‘The film which you are about to see is an account of the tragedy which befell a group of five youths, in particular Sally Hardesty and her invalid brother, Franklin. It is all the more tragic in that they were young. But, had they lived very, very long lives, they could not have expected nor would they have wished to see as much of the mad and macabre as they were to see that day. For them an idyllic summer afternoon drive became a nightmare. The events of that day were to lead to the discovery of one of the most bizarre crimes against cinema in the annals of American horror movie history, The Texas Chainsaw 3D.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974, director Tobe Hooper) is one of my favourite films of all time. Its raw power, dark humour, grizzly characters, superb use of sound and the implied rather than explicit gore add up to a timeless horror classic. A sequel followed in 1986 (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, again directed by Tobe Hooper) which was a black comedy and didn’t even try to recreate the atmosphere of the original. Even its promotional poster spoofed The Breakfast Club (1985, director John Hughes). Next, in 1990 there was a third instalment (Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, director Jeff Burr) that got ripped to shreds by the censors. Eventually a purer cut was released on DVD but even this wasn’t up to much.
Yet another film came out in 1994 (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Next Generation A.K.A The Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre) directed by Kim Henkel who was a screenwriter for the 1974 film. Perhaps most notable for giving early roles to Matthew McConaughey and Renee Zellweger; it was an improvement on the previous two sequels but fell far short of the original.
We were ‘treated’ to a remake (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, director Marcus Nispel) in 2003 that was so mediocre it took Lee Emery (of Full Metal Jacket fame) to add some mild interest. That release got its own prequel, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning in 2006 (director Jonathan Liebesman – who’s directing the Ninja Turtles movie due out in 2014) which was instantly forgettable. Most damning for all the follow on titles is that none of them are even moderately scary. Leatherface himself stopped being a shocking character after the original where he was played by Gunnar Hansen, who never reprised the role (although he does have a small cameo in The Texas Chainsaw 3D as a Sawyer family member).
Fast forward to 2013 and we get a new TCM film; The Texas Chainsaw 3D. The fact that they forgot to include ‘Massacre’ in the title should have been warning enough for us to avoid it. Directed by the little known John Luessenhop, it goes for the ambitious scenario of picking up directly from where the 1974 original left off and bypassing all previous sequels. Not a bad idea, it had been done before to decent effect by Halloween H2O: Twenty Years Later (1998, Steve Miner).
A montage of the original is shown intercut with new remake shots to introduce new actors playing the Sawyers; which is quite effective. Sally escapes and soon Sheriff Hooper (Thom Barry) is at the Sawyer residence to bring in Leatherface (AKA Jed Sawyer). Just as the (much enlarged since 1974) Sawyer clan are agreeing to surrender Leatherface, a redneck mob appears and proceed to shoot dead the entire family, against the protestations of the sheriff. However, you never see Leatherface in any of these scenes.
On inspecting the damage, one of the mob finds a dying woman with a little baby. As one does, he kills the mother and takes the child home to raise with his wife – adoption old school. Are we meant to feel sorry for the Sawyers given the events that led up to their deaths? Or is this an attempt to show that morality isn’t always black and white? Sadly, when the movie cuts to the modern day we soon learn it’s not that clever.
We’re plunged into tedious expositional dialogue between boring 20 somethings who are arranging a road trip. Heather (Alexandro Daddario) is obviously meant to be the surviving Sawyer baby but looks far too young to have been born about thirty eight years ago! The other chainsaw fodder are Heather’s boyfriend Ryan (Trey Songz), their friend Nikki (Tania Raymonde) and her other half Kenny (Keram Malicki-Sanchez, who’s an interesting guy in real life but in this movie his character is less than paper thin). The one thing that unites all characters is their mind numbing banality; it’s as if no thought was put into writing the roles. A life changing event for Heather is whizzed through in about five minutes as she finds that not only has she been left a house in Texas by a Grandmother that she didn’t know existed; but that she’s also adopted. Wow, most people would be shaken to their core by such news, entire plots have been based around such occurrences.
However, here it’s just a construct to allow the road trip to be switched to Texas to see Heather’s new place. Stupidly she doesn’t read the letter that the lawyer gives her along with the house keys or she’d have quickly learned that her cousin Leatherface was also part of the inheritance and everyone would have been saved a lot of trouble; especially the unfortunate audience who would have been saved 92 minutes of boredom.
On reaching rural Texas, Heather finds townsfolk aren’t keen on her taking on the property, or being a Sawyer either. In fact, from Mayor Burt Hartman (Paul Rae) downward a lot of townsfolk were members of the 1974 mob that delivered some rough justice to Heather’s relatives all those years ago.
A deeply non-terrifying Leatherface (this time played by Dan Yeager) is let out of his basement hideaway in Heather’s inheritance and brings his chainsaw along for the ride. But will Heather be able to avoid him and the townsfolk who want both of them dead? And will we care either way?
Frustratingly, if the script had been written and directed by anyone with a little sensitivity or love of the horror genre things could have been a lot better. The idea of Leatherface surviving into the present day only to be unwittingly released by his long lost cousin isn’t necessarily bad. But in this movie promising concepts are handled like plates at a Greek party. Replace Leatherface with a generic slasher villain and you’d have cheap, gaudy straight to DVD trash. 3D is used purely as a gimmick and adds nothing to the film apart from luring in punters and hiking ticket prices.
Acting reflects the script and dialogue in terms of awfulness. Nobody gives a decent performance, including Scott Eastwood (son of Clint Eastwood) who plays Deputy Carl Hartman. I found myself torn between cringing and guffawing whenever a character opened their mouths to spew more inane wittering. Tobe Hooper understood the power of the unseen when he kept most of the gore off-screen in the 1974 original. In 2013 nothing’s left to the imagination in terms of guts or nudity. Most blasphemously, classic scenes from the original are aped to spectacular non effect, including the infamous girl-in-freezer. Nowhere, in the entire picture, is there even a single scare, nowhere. I kept hoping that everything was building to a jump out of your seat moment but I was hoping in vain
Everything plays out as a jaded attempt to cash in on a franchise that has survived purely on the strength of its initial title rather than on the merits of the proceeding ones. I left the cinema feeling like I’d been mugged.
Director: John Luessenhop
Cast: Alexandro Daddario, Dan Yeager, Scott Eastwood, Trey Songz, Tania Raymonde, Paul Rae, Thom Barry
Runtime: 92 mins