Well, folks, I have only just gotten around to watching this - and to be honest with you, I'm stunned that it is still playing on some screens.
If you've read my reviews before, you will probably know how much of a devotee to all things Horror-spawned I am, and will understand that I possess a very forgiving attitude to a genre that can so easily substitute either style for substance or originality for cashed-in mediocrity. I am, however, not so blind that I can merely accept a big shiny dog-egg as a relative to an absolute masterpiece of game-changing culture-shock, and ferocious dark genius as Tobe Hooper's undeniably seminal 1974 grue-fest, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
"Family's a messy business. Ain't nuthin' thicker than blood."
'cept maybe the screenwriters of this sorry mess.
Truth be told, I have actually enjoyed almost all of the follow-ups, the remakes, the prequels and the what-nots to Hooper's groundbreaking original. His own satirical second chapter was delirious fun, and the Michael Bay/Platinum Dunes re-invention was actually a thunderously effective and deadly serious new take made during a period when the majority of classic revamps were nothing more than damp squibs. The prequel to this was, in my opinion, even better still, being genuinely exciting, intense and harrowing. What made this double-whammy all the more interesting was the addition of such new characters as R. Lee Ermey’s truly sadistic Sheriff Hoyt, and the other wacky hangers-on to this Sawney Bean-inspired clan of inbred degenerates. Their sense of values contrasted to those of the poor victims who fall into their clutches – the survival ethic pushed to its moral-swallowing extremes. And, in this day and age, I would have thought that audiences could justifiably expect to have this level of sophisticated exploitational excess continued without pandering to mainstream banality.
I mean, there’s always life in the old ‘saw, isn’t there?
Thus, we flash forward to 2012 and, tragically, we get tossed this sloppy, imbecilic and resolutely dumb teen-geared entry for the 3D multiplex mob. Now, I have nothing against franchise chillers. There is often something of merit in even the most mundane of the Halloween sequels or the incessant Friday the 13ths (well, perhaps not Halloween: Resurrection or the last couple of Hellraisers), and, on the (Leather) face of it, there is nothing wrong, nor even unexpected about a Texas Chainsaw movie finally making the leap into the third dimension. In fact, the biggest surprise is that it has taken this bloody long to carve its way to getting green-lit. Let’s face it, the 3D remake of My Bloody Valentine was years ago, and that went down a storm. And then there's Piranha and all those tasty tit-bits!
Directed by John Luessenhop, and brought to the screen with the full endorsement of Tobe Hooper, who really should know better, TexasChainsaw 3D stumbles and falls and saws itself in the foot with embarrassing swiftness.
But this isn’t one of the worst examples of regurgitated cinematic offal because it just does exactly what you expect it to do. It fails because it actually attempts to do something slightly different from its forebears, and to venture off down a brave new tangent from the normal serial addendum. Naturally though, because it lacks the courage of its convictions, it does all this whilst still adhering rather yawn-inducingly to the same old formula. Which means that yetmore disposal teens contrive to get themselves picked-off, one by one, until a resilient lone female runs the gamut of survival-horror. Yep – that’s a brave new tangent, isn’t it?But when even such a simple, time-honoured, tried and trusted template comes totally unstuck over the most fundamental of plot details, then there is something seriously wrong indeed. Any hack screen-scribe can come up with this sort of whittle-them-down scenario, and things such as timelines may seem quite trivial in the grand scheme of a Friday night slash-‘em-up but, man, when you drop a clanger as big as blatantly mucking-up the ages of the characters just so that you can make your story fit in with today’s gadget-obsessed movers and shakers, then I’m afraid you have eroded almost all of your credibility in one fell swoop.
Try this out …
We commence the story with a recap of what happened during the original classic – genuine footage from the film cunningly snap-whined to the sound of those sinister old camera flash-bulbs going off - and then pick up with plucky, bloody Marilyn Burns speeding away in the back of a truck whilst the frustrated Leatherface does his famed chainsaw twirl against the rising sun. Telling her tale to the authorities results in the local lawman, the incredibly useless Sheriff Hooper (Thom Barry), moving-in to make the arrest of the Sawyer Clan’s dangerous, cross-dressing throwback son. However, the trusty old redneck posse also come rolling up, a-hootin’ and a-hollerin’ for Old Testament blood, and they swiftly turn the old farmhouse and all those hiding-away inside it (including a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo from the granddaddy of them all, Gunnar Hansen, and even Part 2’s Chop-Top, Bill Mosely) into Swiss-cheese … and then, just to be on the safe side, they torch the place as well.
