So let's just get this out of the way; Lionsgate's 2013 revival of Tobe Hooper's 1974 classic, TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D, is not a good film. I'm confident that everyone reading this doesn't survive on a diet of lead paint chips and Jersey Shore reruns alone, so I'm pretty confident you all guessed that from the title alone. Having finally seen this confounding mess for myself, however, I'm convinced it's the WHY this is a bad movie that's worth talking about. Just so we're clear, SPOILERS follow, but you really shouldn't watch this movie - at least not without knowing exactly what sort of pain you're in for - so... proceed as you like.
Opening on August 19th, 19XX, the day Sally Hardesty escaped from the deadly Texas clan that massacred her friends, the sheriff of Newt (Thom Barry in an afro wig) drives up to the Sawyer farmhouse to take in Jed, the "simple boy" they had long assumed was capable of destructive force. He never gets a chance to take him peacefully, though, as a local mob of Good Ol' Boys led by the future mayor (Paul Rae) show up to enact a little street justice, and burn the Sawyer's home to the ground, lobbing molotov cocktails first and asking questions never. There was one survivor, a baby pulled from her dying mothers' arms, and left for dead (because apparently a kick to the face is a one-hit-kill in Texas), and taken in secret by one of the vigilantes unable to have children for themselves. The local band of thugs declare themselves heroes, hang the recovered chainsaw from the local pub as a trophy, and are confident that the deadly legacy of the Sawyer clan is over...
Right from the start, we're treated to cameos by Bill Mosley, Gunnar Hansen and John Dugan - names that should be all too familiar to anyone who consider themselves fans of the first two Tobe Hooper Texas Chainsaw Massacre films. Bill Mosley is playing Draton "The Cook" Sawyer - an interesting touch, considering he played Draton's eldest son Chop Top about 15 years earlier - and Dugan is actually reprising his mute, make-up heavy role as Grampa from the original film! Curiously, Gunnar Hansen isn't playing Leatherface, except in the stock footage leading up to this scene... instead he's playing a never before seen Sawyer Patriarch who snorts out that they should "give up the boy", which may be the only time I've ever seen an actor literally tell the audience fuck my other character in this same universe. It's jarring, uncomfortable even, and feels like it was a cameo put there just to satisfy fans of the original but does it in a way that un-does the majesty of Hansen's original role in the first place. This sort of clumsy, mismatched fanservice logic will come to dominate the film's runtime... but, let's get back to the story for a while.
Fast Forward 20 years, and the baby pulled from the wreck has grown into the lovely Heather (Alexandra Daddario), who's push up bra clearly prevent her from ever finding a shirt that covers more than half of her ribcage. Maybe she's just convinced Jessica Biel somehow didn't show enough belly button in the 2004 flick, I don't know. She also makes nifty, if morbid art projects with the meat-refuse she brings home from working in the butcher shop at a supermarket, and her plans to take a trip to N'orlans for Mar-Tay-Grass with her boyfriend Ryan (hip hop mucisian Trey Songz), her best friend Nikki (Tanya Raymonde), and said gal's new beau Kenny (Keram Malicki-Sánchez) are cut short when she gets an unexpected letter, informing her that her grandmother has passed away. Not knowing she even had a living grandmother, she confronts her parents, only to learn that she was adopted, and - after a shitty meeting that proves she may have been better off with her blood relatives - leaves in a huff, and considers forgetting all about it... only for her friends to surprise her by saying they'll accompany her to Texas! Awww! Along the way, they pick up a hitchhiker (Shaun Sipos) - a surprisingly well spoken, beefcakey kind of hitcher you'd expect to find in a particularly classy porno, rather than a no-budget horror flick. But they nearly ran his handsome ass over, so hey, why not drag him along?
They meet with the Sawyer's lawyer (Richard Riehle), who gives Heather a letter and the keys to her new mansion, telling her that it's all hers now and that she can't even legally sell it... but seriously, please, read the fucking letter. This being a dumb horror film the notion of "reading" is promptly forgotten, so they explore their new digs and then leave that skeevy hitchhiker they picked up at a gas station alone, in the house, while they go to get supplies for the weekend - because who doesn't leave complete strangers alone with priceless antiques you've just inherited? Naturally he starts casing the joint, because legally you should get robbed in those circumstances, but he unlocks a strange, hidden door in the house, unleashing... DUN DUN DUN...
You guessed it: "Miss Leatherface".
I'm dead serious, this is a licensed costume.
