– Summary –
Director : John Luessenhop
Year Of Release : 2013
Principal Cast : Alexandra Daddario, Dan Yeager, Tremayne Neverson, Scott Eastwood, Tania Raymonde, Shaun Sipos, Keram Malicki-Sanchez, Thom Barry, Paul Rae, Richard Riehle, Bill Moseley, Marilyn Burns, John Dugan, Gunnar Hansen.
Approx Running Time : 92 Minutes
Synopsis: Heather Miller discovers she is the heir to a family mansion in Texas, and upon arrival, finds a homicidal chainsaw-wielding maniac living in the basement. Chaos ensues.
What we think : Occasionally spooky, often terribly generic, Texas Chainsaw makes an effort to return the Chainsaw franchise to its roots by picking up almost immediately where the Tobe Hooper-directed original left off. It’s a little unfortunate that the effort has gone to waste, turning Leatherface into some kind of repugnant man-child we should empathize with, rather than fear, and this story device leaves the film nowhere to go but down. Not that it began that high to start with, but there’s an effort at least behind the scenes to try and recreate the hoe-down nastiness of the original film. Props for trying, but this film isn’t even close to being as atmospheric, or as spine-chilling, as its progenitor.
Great horror creations only come along every so often, usually once in a generation. Thankfully, the 70’s and 80’s saw an explosion of iconic horror/slasher film characters come to life: Michael Meyers, Jason Voorhees, Freddie Kruger, Hellraiser’s Pinhead perhaps in that epoch as well – but the oft lamented second cousin to the big names is Leatherface, the chainsaw hacking monstrosity from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise. While Jason became almost a parody of his unkillable self, Freddie Kruger died at the hands of shoddy storytelling and a lack of imagination, and Pinhead wafted into increasingly insipid sequels like a fart in a breeze, Leatherface has come in for perhaps the most maligned treatment of any of the major franchise “stars” of that now-bygone era. Following the cult success of the original 1974 film, a sequel quickly followed (it was shit), followed by yet another in 1990 and an even more crappy one in 1994. Marcus Knispel’s cavalier yet flawed reboot in 2006 – produced by Michael Bay, no less – tried to kickstart the franchise again, but met with a wet bloody “meh” at the critics office. Another try in 2006 was – putting it mildly – a critical and commercial failure of monumental proportions. So we come to this, the 7th film in the franchise, and yet another attempt by producers to try and tie this film into the original – more or less successfully as far as that’s concerned – yet delivering a bloody, schlock-jump hiccup of a film with limited genuine tension and more than a liberal dose of New Millennium gore and brutality. How does Leatherface’s latest screen appearance succeed or fail where others (many, many others) have failed so utterly to deliver a screen villain worth watching? Is this Chainsaw sharp enough, or blunter than your granddaddy’s hammer?
The film opens with the massacre of the Sawyer family in from the original film, although some of the original cast are replaced by franchise stalwarts in a fairly cool twist – a lynch mob, led by Burt Hartman (Paul Rae) seeks to kill the family harboring suspected mass murderer Jed Sawyer – aka Leatherface (Dan Yeager) – after an escaping victim warns the police about the murder of her friends (as told in the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre). Sheriff Hooper (Thom Barry) is powerless to stop the incendiary standoff turning into a bloodbath, with the Sawyer family home being burned to the ground. One of the Sawyer family, a woman, escapes to a nearby garage, where she and her infant girl are found by one of Hartman’s mob. The infant is stolen away and taken far away and adopted out. Years later, Heather (Alexandra Daddario) learns of her biological grandmother’s passing, and is given an inheritance – a vast Texan manor home outside of Newt. Driving to inspect her new holdings, Heather and her boyfriend Ryan (Tremayne Neverson), his friend Kenny (Keram Malicki-Sanchez) and Kenny’s girlfriend Nikki (Tania Raymonde) – as well as a handsome hitchhiker (Shaun Sipos) – start to party at the massive house, before they are individually set upon by an enormous hulking figure wielding a variety of weapons including a chainsaw. Heather barely escapes with her life, to warn the Sheriff, but Mayor Hartman and his one-time mob mates band together to track down Leatherface and kill him – and Heather – once and for all.
The first time I ever saw the VHS edition of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre on the rental store shelf, I assumed it was some kind of documentary. How wrong I was. Considered by many of my friends to be the scariest film ever made (c’mon, it was the 80’s when I was seeing it for the first time) I remember being left a little but disappointed when I finally got round to watching it years later, as an adult. Shocking, sure, and genuinely frightening, yes, but considering that in the meantime horror films were becoming increasingly gory and bloodthirsty in their intent and impact, the original Chainsaw, by today’s Hostel/Saw standards, is comparatively tame. Welcome, then, to the 2013 Texas Chainsaw, in spattering bloody 3D, no less. To put a very sharp point into exceedingly clear focus, this film isn’t worth the money to watch in 3D. The 3D here – as it was back when 3D was a “thing” in the 70’s and 80’s – is pointless and hokey, the kind of “things pointing out of the camera” mentality that makes Luessenhop more a hack director than one of note. It’s okay to stick a buzzing chainsaw directly at a camera if it makes sense, but more often than not here, it doesn’t.
Texas Chainsaw 3D tries hard to make itself worthy of the original film; after all, by tying itself so closely with the original, it sets the bar pretty high in terms of maintaining continuity and giving the film that sense of familiarity. As the central theme of the film seems to be “blood is thicker than water” it’s only appropriate that the script harks back to the original so often. In doing this, the film takes an enormous risk of running aground on the very large cliffs the original film has used to claim many a film victim pretending to be “of the family”. The success of the film (or its failure, depending on how you view these kinds of films as being successful in any way other than financial) lies on the back of the central characters being believable, Leatherface aside. Heather, played here by Alexandra Daddario, is the central heroine, although her arc as a character seems rather forced and trashy – she’s an orphan brought up by terrible adopted parents, returns to her ancestral home and shacks up with her homicidal cousin – and Daddario while gives it her all, there’s a lack of blistered innocence lurking behind the role that prevents us from following her emotional trajectory. As much as one can when the other central character kills people with a chainsaw.
