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Texas Chainsaw 3D

31/05/2013

Director: John Luessenhop   Starring: Alexandra Daddario, Dan Yeager, Trey Songz, Scott Eastwood, Tania Raymonde

texas chainsaw 3dWhen I realised that the new Texas Chainsaw (3D) movie was not merely another reboot of Tobe Hooper’s 1974 original but was in fact being billed as a direct sequel to it, I felt inclined to be a little bit more optimistic than I would otherwise have been about its prospects. After all, Hooper’s film ends rather abruptly, leaving many unanswered questions in its shrill, blood spattered wake. The prospect of a film that picked up from where it left off, that examined the aftermath of the events of that film, was actually quite a tempting one.

If only that’s what Texas Chainsaw (3D) was, everything might have been okay.

The ’74 Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one of my favourite horror movies (in fact, it’s one of my favourite movies full stop – why not listen to me rave about it in my Horror-geddon podcast ) for many reasons but mostly because it’s one of the few horror movies that actually never fails to quicken my pulse and set me on edge. Even now, after many years and many viewings there’s a visceral impact to the film that delivers again and again and again. It’s one of those films that you would swear was full of graphic violence and gore but when you examine it closely it isn’t really, relying on careful structuring and implied action to trick your brain into thinking it’s witnessed some pretty extreme stuff. It disorientates you with its outlandish and abrasive sound design. In short, it’s pretty much as close to perfect a film as any film deserves to be.

So, with such a blueprint to work from, how have all the sequels that followed it been so damnably awful? One factor at play is the notion of the cult villain. Look at some of the major horror franchises from the last few decades. Freddy Krueger is a great example. After the success of the first Nightmare On Elm Street, sequels were made, and with each sequel the emphasis grew more and more towards using Freddy as the main draw and to hell with the story, other characters and everything else that makes for a good movie. He ceased to become a nightmare character. Years of exploitation by lazy film makers and merchandise pushers clipped his trademark claws. Somehow a depraved child murdering paedophile made the jump from horror villain to cult favourite. And with that he ceased to be scary.

Nothing says "Happy Halloween" like dressing your bairn up as a sadistic, claw handed child molester.

Nothing says “Happy Halloween” like dressing your bairn up as a sadistic, claw handed child molester.

Texas Chainsaw is a bit like that. Well, the whole franchise is, because at the end of the day there seemed to me to be a vibe that Leatherface, the chainsaw wielding, other person’s face wearing psycho from the original film, suddenly became the selling point for subsequent movies. Now if you’ve seen the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, you will probably realise (and possibly be disappointed) that he doesn’t feature an awful lot in that movie. Sure, he kills a few people, but he’s very much a feature of the story, not the centre of it. The problem is that the writers seem to be relying pretty much entirely on the mere presence of Leatherface, without bothering to write anything more about him. Who is he really? Why does he kill? Why does he wear other people’s faces? All good questions raised by the original and all of which are simply avoided in the sequel.

As if this wasn’t bad enough there are more issues surrounding the writing that really need to be addressed. The premise is that after the ’74 massacre the local townsfolk lynched the family of cannibals and burned them alive inside their macabre house, save for one tiny baby who was adopted (well, actually, stolen) by a childless couple who formed part of the vigilante mob. When the little girl is all grown up her biological grandmother dies and she inherits her house, a house which comes with a little something extra in the cellar. This is far less interesting than it would have been had the story been about Sally in the immediate aftermath of the original massacre, or even if it had taken place (as this does) in the present day with Sally suffering from the aftermath even all these years later.

Instead they try to feed us nonsense about Leatherface escaping the fire and being kept in check by Granny in her wine cellar. None of which really makes sense. When the baby is found, the couple that take her make a big deal out of concealing the fact she was even there in the first place. With no witnesses to them taking her, how did her granny know where to look for her? Or even to seek her out in the first place? Why would she include someone in the will she would have been forced to assume was dead? And that’s just the hook to get the story going!

Then consider the casting. The group of youths unwittingly road tripping to their doom have clearly been selected for aesthetic appeal rather than acting talent. The guys are all chiselled abs and catalogue model looks, the girls, top heavy, super-skinny stripper types. The repeated use of low camera angles when one character, Nikki, gets out of the van resulting in a close up of her ass every single fucking time sets out the film’s agenda quite nicely. Why worry about characterisation when you can have a close up view of (3D) hot pants every couple of minutes. In the original film, I actually found the youngsters who end up in trouble quite amiable. Here, I was willing them to die after about thirty seconds of screen time. Even the inconsequential, on screen for two seconds, checkout girl who works with Nikki in a supermarket has that stripper look, as if all the women in the world were the same pneumatically breasted, fake tanned horror shows. It seems out of place and very unnatural as does their wardrobe, which constantly fails to create a convincing vibe for the film.

"All our market research shows that if you run around for the whole movie with your shoulders back and your chest out the punters will love it."

“All our market research shows that if you run around for the whole movie with your shoulders back and your chest out the punters will love it.”

No 3D horror film would be complete without the addition of a couple of over the top affectations that give everyone a chance to “be amazed” at shit seeming to poke out of the screen at them. In this case (Nikki’s cheeks aside) they seem to be mainly focused around chainsaws (of which Leatherface seems to have access to hundreds of specialised variants) hurtling towards the screen for various unconvincing reasons. But then I was too busy shuddering at all the ham-fisted call backs to the original Chainsaw Massacre movie to really care too much about the overblown chainsawing. Someone should have mentioned that simply copying and pasting a few details from the original movie does not an homage make. While they’re at it, if they could let J.J. Abrams know the same thing I’d be grateful.

Gratuitous Tania Raymonde in her underwear shot.

Gratuitous Tania Raymonde in her underwear shot.

The thing that really proves disappointing is the same mistake I see time and time again in contemporary horror films, the confusion that sometimes arrives in film maker’s minds where they make the mistake of equating “gory” with “scary”. The two things are very different and while not exactly mutually exclusive they are certainly not the same thing. The blood and guts on show in Texas Chainsaw may well look realistic and gruesome but they lack the power to shock that the ’74 version possesses. They deliberately avoided too much blood in the original movie, mainly because they were afraid the film would be cut for release. This worked to their advantage in the end, because it makes  the horror much more inferred than explicit. It’s significant that the most horrifying scene in the original movie is when Sally is sat at the Sawyer family dinner table and grandpa Sawyer is trying to kill her with a hammer, but failing due to his frailty in old age.

It’s a genuinely grotesque moment, the tension from it is practically palpable. It certainly eclipses everything in Texas Chainsaw. No amount of dismembered torsos on meat hooks and bloody limbs lying about the place can make up for a lack of any kind of sense of what is scary and what’s not.

I'm still disturbed by this scene, even after having seen the film many, many times.

I’m still disturbed by this scene, even after having seen the film many, many times.

All of this is compounded when you consider Rob Zombie has already done a massacre/aftermath combo in the form of House Of 1,000 Corpses (itself clearly inspired by the original Chainsaw) and its follow up The Devil’s Rejects, which follows directly on from the first film and deals with the consequences of the psychotic family’s behaviour all of which begs the question, what exactly was the point? I don’t think I’d have even minded if the story (including its “twist”) hadn’t been so damn stupid, but it is, and I do. At best, this was a wasted opportunity, at worst a cinematic tragedy that should really be erased from existence.

So much for optimism.

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