One criticism often hurled at horror fans is that we take out favorite franchises and characters too personally. In a lot of cases, that’s true. Normally I don’t fall into that category, but the Texas Chainsaw Massacre flicks are the exception. I’ve talked many times on this blog about my deep relationship with the saw. After so many years as the resident chainsaw wielding maniac at various haunted house attractions, I feel like part of the family. In fact, Netherworld’s current saw crew (I’m so proud of my two apprentices) have been dubbed Ralphus, Lila, and Cletus Sawyer. Yep, I’m a Sawyer, so I take my family’s cinematic legacy seriously. So, did our first foray into 3D have teeth?
Synopsis: “Lionsgate’s TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D continues the legendary story of the homicidal Sawyer family, picking up where Tobe Hooper’s 1974 horror classic left off in Newt, Texas, where for decades people went missing without a trace. The townspeople long suspected the Sawyer family, owners of a local barbeque pit, were somehow responsible. Their suspicions were finally confirmed one hot summer day when a young woman escaped the Sawyer house following the brutal murders of her four friends. Word around the small town quickly spread, and a vigilante mob of enraged locals surrounded the Sawyer stronghold, burning it to the ground and killing every last member of the family – or so they thought. Decades later and hundreds of miles away from the original massacre, a young woman named Heather learns that she has inherited a Texas estate from a grandmother she never knew she had. After embarking on a road trip with friends to uncover her roots, she finds she is the sole owner of a lavish, isolated Victorian mansion. But her newfound wealth comes at a price as she stumbles upon a horror that awaits her in the mansion’s dank cellars.
Let’s start off with what this flick did right, which ironically is also one of the things the flick has been catching a lot of flack for; Leatherface himself. The portrayal in this film is a spot on logical progression of the character from the original film. While still brutal, twisted, and violent, this is a much more sedate Leatherface. I’ve heard a lot of people bemoan this shift, but it makes perfect sense. Twenty (maybe forty, but I’ll get into that later) years have passed since Sally, Franklin, and the crew encountered the Sawyers. Leatherface is much older now. He’s not going to be the frenetic, almost spastic butcher that he once was. He’s a little more tired, he’s learned his craft better, and (dare I say it), he’s matured a little. He no longer just goes running after his prey, he exhibits slightly more measured stalking techniques. He also sports a pronounced limp due to his chainsaw injury in the first film. Having personally chased people with a chainsaw on a bad wheel, I thought showing the toll this took on him was a great realistic touch. Family is a big deal to Leatherface. He’s dealt with the loss of his entire clan over the years, and recently buried the last living relative that he knew. That’s gonna devastate the big guy. They even threw a couple of new touches into the Leatherface lore that added a lot, especially one particularly brilliant one involving him donning the iconic mask. All of these things add up to a very different Leatherface, and I applaud the filmmakers for what seems like a lot of thought being put into the character, even if that seems to have taken up all of the thought for the whole writing process. Again, I’ll get into that later.
A lot of the criticism I’ve seen is based around the fact that the story takes Leatherface in an anti-hero direction rather than making him a simple killing machine. To these people I ask, “have we been watching the same TCM series?” That’s what Leatherface has always been! He’s a character that should elicit some compassion from the viewer. There’s always been an element of the victim in his story. Leatherface isn’t a morality killer or a revenge killer or a thrill killer like your average machete/razor glove/butcher knife wielder. He’s always killed for his family. In his head, he’s helping provide for his kin, protecting them, and fulfilling his role in the family unit. He has always been shown to care deeply about his loved ones, although they abuse him more often than not. To different extents in the various TCM films, he’s always been both a villain and a tragic character; like King Kong, The Creature From The Black Lagoon, or Frankenstein’s Monster. That’s why I don’t understand why people are up in arms about him being portrayed in a sympathetic light. The character hasn’t changed, the identification point has. In all of the previous films, the audience’s lot is thrown in with the victims. In parts of this movie, The Sawyer family is portrayed as the victims. With the identification of the audience placed with The Sawyers, how could Leatherface, a man who is willing to kill for his family, be anything but a hero? If you miss the old bloodthirsty maniac Leatherface, I fear that you weren’t paying attention to any of the other movies. In my mind, Leatherface is dealt with perfectly in TC3D even if that mask did look pretty wonky. Kudos go out to Dan Yeager for a stellar performance. I always knew Yeager was a brutal monster. No, wait, that’s Jager that’s a brutal monster. Nevermind.
Unfortunately, that brings me to my main problem with the movie. It just doesn’t feel like a Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie. Part of this is that there’s no crazy family…just Leatherface. This is a statement that may be surprising coming from me considering the kinship I feel with the character – Leatherface alone does not a TCM flick make. It’s the whole family. From Drayton and Choptop, to Alfredo and Tex, to Vilmer and Darla, the series has always been about the Sawyer clan. Hell, Leatherface is following orders from another family member in EVERY SINGLE other film in the series. Without the rest of the family, it just doesn’t work. It changes the whole tone of the film. The singular killer works for a slasher flick, but the TCM movies, contrary to popular belief, are NOT slasher movies. They’re backwoods horror. The terror has always come from the cast of characters that lurk out past where the paved road ends, not a single person. That’s the main reason TC3D doesn’t really fit in with the rest of the TCM series; it’s essentially a slasher flick. Even the almost universally hated TCM4, which most people consider an insult to the series (but I dig), followed certain formulaic elements. A group of teens ran afoul of an insane family. There was an inescapable gritty, grimy atmosphere. Not only was this missing the family, but it was just too slick, too clean, and too pretty to be a proper TCM flick. There was a little grit here and there, but it was relegated to Leatherface’s lair. The air of depravity didn’t permeate the rest of the flick like it did in the other parts of the series. I get that it is happening in a different canon than 2-4, but when the audience has grown accustomed to a certain style and aesthetic being associated with a title, it’s best to give it to them.
