Written by: D.S. Ullery
A word of warning before we proceed: Here there be spoilers. I mean big spoilers. I’m talking “Oh- my- god- it- scurried- into- the- bathroom -did -you -see- the- size- of- that- thing -where’s the damned- bug -spray- or- a -shoe- or- a -baseball- bat-and-hey- what -was -that-anyway?” spoilers. So if you don’t want to know what happens plot wise in the latest film to bear the name Texas Chainsaw and feature legendary horror icon Leatherface, you’d be better served by moving on.
Texas Chainsaw 3D (reduced to the fairly straightforward Texas Chainsaw for the non- format DVD version) is the latest attempt to resurrect the story of a family of backwoods cannibals preying on stragglers and isolated travelers in the heart of Texas. The selling point this time- aside from the opportunity for fans to see chainsaw wielding, flayed-human-face and butcher’s smock wearing psychopath Leatherface (here portrayed by an effective and formidable Dan Yeager, who successfully pays homage to the 1974 film’s Gunnar Hansen while making the role his own) unleash his savage brand of mass murder in 3-D – was that this film is meant as a sequel to Tobe Hooper’s original classic.
But wait, you may be thinking, there’s already a sequel, a black comedy directed by Hooper himself. It was called, oddly enough, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 and had a wonderfully demented Dennis Hopper hunting down the Sawyer clan as they toured the wider reaches of Texas, winning chili cook offs thanks to that extra special ingredient, “prime meat”.
Yes indeed that film does exist, but this sequel is a direct sequel. That means that, rather than being set entirely in present day, the movie opens mere minutes after Sally Hardesty jumps into the back of that pick up truck at the end of the ’74 film. In fact, the opening titles of Texas Chainsaw are set against a montage of the scarier scenes in the original, which concludes with the familiar image of a wide-eyed, blood-soaked Sally being driven away before segueing into the new film and the sight of local law enforcement approaching the Sawyer house , where Leatherface, Drayton Sawyer (Bill Moseley in a terrific cameo channeling the late great Jim Siedow, who sadly passed in 2003) and the rest of the clan (including a split second appearance by grandpa, again played by John Dugan) are gathered together, preparing for an armed standoff with the police.
Instead, a lynch mob (apparently having been alerted to the gruesome doings of the Sawyers by the reports of what happened to Sally) arrives at the scene and proceeds to burn the place down, killing the entire family. As the locals are searching the wreckage for remains, one of the men discovers an injured woman laying beneath a tarp that hides the automobile graveyard where the cannibal clan stashed their victims’ cars, clutching an infant child to her chest. The man kills the woman and takes the infant.
This opening sequence was my favorite part of the film. After watching the effectively edited opening montage , to witness how much loving detail went into precisely recreating the house and the surrounding terrain from the conclusion of Hooper’s classic (even the semi truck that ran over the Hitch-Hiker is present), I couldn’t help but smile.
But then the film shifts ahead and we experience the first of several major problems. Namely, this movie doesn’t know when the hell it wants to be.
According to the opening scene, the incident involving the baby being found happens in the 1970’s. Keep in mind that the lynch mob, the burning of the Sawyer house and the child being discovered are all happening on the same day as the events which concluded the first film. That was mere hours after Sally made her escape by jumping into the back of that pick up.
Yet, when the story picks up in the future, the baby is now a twenty-something woman named Heather (Alexandria Daddario). Chronologically, this means the events of Texas Chainsaw have to be taking place somewhere around 1993 or 1994. Yet, based on music cues, clothing and even the make and model of vehicles people are driving (except for the beat up ,70’s model VW van the principle cast drives and, yeah, I rolled my eyes at that . Message to filmmakers :If your gonna pull off an homage, don’t make it stick out like a sore thumb) we’re clearly looking at a 2012 setting. There’s an eighteen year gap there that is never accounted for.
Time displacement apparently doesn’t effect mail delivery, though, and Heather receives a letter informing her that her grandmother Vera Carson has died and named her the inheritor of an estate in Texas. Not realizing she even had a Grandma Vera, Heather confronts her parents about this turn of events and discovers that she’s adopted in what is one of the most laughably underplayed and emotionless scenes of it’s type I’ve ever seen.
Consider this: Here’s a young woman who has not only been given a house in Texas, but has just discovered in the same two minute time frame that there is an entire aspect to her life she was previously unaware of and that she actually originates from a different family, meaning there are relatives she’s never known about . So what do the writers have her do? Get moderately mad, shout “That’s it, I’m out” like a teenager going to a concert her parents forbade her to attend, storm out of her foster parents’ house and take a road trip. Her response to the sudden knowledge that these people are her foster parents and not her biological ones? A single shot of her hugging her boyfriend and tearfully stating “I always knew something was up with them.” How could the Academy not award writing of this caliber?
Curiosity piqued, Heather- accompanied by her best friend, her boyfriend and his buddy- heads to the town of Newt, Texas to claim her inheritance. Along the way, they pick up a charming and likable hitchhiker, who decides to tag along as far as they’ll let him ride.