Back in town, Ryan and Nikki are getting friendlier than they should - like, dick grabbingly so. Boyfriend tells Bestfriend "It was a mistake! I was shitfaced, stop turning my crank!" to which Bestfriend says "FUCK ME AGAIN, DAMMIT!", thus setting up a conflict that hadn't been hinted at, and naturally ends up with the two of them fucking like rabbits, off screen, in a filthy barn, where we both know all good infidelity happens. Ah well, there goes our "interracial relationship in a mainstream R-rated film cast in a positive light" vibe for the day. Don't get me wrong, I doubt they actually wrote Ryan's character giving much thought as to if he would be black or not in the finished film (because, y'know, that would imply there was any thought put in at all), but here we were with a generically happy couple who's difference in pigmentation hasn't meant shit, and yet, we have to pull out the fact that her generic best friend's sole characteristic is that she demands only the finest dark chocolate sausage in her baby oven. Hear me out, she's gone out of her way to point out that she likes Keram Malicki-Sanchez, so at this point there's really no other explanation other than she's bored of white dick. Again, probably wasn't the intention going in, but with zero other notable character traits, "unfaithful" is hardly an endearing one. Oh yeah, Keram M. Sanchez? His sole defining characteristic is "he can cook" and for what it's worth, he gets what might be the nastiest death scene in the film. So I guess he wins. I don't fucking know, it's difficult to keep track of which of these characters is the least interesting.
So everyone gets home, discovers that their hitcher was of the more Rutger Hauer variety than theyd expected, but can't find him anywhere. They shrug it off, instead of calling the cops or anything, get wasted from red plastic cups (you just inherited stemware to spare, goddamn, live it up a little!), and it's not until Skanky McSeducer's evidently wang-deficient boyfriend is baking a cake or, some shit I don't remember, that he winds up discovering Leatherface in the basement, and promptly gets fucked up pretty good with a meathook. (He gets sawn in half a little later, which is easily the most gruesome scene in the film, but even then if it's kinda'... whatever.) Everyone else is too busy boning or being depressed to hear him, and it's not until Leatherface discovers that Daddario is fucking around in the family plot that he gets his panties in a bunch and finally grabs the expected titular power tools for a good old fashioned Texas Barbeque. The most squirm-inducing scene from Fulci's CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD is appropriated here (and, to be fair, is probably the one really effective use of 3D in the whole flick), which gets the attention of the other surviving morons, who pick up our seemingly requisite Final Girl and get a move on. Leatherface trashes the van during an exceptionally ill-advised escape attempt, killing Heather's cheating boyfriend with a broken windshield (lame) and leaving her to act as a distraction so her slutty friend might live another... hour, maybe two. She inadvertantly drags Leatherface into a crowded carnival, where of course nobody dies, Heather shows off every inch of her belly hanging from a Ferris Wheel instead of just running more (because why not?), and a fucking cop has a loaded gun, but for some reason lets Leatherface escape into the night, despite a crumby looking CG chainsaw being an absolutely terrible ranged weapon. Any Gears of War fan could have told you that.
At the Newt police station, the mayor and the sheriff listen to what Oscar nominee Alexandra Daddario has to say... which is surprisingly deadpan for someone who's friends have just been chainsawed into pieces. "He was wearing a face." What, a mask? "No. He was wearing a human face." Said with all the terror, confusion and anxiety of someone at the Burger King drive through confirming that, yes, I wanted a LARGE Mountain Dew, not a Medium. They're called away when another cop checks out the van and confirms that, holy shit, there's a blood trail going back the house, and we should totally check that shit out. Seeing a malicious glint in his eye, Sheriff Do Good tells Mayor McMurder Pants not to try any funny business, and our heroine reads through the police file left over her grandmother, which - conveniently! - features the newspaper from August 19th, spelling out in detail how the townsfolk murdered her clan and left her an orphan. This cuts back and fourth between a grouchy cop going down the bloody rabbit hole on goddamn FaceTime, so that the mayor and sheriff can explore the house despite not being there, doing, like, Sheriff Stuff. Yes, it's as retarded as it sounds, and it bums me out that South Park not only did this a few months ago, but did it better. Eventually Heather has had enough of slow-pans of police reports with the year of the incident conveniently smeared or blocked out, scrawls "MURDERERS" on the photo of the Good Ol' Boys who ruined her life before it began, and trots out to talk to the lawyer and figure out what the fuck he was thinking handing her a caged maniac in a backwoods town that probably just wants her dead.
