DECEMBER 12, 2012
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (PRESS SCREENING)
It wasn't until after I had posted my daily "HMAD Today is..." tweet that I realized that this new movie had taken a cue from the Fast & Furious movies and was simply titled Texas Chainsaw 3D (actually the 3D isn't even on-screen, so it's just Texas Chainsaw), dropping the "Massacre" (and the "The", if you want to be anal) out entirely. It's kind of odd to drop the part of the title that promises the carnage and gore that modern audiences probably think the original had (spoiler: the only real gory moment is when the Hitchhiker cuts his hand), but also - perhaps inadvertently - solidifies the movie's seeming desire to only cater to audiences suffering from ADD or just general stupidity.
Because if you pay attention to things like plot, character arcs, or even the goddamn timeframe, you'll quickly realize what a mess this movie is. That last one is the weirdest; the movie begins with a supercut of the original film, followed by some "the next day" scenes where Sally's ramblings have led the police and an angry mob to the Sawyer house. Cook (now played by Bill Moseley) wants them all to be left alone, but one family member (played by Gunnar Hansen!) says they should just turn over Leatherface since it's all his fault they're in danger. Things go wrong, guns begin blazing, and before long all but one person in the house has been killed (yes, the one film in the series to actually feature a massacre is the one that drops that word from its title).
We then flash forward to 2012, where that one surviving baby is now 20 or so and played by the always lovely/welcome Alexandra Daddario. Now, there's no mystery at all to this - she has the burn scar that we saw on the infant, and moments after her introduction she learns that her grandmother has passed away and left her - the last of the family - a huge estate in Texas. Thus, you have the entire movie to wonder why she isn't close to 40 years old, since the original film (which again, they went to great pains to tie this one into, even having John Dugan return as Grandpa for a single shot) took place in 1973. But I guess we're supposed to forget about the year; while they reference the month/day over and over (August 19th appears on every news clipping and police report she finds, and the code to the front gate is "0-8-1-9"), the year is cropped out every time.
Now, obviously a modern horror sequel is not going to star a 40 year old woman, but why not just set the movie in 1993? None of the main characters seem to even own cell phones, and most of it takes place in this ancient estate or its immediate grounds; the only things that set it in the modern day are a supporting character's iPhone (in a mostly terrible sequence that at least has a fun payoff in the form of a callback to the original), the gas prices during the obligatory gas station scene, and a few other things that really could have been removed without it affecting the story at all. In other words, they somehow thought it made more sense to revise the history of the original film than to spend another 20 minutes or so on set dressing. Hell, I wasn't even aware it was supposed to be 2012 until we see the grandmother's tombstone, roughly 45 minutes into the movie - I figured the gas prices (the only "modern" touch until that point; even their car is an old van) was just an anachronistic mistake.
It's also sloppy with regards to its subplots, more than likely the result of rewriting (Grudge screenwriter Steven Susco is given a story credit, which means whatever script he had written was cannibalized by the credited writers) and even some reshoots. A major character just sort of wanders out of the movie at a crucial point, there's a very muddled explanation for the family lineage (there are Sawyers and Carsons - are they ALL murderous cannibals?), and most obnoxiously of all, there's a subplot that seemingly only serves to provide us a reason to dislike two of the protagonists. We learn early on that Daddario's boyfriend (Trey Songz) has been sleeping with her best friend (Lost's Tania Raymonde, basically playing the original's Pam - right down to the low angle butt shot), but Daddario herself never finds out about it, rendering the subplot completely worthless. I also didn't quite understand the hitchhiker stand-in - he has this grand scheme to rob the estate, but he hooked up with them before he even knew about it. What would he have done if they didn't happen to be making a detour?
Thus, as you might expect, it's not a movie one should think about too much, as they have trouble with even the basic elements of plot construction (Leatherface apparently teleports from a carnival back to his house at one point). And if you're able to "turn your brain off", it's at least an entertaining enough flick, if rather by the numbers until its final 10 minutes. The new Leatherface (who is the only villain this time; in seven films this is the first time he didn't have a family of weirdos surrounding him) is a step up from the Platinum Dunes version (and, it goes without saying, Next Generation's), making him the best since RA Mihailoff, and the gore scenes keep the CG to a minimum - there's a delightfully nasty waist-sawing that seems to be entirely practical, and he's got a fixation on cutting off hands and feet that I found amusing. Daddario is always fun to watch, and there are enough good supporting character actors to keep me entertained (Richard Riehle makes anything that much better, I think).
Also, while I won't go into specifics, I legit loved how somewhat insane the final scenes were. While some will balk I'm sure, I found it not only kind of ballsy but also in line with the first two sequels' emphasis on black humor and warped family values. I'm not a fan of "These sequels didn't happen" ret-conning (Drayton is killed in the shootout, so he certainly couldn't have been winning BBQ cook-offs in 1986, another instance where it seemed they were going out of their way to make it more confusing to an audience, especially since he's being played by a different actor who played another character!), but at least the filmmakers seem to respect them on some level - Moseley's casting seems to be evidence of that, and the new "Carson" name seems to be an homage to TCM2's screenwriter Kit Carson. That said, I was a bit bummed that there wasn't an opening text crawl (or one at the end, TCM: The Beginning style) - pretty sure that's a first for the franchise.
As for the 3D - eh. There are a couple of cool "comin at ya" shots with the chainsaw (including one at a carnival that follows the film's most ridiculously stupid but still fairly hilarious moment), but with most of the film taking place in cramped interiors or bland exteriors, director John Luessenhop doesn't really find much use for it - not a lot of depth to the shots, nor numerous objects to navigate around with the camera. There's a quick barn sequence that uses it well, and the bulk of the carnival scene has those long shots the format is best used for, but otherwise I never got the sense that the 3D was there for any other reason than the fact that when the movie was shot (in summer of 2011) it was the hip thing to do. In short, don't AVOID it, but don't go out of your way for it, either. Just pick your favorite theater and the most convenient showtime; if it happens to be in 3D, fine.
And that's actually sort of how I feel about the entire movie, actually. I didn't dislike it, but there wasn't a hell of a lot in there to make it a must-see, either. If you're a die-hard fan of the series as a whole, you'll probably be satisfied after a 6+ year absence of new Leatherface adventures, but I also think that time could have yielded something a bit more memorable, and with more effort. I also think that the lesson to be learned here is that Leatherface may be the most "awesome", but he needs a couple of his fellow Sawyers around to mix things up a bit and keep him from being just another generic giant killer.
What say you?