I think we’re past the point of expecting any new movie with the words “Texas,” “Chainsaw” and “Massacre” in the title to be any good, at least in a traditional sense. Tobe Hooper’s original 1974 Ed Gein-inspired horror film, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, still holds up as one of the timeless classics of the horror genre, and by extension, I would argue that it also belongs in the pantheon of the best films ever made. The sequels were always, at best, a mixed bag, and the two more recent entries in the franchise, the 2003 Platinum Dunes remake and its prequel, Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, were gorgeously shot but ugly in practically every other way. The worlds they presented were horrifying, yes, certainly, but visiting them was such an unpleasant experience that even the Saw movies seemed playful by comparison.
So it’s refreshing that Texas Chainsaw 3D, while not even nearly holding up to the original film, is entertainment first and foremost, and a gruesome display of the franchise’s trademarked cynicism and flying viscera a close second and third. Decades of mediocre and even just plain awful follow-ups have dulled my expectations to the point where this merely enjoyably above-average slasher feels refreshing and welcome. In a vacuum, Texas Chainsaw 3D is a flawed gorefest with just a few clever ideas and memorable set pieces to recommend it. But if you (like me), were less than a fan of the previous two Texas Chainsaw movies, and are open to the idea that horror films are allowed to be an old-fashioned good time, chock full of humor, entrails and occasional subversions of tired scary movie clichés, then I can wholeheartedly recommend this.
The film opens with a clip show from the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and then jumps to later that same day, when the police showed up at the scene of the crime and mob violence took over. With most of the killer cannibal clan dead, their newborn baby is taken in by two of the townsfolk and she promptly grows into Alexandra Daddario, a spooky young woman with a welcome propensity for bare midriffs. The filmmakers are very clearly aware that this is their primary selling point, besides the whole “chainsaw massacre” angle: Daddario’s stomach, a thing of uncanny wonder, is exploited in practically every frame, presumably to compensate for the film’s complete lack of nudity. In any case, she inherits a palatial estate in Texas, packs her friends into a van, and embarks on a road trip to discover who she really is and where she came from.
Needless to say, practically everyone winds up dead at the hands of Leatherface, who also survived the post-Texas Chain Saw Massacre massacre, and who’s got to be pretty danged old by now. Come to think of it, so should Alexandra Daddario. If the original film took place in the early 1970’s (which it did), and she was an infant at the time (which she was), and Texas Chainsaw 3D takes place today (and it has to, since the iPhones here are plentiful), then this protagonist should be pushing 40 by now. I’m willing to accept that Alexandra Daddario looks pretty amazing for a 40-year-old. As long as she keeps wearing those midriffs, I’m happy to overlook a pretty amazing and glaring plot hole. Actually, I guess this has no effect on the plot, so let’s just call it a deep and all-consuming hole in reality.
In other words, you can find flaws in Texas Chainsaw 3D if you want to – they’re right there on the surface, so knock yourself out – but this kind of movie defies traditional notions of quality. If you’re having fun, for whatever reason, you’re on the right wavelength. And best of all, like any good form of entertainment, there’s actually a little something going on besides throwing chainsaws at the camera and demonizing Hollywood’s favorite punching bag, the Deep South. Rooted at the heart of the first Texas Chain Saw Massacre was the notion of family. Homicidal though they were, the killers in Tobe Hooper’s film were a close-knit family unit, preying upon a group of friends and family members who could often barely stand each other. The “heroes” of Texas Chain Saw Massacre could barely bring themselves to help out their paraplegic friend out of a van, even though he was the heroine’s own brother. Meanwhile, the maniacs carefully nursed their barely breathing grandfather with affection and encouragement; the fact that they were nursing him with human blood almost seems incidental when you look at it from that perspective. Almost.
So our heroine in Texas Chainsaw 3D grows up without a loving, supportive family, and even though she’s surrounded herself with a makeshift kindred of friends, they all ultimately betray her in one form or another, leading to a thrilling climax. Those thrills take the form of clever, grotesque set pieces, true, but they also more importantly evolve from a story that brings a conventionally decent human being into moral grey areas – and potentially even outright immorality – in the service of unconditional flesh-and-blood devotion, taken to an engaging extreme. It helps that Texas Chainsaw 3D supports her decisions by making practically everyone in the world a total douchebag, psychopath or moron, but it’s a blunt film by design. The darkly subversive “family values” subtext is just the leafy garnish on a plate of rare, bloody, tasty meat.
Texas Chainsaw 3D is an enjoyable sequel that could never live up to the legacy of the original film, and to its credit doesn't try to, but does at least rinse out the sour taste of the Platinum Dunes installments. Its goals are simple, and it achieves them. I laughed, I shrieked, I tried to reach into the screen and grope Alexandra Daddario’s abs. My intelligence was jokingly ribbed, but never outright insulted. I had fun. Remember fun? Horror movies used to be fun. Let’s go back to that again, at least once in a while.