When it comes to contemporary horror films, it’s practically a given that the sequels and reboots that follow a box-office success will be inferior to the original, but very few movies have been more poorly served by their follow-ups than Tobe Hooper’s 1974 classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Hooper’s original is one of the most distinctive works of 1970s horror, a harrowingly tense and claustrophobic picture that tosses viewers down a rabbit hole into a Lone Star netherworld where nothing seems safe or comfortable. But the attempts to build on the film’s phenomenal success have been remarkably inadequate; Hooper’s darkly witty 1986 sequel The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 was hobbled by extreme studio interference, and Jeff Burr’s flawed but imaginative 1990 effort Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III was rendered almost incoherent by last-minute cuts to secure an R rating. Kim Henkel, who co-wrote the screenplay for the 1974 original, wrote and directed 1995’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation, which was a disaster despite some bizarre plot twists and performances by then-unknown Texas actors Matthew McConaughey and Renee Zellweger. And the 2003 reboot The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and 2006’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, both produced by Michael Bay’s company Platinum Dunes, suggested that the people involved had almost no understanding of what made Hooper’s film memorable in the first place.
A different production team, Twisted Pictures, have stepped up to take another stab at the series with Texas Chainsaw 3D, and they show a greater respect for and understanding of Hooper’s original masterpiece than any of its earlier progeny. The fact that director John Luessenhop clearly holds the original in such high esteem, however, doesn’t mean he’s nearly as good as Hooper at generating tension or shocks, and to say that this may well be the best-realized Chainsaw follow-up since Hooper’s 1986 sequel is merely to say most of the other films were awful, while this one is just sort of bad.
Texas Chainsaw 3D essentially ignores the other sequels and reboots and begins exactly where the first film left off, using footage from the 1974 picture to sum up the story and rewrite the ending: After Sally Hardesty hopped on the truck and got away from Leatherface, an unruly mob descended on the Sawyer family’s home (a far larger clan than in the original movie, including several women) and burned it to the ground. A baby belonging to one of the Sawyer women was snatched up and taken away by two of the vigilantes, Gavin and Arlene Miller (David Born and Sue Rock), and the girl, Heather (Alexandra Daddario), grows up with no knowledge of her true heritage, though her job cutting meat at a supermarket suggests she carries some Sawyer tendencies. One day, to her surprise, Heather receives a letter saying that her grandmother Verna has died, alerting her that Gavin and Arlene are not her birth parents. Heather travels to Texas to claim her inheritance, with her friends Ryan (Tremaine “Trey Songz” Neverson), Nikki (Tania Raymonde), and Carl (Scott Eastwood) tagging along to offer support, and they pick up a friendly hitchhiker named Darryl (Shaun Sipos) en route. Heather has been left Verna’s large and luxurious estate, and she and her pals decide to stay for a day or two; while the rest of the gang get groceries, Darryl proves he’s not so friendly after all by looting the place. But when he finds a locked room in the wine cellar, he learns the mansion has a secret -- Leatherface (Dan Yeager), the most deranged member of the Sawyer family, is still alive, and he’s been waiting for a chance to escape and leave some bodies in his wake. As the death count rises, Heather learns the unpleasant facts about her family history and the town’s legacy of mob justice.
Texas Chainsaw 3D opens with scenes fashioned from Hooper’s original film, and the movie’s visual style as well as its doomed-kids-in-a-van narrative is meant to recall the 1974 source material. Marilyn Burns and Gunnar Hansen from the original Chainsaw also pop up in small roles, as does Bill Moseley, who memorably played Chop-Top in TCM 2. Director John Luessenhop strives to honor Hooper’s original vision while giving this movie a stamp of his own, but the two sides don’t always mesh; Luessenhop is clearly comfortable with harsh shocks and the sort of outlandish violence that we’ve come to expect from recent torture-porn horror, but he doesn’t generate anything approaching the taut, frenzied anxiety that made the first picture a classic, and the movie’s chase sequences and suspense frameworks generally fall flat. (The often clumsy 3D work doesn’t help one bit.) The screenplay doesn’t do anyone any favors either, with its frequently silly dialogue and puzzling time frame (by all logic, Heather should be close to 40 years old, not a sexy twentysomething), and the decision to add a matriarchal side to the Chainsaw family, who were pointedly all male in Hooper’s films, scrambles the psychology of the series. And while Alexandra Daddario is nearly as good a screamer as Marilyn Burns and handles the leading role well, the rest of the cast falter, and Tremaine “Trey Songz” Neverson and Tania Raymonde are annoying enough that one almost begs to see them killed. Texas Chainsaw 3D has enough energy and enthusiasm that it at least works as a decent time killer, and if it leaves the door open for a sequel, it twists the tale in an interesting and original way. But it’s still a pale shadow of what Tobe Hooper wrought in 1974, which deserves a better homage than this exercise in acceptable hackwork.
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- Released: 2013
- Rating: R
- Review: When it comes to contemporary horror films, it’s practically a given that the sequels and reboots that follow a box-office success will be inferior to the original, but very few movies have been more poorly served by their follow-ups than Tobe Hooper’s 197… (more)