Apart from “The Walking Dead”, my favorite horror franchise is, without a doubt, “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”. That’s not to say I’ve enjoyed every movie in the series (I like to pretend “The Next Generation” never happened. Sorry, Matthew McConaughey and Renée Zellweger!), but the original 1974 film, which was completely unique for it’s time, coupled with the fact that the actual making of it was bordering snuff film territory- will forever make it a creepy classic that can’t be topped.
And I may be in the minority here, but I thoroughly enjoyed the 2003 re-boot starring Jessica Biel, as well as the 2006 prequel, “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning”. I thought both films were genuinely scary, with just the right amount of gore to make you cringe without being desensitized. They had plots that seemed to have had some actual thought put into them, and they were brilliantly cast. R. Lee Ermey’s ruthless, sadistic, and foul-mouthed Sheriff Hoyt will forever be one of horror’s greatest villains.
So when it was announced that there would be a new installment in the series, I was skeptical. There’s only so many ways to make a family of hillbilly cannibals with a penchant for power tools new and fresh without re-making the original (again), and you can’t really develop long-standing fan favorites like Leatherface without completely changing the franchise’s history. I thought the way the prequel ended was excellent. It tied everything, the re-boot, the 1974 original, and every film afterwards, even the bad ones- together perfectly.
When it was announced the new installment would also be in 3D, my skepticism turned into downright cynicism. I’ve said it in the past that 3D is used entirely too much in movies where it’s not really necessary, but in horror films? It’s almost always cheesy*. Case in point: “My Bloody Valentine 3D”.
*I did enjoy “Saw 3D: The Final Chapter”, but I will openly admit that I was biased, as seeing Sean Patrick Flanery in 3D is an experience every woman should have at some point in their lives- and that adorable Jigsaw puppet in 3D completely cracked me up.
Regardless, I am a dedicated fan of TCM, and on Friday night, I headed to the cinema with my friend Stef to catch a screening of “Texas Chainsaw 3D”. I wasn’t expecting much, but I also wasn’t expecting… Well, this…
WARNING: AHOY. AHEAD THERE BE SPOILERS. CLICK AT YOUR OWN RISK.
The premise for “Texas Chainsaw 3D” is simple enough. Twenty-something Heather (Alexandra Daddario, the second “White Collar” alumni to appear in a TCM movie. Matt Bomer played Eric in the prequel, and currently stars as Neil Caffrey on “White Collar”) inherits a house in a sleepy town in Texas after the death of a grandmother she never knew existed. Recruiting three of her friends (Tania Raymonde, Keram Malicki-Sánchez, and Trey Songz) to come with her, the four head out on the road to check out the house. Once they arrive, Heather soon discovers the truth about her family, the long hidden secrets of the not-so-sleepy-after all town in Texas, and that there is something terrible lurking in the basement of her new home.
Seems basic enough, right?
The movie actually starts in the hours following the end of the 1974 film, after Sally escapes in the back of a pick-up truck and contacts the local authorities. The sheriff arrives at the Sawyer farmhouse, which is now, for whatever reason, filled with every single Sawyer family member despite 80% of them not appearing in the original film and the house not being nearly big enough to fit all of them- but that’s only a minor inconsistency in a film filled with plot holes big enough to drive a tractor trailer through.
The Sheriff wants Thomas Hewitt/Jed Sawyer/Whatever he’s being referred to as Leatherface from here on out, and the Sawyer family, after some hesitation, is ready to peacefully comply- until a group of local redneck vigilantes show up, armed to the teeth, and out for payback for a reason that is never really explained. The situation soon escalates into the vigilantes inciting a shootout with the Sawyers, and eventually setting fire to the farmhouse, presumably killing everyone inside while the sheriff stands by, not being very sheriff-y, but clearly disapproving of this turn of events since he has a scowl on his face.
In the aftermath of the carnage, the vigilantes are combing through the charred remains of the farmhouse. One vigilante in particular comes across a young mother, one of the Sawyers we see in the house before the shit hits the fan, who has managed to escape, although badly injured, and is clutching a newborn baby who has suffered minor and unusual burns. After killing her, the guy takes the baby, bringing it back to his wife, and they decide to keep her and raise her as their own.
You all see where this is going, right? The newborn baby = Heather, the lead heroine.
Now, although the year this latest installment takes place is never specified, I’m left to assume it’s present day, considering there is a scene later on where a cop, while following a blood trail, comes across Leatherface’s dwellings and uses FaceTime to transmit the live images from the scene to the police department. That being said, if Heather was a newborn in 1974, and this movie takes place in the present, then that would mean she’d be in her late thirties. The Heather we’re presented with is in her early to mid twenties, and her friends all appear to be the same age.
As far as Heather’s friends, and any characters in the movie, really- I was actually kind of surprised by how little I cared about any of them or what happened to them. There was literally NO character development for anyone other than Heather. They were boring, plain and simple- and when they weren’t being boring, they were annoying to the point where I just wanted them off the screen and I didn’t care how it happened.
Upon arriving in the town, the foreshadowing from the residents, and even from the attorney handling Heather’s newfound estate, are anything but subtle (“Your grandmother left you this letter that will explain everything. Seriously. Read it. Read it right away. It’s super important. READ THE LETTER,” followed by Heather putting the letter on a table and never reading it until the end of the movie where, as promised, it explains everything- and suddenly all of the bloodshed could have been avoided, or at the very least, better planned for.)
When it’s inevitably discovered that the terrible thing lurking in the basement of Heather’s home is, in fact, Leatherface, and the killing begins- even that’s boring, making the suffering through the completely nonsensical plot and Godawful dialogue just to get to some chainsaw massacring that much more a slap in the face to the audience. Unlike any of the other movies in the franchise, the death scenes in TM3D are tame by comparison. The gore is downright corny, amateurish, and not scary at all.
The 3D, which was touted as the selling point to this movie, is just as bad. Seeing a chainsaw blade coming at you in 3D is only entertaining once. Unfortunately for everyone in the theater, we had to experience it a handful of times in an agonizingly slow pace.
The movie reaches it’s crescendo when Heather narrowly escapes Leatherface by running into a crowded town fair and is saved by young rookie police officer whom she met earlier after first arriving in the town. I can’t remember his name because as I said, there’s no character development, but he saves her, and brings her to the police station to take a statement where she meets the sheriff, who is the same one from the 1974 Sawyer Family Massacre, and who is just as useless as he was back then. The rookie cop, Officer Nameless, who saved Heather, digs out a crate of evidence pertaining to the Sawyer family, and for an inexplicable reason, proceeds to leave the crate with Heather while he and the sheriff exit the room. As anticipated, Heather begins rifling through the box of news clippings, police statements, and photographs in a painfully long montage that details her realization of who she truly is and where she came from by reading everything. Seriously. It’s like a seven minute montage of her reading things we already knew from the beginning of the movie.
Meanwhile, the murder spree catches the attention of the town’s mayor, who, DUN DUN DUNNN- turns out to be the leader of the redneck vigilante group who killed the Sawyers in the first place. Wanting to finish what he started, the mayor sets out with some crooked cops and another redneck friend to track down not only Leatherface, but Heather as well, because apparently nearly being cut into pieces by a guy who wears the flesh of his victims as a mask and having all of your friends get slaughtered around you still makes you a person of interest who must be taken out.
Heather bails just as the mayor arrives at the station, missing her by moments, but by the way the crate of evidence is emptied all over the table in the interrogation room, and the way she’s written “MURDERERS” on a photo of the vigilantes who killed her family, it’s clear she’s not going to go out without a fight.
That is until she’s captured about five minutes later by Officer Nameless, who turns out to be the mayor’s son and is apparently a royal asshole, and is brought to an old slaughterhouse- which might be the only consistent thing this movie did to tie in with the rest of the franchise.
After Heather is bound and gagged, Officer Nameless leaves her to meet with his father and his father’s friend outside. It’s there we finally get the family reunion that the past 70 minutes has been alluding to. Leatherface is in the slaughterhouse, waiting, and he approaches Heather, ready to kill her and anyone else who shows up. That is until he notices a mark on her body, a burn in the shape of the Sawyer family crest or some shit, the result of her mother’s necklace being pressed against Heather as a baby while she attempted to flee the ’74 massacre.
Realizing Heather is blood related, Leatherface begins to free her, when the mayor and his friend arrive to stop him and get the upper hand and overpower him despite Leatherface being a huge and ridiculously strong guy. Heather manages to escape, and is running out of the slaughterhouse when the mayor’s taunting over Leatherface’s cries of pain and anguish echoing off the walls stop her in her tracks- and now let me just stop right here and clarify something:
In horror movies, I don’t want to sympathize with the bad guy. Technically everyone in this movie is bad- the mayor, the cops, Heather’s shitty friends, Heather’s shitty adoptive parents- but Leatherface is supposed to be the actual bad guy. The one thing to fear. I don’t care if he wipes out everyone else first- I don’t want to feel bad for him. You know what made Michael Myers such a great villain in the first two original “Halloween” movies? He was vicious. He couldn’t be stopped. He wouldn’t be stopped. He was cold and unexplainable and you couldn’t relate to him at all (and if you could, congratulations- you’re a sociopath).
The same thing can be said about Leatherface. The character has evolved since the original film into being one of the most iconic and terrifying horror figures of all time. He kills people with a chainsaw. He eats them. He wears their skin as a mask, and he enjoys it. Although the 2006 prequel offered a little bit of a back story as to how he got around to using a chainsaw or making masks out of skin in the first place- it didn’t try to make him relatable. It didn’t take away from the fact that the guy is something to be REALLY, REALLY SCARED OF. He’s a monster. End of story.
And yet in “Texas Chainsaw 3D”, we’re supposed to feel sorry for a guy who, twenty minutes earlier, hung a guy up on a meat hook, sawed him in half while he was still alive, and crammed a badly injured girl into a freezer. All because he’s “misunderstood”.
Okay then. Anyway.
Heather falls for this ploy, and goes back to help Leatherface even though he murdered her friends. She succeeds, managing to kill the mayor’s also nameless friend even though Leatherface, who outweighs her by a couple hundred pounds and is a good three feet taller than her, was unsuccessful in his efforts- and after distracting the mayor long enough to allow Leatherface to free himself from a chain he was being choked out with, Heather tosses him a chainsaw and utters the most asinine line in Texas Chainsaw Massacre history: “Do your thing, cuz!”
I can’t even describe the incredulous laughter that erupted throughout the theater at this point, but it was more entertaining than the movie itself. Actually, a lot of stuff the audience was doing was more fun to watch and listen to. Kudos to the guy who was sitting behind us. His commentary was more amazing than annoying. Everything he said was quick and spot-on.
Leatherface and Heather prevail, just as the useless sheriff arrives to see the mayor meet his grizzly end, and in typical useless, unable to uphold the law fashion, tells the two to clean up the mess in the slaughterhouse and leaves.
The two cousins head back to their home together, although whether or not they actually cleaned up their mess is never clarified, where they have a minute or two of really uncomfortable eye contact in the kitchen before Leatherface retreats back into the basement and Heather finally goes and reads her grandmother’s letter, which details pretty much every single thing she needed to know about her family, including the fact that there is a Goddamned serial killer living in the basement but not to worry- he’ll have her back.
The final scene shows Heather going down to the basement to get an empty tray of food outside Leatherface’s door to clean and refill, which I’m guessing is meant to show her acceptance that she belongs to a family of cannibals and social pariahs, and that a huge house is worth overlooking the fact that the guy she’s now responsible for taking care of butchered her friends and tried to kill her no more than an hour beforehand.
And there you have it.
I know what some of you are thinking: “Are you really that surprised, Ashley?” The answer is no. I knew this movie would be bad- but I didn’t expect it to be THAT bad. I didn’t anticipate an Oscar winning-worthy plot, but I was hoping for something that actually had an iota of effort put into it’s development and made a little more sense, or as much sense as these types of movies can make. I was also hoping for some scares, or at the least, a little gore to cover my eyes at- but that was missing from the finished product, too.
This movie isn’t bad in the “so bad it’s good” kind of way. It’s not even bad in the “so bad it’s funny” way, a la “The Room”, it’s just bad. Period. Not worth streaming on Netflix, and definitely not worth seeing in theaters- even if you love 3D. It’s not campy, or fun. It’s boring. Easily forgettable.
This installment will join “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation” on the list of movies in the franchise that I’m going to sweep under the rug and try to pretend never happened.
And with that, I’m heading off to watch the prequel to try and get rid of the bad taste this movie left in my mouth.
1 1/2 chainsaws out of 5.