, since we now have TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D.
The 3D is understandable, in the way that it’s understandable that a douchebag will try and cop a feel off the girl who’s passed out at a party – and it’s equally reprehensible. 3D should be reserved for space opera, superhero movies, and porn, all of which feature plenty of things that fly out at the camera. Every lame attempt to stick 3D onto a movie that neither needs nor deserves it is like spray painting racing stripes on your Johnson to impress the girls. And in case you haven’t noticed, they dropped the MASSACRE out of the title. Well, we don’t want to scare people, do we? It’s also meant to ignore all the films which came after the 1974 film, and be a direct sequel to it. Well, it worked for SUPERMAN RETURNS, didn’t it?
No, wait, that sucked ass.
Anyway, fans and critics have been on this new release like a scab, and I was prepared to do the same, especially after having such a superior time with DJANGO UNCHAINED (did you read my review here?). But still, maybe the movie will be better than I fear…
The movie opens with recaps of the first film, of the unfortunate victims of Leatherface and the Sawyer family, and how one woman (Marilyn Burns) escapes their farmhouse. Local lawman Officer Hooper (Thom Barry, COLD CASE) wants to end it peacefully, convincing the Sawyers (led by Boss Sawyer, played by Gunnar Hansen, and don’t you dare make me reference his connection to the original movie) to send out Leatherface, aka Jed Sawyer (Dan Yeager) for questioning. Before they do this, however, a mob of townspeople led by local redneck asshole Burt Hartman (Paul Rae, TRUE GRIT) start shooting and setting the Sawyer farmhouse on fire. The place burns down, seemingly killing everyone within, and the chainsaw is found and taken as a trophy. However, one of the townsmen, Gavin (David Born), find an infant daughter, killing the child’s still-liviing daughter and taking the child to be raised by him and his wife Arlene (Sue Rock).
Years later (it can’t possibly be the same numbers of years since the first movie – nearly 40 – so I’m assuming it’s being treated like the timeline in Romero’s DEAD movies) the child, called Heather (Alexandra Daddario, PERCY JACKSON AND THE LIGHTNING THIEF), has grown up, and has learned that she was “adopted” only after she receives word that her maternal grandmother Vera Carson has died and left her an inheritance (wait, I thought the baby was basically stolen from a crime scene? It’s a bit confusing, and I have a feeling I’m gonna stay confused). Her adopted parents also display every symptom of chronic asshattery, and are possibly too extreme even for Jerry Springer.
Heather has a boyfriend, Ryan, played by singer-songwriter Tremaine “Trey Songz” Neverson, in his debut film role. Now, he’s received a lot of critical flak, about how his inclusion is a blatant cross-marketing ploy to get his fans into the theatre. Personally I don’t have a problem with that, and it’s a ploy that goes back as far as there’s been talking pictures, and to his credit he doesn’t embarrass himself in his limited role. And as a side note, it’s refreshing to see a mixed-race relationship in a movie where the relationship isn’t a plot point. Anyway, Heather, Ryan, and two of their friends Nikki (Tania Raymonde, MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE, LOST) and Kenny (Keram Malicki-Sánchez, PUNISHER: WAR ZONE) drive down to Texas to help Heather claim her inheritance.
Along the way they pick up a hitchhiker, Darryl (Shaun Sipos, FINAL DESTINATION 2), who accompanies them to Heather’s new house, a sprawling mansion near the ruins of the old farmhouse, with a graveyard full of headstones with the name Carson… and Sawyer. After meeting the family lawyer Farnsworth (Wilford Brimley lookalike Richard Riehle, whom I last saw in CHILLERAMA), the Scooby Gang go for town for supplies (where Officer Hooper has become the Sheriff, and Redneck Hartman has become the Mayor, and the mob actions were covered up), leaving Darryl behind to prepare dinner. But Darryl has other things in mind, looting the place – at least until he gets downstairs, and finds Leatherface behind a steel door, ready to prepare Darryl for dinner…
Is TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D as bad as everyone says? Not really. It has its negatives, for me mostly being that none of the characters have any particularly redeeming qualities. Apart from Heather, the rest can all be labelled Cowardly, Corrupt, Unfaithful, Larcenous, Sleazy, Homicidal, and all the other dwarves that would have made the Disney cartoon more entertaining.
And there is the expected dumbness: that the incident at the farmhouse at the beginning wouldn’t have made the national news, that the mansion looks pristine despite being left unattended for months, and that Leatherface’s chainsaw can cut through the chassis of a van as easily as butter – unless it was forged by the dwarves of Middle Earth, I doubt it…
On the plus side, TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D keeps moving briskly, never lingering for too long anywhere or wasting too much time. There’s a decent sequence of Leatherface at the town carnival chasing Heather. And there are some gratuitous 3D shots, of course, though nothing to justify the extra ticket price or my migraine afterwards.
The movie offers some moments of gore, thanks to veteran makeup artist Greg Nicotero, though like the original, it relies more on intensity than explicitness (the movie was cut to avoid an NC-17 rating, so expect an Unrated Edition when the DVD is released). Director John Luessenhop (TAKERS) obviously loves Rob Zombie’s directorial style, but that’s not a bad thing, is it? And Leatherface remains a potent and menacing image, and they manage to maintain his terrifying power.
But for me, the most surprising aspect of the movie was how the sympathies shifted during the course of the story, in directions the original never went. I don’t want to give too much away, but it became quite subversive for what could have been another run of the mill reboot. I’m still unsure as to how successful it was – like they say in SPINAL TAP, there’s a thin line between clever and stupid, and I know that if I think too much about it, it’ll veer into the stupid. So I’ll stay on the side of clever, and let others opine on it.
TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D could have been a far worse vehicle for bringing back Leatherface to the screens. I don’t mean to damn it with faint praise, but I wouldn’t be reluctant to see a sequel, and see the direction the story goes.
Director: John Luessenhop
Plot: 3 out of 5 stars
Gore: 6 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Derek “Deggsy” O’Brien