In the days between the first half of our interview with John Luessenhop and this, the second half, Texas Chainsaw 3D has become the #1 movie in the country. So I figure there's a good chance you've seen it by now, if you're interested enough to see it in the first place. That's good, because this half of our interview gets into spoiler material, describing key scenes, plot points and memorable shots that you might want to enjoy for the first time in the theater. The director of Texas Chainsaw 3D also discusses the fetishization of Alexandra Daddario's stomach, finding the ideal credits song and his disappointment that there wasn't any nudity.
John Luessenhop: I don’t know if you want to write about this, but the overall theme of “Leatherface as a family” thought to it…
CraveOnline: There was always that theme in the original. They’re a very happy family.
And for [Alexandra Daddario]… In my own life, you can go home for Thanksgiving and it’s great, but always there’s the point where… How much more can I take of being home with all these people? You know, let me out of here. But at the same time it makes you realize that whatever things that bother you about your family, or whatever is dysfunctional, you still accept them over the new. That’s a theme that I wanted to write about.
You do a good job of establishing that she doesn’t have very strong and loving family ties to begin with, but also with her friends, because we find out later in the film that her boyfriend is cheating on her with her best friend.
I’m wondering: was there a scene in the script that maybe got cut, where she finds out about that affair? Because they basically die very quickly.
We never wrote one. We talked about it: should she know it when they were in the van, driving away from Leatherface? There was dialogue in there where she sees her boyfriend with no shirt on, and her girlfriend has his a shirt on. And we filmed it, where she calls her friend a slut or something. I forgot what [she said]. But if you watch the film it detracts from the urgency. It fights it. So you’re saying, you know what? Let’s just stay with, “We need to get away.”
Going back to her friends, and the cheating and all that. I talked to Kim Henkel on the phone, who was one of the original writers for Texas, the original movie. He said, “You know, John, these things are always about trespass, and consequences to other things you’ve done in life.” So sure, the promiscuous girl usually dies, things like that. So we wanted to find, okay, is there something with each one of these characters where… I’m not saying they “deserved” it, but that there’s a little bit of comeuppance to it. There’s a price for it.
I think that’s the root of most horror. Everyone feels like they’ve something wrong, or broken rule. The Hitcher is the perfect example. He picks up a hitchhiker and he gets punished for it to the extreme…
To the max! [Laughs]
And that’s why it’s frightening. On hand, you feel like you already sinned, and then you get the worst possible scenario out of it. So these people do “deserve it,” in air quotes.
Yeah. So that was the thought. We tried to find a little bit with each [character]. That’s why the cheating thing. And I love the scene where she says, “I told you it was f*cked up.” I just wish she’d stood there nude.
Was that ever…?
She’s too smart. Tania [Raymonde] does “Lost,” she does all that. She’s been a model forever. They would have to increase her contract for her to be… Because that picture would be a poster in every dorm room.
And it would be all over the internet. It’s a tricky thing.
“If you want it, you owe me.”
On the other hand it is a horror movie, and there’s always that sense of the risqué, of tawdriness that the audience is going there for. But you seemed to have focused on, again, Alexandra’s stomach.
I loved it. When they showed me the wardrobe possibility with that, it was like, “Absolutely.” She’s like this [extends arms upwards, like he’s tied up], hanging, and she’s on her knees, and her shirt is open, and her stomach is there. It’s unbelievable. It’s the poster… It could be a poster for the movie. It should be in the dorm room of every dude in America. Yeah, it was like “Oh my gosh.” I can’t tell you how many times in the editing room we stopped on that frame and just went, “Oh god…” And it wasn’t like it wasn’t everything else, I mean she’s built every which way, but it’s the stomach. We just went, “Look at her…”
There’s a moment in the film, in the second half, where someone hands her a different shirt. And the entire audience heard me go, “No…!”
Luckily she only buttoned up the top part.
Well, you know why we did that…?
I had to have something that could tear! The other one wouldn’t come off, so we had to put some buttons on it. That was the whole reason. Otherwise we would never have done it. It was meant to be a little sensuality to go with her and Scott [Eastwood] too. I mean, if we’d really done it right we would have filmed from outside, and she would have been changing it and put it on. But it I think it would have stopped the movie. These movies have to keep going. They work best in 90 minutes.
They need a momentum.
They can’t stop to go character check.
I like the way you used 3D in this movie. The only time I ever felt that it was gimmicky was for the perfect shot, inside the coffin, when the chainsaw’s coming at the screen. Do you have a philosophy on 3D?
First, I love long lenses. I did a movie called Takers. They said, let’s shoot long. I go, “Longer.” I just love it, and the compression. This movie… If you do 3D, you have to go to a Citizen Kane kind of look. You want to explore the frame, and you need the depth of field, and you need everything to be in focus. So, shorter lenses. Then finding, for me, I wanted to create a 3D world, where the movie wasn’t in the audience’s lap. My whole thing was, if you do that, then the five or six extreme moments will be more extreme. Because you’ve recessed the picture until you have to [go into the audience] with it. So that was definitely thought out. In fact, we circled where we would do that, and to me, I didn’t want it to be crazy 3D. Like 1950s drive-in, I didn’t want to do that, where everything was flying at you. So again, create a cool world. I went back and watched a whole bunch of movies to decide which ones were good, which ones suited my sensibility, which ones didn’t, and then go through which equipment to use. We ended up with Reality Rig, with Red Epic on it, which is a very computerized thing to keep the lenses right, so we had very little problem in post.
But I love the way that you used depth in the film. I think my favorite sequence in the film is when they’re trying to get away in the van. There’s always a part [in a horror movie] where people are trying to get away from the killer and then something happens, they trip or the car crashes, and usually we’re right there with the heroes, feeling their desperation. You kept the shot on Leatherface in the foreground, and showed that happening in the background, and it became really, really funny. It’s still tragic, but because it’s from Leatherface’s perspective, he was just like, “Yup…”
“Here I come…”
“Here I come.” Was that a tough decision? Did you shoot that sequence from within the van as well?
We shot stuff. But it goes back to, what movie are you making? If you’re making an action movie, you’re going to be there for three days, you’re going to shoot every spark, you’re going to shoot every possible wheel break, every single thing. But it wasn’t that movie. So I remember we decided to do it… Let’s just do it in a one, and go the other way, completely the other way. Because once you go cutting, the audience is going to be dissatisfied if you don’t have enough pieces. Do you have the thing come over, sliding at us, everything… It was kind of like, either go big or don’t do it. So for us, it isn’t an action movie. So to do what we did, to me, I went, okay. Let’s go back to their situation, their circumstances once this event has happened. You know, here comes Leatherface. That’s actually one of my favorite shots, is when he walks down the road. That took a little while to set up.
Just framing it appropriately?
Well, I had smoked it, and we were outside, and it’s 108 degrees, and the wind’s blowing the wrong way, and suddenly you’re going, “When is this going to get right?” To me, I thought that was going to be the poster for the movie.
Do you have any input on the marketing of this movie?
I do, but I’m so reactionary because I am such a fan of Tim Palen [Lionsgate’s Chief Marketing Officer], and what he has done with this picture and the marketing. I’ve been really impressed by Lionsgate, and how they’ve tapped everything from social media to billboards.
They know what they’re doing.
They totally do. Especially with this genre. So I attended the marketing meeting, and I basically said three things, and that’s not my nature but I think they made all the right moves with this, and they get it. And more particularly, they did the big correct decision. They moved me to January 4. They pulled it out of October and Halloween, where they had Sinister [and] they had Paranormal [Activity 4], and there was something else, where everyone was going to cannibalize each other. [They] said, “We’ll move you here. There’s nothing on either side of you.” It’s not a Halloween picture anywhere.
It worked really well for The Devil Inside last year.
That’s what we referred to it as. “The Devil Inside Weekend.” And the kids are still home, they’re burnt on all the Christmas movies…
You said you were a classic horror guy, but you’ve made a film that is well thought out, but is also an entertaining horror movie. Do you have a greater appreciation for these other kinds of horror films now? You said you watched a lot of stuff, like Rob Zombie’s work.
What I love about it is, the directors all have their outlook on life come through these movies, that are all made for a nickel. And they’re incredible!
They have to inject it with personality, because they don’t have money to throw at it.
There’s always so many funny double-entendres, societal reviews. Like, are we all walking deads? Are we all this? There’s commentary where it’s liberating in a lot of ways, because you can put, like I said, your own imprimatur on it. I stopped watching them. I’ve got to do mine. I still like to get a little bit pretty before I get. So that’s where the greens, and the orange pants, and the stuff where they’re approaching the house… Let me contrast that world for when it gets night. Shoot pretty for a second. We’ll get the crane out and follow her through the graveyard. There was thought to all that, to balance it. So you start to play your own piano, with the horror world.
Are you thinking about making another horror movie at some point?
I want to, but I have to find something that’s a little bit novel, and isn’t cookie-cuttered or too on the nose. It has to be, again… What are you doing that’s kind of exceptional? And I found one I like, and then hopefully we’ll get to make it this spring.
Last question. How did you go about finding the “perfect” closing credits song?
Wow. Avi Lerner e-mailed me. The only time he asked a favor of me this entire movie. He said, “I want you to meet the artist who did this song, and let him do a lot of songs for your movie.” I could not find [any]. There was a song the producer had given me, which is… it’s like a classical song from the 1950s…
It’s Louis Prima, right?
It’s Louis Prima. I said, “Okay, how about this guy with the heavy guitar covers this?” And the greatest, funnest part of that whole process was I got help write lyrics for it, and help record it with them in a room smaller than my hotel room right now…
Did you get to play an instrument?
I did not, but we changed up some things, and I had a great experience with it. So it kind of fell in, it willed its way into that. I felt that the movie needed this explosion of a little bit of energy, but it needed one last little wink, too. So that’s kind of how it happened.