One of the most influential horror movies of all time and a milestone in the vast and seemingly endless tide of the slasher, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre has since its release in 1974 went on to terrify generations of viewers. Tobe Hooper’s original tale of mayhem and slaughter not only added the chainsaw to the serial killer’s repertoire but created a horror icon fit to match Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, or Freddy Krueger. This year sees the release of a new instalment in the franchise which has already had three sequels, a skilfully executed remake in 2003, and a not so great sequel to that remake in 2006.
Texas Chainsaw 3D has big boots to fill, even though the franchise is one of the most successful horror series of all time and has a legion of proud fans, recent endeavours have not quite hit the mark and the original has never really had a sequel that lived up to expectations. The opening credits condense the original film showing the most important and brutal parts for those viewers perhaps unfamiliar with the original whilst quickly recapping for those stewing in their juices, desperate for the film to kick-off. After this the story picks up literally within an hour of the original’s finale, with the sheriff approaching the infamous house, an interesting decision that actually pulls off wonderfully. Original Leatherface Gunnar Hansen cameos as one of the Sawyer clan whilst Bill Moseley lends his crazy to play The Cook and looks the ringer for Jim Siedow. Naturally, the whole affair goes pair shaped when a lynch mob turns up and turns the classic house along with its cannibalistic inhabitants into an inferno. When the deed is done, one of the mob finds a baby, keeps it, and the film jumps forward thirty years. The child, now grown up and played by Alexandra Daddario, inherits the home of her recently deceased grandmother and travels there with her boyfriend and friends. What could go wrong right? Guess who Granny was keeping in the basement.
The idea is fine, the plot is pretty palatable, but there are issues aplenty with the look and execution of the film. After a pretty strong opening the piece stops being any kind of meaningful contribution to the series. Considering the cultural and monetary revenue the series has spawned, my hopes were high for not exactly a game-changer but something special. Texas Chainsaw very quickly gets caught in the pitfalls of a typical slasher, and for a post Scream/Cabin in the Woods audience that really is a bit risky. The five main characters are all mind bogglingly attractive, Daddario’s top is ever-so-slightly too small for her, there seems to be a bout of the “stupids” going about in Texas and, of course, the kids catch it just as Leatherface picks up his chainsaw. Cars break down, there’s a lot of tripping, people go into the basement to be picked off one by one…you get the drift. Though obviously now when people go in the basement they get to say “fuck this shit” first just so we know they’re dubious. Instead, we can’t help think they’re just addicted to doing dangerously moronic things.
Most importantly, is it enjoyable? Hell yeh it is, it’s a lot of fun to watch: thrilling, funny at points and it actually manages to pull a few scares out the bag. The basement is still a horrifying place to go and Leatherface’s presence is as potent as it was back in 1974, he’s a terrifying character, brutal, fast, and above all human. Dan Yeager’s rendition is obviously keenly tuned to Hansen’s, the shuffling jog, exacerbated grunts and pitiful whines all turn up making sure we have a villain to remember. To the writer’s credit a good attempt at expanding on the world is made through an interesting power play between sheriff and mayor, a conflict that starts at the very beginning of the film and seems to escalate until it reaches a messy conclusion.
Hooper’s original flips from inside to out, light to dark in some of its most horrible sequences, it’s one of those things that makes it not just a good horror movie, but a well-shot one too. Texas Chainsaw 3D doesn’t do as well in the aesthetic department, it looks too polished to incur any real hopelessness, and the marriage of what is still perceived as a rustic area to any technology just seems wrong. A sequence where the sheriff watches live feed from an iPhone as an officer explores the cellar seems uncomfortable amidst the relatively basic timeless quality of the set, same goes for some music choices too. Does it need to be in 3D? Not really, nothing is really gained from the extra dimension, and yet again I can’t help but feel duped into a bit of a crappy fad that seems to riddle modern horror. And that goes back to the film’s main problem: we’ve seen it all before. Like I say that doesn’t make it unenjoyable or even bad, it just makes it slightly disappointing.
There’s plenty of good gore to keep fans happy and some nice little nods to the original, Leatherface is again a formidable (if ageing) villain, and the film is definitely a good watch. Unfortunately there’s not enough depth to cement it as any kind of great contribution, and mindless adherence to modern slasher tropes marks it out as grossly under-imaginative at points.