Arriving in Newt, Heather runs into the Mayor, who (although she’s not aware of it at the time) turns out to be the man that – years earlier – headed the lynch mob against the Sawyer family. He tries convincing her to sell the place to him sight unseen. Passing on this offer, Heather and her fellow travelers finally arrive at Vera’s estate and -after a strangely ominous talk with the attorney who contacted Heather in the first place- they take a tour of the inside.
Far from being a dilapidated ruin, the house turns out to be a literal mansion. Overjoyed and overwhelmed , Heather agrees to drive into town with her friends and pick up some steaks for a celebratory BBQ ,leaving behind the hitchhiker, who helpfully agrees to put their bags inside for them while they’re gone. Let me write that one more time for those of you who missed it: They leave this complete stranger who they only met the day before and know nothing about alone at the mansion with their bags. The late, great Roger Ebert used to have a term for screen stories that rely on this sort of inexplicably stupid decision making- he called it the Idiot Plot..ie the movie can only work if the characters behave like idiots. Right about here, these characters were acting like idiots.
You can see this coming, can’t you? Turns out the hitch hiker’s charm is an act. He starts raiding the place for any goodies he can pawn (Or something. What does one expect to fetch for a candle stick?) and makes his way downstairs to a cellar , inside of which he comes across a strange metal door he can’t open. Sooner than you can say “early bird buffet”, Leatherface pops out from behind the door, worse for the wear but nonetheless having survived the destruction of the Sawyer home all those years ago. Turns out Grandma Vera originally went by the maiden name of Sawyer and Jedediah (Leatherface’s given name in this version) is a distant cousin of Heather’s, kept in the cellar for safekeeping. He makes mincemeat (literally) out of the hitch hiker and we’re off and running.
From here Texas Chainsaw is essentially a series of chases, gorehound kills and some near misses that climaxes with a confrontation that’s equal parts asinine and kind of awesome (more on that below). That actually sums up my feelings towards this chapter in the saga of Leatherface fairly concisely: It’s schizophrenic. This is a surprisingly good horror movie wrapped inside of a terrible story about stupid characters who, by and large, no one is destined to ever give a crap about.
Whenever Leatherface is on screen chasing down victims or making with the kills, this flick delivers the exploitation goods on all cylinders. The chases are suspenseful, the gore is both eye popping and plentiful (this must have been amazing in 3-D) and , as I’ve already alluded to, Dan Yeager really brings it home as the iconic character. Highlights include a terrific pursuit scene through a carnival, a chainsaw attack on the VW van and a darkly comic and simultaneously disturbing moment where a victim finds out in the worst way possible just how bad of an idea it is to try and touch Leatherface’s mask when he’s in full-on butcher mode.
These successful moments are balanced against such blunders as a meaningless, useless subplot about the best friend and the boyfriend cheating behind Heather’s back (which is introduced and never, ever, developed beyond the fact that they end up screwing in a barn) , the best friend’s boyfriend literally existing only to die (we never find out anything about him other than he can cook before he gets killed while checking out a pantry ) and the entire business with the hitch hiker.
But the most confusing aspect of this film is the 360 it takes in the third act when Heather discovers her relation to the flesh eating psychopath, uncovering the truth about the mob justice that killed the Sawyers and sent Leatherface on the run in the process. Leatherface is abruptly presented as an anti-hero as she seeks him out to turn the tables on the Mayor and some of the other people who were in the lynch mob.
Okay, so here’s where we have a problem..she’s pissed because the mob burned the Sawyer’s house down in reaction to the discovery that they were bloodthirsty cannibals who stalked, butchered and then ate human beings.
What conflicts me about this plot development is that, to be fair, the mayor and his cronies actually turn out to be extremely vile, violent scumbags in their own right. It’s an undeniable fact that these people are depicted as being full blown assholes. In fact, it’s established that they’re plotting to kill Heather based on the mere fact of her being a Sawyer, which qualifies them as psychopaths in their own right. And yet, somehow, this doesn’t obscure the fact that her relatives – y’know, the people they killed back in the 70’s? – were bloodthirsty cannibals who stalked, butchered and then ate human beings.
As if that isn’t bad enough, the film seems determined to give one final, massive middle finger to all reasonable logic by incorporating a scene at the end where the same sheriff who was overpowered by the lynch mob back at the Sawyer house decides , in a fit of guilt, to not only not shoot an injured Leatherface after he violently dispatches the mayor, but tells Heather to “clean this shit up” before completely walking away as if they were guilty of nothing more than some minor vandalism or a traffic violation. I’m certain that Sally Hardesty and the families of everyone who the Sawyer’s hunted, killed and made into stew over the years would be deeply touched by this attempt to balance the scales of justice.
So what we have here is a sequel that succeeds with the gruesome and scary stuff, but fails almost entirely as a story. It’s no masterpiece, but as a time killer goes, you could do worse. I don’t think it’s the worst of the lot (that’s always gonna go to the wretched Texas Chainsaw Massacre The Next Generation, which gves me the shivers for entirely the wrong reasons) , but I don’t think it matches the intensity of the original or the superior 2003 remake, nor does it achieve the crazed brilliance of the 1986 TCM 2. I did however find it more inventive and enjoyable than TCM: The Beginning and Leatherface: TCM III.
Rating: 2.5/5 I’d love to see this incarnation of Leatherface featured in a movie with better writing. That would be something to behold.