“Texas Chainsaw 3D” is a reboot/sorta-sequel to the 1974 slasher classic “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre,” and considering the franchise was already afflicted by a terrible remake in 2003, this new one is slightly better than you might expect. After all, there are maybe two or three moments of raw suspense that had me on edge, and the violence and gore is considerably more extreme than most mainstream horror audiences are accustomed to seeing (the film’s original cut was branded with an NC-17 rating). In my head, I imagine a group of young punks raised on the comparatively tame “Saw” movies will be in for a bracing (if not, jarring) shock.
But something about this entry rubs me the wrong way, namely where its morals and priorities lie. I know, this sounds like a really stupid criticism for a movie like this, but allow me to explain myself. The original film was an intensely disturbing piece of filmmaking, but was hardly a bloody film. In fact, just like John Carpenter’s “Halloween,” one of the truly unsettling things was how economically it used the colors of blood and guts to paint a haunting picture. In its own twisted way, it brought artistic integrity to a genre that generally had no use for such a concept. Sure, it was for all intents and purposes a Dead Teenager movie, but it was an effective one nonetheless, and a reminder that art can salvage any subject.
In contrast, the only concern that seems to be on the mind of “Texas Chainsaw 3D” is to gross out the audience. Or titillate them. I am actually not too sure. As I watched the film in all of its red-soaked pride, I tried to place myself inside the head of a person who might enjoy the film, and arrived at a series of interesting conclusions.
Would such a person be celebrating the gruesomeness of the violence, or would they be rightfully disgusted? Sure, I recoiled in my seat at some of the violent images, but I don’t ever remember being entertained by such graphic scenes. Would they be rooting for the protagonists, or would they be cheering for the deranged man wearing the severed faces of his dead victims? If it is the former, I suppose I just don’t see it. The characters are mostly one-note, underdeveloped, and spend most of the film screaming, frantically flailing their limbs, and suffering from their own stupid mistakes.
And if it is the latter, I suppose that would explain the film’s bizarre third act turn, in which the filmmakers deliberately try to make the chainsaw-wielding Leatherface a more sympathetic villain by making all the town officials equally deplorable. If I squint my eyes, I can kinda see how a murky moral climate could make the film more interesting, but my mind was already made up: I would rather take the town’s motivated degeneracy over the killer’s senseless depravity any day of the week.
We meet Heather Miller (Alexandra Daddario), a girl who has just inherited her grandmother’s stately manor. This comes as news to her, as she has never even met her biological grandmother and her parents have closely guarded her from learning the secrets of her childhood. But the film explains Heather’s backstory in a prologue following the events of the 1974 film: The one girl who escaped the grisly scene alerts the Texas authorities. Police arrive to calmly and civilly reason with the offenders, but an assembly of uncompromising denizens light up a few Molotov cocktails and conflagrate the family’s slaughterhouse, killing most of them. A mother in this deranged family narrowly escapes with her infantile daughter, but one of the townspeople promptly yanks the child away and knocks out the mother. She was raised by this foster family, and the rest is history.
Along with some friends, Heather takes a trip up to the new place, and it turns out to be a fully-decorated mansion, complete with a gated entrance, a regal interior, fancy dinnerware, and a pool table. It must be a natural instinct for movie characters to dance, drink and party in such an environment. However, as any seasoned horror buff could tell you, the fun won’t last very long. Beneath the cushy quarters is a dark, creepy stairway, leading to a darker, creepier basement where Leatherface has stayed for all these years, waiting patiently to be freed.
Naturally, the killer is released and proceeds to wreak havoc on everyone who crosses his path. Actually no, it’s mostly just the teenagers who entered the mansion. There is a scene where Leatherface is determinedly chasing our heroine through a crowded fairground, and as I recall, there was not a single casualty. I personally think it would have been darkly humorous if the killer took his chainsaw to one of the haunted house operators.
As I said before, there are a few scares. But more often than not, “Texas Chainsaw 3D” mistakes ugliness for frightening, and tries anything and everything to make the audience wince. By now, the slasher formula of systematic kills and exploitation of terror has been done to death, and “Texas Chainsaw 3D” is the kind of generic horror flick that “The Cabin In The Woods” mercilessly criticized last year. Eh, I suppose I would still take it over Platinum Dunes’s mangling of the franchise from 2003.
2 out of 4 stars