Theatrical Review: Texas Chainsaw 3D

In the past (the time isn’t specifically mentioned here), tragedy strikes at a group of five young people as they’re taking a road trip through Texas. Four of the five are brutally slaughtered by a murderous family, most notably by a hulking brute who wears a patchwork face and wields a chainsaw. One girl manages to escape and warns the authorities. As the authorities and a lynch mob descend upon the family- two manage an escape, the chainsaw murderer and a young baby girl who’s found and adopted by a couple who’s part of the lynch mob.

Years later, the baby girl has grown up. Her name is Heather Miller and she’s just been informed that she’s inherited an estate and now Heather and a group of friends decide to travel there and discover what it’s all about, little realizing the horror that’s to come…

That’s the premise to Texas Chainsaw 3D billed as a direct sequel to Tobe Hooper’s genuine horror classic from 1974, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, a film that’s certainly one of my all-time favorites in the genre. Since it’s release, it’s seen a few sequels and re-makes, none of which ever really approaches the genius of the original, and vary in satisfaction on their own. This latest iteration comes to us from director John Lussenhop who’s previously directed the crime film Takers which I have not seen.

I’m sure that Lussenhop is a huge fan of the series, there’s certainly lots of nods and homages here to the original. That’s all well and good, but the core of this film, it’s story and characters, it’s execution and it’s sort of re-imagining of the concept is just all wrong on just about every level. After seeing the final film I just have to wonder how Lionsgate could even greenlight this one in the first place.

It starts strong, using footage from the original movie to set everything up and give it a new sheen with it’s 3D, but other than the use of 3D in a few other places in the film, it just falls apart everywhere else.

Where to begin? First, this film decides to add more characters to the family from the original. As this piece begins and the authorities begin to come into play, we’re taken into the house of the murderous family and now instead of just the three characters that should’ve been left from the original film, there’s a whole bunch more added including women and a baby- where the hell did they ever come from? They certainly weren’t in the original film, but they’ve been added here as mostly a way to “humanize” the character known as Leatherface (who’s never once called that in the original) which is a mistake all it’s own, but I’ll get into that in a moment.

Then, this plays fast and loose with time- the original film was made in 1974 and the date is even used in the promotion of the film, yet when we fast forward to Heather in present day, she’s a young woman in her twenties as opposed to approaching 40 which is what she should be, if this was properly acknowledging the time. But doing that wouldn’t necessarily allow the film to give us it’s young and edgy cast of characters, all of which you pretty much want to see meet grisly ends in this, just by their sheer unlikeable nature, though that doesn’t really apply to Heather herself.

This brings us to the film’s execution. One of the most brilliant things about the original film is just how homemade the movie looks and feels. There’s no slickness of production and certainly no pervasive background music. A huge part of the success of the original is just how matter-or-fact that it looks and feels. It gives the film an unnerving quality that in today’s horror films best gets represented in the “found footage” sub-genre. The slicker production values just automatically takes away from what made the original so successful.

This in turn leads right into the re-imagining of the concept and the idea to “humanize” the Leatherface charcacter, who’s here given the name of Jed Sawyer (which in itself is whole new kettle of fish that just does not work) and turn him from this utterly terrifying individual and just make him “misunderstood.” Again, part of the success of the original is just how off-the-wall that the whole family feels. There’s no explanation given in the original as to why this family is the way it is, they’re just there and it’s up to the audience to fill in the blanks and more than likely, what you’re going to imagine is going to be way more terrifying than actually committing the idea to film. As it is here, it’s laughable what they’ve done and it all comes full circle late in the film when Heather realizes how she’s related and tosses Leatherface his chainsaw and says the line “Do your thing, cuz!”

I can’t really fault any of the performances in the film, though really no one’s going to win any awards for this or even be remembered for anything other than just how good both Heather and one of her friends looks. Everybody’s doing what they’re asked of here, so the fault is solely in the hands of the director and writers behind this vile bit of business.

The thing is, I’m not against re-makes, sequels or re-imaginings in the slightest. As long as those films remain true to what made their originals so effective, then there’s nothing wrong with putting them out there. I actually believe that one could make an effective direct sequel to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre but to do it right, you’d have to go for the same low-budget quality of the original as well as not try to explain everything away as is the trend in so many bits of entertainment now. If you’re going to try for some sort of explanation, then do it with background subtleties and not in ways that totally alters the core. When it comes to something like the horror genre, I tend to be a little more forgiving when it comes to gauging the quality of the film and saying if it’s one of the worst things out there right now. I tend to reserve judgement like that for films with bigger budgets, bigger stars and filmmakers who should know better. But Texas Chainsaw 3D makes it really hard to do that, especially considering the classic nature of it’s source. It’s only the start of 2013 and already, we have here one of the very worst films that will probably come out this year with it’s only saving graces being it’s nods to the original and some good bits with the 3D. They’re still just not enough. Save your money and watch the original film again.

By Darren Goodhart

Darren Goodhart is a 44-year old St. Louis-based Graphic Designer and Illustrator (and former comic book artist) who's been seeing movies all his life, but on an almost weekly basis in theatres for the last 20 years and owns nearly 1,000 DVDs for his home theatre. He's learned a lot about film over the 20 year period, and has taken his appreciation beyond the mainstream. His favorite types of film are mostly genre entertainment, but he also enjoys a wide range of drama, action and cult-y stuff from around the world, and is currently re-discovering a love affair with lower budget exploitation and genre films from the 70s and early 80s. He doesn't try to just dismiss any film, but if there's a bias against one, he'll certainly tell you that in the space of his reviews.

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