Carl Mazzocone, the producer of the new horror remake/sequel “Texas Chainsaw 3D” (yes, the word “Massacre” isn’t even part of the title – more on that in a minute), a former executive who oversaw the lucrative “Saw” series, has made it a point of saying how this is a true follow-up to Tobe Hooper‘s watershed original (1974’s “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre“). The first part of a proposed six-film franchise (yes, seriously), Mazzocone and his confederates have also chosen to bypass every entry in the series since the original, including Hooper’s own, highly underrated sequel, two additional films (one by original co-writer Kim Henkel), and a pair of glossy remakes produced by that king of the understatement, Michael Bay. But what makes “Texas Chainsaw 3D” so striking is that for a movie with such clear reverence for the original, it fundamentally misunderstands (or simply ignores) what made the first film such a groundbreaking classic.
Unlike most of the other films in the franchise, “Texas Chainsaw 3D” doesn’t start with somber narration and a text crawl detailing the supposedly true story of unlucky youngsters. (The initial film was, after all, partly based on the exploits of notorious American serial killer Ed Gein, whose crimes also inspired “Psycho.”) This partially has to do with the nature of the film – for the first time it’s designed to be continued (remember – six films!) and partially because it’s too busy setting up the directness of the sequel by showing you a bunch of scenes from the original. Yes, it’s pretty dumb, and only points out what a seminal work Hooper’s film is.
After this truncated version of the original flits by, there’s a sequence that takes place immediately after the first film ends. The original Sawyer clan, anchored by chainsaw-wielding maniac Leatherface, are quickly joined by some other family members, and pretty soon the local police and a gang of bloodthirsty townsfolk are at the door, brandishing guns and setting the house on fire. Not only is this sequence poorly staged but it’s also pretty insensitive, recalling not only the Ruby Ridge tragedy but also, given the amount of flames and the fact that it’s set in Texas, Waco as well. (On purely cinematic terms, too, it pales in comparison to a similar set piece in Rob Zombie‘s outstanding “The Devil’s Rejects.”)
While the film hedges closely to the original, dropping in a number of references both subtle (a Volkswagen van, a dead armadillo on the side of the road, unrecognizable turns by actors from the original films) and overt (big metal door! Hitchhiker!), it deviates in a key way – one of the members of the Sawyer clan had a small child, who one of the rampaging villagers takes as his own. The baby is (insert scary music cue here) the cousin of Leatherface!
From there the film flashes forward a number of years, settling on the child, who is now a young woman named Heather (Alexandra Daddario, almost unnervingly attractive). On the eve of a riotous road trip to New Orleans, she gets a letter in the mail informing her that her long lost grandmother has died and that she needs to come to Texas to sign some of the paperwork. Her supportive friends (including her boyfriend, played by rapper Trey Songz, and her BFF Tania Raymonde, better known as Alex from “Lost“) agree to detour the trip so she can sort out her mysterious lineage. They pile into a Volkswagen bus eerily similar to the one piloted by the doomed youngsters in the original film, and away they go.
For a while, at least, the movie travels along on horror remake autopilot – the youngsters get slashed to death for no apparent reason, with improved (and even more gushy) special effects and thrills from the original are evoked but never elaborated on or duplicated. (It should be noted that this is probably the single worst 3D presentation ever. It’s more than an eye sore, it actively works against the movie.) There are a couple of nifty moments, like Leatherface roaring through a Halloween town fair, which immediately brought to mind everything from Roger Corman‘s “Humanoids from the Deep” to last year’s animated “Frankenweenie,” but these are fleeting. Instead, the middle section of the movie is filled with scenes like a Facetime chat between the mayor and a police officer, where the police officer, looking through Leatherface’s creepy, blood-splattered photos, pauses just long enough to note that the serial killer is a “fruitcake” for wearing women’s dresses. How progressive!
The last act, in a twist both completely bizarre and utterly expected, becomes a kind of revenge tale, with Leatherface offing the members of the original hunting party that killed his family and burned down his home. At one point young Heather, whose midriff is always exposed no matter what shirt she is (or isn’t) wearing, even teams up with the deranged killer. Listen, no matter how awful these yahoos were, it doesn’t change the fact that Leatherface and his clan were sadistic cannibalistic serial killers. They were basically above-ground CHUDs. And for that they probably did deserve to die, or at least get punched in the face a bunch of times by a really strong guy wearing brass knuckles (please note, this never actually happens in “Texas Chainsaw 3D”).
“Texas Chainsaw 3D” wants to have its cake and eat it too – to brutally recall the original while setting the stage for a series of new films that puts Leatherface in the role of an avenging spirit, righting the wrongs of small town amorality. It’s fucking absurd. The movie was directed by John Luessenhop, who previously helmed “Takers,” a movie that came out around the same time as “Armored” and looked a lot like “Armored” but in fact wasn’t nearly as good as “Armored.” His commitment to the original film is only in passing, that movie’s gritty naturalism and surprising shocks replaced by telegraphed jump-scares and slicky manicured mid-budget moviemaking, shellacked with the aforementioned disastrous 3D overlay. “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” was a satirical look at the American family in the seventies, and looked like what would happen if Terrence Malick wanted to make a slasher movie. The “Massacre” is gone from “Texas Chainsaw 3D” because it’s more interested in something cuddlier and safe. The tagline for the original was: “Who will survive and what will be left of them?” The tagline for this one should be: “Who will survive and will you even care?” The answer, of course, is no. [D-]