When did it become okay for horror to stop scaring us?
The genre’s trended toward forsaking the unknown for the familiar, embracing recognition that’s helped make Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees as identifiable as Mickey Mouse. Horror, pertaining mainly to America’s output, has become our weakest genre (minus a few notable exceptions) – subjected to franchise treatment time and again, with filmmakers opting to riff on what’s come before in opposition of building any mystique inherent with original material.
Tobe Hooper’s 1974 masterpiece, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, wasn’t scary for what lurked beneath the veil. It was the suggestion of awfulness that could’ve existed beneath. Why horror continues lifting that veil, peeling off the meat until it’s bone dry and making off with the naked skull to pawn it off for pittance is becoming a ritual of ever-increasing transparency.
Not that any of that really matters with Texas Chainsaw 3D, a film intended as a direct sequel to the original (shedding three sequels, a remake and a prequel to the remake). It’s so conceptually flawed, so unintentionally frustrating, that placing horror’s more recent trappings on its shoulders serves only to fracture the work at its brittle shin bones before the frail corpse shatters away into dust.
Bless director John Lussenhop (Takers) and producer Carl Mazzocon’s misguided hearts. The men saw how low the bar was set with The Next Generation and dared to slide under it. The relief that they fail is offset by the realization that they come damn close to delivering an effort worse than that great 1994 unpleasantness.
How misguided are we talking? The film first picks up five minutes after the original, recasting the entire Sawyer family and shoehorning in a bunch of new, uninteresting family members in addition. Bill Moseley, Chop Top in TCM2, now carries the patriarcal Drayton role first made famous by Jim Siedow. And OG Leatherface Gunnar Hansen shows up as shotgun-wielding neckbeard Boss Sawyer, who… must’ve been chilling upstairs during the original.
“Who will survive and what will be left of them?” This is the family that just slaughtered a group of innocent kids, shoving their thoraicic curves atop meat hooks and tearing away their flesh for dinner. That final shot of Marilyn Burns at the end of Massacre ’74 is perfect. Drenched in blood, maniacally cackling, tears streaming down – she just survived an experience so psychologically disturbing and perverse, that her psyche shatters onscreen as her pursuer dances away with his roaring chainsaw in the distance. What Texas Chainsaw 3D says, basically, is “Fuck that noise.”
And maybe it was all Tobe Hooper’s fault. Because he failed to inform us in the original that this behavior is totes acceptable in Texas. You see, the Sawyer family, luring in the kids and ripping them to shreds for dinner, were just protecting their land with all that murder business. Turns out they’re just a bunch of misunderstood, noble, territorial cannibals (opposed to the evil cannibals we’d been led to believe) honoring their own brand of Clint Eastwood / Gran Torino “Get off my lawn,” social contracting. And when the town bans together to kill the entire family and burn the Sawyer camp to the ground, we’re asked to side with the Sawyers.
How dare these concerned citizens be so rude to the territorial cannibals?
There’s a misplaced air of familial nobility permeating about Texas Chainsaw 3D. When Heather (the genetically blessed Alexandra Daddario) returns to central Texas to collect an inheritance left by her grandmother (spoiler: she’s a Sawyer), it puts into motion another massacre. We’re asked to believe that Leatherface has been locked away in a basement for the entirety of 38 years only to be unleashed when Heather and her awful friends come upon the home of Grandma Sawyer.
Heather’s tacked-on investment in the Sawyer plight is, of course, bullshit. She has no real reason to care about these people or what happened here, yet the film’s really about her siding with Leatherface to exact revenge on the people who savagely brutalized her loving family of cannibals (that she never met). By the time Heather tosses a chainsaw to Leatherface shouting “Do yer thing, cuz!” the movie already gave up fighting this losing battle. Any authenticity the filmmakers hoped to sponge from the original already became self-aware, realized it was in Texas Chainsaw 3D, and fled from the scene of the crime.
We don’t need the horror of old, we need its spirit: stories and terrors that awaken us from the mundane and pedestrian. Horror that shakes us to our core and reminds us the world is only as safe as we perceive it, and perception can be dashed at any time. Tobe Hooper knew this in 1974. He also knew how to competently piece together a film, though. So perhaps I’m nitpicking. Even the 3D, supposedly a major selling point of this endeavor, has all the depth and visual panache of a urine-stained kiddie pool.
Carl Mazzocon’s already threatening to make more of these. I’m going to kindly ask he abandon that notion. Texas Chainsaw 3D didn’t leave me with a sense of wanting more. It didn’t leave me with anything, save for a wealth of baggage both hatefully vitriolic and readily dismissive.
So thanks for that, Texas Chainsaw 3D. I can now fill a dozen meat freezers with all the fucks I’m professionally obligated not to give.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars