“Imitated, but never matched,” says director John Luessenhop of the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre (if you don’t spell it like that, get out of horror) on the documentary ‘Chainsaw Legacy’.
It’s a damning indictment of the copyists, himself included.
Just to nail our tanned animal hide to the mast early on, Texas Chainsaw 3D isn’t a particularly shit slasher movie – it’s a competently average one. Like much of its kin, it’s full of girls running, screaming and threatening to spill their boobs as much as their blood, boyfriends who can’t be relied upon, authority figures with something to hide, and ineffective cops who either bite off more than they can chew or arrive at the last minute to provide a full-stop.
Texas Chain Saw Massacre wasn’t just a slasher film though; it was a vérité gore picture that left you feeling as though you’d just witnessed something very, very real, and very, very horrible.
Coming with the bold boast of being a direct sequel to Tobe Hooper’s 1974 slaughterhouse classic – circumnavigating the original sequel, as well as the reboot in the process – Texas Chainsaw 3D opens with a montage of footage from the original, before picking up the story in glistening, fish-slap-to-the-face HD.
Five minutes after hapless Sally’s hysterical, screaming escape from Leatherface ’74, we return to an obviously different house, full of obviously different people, as the Texan townsfolk come by to exact vigilante justice despite the not-at-all robust urging to the contrary of Sheriff Hooper (Thom Barry).
The Sawyer/Carson farmstead is reduced to a cinder, and a tiny, swaddled narrative device is taken from her murdered mother to be raised by two generihicks.
Cut to the present, and the key vengeful townsfolk are the same age, only they have surrendered their BBC Three sketch show wigs and Deliverance denim for modern clothes to signified the altogether unconvincing passage of 40-odd years in a 40-something man in a blonde wig, to a 40-something man without a blonde wing.
A million miles away, thoughtful Final Girl-in-waiting Heather Miller (Percy Jackson‘s Alexandra Daddario) is working on a butcher’s counter and building art out of tiny bones, neither of which is adversely commented on by her three-pack of lunchbox-sized horror friends Sassy Sex Girl (Lost‘s Tania Raymonde), Handsome Boyfriend Man (Trey Songz), and Probably Has The Weed Boy (Punisher: War Zone‘s Keram Malicki-Sánchez).
Discovering that she’s adopted and heir to a property in rural Texas, the quartet dig out the retro-cool VW campervan and enter the stripstream of their 1973 counterparts, even stopping to pick up a hitchhiker. Sadly though, this hitchhiker isn’t Creepy Foreboding Man with a line in cattle chat, but an initially likeable bum who turns out to be out to rinse them and steal the Sawyer family silver. Yes, it’s none other than First Guy To Die That We Don’t Mind Dying Man.
All of which, by the way, could have been easily avoided if Heather had read the letter her grandmother had left her with the house keys that effectively said “BTW, your cousin lives in a locked room in the basement”, but then we wouldn’t have had much of a movie.
Daft narrative decisions are effectively the squirts of lighter fluid keeping this damp bonfire going, as the lawyer who handed over the keys could have easily told them too (and later on he does), then there’s Sheriff Hooper leaving Heather alone in a room with a big evidence box about her family’s death, the infamously shortsighted Ferris wheel escape mentioned previously, and the masterstroke of cowering behind a wooden barn door from a man with a chainsaw.
In short, there’re so many plotholes that Leatherface (Dan Yeager) was able to put a steel door on the biggest one and live in it.
In trying to tell a different story with the Texas Chain Setting, Luessenhop moves the film firmly into the realm of the fry-cook slasher movie. The early escape from the Leatherplace replaces the oppressive rural claustrophobia that we were waiting for with suburban frustration and a variable sliding scale of tension – the town hiding a secret that need to be punished is straight from A Nightmare On Elm Street, and Heather’s obvious character progression has been explored in the likes of Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, and even Rob Zombie’s big dumb Halloween II.
In terms of lumpen story and papermache characters, it’s not the worst slasher in recent memory, although that’s not saying a huge amount. Nor are its piss-weak pretensions to ape Tobe Hooper’s allegorical masterwork any more laughable than any of the previous sequels or reboots we’ve seen. If anything, the cameo-heavy first half (Bill Mosely, Gunnar Hansen, Marilyn Burns) makes Texas Chainsaw 3D kind of endearing.
No, that one star is for the 3D, which has led the direction into the same dull drive-in territory as Jaws 3 or My Bloody Valentine, reducing Leatherface to merely pointing his chainsaw into the camera or waggling it at people in an effort to caress our eyeballs through the screen. It’s not very threatening, and it makes one of horror’s few remaing sacred icons – a force of unstoppable, animalistic frenzy – about as terrifying as someone wearily selling LED fairy wands at the MEN Arena.