Obviously there are survivors. Meaty transvestite, face-stealing Leatherface locked-away in his basement and now with the rather trite moniker of Jedediah, and a little baby girl that one of the lynch-mob spirits-away for him and his missus to rear in the hope that she won’t want to carry on with the family obsession for power-tools and slaughterhouses.
Okay, that’s not a bad little continuation of the original situation. I mean, nobody has ever really thought about what the immediate aftermath of Burns’ Sally Hardesty escaping would actually entail for the clan. But then we skip ahead to 2012 – aye, we see it on a tombstone, so there’s no denying it – and discover that not only has Leatherface hardly aged a day (although it would be pretty hard to tell if he had since he’s had so many face-lifts!!!!! Ha – geddit?), but that the little baby has now grown into the gobsmackingly horny form of Alexandra Daddario’s heroic Heather, who is very, very definitely NOWHERE NEAR approaching the forty year old MILF that she would be by then. And nor, for that matter have Sheriff Hooper and mob-leader-turned-town-mayor Burt Hartman (Paul Rae, who would have been six in 1974!), aged since that fateful, farm-burning day of old school vigilantism either. Frankly, this is just ridiculous. If it was a Scary Movie-type riff on A Picture of Dorian Gray, then I would understand such Timelord-esque powers of regeneration. But this is simply too aggravating to just let go. If you wanted to keep the same cast and not opt for authentically older people, then just set the story back a little over a decade. It wouldn’t matter a jot to the story, and nobody would even notice that it wasn’t the hip and happening now. Plus, you would still be able to keep in the silly cellphone gag that wastes a stunningly long and stultifyingly unsuspenseful set-piece later on when Deputy D*ckhead goes against orders and streams a live tour of the deadly new mansion-house (that Heather has mysteriously inherited out in the boondocks) for the benefit of those back at the station, when you-know-who is waiting in the shadows. Well, after a fashion, anyway. Even at the back-end of the 90’s he could just text AAARRRGGHHHHHH to let them know he was in trouble!
Six people worked on this screenplay. Six people. Why didn’t any of them, any damn one of them realise that they’d screwed the story up so unnecessarily with this buffoonish timescale?
But, hey, it’s just a dumb hick horror flick, so who cares? So long as it’s a thrill ride with some great scares, we can overlook such idiocies. Right?
Well, ain’t that just too bad, boy. Coz it ain’t got squat of the good stuff, either!
Lame slayings and exceedingly poor chases are the order of the day, and there is even a terrible midway lull in which Heather plays Nancy Drew and pieces together some dark puzzles in her hidden heritage. Like all of these horror hamlets, there is an unbelievable dearth of cops. In fact only Haddonfield has more than just a couple of Keystoners … but, then again, they’re no good at stopping a single madman either. Thus, potential saviours are routinely useless and, worse yet, the Sheriff clearly has absolutely understanding of the law he is supposed to uphold. He has two big dramatic scenes and his responses are nothing short of incredulous – and he’s not Lee Ermey’s bad cop, either.
Mimicking Burns’ drastic plunge through a plate-glass window, Daddario’s stunt-double takes a painful stumble down the front steps in the only moment of carnage that actually made me wince. The subsequent escape-and-evasion sequence, as Heather plays hide and seek with her big, bad cousin, singularly fails to raise the pulse, though. A chase into a packed funfair, Leatherface not caring a hoot as he blunders through the merrymakers with his chainsaw buzzing away in cumbersome pursuit of Heather, is a sure candidate for one of the most unintentionally hilarious moments in Horror’s Hall of Ignominy. Instead of just outrunning the big, slow bugger, she allows him to catch up and then, in desperation, reaches for a car on the handy Ferris Wheel … and then goes for a spin all the way round with her legs dangling just above the whirring blade. Seriously, guys, if you were going for the Scooby-Doo approach, why didn’t you just go all-out and put her on a rollercoaster so that she could then flee, from one car to the next, whilst Leatherface comes clambering up behind her? It would have been far more exciting. And, you could have had the saw cleaving off any noggin that got in the way, so that they bounced back into our faces with the 3D. I reckon y’all missed a trick there, boys.
And Leatherface, or Jed, just isn’t intimidating anymore. For an iconic titan of terror such as this, it is almost always a mistake to give away his backstory. Yes, we learned more about him in the Bay interpretations, but despite us gleaning some trade secrets he never lost that primal aura of absolute barbarity and loathing. Here we watch him slice off a new face and then sew it through his own cheeks, and it is almost pleasant. Ahhh, bless, he’s got a new look. Ooh, that’s a nice one, Jed. Are you being a policeman, today? And, given his obvious learning difficulties and gene-pool-mired backward personality, it doesn’t work that he has some longstanding vendetta in mind. This gives him focus and direction – faculties we know that Leatherface does not properly possess. Plus, the guy would have to be in his sixties by now. Not even geriatric action-god Sly Stallone could charge about with a roaring chainsaw for the distances Jed covers – and he’s locked in a basement for years.
Anyway, I have no intentions of spoiling the twists and turns that the story takes for those who, feeling perhaps as dedicated as I once did towards the franchise, still want to go and see it. But I have to say that these elements – which certainly have the damned potential to be quite clever – just serve to show how calamitously misjudged this affair actually is. Thrusting in a moral switcharound that forces us to sympathise with the devil is a dazzling move, all right. But it doesn’t work. How the hell could it? We are never going to put Leatherface’s feelings before somebody else’s … even if they do belong to a good ol’ Texan bullyboy. He is a mass-murdering cannibal scumbag! Erm … ‘nuff said, I feel. He deserves all that these guys want to do to him. And big Dan Yeager, who wears the human mask these days, is hardly able to connect with us as anything other than clumsy-ass country bumpkin with severe skin-care issues.
For the club-its, the cast recruits Trey Songz as some hapless two-timing biff who, thankfully, won’t last long. And don’t go thinking that having Clint Eastwood’s son, Scott, in here is like a badge of honour. He’s no good either. The only reasonable performances are from Daddario, although I may be a bit biased there, and from Richard Riehle’s roly-poly old cowpoke, who goes out on a limb to discuss some horrible home-truths for the prodigal cousin.
With news that a follow-up to this instalment is already under way, and that the makers have the rights to produce an entire slew of other TCMs, it would actually seem as though they have desires to create an alternate history reboot along the lines of JJ Abrams’ new Star Trek dusting-off. And despite my overwhelming misgivings about what they have churned out here, I have to applaud the brazen marketing chutzpah that engineered that deal. But you and I both know that the power of the original is just going to be chipped-away by each successive entry until newcomers to anything chainsaw-related will only ever know the glitzy, soap-opera dynamics that this film has paved the way for. Honestly, judging by this, there could be a TV sitcom coming our way, with Leatherface flinging open big steel doors to reveal this week’s face to appreciative audience laughter, and pegging guest stars on meat-hooks - like some murderous, gender-bending Mrs. Brown! Now, hey … wait a minute … that could actually work. I mean the whole thing revolves around a warped dysfunctional family, anyway. And it would surely be better than this travesty.
Remember the daft but surprisingly credible “The Saw is Family” motif from oh-so-long-ago? Well, that is certainly rekindled by the revelation of Heather’s bloodline, but the way that this all pans-out is even more eye-rollingly incredible than Clarice Starling suddenly falling for Hannibal Lecter’s charms and opting to have one of his special dinners with him … as well as a nice Chianti. You can see that Luessenhop and his squadron of scripting dullards really think that they’ve done something fresh, alarming and thought-provoking here, and taken the epic tale of grisly Southern Gothic into startling new territory. Following on from this, Chapter Two could, presumably, be called Heatherface!
There are two reasons to watch this film – and I make absolutely no apologies for my championing of them either. The girls and the gore.
Well, to be more specific. One girl, and one gory moment. Which, really speaking, is not a great batting average in this genre.