The role of the main Bad Guy seems to shift from Leatherface’s tragic back-story to the outright redneck-bigot of Sheriff Hartman, given full blooded life by a truly odious Paul Rae. Rae makes Hartman a vile figure, which he needed to do in order to get us to feel sympathy of sorts for Leatherface’s plight. Dan Yeager’s portrayal of Leatherface is hard to gauge: on the one hand, the dude chainsaws a guy in half while he’s hanging from a meat hook. On the other, the minute he realizes a bound and helpless Heather is actually family, he stops trying to kill her and tries to kill those who would kill her. All while hidden behind a horrid fleshy mask. It’s not exactly an Oscar winning role, but if one might try and accurately critique a hidden actor for performing such a role, I think Yeager does a great job. Leatherface is brutal, fast and horrifying as a character – he doesn’t toy with his victims like Freddie Kruger or Jason, instead he feels more naturalistic – even animalistic – and that’s what makes him scary. When he turns and looks at you, and then starts running at you with that chainsaw, you f@cking run like hell to get away. You don’t stand around wondering what the hell is going on. The rest of the cast bulk out what is, essentially, so much canon fodder. As a slasher film, it’s only a matter of time before the ditzy, befuddled, drugged up, sex-crazed roster of characters in this film eventually find themselves turned into a bloody pulp. Perhaps it’s not so much a question of how as it is simply when. The characters are fairly generic, and easily identifiable (including Tania Raymonde’s ass, which spends more time on screen than the actresses face!) so you just know who’s going to bite the bullet (or chainsaw) and who isn’t.
Yet, the film’s central story problem (among other things) comes down the treatment of the central figure of the film – Leatherface. Leatherface is a tragic figure here, and while I can understand, perhaps even appreciate, why the filmmakers decided to go this route, it didn’t work well enough to give the film’s finale its impact. Instead, the film’s grungy, grimy seediness prevents any real emotive potential here, with the subtle tension building moments in the opening half giving way to blood splatter and screaming hysterics. In the end, even though Texas Chainsaw tries for creativity, it’s just another generic slasher clone. Director Luessenhop eschews subtlety and cerebral scares for visceral gut-punching, which might be good occasionally, but here it seems like that’s the only trick he has in his bag. The film’s opening twenty minutes are not too bad – it’s certainly not terrible – but once Leatherface is released from his basement prison, the film turns into a routine, “nobody believes the screaming girl” story from which the inevitable, as it always does, eventuates.
Characters, by and large, are ill defined in this movie; the stock supply of generic genre population just meanders through the story doing everything they’d normally do in a highly join-the-dots fashion. The corrupt cops, the adrenaline junkie officer, the “we’re having an affair” boyfriend and hot best friend, the not-as-he-seems hitchhiker, the likeable town lad who turns out to be not-so-likeable, and all the other hyphenated descriptors of every character you’ve ever seen if you’ve ever seen a slasher/horror movie. The movie’s made for idiots, it seems, because nobody here is smarter than your average fifth grader, for all the posturing and shouting at each other. Often, it’s grating just how idiotic movie characters can be, and one asks whether the actors involved ever questioned why they’d act the way they do – a paycheck, would be my guess – but it still annoys me anyway.
As far as direction goes, Luessenhop manages to eke out a fair degree of style here. Sure, the film’s lathered in an inherent darkness both literally and figuratively, and as with a lot of modern directors seems to think that rapidly editing your action scenes makes it somehow more “exciting” (actually, it makes it less coherent, more often than not, unless you’re Paul Greengrass), so I guess in terms of a visual style, you can’t fault the film for sticking with an ethos through and through. Yet, Luessenhop treats his Leatherface with a limited respect only. Leatherface’s hulking frame, his strength and his brutality are scaled back in terms of potency, replaced by a sense of “okay here’s the killer you came to see, now lets see him as much as possible” that rips the characters’ mystique away like a band-aid off a scab. Leatherface has oodles of screen-time here, most of it in full light, and it robs the character of a sense of cinematic mystery. Aside from that, and a few terrible bloody sequences (the chainsaw through the torso of one hapless victim is laughably risible in technical execution, while the constant thrusting of the chainsaw blade at the camera becomes aggravating after a while) the film isn’t terrible on the eye. It just falls over when it comes to story and characters.
I know I’m asking a lot of a slasher film to spend any kind of time developing characters before the blood starts to run, but modern audiences have started to demand it in all their films. Not just the gore-fests, but all their films – we want to feel something for the characters instead of just seeing a parade of large-breasted vixens being hacked apart in increasingly vile and disgusting ways. Texas Chainsaw is as generic as they come, and does nothing to elevate the genre at all. It’s not completely horrendous (the sight of Daddadio’s breasts hinted at in a latter scene in the film is particularly edifying) and there are moments when it is genuinely creepy (the cop following a trail of blood down into Leatherface’s dungeon, while his iPhone relays the video feed back to the Sheriff, is a significantly spooky moment) but taken in its entirety, there’s almost nothing to recommend this film as anything worthwhile.
Franchise fans will probably lap it up, but more casual viewers will probably spend more time looking at their watch than the screen while they’re watching. Texas Chainsaw 3D is a meandering, ill-plotted, rote-charactered entry into the Chainsaw franchise that no doubt has more style than substance, so I guess if that’s your kind of film then fine, but if you’re seeking any kind of smart film-making then you’d be best served avoiding this one.