Nothing means more than blood. That summarizes the entire daunting labyrinth they call The Texas Chainsaw Massacre series in more than one way. Birthed in all its juicy glory as barely more than a student film in 1974, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise has morphed, restarted and fed upon itself until there should be nothing left but a gooey heap. Yet, blood is the bond that binds and Leatherface and his large cannibalistic family are always ready to spill more of it, thus bringing us to its newest incarnation. Succinctly titled Texas Chainsaw 3D, Lionsgate’s semi-reboot of the brand is the first actual attempt in nearly 40 years to follow-up the 1974 classic. Can Texas Chainsaw 3D live up to the long shadow of its revered kin or is it merely another black sheep?
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) was a low budget horror movie Director Tobe Hooper made to cut his teeth on. That The Texas Chainsaw Massacre laid down nearly the total groundwork for the entire slasher genre surprised him as much as anyone. Based VERY loosely on the Ed Gein murders of the 1950s, Hooper shot on the fly a horror cheapie that starred central Texas unknowns. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a fascinating little picture that relies more on mood than violence. Whether out of convenience or artistry, Hooper’s visual approach of long, sustained wide shots worked out brilliantly. It slowly immerses the viewer into The Texas Chainsaw Massacre world with initial flash cuts of dead bodies and a voiceover inaccurately claiming this to be a true story. After that, the eerie silence of almost no music punctuated by the banal chatter of obnoxious teens wandering too far from the safety of society makes The Texas Chainsaw Massacre feel like a terrifying home movie. The monster, the beloved Leatherface, was a hulking Other when Michael Myers was still just a twinkle in John Carpenter’s eye. That means he is also a bit outside of what became slasher convention. True, Leatherface is a simple-minded brute serial killer, but he loves cooking for his family. The fact that Leatherface is cooking human body parts for them is incidental. He just wants to play the role of mother to his all-male family. Leatherface even wears dresses and puts lipstick on his human flesh-mask. It’s the little things that count when it comes to Southern hospitality! At least in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre universe. Half the teens Leatherface kills die because they interrupt him making Sunday supper. It would be comical if they didn’t happen to be squirming on meat hooks or having their brains bashed in. The real monsters are Leatherface’s brother and father who tie the central protagonist to a chair so that they can play with their dinner before eating her. Alas, Leatherface is just a gentle soul who loved playing with his chainsaw in the early light of a Texas morn…
The reason I’m going on so much about the first slasher is because Texas Chainsaw 3D this is a direct sequel to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Surprisingly, Lionsgate opted to leave behind the glossy remake franchise begun by Producer Michael Bay in 2003. They are also throwing away the many, many sequels to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre that ignored how Leatherface and his Sawyer clan were still around after the first movie and instead opted for either pre-VHS serial rehashes or full self-parodies of the original. In many ways, Texas Chainsaw 3D is a homecoming for the Sawyer brood and all their gory shenanigans. Texas Chainsaw 3D’s opening credits are even a quick recap of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre for younger viewers who thought Leatherface began with Jessica Biel. It is a bit surreal to see The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in 3D. And the use of loud, crashing sound effects, jump cut editing and in your face 3D lets us know immediately that they’re taking the story but leaving all those pesky things like mood and suspense behind where they belong in the 1970s.
Shortly after the gruesome events of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, local Sheriff Hooper (Thorn Barry) comes to the Sawyer house of horrors to arrest Jedd Sawyer/Leatherface (Dan Yeager). It seems the cross-dressing chef is going to take the fall for his suddenly large family. Unfortunately, local bartender and redneck cliché Burt Hartman (Paul Rae) appears with a beer-bellied posse of vigilantes. Faster than you can say Texas barbecue, they light the Sawyer house on fire and burn everyone in it, alive. The only seeming survivor is a baby who grows up to be the present(?)Heather Miller (Alexandra Daddario). The adopted daughter of cruel white trash, Heather can only find solace in her boyfriend Ryan (Trey Songz) and a whole wardrobe of tight shirts that leave plenty of breathing space for midriff. Then, one day, Heather learns she has inherited a family home from a Sawyer grandmother she didn’t know existed and is soon on a road trip, along with Ryan, BFF Nikki (Tania Raymonde) and Victim #4 (Keram Malicki-Sanchez) to see it. The group even picks up a Texas Chainsaw Massacre-staple hitchhiker (Shaun Sipos).
The merry band of archetypes get to Heather’s family home and quite improbably discover that her grandmother, born of the dirt-poor Sawyer family that used bones for furniture, married into a lavishly rich house. Heather decides to dig into her Sawyer roots, her boyfriend and BFF decide to fool around behind her back and they all should have decided not to look at what’s in the basement.
If you had to guess, you might figure out what happens to most of these characters. Director John Luessenhop and Texas Chainsaw 3D’s army of writers have some fun subverting expectations for longtime fans of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre series, but this slasher set-up can only go so far. Not to give away too many spoilers, but what kind of chance does Songz’s Ryan have when he is both a Black man AND a cheating boyfriend in a B-slasher movie? It cannot help that Leatherface at this point is an old timey white Southerner who just found out his young niece is in an interracial relationship. Speaking of old time, Texas Chainsaw 3D clearly begins in 1974. Yet, Heather is about 20 in the rest of the film, which features iPhones and modern cars. Clearly we’re not supposed to put too much thought into Texas Chainsaw 3D’s plot because the writers didn’t. The main characters are not developed and they’re only there to be skewered. It also seems the random time jump has left Leatherface disgruntled. He is thankfully back to wearing dresses and cooking dinner for his family in the movie, but returning to Leatherface’s original concept only highlights how boring it is to make him a traditional slasher for most of Texas Chainsaw 3D.
Still, I want to give some credit to Texas Chainsaw 3D for thinking outside the box. Despite dropping “massacre” from its title, Texas Chainsaw 3D is truly a bloodbath. The obscene amounts of gore flying in the third dimension towards the audience borders on NC-17 levels of depravity in a few brief shots. And I’ll admit that I chuckled when the chainsaw came out of the screen, more than once. But to my genuine surprise, Texas Chainsaw 3D gets through its splatter checklist remarkably fast. Halfway through the story, Texas Chainsaw 3D shifts gears to a tale of two families. Heather is forced to understand her heritage when Burt Hartman, now a mayor, and his kin harasses her. To Heather and the audience’s astonishment, the blood feud between the Sawyers and Hartmans cannot be underestimated. It is set on the grandiose scale of the Montagues and Capulets; the Hatfields and the McCoys; the Kardashians and Good Taste! As it turns out, angry Rednecks are scarier than an aging transvestite with a chainsaw.
I cannot in good conscious recommend Texas Chainsaw 3D. It is a very, very predictable slasher for most of its running time with bad writing and mediocre acting. Daddario is currently rumored to have landed the juicy lead role in Fifty Shades of Grey. If that happens, I’m sure she’ll be fine, but the only thing Texas Chainsaw 3D lets her prove is that she can do the required screaming for the S&M part and is already okay with wearing next to nothing. Despite these shortcomings, I would be lying if I said Texas Chainsaw 3D isn’t entertaining. The splatter effects are amusingly administered and the Third Act twists really try to do something new with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise and genre while honoring the premise of the original film more than anything since. Leatherface, for the first time in ages, is not the true villain of the story. He’s just a simple-minded child who obediently kills. However, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is scary and Texas Chainsaw 3D is anything but.
For gore hounds and diehard fans of The Texas Chainsaw movies, there is plenty of blood to revel in and more winks to the original film than I can count. For everyone else, Texas Chainsaw 3D will someday make for a very entertaining late night movie to laugh at with friends.
Den of Geek Rating: 2 out of 5 Stars