My other problem with the flick is that the storytelling is just plain sloppy. The most glaring problem is the timeframe of the flick. Bear with me folks, this is gonna get a little confusing. Yes, this is a slight spoiler, but it’s only the first five minutes of the flick, so get over it. We start with a shootout at the Sawyer house in which the family is slaughtered, then flash forward “20 years” for the main story of the movie. Here’s where the can of worms opens. It appears as if the first scene takes place shortly after the events of the first film. Leatherface is wearing his “Pretty Woman” mask that he had on at the end of TCM 1. This would place the events in 1973. Twenty years later would be 1993. There are a few incongruities there. The first one I noticed was gas being 3-something a gallon. Second, smartphones become a major plot element. This would indicate that the “present day” action is taking place in, well, the present day. That just doesn’t work because of our heroine. She was a baby in the opening scene, meaning that in 2012 she would be pushing 40. Yet she doesn’t look a day over 25. So, if she’s in her mid 20’s in 2012, then the opening shootout happened in the early 90’s. The problem with that is Drayton Sawyer. In the shootout scene, he’s middle aged, just like he was in the first movie, albeit played by a different actor. If 20 years had passed between the events of TCM1 and the shootout, he would be in his 70’s, which he obviously isn’t. Is any of this making sense? I’ll answer that for you…HELL NO it doesn’t. The timeframe just doesn’t add up. Either they thought the audience was too stupid to notice (which, sadly, many of them will be), or that’s just the epitome of sloppy writing.
That’s not the extent of the awkward scripting either. In that shootout scene, there are a bunch of members of the Sawyer clan present that we’ve never seen before. The Sawyers are huge on family values, so it would stand to reason that if they were having a family dinner at the end of TCM1, we would have seen these guys, or at least heard them alluded to. So, why are they there? Oh yeah, they needed there to be a Sawyer baby. That’s fine; just explain why all those guys weren’t there before. Do the “present day” characters fare any better? Well, I know it’s ridiculous to expect the chainsaw fodder to act intelligently, but for the love of Nubbins these might have been the stupidest characters in any horror movie of the last decade or so. Remember when I did the Horror Movie Darwin Awards? Nearly every character in this flick easily qualifies for one, collectively AND individually. When it comes out on DVD, I may have to do a special round of awards. In an astonishing show of “how do you screw up a setup that perfect” stupidity, Leatherface ends up in the middle of a carnival, chainsaw in hand, and it ends up being about one minute long and largely non-eventful. How you take a setup that almost guarantees an epic bloodbath and make it a throwaway scene is beyond comprehension. It did include one sight gag that make me laugh pretty hard, but it was about 3 or 4 years too late to really be timely.
Aside from my one big acclamation and my big ol’pair of quibbles (is it just me or does that sound vaguely dirty?), the flick is a mixed bag. That’s most obvious in the effects. There are some excellent practical effects, which is to be expected with KNB on the case. I know the flick had to make cuts to get an R rating, so I’m hoping for even more splatter on the DVD/Blu-ray release. As good as the practical effects are, the CGI effects are equally bad. I mean, there are some truly AWFUL CGI moments, which sadly includes whatever gore they didn’t let the masters handle. As far as the much-ballyhooed Bill Moseley performance as Drayton Sawyer goes; his cameo, as well as those by Gunnar Hanson, Marilyn Burns, and John Dugan, is fleeting and unsatisfying. Besides Leatherface, the other main strength of the flick is Alexandria Daddario. She gives the well rounded breast…I mean best well rounded performance of the younger contingent of the cast. She just may have a future in horror. She can pull off both victim and bad girl. Plus she’s real purty and has big boobies, which has never hurt anyone’s career.
Random Thought #1: Speaking of which, there’s one scene in the flick that is the worst nudity tease EVER. Double sided tape is my mortal enemy.
Random Thought #2: Hand of the Almighty by The John Butler Trio finally made it onto a film soundtrack. I love that song.So, now we come to the difficult question, do I recommend it? That’s a tricky one. If you are the type of person that is gonna get your knickers in a twist over the franchise rules not being followed, you might want to skip this one. There are enough hints of the original to keep you interested, but this isn’t going to satisfy hardline TCM fanatics. Aside from some serious story missteps, it is a pretty good dumb fun horror flick though. It wasn’t as good as I’d hoped it would be, but it wasn’t as bad as I was afraid it might be. I’m gonna give it 6 Chainsaw Bisections out of 10. Nathan says check it out. It may my least favorite of the series (not counting the remake), but the saw is still family.