Have you ever gone an entire month without showering, then soaked a heavy woolen knitted nightshirt in bacon grease, slipped it on over your unbathed skin, laid down on the floor of your local mechanic, and had a friend pour a vat of fetid, semi-liquid chicken giblets over your body? That's kind of how I feel after sitting through seven (count 'em, seven) Texas Chainsaw Massacre movies in such a brief period. It's not just the 1974 original that leaves you feeling filthy and grimy. All of these movies (with the possible exception of the second) are solely about life amongst the meat, both living and dead. Torture, pain, grime, grease, and buckets full of human filth. The reasons we go to the movies.
Welcome back, gorehounds, to the latest installment of The Series Project, the 69th in this proud series (heh), and the second and final week in my coverage of the seven films in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre series. Last week I covered the years 1974 up until 1990, which only spanned the first three films in the series. This week, I will be taking a look at the curious, dismal (dismal, abysmal) fourth film in the canonical series, the two Michael Bay-sanctioned remakes that appeared in the interim, and I will offer a brief word on 2013's Texas Chainsaw 3D, which was recently in theaters and was positively reviewed in the pages of CraveOnline. Let's get on our blood-caked smock, and plunge our hands once more into the still-warm entrails of these movies.
To refresh your memory: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (hereafter TCM) was based loosely on specific events from a real-life murder case surrounding the famed Wisconsin killer Ed Gein, who plundered cemeteries for human remains, just so he could make lampshades and furniture out of them. In each of the TCM movies, our central killers (which may be different families from film to film) tend to live in grimy remote cottages that are veritably littered with rotting human detritus. When traveling twentysomethings dare to impinge on their domain, the kids are typically tortured and murdered (and sometimes eaten) in the most grisly and uncaring possible fashion. One person will escape the terror, although they'll often be driven a little mad. The end. When taken generally, the message of these movies seems to be a vague warning about not leaving the city, ever, for any reason. The economic message, that extreme poverty can lead to the unwitting creation of hillbilly cannibal cults, seems to have vanished in these later films.
Last week's film (that would be 1990's Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III) was a kind-of bland endeavor, featuring a dull story and dull characters going through the usual torture schtick that we had come to expect from the series. The film was rated X by the MPAA, and it featured a young Viggo Mortensen presenting a blinged-out golden chainsaw to that film's Leatherface. It was still kinda boring and nondescript. I gotta tell you, though, I would gladly watch that film a dozen times in a row than have to endure this next film again. I know that superlatives are bandied about online without thought or reason (gone are words like “fair” and “good;” in their place are words like “fail” and “epic”), so I have to state up front that I am not using hyperbole or exaggeration when I make the following statement: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation is one of the worst movies I have ever seen.
Yes, I have sat through all of the Leprechaun movies, all of the Children of the Corn movies, all of the Amityville movies, and all of the Air Bud movies, but I seem to have reached a new low TCM4. I've seen a killer lamp, a killer bong, killer corn, and volleyball-playing dog, but none of this can compete, somehow, with the sight of Matthew McConaughey's remote-control robot leg.
Without further ado, we shall begin…
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (dir. Kim Henkel, 1997)
a.k.a. The Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre (dir. Kim Henkel, 1994)
"August 18, 1973. News of a bizarre, chainsaw-wielding family – reports which were to ignite the world's imagination – began to filter out of central Texas. Regrettably not one of the family members was ever apprehended, and for more than ten years nothing further was heard. Then, over the next several years at least two minor, yet apparently related incidents, were reported. Then again nothing. For five long years silence…"
Director Kim Henkel wrote the screenplay for the 1974 original TCM film.
According to the opening narration of TCM3, someone was apprehended in the chainsaw murders: W.E. Sawyer, who was sent to the gas chamber in 1981. The only doubt was to whether or not Sawyer was Leatherface, or an ancillary member of the cannibal cult. I suppose it doesn't matter. The continuity between these films is loose and sketchy, and I have previously expressed doubts as to whether the killer yokel clan in each film is supposed to be the same yokel clan from the film that preceded it. Even though all the films seem to agree that August 18th, 1973 was a vital date, none of them seem to agree how many Leatherfaces there are. Leatherface is payed by a different actor each time, looks different each time, and may as well be an entirely new character each time. All we know about all the Leatherfaces is that they all like chainsaws, and they all like to wear masks made of human flesh.
