Written by: Adam Marcus, Debra Sullivan, & Kirsten Elms (screenplay), Stephen Susco, Adam Marcus, and Debra Sullivan (story)
Directed by: John Luessenhop
Starring: Alexandra Daddario, Tania Raymonde and Scott Eastwood
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
Evil has many faces.
With Texas Chainsaw (now with 100% less titular massacre), weíve entered a post-reboot era, and itís appropriate that Leatherface is the one to shepherd us into this wilderness for a number of reasons. For one, this is the franchise that ostensibly kicked off the previous decadeís infatuation with remolding the horror genre in its own slick, faux-gritty image when Platinum Dunes tackled the original to admittedly awesome results, so this brings it all full circle. Secondly, this is a franchise thatís never given a good goddamn about continuity anyway, so if any series could get away with re-rebooting itself, it'd be this one.
On paper, this is a victory for those seeking a return to whatever glory the original series might hold, and it comes courtesy of Twisted Pictures, the production company thatís had pretty good luck with saws, so theyíre as qualified as any to bring the proper Leatherface Sawyer out of retirement. Just about everyone involved has said all of the right things during production, especially as it relates to the original film and their desire to do it some justice. That reverence does briefly appear in the final product, but it quickly gives way to a film that just feels like an excuse to make yet another random Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie.
Texas Chainsaw doesnít shy away from the original film, as it treats us to a three-dimensional recap of it (thus ensuring that the experience will be all downhill from there). Considering that much of the target audience probably considers the 2003 film to be the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, itís a pretty ballsy move, especially since the movie attempts to pull a Halloween II by picking up minutes after the original (nearly 40 years after the fact, mind you). Itís at this point, however, where the whole proposition gets dubious and one wonders if anyone ever really bothered to watch the original since the Sawyer clan is revealed to be about a dozen deep as the cops and a bunch of hillbillies descend upon the farmhouse and torch it to the ground despite Draytonís (now played by Bill Moseley in a glorified cameo) protests. Sheriff Hooper (Thom Barry) isnít too amused either and predicts itíll come back to haunt the town, which proves to be true about 38 years later.
Here we meet Heather (Alexandra Daddario); presumed the be the lone survivor of the Sawyer clan as a baby rescued from the carnage, she suddenly inherits the old abode from her recently deceased grandmother. Since she and her friends are headed to New Orleans for a Halloween celebration anyway, they decide to stop in the town of Newt to check out the new digs, but they unexpectedly bump into Heatherís cousin Leatherface (now named Jed Sawyer), who has been hidden away in the bowels of the house all this time. Despite the title, thereís plenty of massacre involved, though maybe not as much as youíd like since Texas Chainsaw never goes full throttle. It is a special kind of stupid that does its best to be as bewildering as The Next Generation (donít worryóit doesnít succeed), but it ends up being exactly the generic experience offered by the title.
Forgetting the obvious lapse in temporal logic (more on this in a bit), the film gets downright silly after a pretty solid premise. Sure, itís the same old setup thatís been used for half of the series, but at least thereís a wrinkle that opens the door for some intriguing possibilities. Unfortunately, going down that path ultimately leads to the filmís undoing, and things unravel pretty quickly. Director John Luessenhop obviously takes the opportunity to retrace Hooperís steps through the original, but itís all so old hat now that itís hard to get too worked up over another round of Leatherface tossing victims on hooks, bashing in skulls with hammers, and slamming doors, especially since it all feels like so much lip serviceóafter all, we just saw the same thing done much better with the recap of the original. Texas Chainsaw starts to show signs of life once it leaves the confines of the Sawyer house, as Leatherface tracks his victims to a local carnival, a set piece full of gruesome promise (especially when itís kicked off by a fun reference to that other Twisted Pictures movie).
Instead of truly taking off here, though, Texas Chainsaw hits a wall and never recovers. The opportunity is egregiously wasted and speaks to how misguided the film often is (it similarly wastes another moment for Leatherface to lay waste to an entire bar full of assholes that would deserve to be massacred). If the film had anything elseósuspense, narrative intrigue, charactersóto hang its hat on, itíd be forgivable, but, by this point, itís clear that Leatherface and the saw should be the stars (though Daddarioís midriff often makes a good case for itself), with a bunch of eviscerated bodies providing support. It almost feels unfair to criticize the film for actually attempting to go off the board for the third act, but it just goes off the rails and becomes riotously silly when it reconciles Heatherís heritage with the perceived miscarriage of justice back in í74. As it turns out, Leatherface isnít the only deranged hillbilly down in Newt, and the film flips the script and actually goes so far as to embrace olí Bubba (er, Jed) as a hero. Bonkers stuff, really (that slides right in line with the cockeyed lunacy from the original), but it only comes after an interminable sequence where Heather has to sift through police evidence to discover the truth behind her family's demise (that we've known about since the opening sequence).
Texas Chainsaw is thoroughly messy like that, as subplots and characters drift in and out and dangle at will. Itís frustrating because the seeds of something inspired might be resting in there somewhere, but Luessenhop struggles to find it with his flat direction. His film is so visually slick and nondescript that one yearns for the vomitus, gritty Platinum Dunes aesthetic since it could at least claim to be a distinct style. By comparison, Texas Chainsaw is a glossy, digital nightmare that obscures some visceral stuntwork and KNBís righteous gore effects. While overt gore was never Hooperís style in the original, itís one of the few things this film has going for it, which probably speaks volumes for how useless most of the characters are.
Yeagerís Leatherface is fine and harkens back to the wounded, childish qualities that make him fascinating, but heís also suitably intimidating (especially when heís at the service of a couple of decent jump scares). Having seen Daddario in Bereavement, Iím sure she deserves better (though sheís oddly found her niche when it comes to being tortured by backwoods maniacs), but her on-screen friends canít be reduced to buckets of viscera quickly enough. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is often credited as being a proto-slasher, and this one finally assumes the mantle by feeling the most like a standard-issue body count movie that the original would have inspired.
Tackling continuity issues in this series is a foolís errand, too, but Texas Chainsaw wallows in its blatant disregard for logic. It positions itself as a sequel to the original, and one would assume that at least 38 years would pass between the prologue and the main story. If so, everyoneís pretty damn sprightly, especially Leatherface, who should be pushing 60 (and it goes without saying that Daddario doesnít even approach resembling a 40-year old). Perhaps if one assumes that the events of the original (which are said to take place on an unspecified August 19th) now take place in the 80s, itíd work, but it would have just been easier to set this in the 90s. At any rate, itís pretty baffling, and it goes without saying that this one (again) wipes out the previous films; thereís no way to reconcile this one with the previous three (though I donít think anyoneís sweating having to axe The Next Generation from existence).
Texas Chainsaw should probably thank Henkelís infamous misfire for setting the bar so low that it canít possibly be considered the worst in the franchise. Luckily, it doesnít even come close to that. It might be a disappointing effort, but itís a pretty harmless one that likely owes most of its problems to a messy production that involved four screenwriters and at least one round of reshoots. The final product reeks of it and snuffs out a lot of the good intentions since whole elements (such as the Halloween setting) have been edited to the bone. Somehow, it still makes for a sloppy experience that certainly misses the searing, razor sharp qualities of the original (and even the remake); while the saw will always be family for me, itís never felt as dull as it has during its last couple of outings. Don't get me wrong--it's nice just to have the old Leatherface back, but the problem is that Luessonhop and company thought that would be enough. Rent it!
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