If “dumb fun” can still be considered harmless – because sometimes it feels like we’re fighting for the very survival of cinema and all that – then that’s exactly how I’d peg Texas Chainsaw 3D. It’s not what most people would call a “good movie”, I’m not sure I can even call it that. But I do know that it engaged me, entertained me and made me laugh more than at least 60% of the horror movies I saw last year.
The film, from director John Luessenhop, is a direct sequel to the original 1974 film. There’s been a lot of talk about how this new version maintains the hard tone of that film, eschewing the campiness of the 1986 Tobe Hooper directed sequel. This isn’t exactly true. While it does indeed pick things up just a few hours moments after the ending of the original TCM, it quickly dives headfirst into a broad, bizarre terrain with seemingly no concern for the hyper-realism that shocked audiences almost 40 years ago. While the 1986 sequel was overtly, intentionally and brilliantly absurd, Texas Chainsaw 3D embodies a tonal realm familiar to anyone with an affinity for 70’s grindhouse trailers. Which is to say that engenders an appreciation that’s not quite ironic, but close enough.
No one in this movie is written, or behaves like, a human being. Our protagonist, Heather, is introduced as an infant during the opening raid on the Sawyer compound. In the film’s first severe break with reality, that infant is stolen in the middle of a mass slaughter by a hick who decides kicking a mother to death in order to complete his impromptu adoption falls appropriately under the banner of vigilante justice. We flash forward 20 years to the present day (which should be 1994 but is somehow 2012*) and Heather, played by Alexandra Daddario, is now a young woman. She also works as a butcher and likes to make collages out of chicken bones in her spare time. I suppose it’s here that Texas Chainsaw 3D throws its hat in the “nature vs. nurture” ring.
As you can see, we’re already well outside the aesthetic of the original film. It’s not what we were promised but, then again, it’s not exactly boring. Soon enough Heather discovers she was adopted and has inherited a vast estate in Newt, Texas. She and her friends hit the road, pick up a hitchhiker and head out on a mission to investigate. Once inside the house it doesn’t take long before the carnage starts. None of it is particularly scary, but it sort of flies by in a manner that I’d call “acceptable.” There’s a huge missed opportunity in the film’s carnival scene, which is only about a minute long, but that makes more room for Texas Chainsaw 3D to reveal its master plan. It’s here that the film takes the familial “blood is thicker than water” homily and runs to some truly bizarre (and morally murky) places with it.
If you weren’t a horror fan you wouldn’t be reading this review. While I might recommend that the public at large avoid this film, I have to admit I had a decent time with it and I think you will too provided you’re ok with the following checklist: 1. It’s not scary (the original remake trumps it in that regard). 2. It doesn’t really feel like a Texas Chainsaw movie. 3. It’s really dumb. 4. I read the comments and know a lot of you are looking forward to the carnival scene – don’t. That is not the reason to go.
Think long and hard. If you’re cool with those four points, then you’ll be okay with Texas Chainsaw 3D. And, selfishly, I want this movie to be a hit because there’s no end to the perverse joy I would take in the batsh*t sequel they seem to be setting up.
*I have no idea why this is. Perhaps to make room a FaceTime gag that’s the basis for the film’s best scene?