TCM4, however, will introduce a really stupid conceit that might actually explain away the lapses in continuity that we have encountered along the way. It's a pity that the conceit is really, really effing stupid. Remember how the seventh Howling movie (that's be 1995's New Moon Rising) tried to compensate for any lack of continuity in the Howling series by finding a random common actor (Clive Turner) from several of the previous chapters, and claiming that he was actually an immortal werewolf killer who had been stalking a free-floating werewolf ghost over the course of the last four movies? Yeah, the continuity creation conceit in TCM4 is even dumber than that.
Get this: The various families we have seen in the various TCM movies are actually all different autonomous murder units that all live in the boonies of Texas, all in different counties. They may have the same last name, and they may actually be related, these families, but they do not openly communicate with one another. Each family independently came to its own conclusions about starting a murderous cannibal cult, and each operates in a similar idiom. The reason none of these families have ever been apprehended by the police – even after each of them has seemingly killed dozens upon dozens of people, plundered cemeteries for human parts, and eaten much of their quarry – is that they are ( – steel yourself – ) being protected by rich Italian businessmen who are members of the Illuminati. The Illuminati guys tool around the back roads of Texas making sure the local law is not interfering with their pet cannibal hillbillies, and often send them decrees and instructions on how to behave like a proper cannibal cult. This may explain why each cannibal cult has a Leatherface, a half-alive blood-drinking “grandpa,” and why they share any and all other similarities you may have noticed.
So yes, the TCM families are, according to TCM4, all being controlled by the Illuminati. To what end, we can only postulate. It's like the sort-of clever setup for The Cabin in the Woods, but much stupider. This conceit is not introduced until late in the film, so at the very least we don't have the conspiracy hanging over our heads the entire time. Sadly, the rest of the film is so loathsome, it probably wouldn't have made too much of a difference.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation was made in 1994 (under the original title of The Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre), but was shelved upon completion for reasons I was unable to discover. It was finally released in 1997, when the two lead actors, Matthew McConaughey and Renée Zellweger, had achieved some fame with flicks like A Time to Kill and Jerry Maguire. I first saw it on a brand new VHS, rented from Backstage Video in Tacoma, WA, my local video store haunt for my college years. Since I didn't have a VCR in my dorm room at the time, I found an unlocked classroom with an A/V setup in it, and watched it, by myself, at a desk, behind a locked door. I suppose that was appropriate, as the only justifications I can make for this depressing and terrible atrocity are purely academic. To wit: it's as if the filmmakers were part of some sort of bizarre scientific bad movie experiment, and were trying to see just how rotten they could make audiences feel. This is not a film you can laugh through or shake off. It permeates. Its filth somehow enters your skin, blackening your muscle, and rotting you to the bone. It's one of the worst films I have ever seen.
The premise is pretty simple: Zellweger plays a wimpy teenage nerd named Jenny, who has barely escaped her sexually abusive stepfather in order to attend her prom. We meet some of her peers, all of whom are acrid assh*les with cruel streaks a mile wide, and whom all subscribe to the usual '90s teen archetypes. That they possess a modicum of Scream-like self-awareness somehow makes their social transgressions even more awful. The prom queen bitch (Lisa Marie Newmyer) openly declares that she is a bitch, and her cruel and vapid behavior is actually some sort of intentional construct. The jock bully does stupid things, even for a slasher movie; his stultifying actions go far beyond the usual slasher trope of running upstairs instead of downstairs. In this film, he actually knocks on doors that he knows the killers are lurking behind. Anyway, these three and some other bloke are chased away from the prom over an imagined teenage drama (that I refuse to relate), and, after a mere 30 minutes or so of driving, find themselves in the boonies of Texas, in the dark. Well, not so far afield that, when their car breaks down, they can walk for about an hour and find people again. I don't know about you, but even if I'm strolling leisurely, I can cover about 2 ½ miles in an hour. So the hillbilly cannibals they will inevitably meet technically LIVE IN TOWN!
