Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one of those sacred horror movie texts that hasn’t aged or dulled in 40 years.
Its legacy has been sullied by a few terrible sequels and remakes though (well, except for Hooper’s own Chainsaw 2 which is a pretty awesome campy companion piece) and in theory the arrival of a new movie with the words “Texas” and “chainsaw” in the title should be met with a nauseous feeling of dread. Thankfully this new jaunt with a gas-guzzling limb remover is actually decent. The film ignores all previous sequels (especially the cross-dressing Matthew McConaughey entry) with a direct follow up to the 1974 classic that even opens with the concluding footage from that flick and extends the story of that unfortunate, sweaty, and bloodsoaked Texas day. It’s a bold move to immediately force comparisons between a cash-grab 3Dquel and one of the greatest horror films of all time, but thankfully what follows isn’t a total embarrassment. This is probably the best movie from the TCM brand since the 80s, which just means it’s an average slasher flick. However, these days even a half-decent gore flick qualifies as a pleasant surprise from the Hollywood horror factory.
After director John Luessenhop (who also made Takers, but please don’t hold that against him right now) pulls together a TCM-montage for his opening credits, the film picks up in 1974 with a gang of raging rednecks pulling up at Leatherface’s house to gun down the Sawyer clan. The family seems to have grown substantially in the 20 or so minutes since the first film ended, but since franchise and Horror-Con favorite actors Bill Moseley and Gunner Hansen lead the charge, it’s a forgivable oversight. So, the Sawyers and shot up like the opening of The Devil’s Rejects and once enough bodies hit the floor we flash-forward to the present day. There we meet Alexandra Daddario’s Heather. She’s just your usual 20-something who slices meat in a butcher shop, has a slutty friend, wears shirts that show off her midriff at all times (and I do mean in every scene, which I think is supposed to be a substitute for the film’s lack of nudity), and has crappy adoptive parents. One day she finds out that she’s been left a house by her recently departed biological mother and heads off to Texas to claim her prize. So, Daddario, three a-hole friends, and a needlessly hunky hitchhiker pile into a van and head to Texas. Turns out that Daddario has been left a mansion. The only catch is that Leatherface lives in the basement and once he hears the pitter-patter of young nubile feet on the floor he emerges with his favorite power tool looking to do some dismemberin’.
What follows is fairly standard slasher stuff with increasingly elaborate gore gags and Daddario inevitably ending up as the final girl. It’s all executed fairly competently by Luessenhop with far more glorious gore than has been in a Hollywood horror flick since the Saw series was sent to pasture. Here’s the thing though: it’s all pretty fun. The filmmakers never for a second pretend they are making art and go through the slasher movie cliches with a enough tongue-in-cheek humor to let the audience know they’re having as much fun as we are. The gore is gross, but never drearily sickening like a Saw movie. It’s the kind of thing that makes you scream “gross” and then feel elated like horror was doled out in the 80s. The plastic 3D glasses you’ll be forced to wear mean that Leatherface’s chainsaw will be pointed and flung in your eyes from every conceivable angle and it’s a gimmicky delight. Yep, it’s a good old fashion drive in flick like a Chainsaw sequel should be and one executed competently. The film, it must be said, is also pretty stupid.
How stupid you ask? Well, here comes a spoiler. The big twist is that Daddario was an infant survivor of the Sawyer family massacre, which means she was born in 1974. That would make her about 40 years old and yet she’s clearly a 20-something and the use of smartphones in one sequence guarantees it’s set in the present day. Anyone with a basic understanding of math will figure out that’s idiotic, but the filmmakers don’t care and neither will the film’s ideal audience. Look, this is a by-the-numbers B-horror movie elevated only by ties to a classic film and fancypants 3D technology. If you go in expecting an experience to rival all of the Oscar bait flickering on neighboring movie screens, you’re going to be disappointed. However, if you go into a movie called Texas Chainsaw 3D with expectations appropriate to that title, you’ll have a good time. The gore is plentiful, the 3D is eye-poke-tastic, the set pieces are well-staged, there are plenty of horror in-jokes, the pacing is swift, and the acting is decent. That makes it an average horror movie and sadly there aren’t too many of those these days. In an age of PG-13 remakes that castrate genre classics and dull drivel like The Apparition qualifying as a major summer horror release, Texas Chainsaw 3D feels like a worthwhile trip to the movies. It would be nice if something this unspectacular could be dismissed as sub-par, but the current mainstream horror bar is so low that this thing feels like a treat. Thank God Leatherface wasn’t embarrassed for once. From what I understand that guy gets a bit choppy when he’s angry, so at least the money loving sequel makers out there are safe for now. Don’t get greedy and do another one though guys. You barely got away with this, so don’t push it.