Since this is essentially a teen-carve-up and it is aimed at said demographic, and it is genre law that certain elements are adhered to. We need gore, and although much of the claret in this is actually quite tepidly served, there is one splendid moment of writhing human/unforgiving chainsaw interaction that should please all gorehounds – the complete severing in half of a hanged-man right across the torso. You will definitely have seen worse, but this is the film’s bloody highpoint, and the splashy practical effects from Howard Berger and Greg Nicotero, coming without the lamented lashings of CG-augmented arterial sauce, worked a treat for me. And the other reason is Daddario. YOWZERS! Man, this girl is seriously gorgeous. Exposing her tightly defined midriff at every chance she gets is all and well and good, and has been mentioned in virtually every write-up that I’ve seen of the film. But failure to mention how this enhances her incredible boobage is almost a crime against nature. This, folks, is why Texas Chainsaw 3D gets 2 of its 3 struggling points. And they are two big beautiful points.
And those hoping that the film will, at least, serve-up some juicy 3D will also be left wanting. There is hardly anything on offer, other than the chainsaw, itself. There’s a shower of blood as that one unfortunate gets sliced in two, but the opportunity for limbs and severed noggins to come bouncing out at us has been, sadly, left hanging. We get a couple of shots of Leatherface advancing towards us with the tool of his trade revved-up and hungry for meat. He even hurls it at a character at one stage and the thing scythes and spins its way out of the screen. Oh, and the film’s title crashes its way into our laps in a similar fashion to how Dredd’s title card erupted from the frame with crimson shrapnel. But, really, that’s your lot. And none of this is accomplished to any sort of convincing degree, nor any real level of appreciative detail, the imagery too fast, too dark and too blurred. All very sad, very juvenile and utterly lacking in ambition or creativity. Which is, essentially, the motto of the entire production as far as I’m concerned.
This disappointment stretches to the forgettable, by-the-numbers score from the jobbing John Frizzell. Now, although Frizzell is way down the list of entertaining, original and interesting film composers, he has done some effective work in the past. Scores for Alien Resurrection, Dante’s Peak and Gods and Generals, for instance, are clever, rich and dynamic. But this is stalk ‘n’ slash scoring for the deaf, dumb and blind. Lacklustre suspense and woeful atmospherics from the director and cast hardly inspire him to create any dramatic set-pieces, and the dearth of themes or character motifs is another misstep that refuses the film any identity of its own. Given how the story goes, it would have been a neat idea to have bestowed Leatherface with a theme that could then be shifted through a series of variations from out-and-out terrifying to dark and brooding, and from weirdly heroic to hauntingly heartbroken. But Frizzell merely opts for the bog-standard lurch and stomp of far too many throwaway horror scores. Now, it is true that none of the Texas Chainsaw movies have had great music, but they did tend to have unsettling sound design and mean, moody textures that made them deeply unusual and disturbing. Unfired by any inspiration from the filmmakers, Frizzell simply toes-the-line with bland stingers and typically dense tones.
All in all, this is a dire exercise in the mainstream robbery of a classic taboo-breaker.
Not nasty enough, and not scary in the least, this doesn’t at all inspire hopes of any volcanic Texan new blood to invigorate the franchise. Although only short, TexasChainsaw 3D is, sadly, not short enough.
It is, therefore, one to avoid.
A big steaming turd of a film that is only alleviated by watching somebody getting shorn in-two, and admiring the ample assets of Alexandra Daddario!
Beyond this, there is absolutely no reason whatsoever to waste your money on such imbecilic clag. The fun of stalk ‘n’ slash should not be grafted onto the hardcore horror of Texas Chainsaw, and turning the saga into a bloody variation on Who Do You Think You Are? is like giving Hannibal Lecter the job of presenting Celebrity Bake Off.
Whilst I applaud the ambitions that this reboot is keen to promote, I rue its poor execution and tawdry, slapdash story. It is fair to say that nobody comes to the umpteenth entry in a fear franchise with high expectations, but to be teased by the promise of it containing something fresh and then be dealt-out tired old clichés all over again is massively disappointing. Leatherface is now just a cuddly bumpkin, and a final act psychological tone-shift is frankly too ridiculous to contemplate. Even the 3D angle is lethargic and dreary and fails to distract from the tedium.
By the time you read this, the film will probably be getting shunted off screens, but if you really must experience this witless, gutless and brainless yawnfest then just make it a disc-rental. There’s plenty of mileage under the old Texan hood already, but only one stop really worth making, and that came out almost forty years ago.
Watered-down and robbed of its Southern Gothic mythology, the Chainsaw clan have been chopped-off at the knees and unforgivably neutered.
Our Review Ethos
To comment on what you've read here, click the Discussion tab and post a reply.