Our quartet meets a slutty real estate agent named Darla (Tonie Perenksy) who flashes local boys (the only case of on-screen nudity in any of these pictures), and flirts with Zellweger. She dresses in bizarre early '90s dresses, and seems to be in a constant state of mild arousal. Given the caliber of acting we've been dealing with up to this point, it comes across as disgusting more than sexy.
Darla is in cahoots with the local chainsaw clan, which is run by the madman Vilmer (McConaughey), and does indeed have a Leatherface (Robert Jacks) and a half-dead “grandpa.” I'll say this one thing in TCM4's defense: McConaughey really brings the crazy. He sputters, flails, makes big ol' bug-eyes, gnashes his teeth, licks and bites other actors… his performance is grandly energetic and is surely something to behold. Watching McConaughey flip out for 80 minutes isn't necessarily enough to make the flick watchable – nothing could be, really – but a few gorgeous moments of unfettered acting insanity did serve as a balm. Vilmer has a robot leg, by the way, which he operates with a series of remote controls that he keeps in his pocket. When one runs out of batteries, he pulls out another, hits a button, and can walk again. Vilmer lives in a local house, which is, as per usual, cluttered with trash and human bones. Jenny will spend the bulk of the movie trapped in this house, being yelled at and berated by the hillbillies. She escapes, she is recaptured. She gets a gun she doesn't use. Zellweger bugs out her eyes a lot.
Leatherface himself is, in the film's big stylistic twist, actually a transvestite who only wears human skin masks made from women. The human masks look rubbery in this flick. Was making a mask out of actual leather too hard? I suppose, since this was the first TCM film to follow The Silence of the Lambs, that homage had to be paid. Darla has nice hair and dresses in impeccable (if odd) dresses, which leads me to ask again how one chooses to enter a filthy cannibal cult if one is interested in fashion and keeping clean. All she seems to get out of the arrangement is hot sex with an abusive crazy hillbilly criminal cyborg, and occasional rubbings on skittish teenage nerds. And the occasional hunk of raw human meat to snack on, I suppose. This is not, perhaps, a very good arrangement. Maybe if she had taken that scrapbooking class.
I salute the original TCM for being grimy and unsettling; it's a truly scary movie. TCM4 made me feel grimy for other reasons. It's not just that the characters are unsavory, but the filmmaking is baffling. Its pace drags and speeds alternately, leaving the viewer dizzy. The tone is neither horrific nor comedic, landing somewhere in the pit of insanity…
Then there's that whole bit with the Illuminati. When the slick Italian fellow flounces into the cannibal kill kitchen giving orders to Vilmer, and Vilmer is subdued like a puppy, you'll begin asking yourself if you're not hallucinating the entire thing. I suppose if you were to eat a magic mushroom omelette with a tall frosty glass of LSD-laced skunk milk, you'd see something similar in any movie.
I am going to lay this film down now. I am going to rest it gently on the floor, back away, and retire to the safe warm spot under my bed where I will moan softly for several days. I have seen this film twice which is three times too many. It made me feel disgusted and awful and unclean. The best thing about it: I am done with it. I don't ever have to see it again. If there was a bizarre kind of police investigation that somehow required memorizing details of the film in order to crack a case, I might. But until that bonkers police case arises, I can live happily knowing I never have to see The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation ever again.
Marilyn Burns from the original TCM has a cameo as a comatose hospital patient.
Sadly, I'm not done with the awful parts. I still have…
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (dir. Marcus Nispel, 2003)
"The film which you are about to see is an account of the tragedy which befell a group of five youths. It is all the more tragic in that they were young. But, had they lived very, very long lives, they could not have expected nor would they have wished to see as much of the mad and macabre as they were to see that day. For them an idyllic summer afternoon became a nightmare. For over 30 years, the files collected dust in the cold-cases division of the Travis County Police Department. Over 1,300 piece of evidence were collected from the crime scene at the Hewitt residence. Yet none of the evidence was more compelling than the classified police footage of the crime scene walkthrough.
The events of that day were to lead to one of the most bizarre crimes in the annals of American history: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre."
Many of you probably saw this one. When it came out in 2003, it was a big hit. This was the debut feature of Michael Bay's production company Platinum Dunes, and was the first proper horror remake that ushered in an entire decade of the damn things. There had been remakes before this one, of course, including alternate language versions of J-Horror imports, but 2003's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (hereafter TCMR) was the first remake in what was to become a certain aesthetic cycle of horror remakes. It established the precedent that would be repeated in all the horror remakes to follow: Take the original premise, and photograph the heck out of it. Make the violence far more brutal, make the killers far more brutal, and jettison all forms of levity. Explain the backstory of the killers in a way that somehow makes them less interesting. Pepper your film with some really hot model types who may or may not strip, but who will be camera-raped at every possible opportunity. Spend a long, long time focusing on the torture and pain.
Follow these rules, and you'll not only have TCMR, but Friday the 13th R, A Nightmare on Elm Street R, Halloween R, The Stepfather R, The Amityville Horror R, and just about any other obnoxious horror remake that came out since 2003. We still have crap like The Evil Dead to look forward to, but I sense the horror remake machine is currently at an ebb. I'm glad it's over (or at least flagging), and I'm sorry it began. I'd actually like to personally apologize for horror remakes. It was my generation that grew up with the originals, and I suspect it was my generation that thought to remake the originals once they reached greenlighting age. It was also unfortunate that we didn't show you youngsters the originals when we had the chance. Your perspective is skewed, you feel that a remake should be a legitimate part of the conversation, and I feel like it's my fault. I'm sorry we had so dang many of these. Please accept my apology.
There is a paradox to TCMR. Like I said, I like to venerate the original TCM for being grimy and gory and gross. It hits you in the gut with its down-and-dirty aesthetic, and, as I stated last week, almost feels like a home video snuff film made by real cannibals. It's a film that feels a bit dark and hopeless, as it focuses on the torture experienced by the main characters. TCMR is also grimy and gross. It's also hopeless. It also focuses on the torture of its characters. The story beats are all pretty much the same (although there in an on-screen suicide early on), and there's still a Leatherface (Andrew Bryniarski from Street Fighter and Hudson Hawk). And yet the remake is clearly the inferior film. It makes me feel gross and grimy, but rather than feeling afraid, I feel disgusted.
Why does one fail where the other succeeded? Well, The Devil is in the details. I think much has to do with the general aesthetic of the film. TCMR was photographed like mad. Not content to merely show the interior of a ghoulish human slaughterhouse, we're treated to loving closeups of the grime oozing own pig corpses. We see every ripped sinew of dead cow, every fleck of human brain matter, every single rivulet of human goo leaking out of exquisite detailed entry wounds. The lighting is gorgeous – gorgeous! – and carefully planned to accentuate every mote of unpleasantness. And while this attention to detail did leave me with a sick pit in my stomach, and I certainly enjoyed the plain artistry involved in this approach, I was a little disgusted with the fetishism clearly put on display by the filmmakers. No longer do I get the horrific sense that this is a film made by cannibals. This is a film made by professionals who are lingering too closely on the gross bits just to weird me out and make me queasy. “Gorgeous” should not be an aesthetic goal for someone making a TCM movie.
Indeed, by making everything as pretty as possible, the filmmakers are violating a cardinal rule of filmmaking; they are making every shot a climax unto itself. Cramming the frame with awesomeness every step of the way does not make your film more visually interesting. After a while, it just feels like visual overload. TCMR filled my eyes with so much gorgeous gore, I got turned off after a while.
The setup of the film is the same as the others: twentysomethings are on a van trip through Texas. This time, they are smuggling weed in a piñata. They pick up a young girl raving about killers. She extracts a gun from her vagina and blows a hole through her head. The camera pulls back through the head wound and out through the hole she made in the van window. It's a gorgeous shot, but… ew. The kids go for help, and find the killer hillbilly family. The family has a sort-of ringleader in Sheriff Hoyt (R. Lee Ermey in usual fantastic bully mode), and consists of a few crazy ladies looking after a stolen infant, a legless guy, and, of course, Leatherface. In the original film, Leatherface seemed like a businesslike fellow who used a chainsaw in his butchering duties, only occasionally wielding it in public. In this film, like in TCM3, the chainsaw is a weapon primarily. Leatherface only uses it to hunt and stalk his dwindling victims.
I have to devote a paragraph to Jessica Biel, and her midriff in particular. The TCM films have been largely sexless affairs to date, featuring a single bare breast on all of the films combined. There have been a few sexy ladies along the way, but their sexiness was incidental. In TCMR, the bulk of the film features Jessica Biel, an insanely sexy young woman, in tight blue jeans, and a white tank top that is tied up tight above her solar plexus. The camera lingers lovingly over every slight muscular curve in her taut, taut tummy. She strides like a model through the crime scenes. It was a way to inject sex into a film that doesn't require any. Yes, I liked looking at her. But putting so much calculated sexiness in the middle of this lovely fetishized gore only made the bland exploitative elements already present seem all the stronger.
Of note: This is the only film in the series where we see a closeup of Leatherface (credited as “Thomas Hewitt”) with his mask off. As it turns out, in this version of the story, Leatherface has a horrible skin condition, and is missing his nose. He uses the human skin mask to conceal this.
TCMR at least goes for broke in terms of story, and clearly didn't have a franchise in mind. By the film's end, Jessica Biel is the only character left standing, having kidnapped the stolen baby, murdered a central villain, and even maiming Leatherface pretty seriously in a local abattoir. I guess in 2003, the notion of making a sequel to a remake was still considered ridiculous. Sadly, that cherry has also been popped; do I need to mention that we live in a world that has two films called The Hills Have Eyes Part 2?
Of course, TCMR was a smash, and more of the same was to come. Next up, we have…
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (dir. Jonathan Liebesman, 2006)
"Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today 2 get through this thing called life. Electric word, life, it means forever and that's a mighty long time. But I'm here 2 tell U, there's something else: The afterworld. A world of never ending happiness. U can always see the sun, day or night.
So when u call up that shrink in Beverly Hills – U know the one – Dr. Everything'll-Be-Alright, instead of asking him how much of your time is left, ask him how much of your mind, baby. 'Cuz in this life, things are much harder than in the afterworld. In this life, you're on your own. And if de elevator tries 2 bring U down, go crazy – punch a higher floor."
Just kidding. This is actually the first TCM film that doesn't have an opening narration.
So TCMR existed, of course, within its own continuity. I don't see why it had to. It could have easily been The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 5, and no one would have batted an eye. But the film was such a big hit, and was so well-loved by so many people, it only made sense to continue in that specific continuity. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (hereafter TCMB), then, is in direct continuity with TCMR, and features the same killer hillbillies as, played by the same actors, including R. Lee Ermey as the killer sheriff. The film is, as the title suggests, set up as a prequel, and ostensibly tells the tale as how a group of ordinary yokels became killer cannibal yokels.
I kind of hate late-in-the-game origin stories like this. Knowing the origin story of your monster always – always – makes them less interesting. Consider how scary Michael Myers was in the 1978 Halloween. Did he become scarier and more threatening when we saw his childhood in the remake? Hannibal Lecter was scary in The Silence of the Lambs, right? Was he made more interesting and more complex when you saw the birth of his murder habits as seen in Hannibal Rising? The answer is no. I would go so far as to postulate that knowing more about the monster is always a bad thing. “But it allows you to sympathize with them, making them richer!” I hear you cry. No. That is a fallacy. The monster is going to be more interesting and even more relatable when we don't know their dark motives. They could be a murderer for any reason. Your imagination fills in the gaps. Isn't it more chilling to think that Michael Myers is just plain evil, rather than the victim of a trashy, abusive childhood?
Yeah, as you can tell, I didn't like TCMB too much either. Indeed, like TCM3, I'm afraid I have little to say about it, seeing as it has such a typical slasher film approach to its material. It starts with familiar slasher archetypes, puts them in danger, kills them off, the end. TCMB also follows a lot of the aesthetic established by its predecessor, leaving us with the fetishistic grime and the sexless sex. The sexy lead actress is played this time by Jordana Brewster, who I would say is a lateral move from Jessica Biel. She and three friends variously play girlfriends and Vietnam vets; yes, the film is set in 1969 with all the visual cues therein. The vets are arguing about whether or not they should return to the war after a leave, and the girlfriends wring their hands a lot. Someone burns a draft card. They are harassed by Hell's Angels.
TCMB opens with the birth of Thomas “Leatherface” Hewitt which was, natch, on the floor of a slaughterhouse. Thomas Hewitt was a simple boy, raised in that very abattoir, who took perhaps too much delight in killing and cutting up animals. In 1969, the slaughterhouse went out of business, and Thomas took to the bad news by chainsawing his boss to death in a fit of blind desperation. His first human victim. He is then retrieved by his family (R. Lee Ermey amongst them), and they lament the sad state of the economy. They are harassed by local law, and Ermey kills one of them and steals his uniform. He wasn't a real sheriff after all. Origin explained. Sigh. Also, the killer family decides to eat the sheriff, claiming that they'll never go hungry this way. Everyone just sort of goes with it. Oh yes, we also see how the legless guy from the last movie lost his legs. The reason? Leatherface sawed them off.
Aside from the dumb origin story stuff, the somewhat interesting chronology, and the sight of the lovely Jordana Brewster, the film is a pretty by-the-number slasher with young attractive people being thrust into dangerous situations, sometimes dying, sometimes escaping, being stalked, being chased, etc. etc. They do enlist the help of a Hell's Angel at one point, but he just adds to the body count. I can't say I was involved in any of this. I kind of wish that the young attractive twentysomethings had been left out altogether, and the film spanned a greater amount of time, looking solely at the killer hillbillies. Going a little nutty and saying something along the lines of “Well, we're going to be cannibals now” wasn't quite satisfying. If you really want to tell a TCM origin story, play it out. Show the degradation from generation to generation. Show how a meat magnate in Texas turned from a hard-working local business into a ruin. Show the mounting desperation over the years. She the gradual turn to human meat. There was a grandpa, after all. He was an expert. Show all that. Tell me that story. Don't just give me the show-and-tell “and that's just why I like to eat humans now” version of the story.
Of all the films in this series, TCMB is the most disposable. It explores the version of the TCM myth that I wasn't so interested in hearing, and there's nothing particularly notable about it. Although the loving closeup of a bowl of human stew was a pretty fun sight.
Seven years would pass, and the old story would be picked up again…
Texas Chainsaw 3D (dir. John Lussenhop, 2013)
I'll be brief on this one as well, as this movie was just in theaters, and was just reviewed in CraveOnline.
So I think this is a first: the mythology first presented in a remake was pointedly ignored in order to go back to the original continuity. We've had rotating continuities in movies before, of course, but never has a series gone back to the original in such a fashion. Imagine if, for instance, the next Batman film were to feature Michael Keaton, and were directed by Tim Burton.
Although the continuity for Texas Chainsaw 3D is still a little off. 3D picks up right where the original 1974 TCM left off, and features the vigilante aftermath of the bloody killings we witnessed way back at the beginning of this mad project. Evidently, the killer hillbillies were pretty immediately found by the vengeance-minded Texan locals who trapped them in their house, and burned it down, killing them all. Most of the Hillbillies in this opening scene are played by previous TCM actors like Bill Moseley and even Gunnar Hansen, the original Leatherface. This new twist in the story, of course, means none of the other films happened. But since all the hillbilly cults are being controlled by the Illuminati anyway, I guess I'm at peace with this. One person escaped the inferno with her infant daughter in tow. The woman is found and killed, and the baby is given to the locals to raise. That was 1973.
Fast-forward to 2013, and the baby has grown up into a lovely and healthy 21-year-old woman named Heather. Yes, I know the math is off by a full 20 years. I think we'll just have to roll with this.
Heather is played by Alexandra Daddario (from Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief) who, in the new TCM tradition, is a statuesque hottie who is oddly required to leave her taut midriff exposed throughout the bulk of the film. She receives a letter from a lawyer telling her that she is the last heir to the Sawyer family fortune (they had a fortune?), so she bundles up her sexy friends, picks up a hitchhiker, and heads to the remote Texas mansion she inherited. The house is majestic, but who should be living in a secret compartment in the basement, but Leatherface (Dan Yeager)? Hijinks ensue.
Texas Chainsaw 3D has a vastly different tone than any of the other TCM films. Like TCM2, it has a much more comic tone, but with a more modern sensibility; no New Wave rockers here. I know I criticized TCM3 and TCMB for being a little too pat and predictable with their recognizable slasher approaches, but for 3D it seems to work. It's a fun, splattery horror flick that feels way more like its '80s genre forbears than any of the dour, grim remakes. Again, I think the film's success depends entire on its tonal choices. TCM3 and TCMB were pat slashers, but they were so dark and turgid; they thought they were doing something grand and hefty with the Texas Chainsaw Massacre material, adding to a “myth” and connecting in a way that was meant to ring “important.” 3D, in contrast, is not nearly as high concept. It's not trying to be the next chapter in a “mythology,” nor is it trying to introduce brand new elements into the “canon.” It's just trying to be a fun, gory horror movie with a sense of humor, sexy young actors, and a few clever and scary moments. The story is not grand. And with TCM movies, I don't want grand. I don't need a new “chapter” each time if the new “chapter” is going to be as grimy and unpleasant as the last two films were. Sometimes I just want a cheap thrill. And 3D has knowing cheap thrills in spades.
The film was shot in 3D. There's a scene where a character is hiding in a coffin, and Leatherface attempts to extricate them with a chainsaw. The chainsaw bursts through the wooden coffin lid right at the audience. This, my friends, is how 3D should be used.
Looking to my fellow critics on Texas Chainsaw 3D, I saw that it was pretty universally loathed. Critics who weren't TCM fans thought the film was empty and dumb. Critics who were TCM fans resented the light tone and lack of myth. After so many of these movies, I cannot loathe Texas Chainsaw 3D. Indeed, I find myself admiring the simple thrill of it. Texas Chainsaw 3D is low-concept, and all the stronger for it. Sometimes I don't need my films to be high-concept. Sometime low-concept hits the spot.
Also Alexandra Daddario's stomach rivals Jessica Biel's.
Looking over the Texas Chainsaw series entire, you can almost use them as a guide to horror filmmaking. Each film has a unique tone, and a differing approach to the material. Each film, of course, has a Leatherface and a family of killer hillbilly cannibals, but once that framework has been established, the filmmakers felt free to alter the tone to their liking. Three of the films are very good. Four are not. From this, you can learn how to tonally handle your horror film.
If you want your horror film to be disgusting and disturbing, go with the low-budget, low-fi approach as presented in the first TCM. If, however, you want something gory and kinda scary, but more stylish and kind of fun, go for TCM2. It can be weird and colorful as well. Putting Oingo Boingo on the soundtrack couldn't hurt either. If you're more modern, though, and you want something less jokey and stylish, and is merely efficient and straightforward, go for the low-concept approach of 3D.
If you're fond of “myth,” however, go for TCM3, TCMR, and TCMB. These three films, in my opinion, aren't nearly as interesting as their counterparts, and I know why. They are preoccupied with myth. They are pretentious; the pretense being that they are predicated on what popular consciousness has stored about the movies that preceded them. They don't continue a story, they build on a myth. I hate that. I hate when movies eschew simple stuff like story and situation for an all-pervasive sense of canon. I don't want to see a myth. I want to see a movie. The TCM films listed above are proof of how mythic filmmaking can produce confusing and indulgent fan service. Other films that did that? The Star Wars prequels.
So we have good-scary, good-weird, good-simple, bad-boring, bad-fetishistic, and bad-mythic, all within a single series. The TCM movies are so versatile!
Oh yes, and let us not forget bad-bad-bad-bad-bad. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation is that. Very, very bad. It's bad. Don't make that film. But I suppose if a series of movies can contain one of the best horror movies ever made alongside one of the worst, well, there must be something interesting about it. See 'em all! Take 'em in! Eat some raw steak while you do it!
Actually, don't see the fourth.
Witney Seibold is a featured contributor on the CraveOnline Film Channel, co-host of The B-Movies Podcast and co-star of The Trailer Hitch. You can read his weekly articles B-Movies Extended, Free Film School and The Series Project, and follow him on “Twitter” at @WitneySeibold, where he is slowly losing his mind.