Heather meets the lawyer at a crowded pub that still displays the spoils of the Sawyer razing, and explains that Leatherface - apparently named "Jedediah", because naming him Cletus or Darryl would just be silly - is just a simple boy and doesn't really understand what he's doing. Also, why didn't you READ THE FUCKING LETTER, YA DUMB BITCH? I mean he says it nicer, but that's the jist of it, and right around that time Mayor Scumsuck shows up to put that innocent girl in a world of hurt, even though she's literally done nothing except be a little snarky about, y'know, her entire bloodline having been Hitlered'. Meanwhile, Leatherface chops the face off of that one cop nobody thought to send back-up to, despite knowing he just accidentally shot someone before they lost contact, and we get confirmation that the rest of Heather's useless, stupid friends are in varying stages of being turned into delicious hamburger patties. Not that we see anything especially nasty, just some generic limb-flopping.
And oh yeah, apparently Officer Figpucker was one of the Good Ol' Boys who killed his family, which Leatherface promptly scratches off of his "Revenge Board". Seriously. It's setting itself up to be a fucking Kill Bill franchise.
As for our heroine, she escapes the mayor just long enough to be picked up by a local "good cop" who hit on her earlier, who - SURPRISE!! - is actually Mayor Scumfuck Jr., which actually isn't all that surprising when you figure A) you're in a county with, like, 500 people, and B) you're in a town where half of those 500 people banded together to burn your entire clan to the ground, and C) HE TOLD YOU TO GET INTO THE BACK OF A POLICE CAR. Lines, bitch. Read between them. Reading of any sort is clearly over Heather's pretty little head, and that's a shame. This being a shitty ironic sort of punishment trying to cram in yet another piece of misplaced fanservice, she's dragged to the old slaughterhouse, and tied up with her boobs almost exposed (and lookin' good, at that), along with her Sawyer Family "Birthmark" I've yet to mention because up until now it really hasn't mattered. Also, because it's stupid. A scar left on a baby would generally heal and distort until it was completely unrecognizable. The fucking pendant that left the mark in the first place was literally delivered to her on a silver platter. Fuck, wouldn't it have made, like, a hundred times more sense if she just put that on, and THAT'S why the rednecks were all ready to stab her? Getting ready to murder because of some baby coming back two decades later seems a wee bit paranoid, even for Deliverance rejects, but if she shows up literally wearing the standard of the people you thought you eradicated... well, it'd have made just a bit more sense.
And miss Daddario, seriously, please do a role in the near future where "almost exposed" isn't a phrase I have to use. By which I mean the 'almost' part of the phrase. You're kind of a terrible actress, or at least you were here. You're goddamn cute though, and I don't usually take the time to say that about an actress in a 7th franchise entry I'm seeing in what's the cinematic equivalent of hatesex. Those things stretching at your tank top are your best asset; use them while people might still care. Just, y'know, friendly advice from someone who doesn't think this film is going to do your career any major favors.
Anyway Leatherface shows up to cut off any loose ends, sees the "birth mark", and cuts the girl free. Despite toting a giant, bladed power tool gets his ass handed to him by a pair of middle aged men with lead pipes (fuck, I'm beginning to hate this movie even more). They chain him up to a giant grinder and let him slooowly get dragged in, Bond villain style, but Daddario feels bad for the violent giant, turns off the machine, stabs Side Kicks just to be a dick about it, and tosses the saw to our Hero. Leatherface does his thing, wickedness is punished while Sheriff Do Good watches through gritted, morally conflicted teeth as Mayor Scumsuck gets ground up into Mayor McNuggets. Heather and Leatherface limp back home, and she finally opens the letter, which included both her Sawyer Pendant and a full breakdown on the fact that her murderous human-skin-wearing cousin will protect her with his life, but only she has the key to his release. So y'know every dumb-assed thing in this movie could have been avoided if she'd taken 30 seconds to read the note Marilyn Burns left her. That's right, the girl who played Sally the "Final Girl" in the original film appears as Leatherface's aunt. (Because THAT isn't meta-weird, right?) Cut to some shitty emo-rock song about revenge over the best bleeding plugins After Effects can muster, and a final gag that's about as unfunny as the rest of the film. (I actually took a piss and missed it, 'cause I was done about half an hour ago. Mrs. Kentai was a trooper and described it to me. If you want to know more, read Wikipedia like everyone else.)
Okay, let's just do the math here; Leatherface lost his family in a tragic, brutal crime. He lives underground, crafting gadgets and disguises, and is unleashed to the world above to quell injustice on his own terms. We're about a cape and a lively Danny Elfman score away from Leatherface being The Goddamn Batman, and that was a very, VERY bad idea. The only reason this even begins to work is because there is no implication of cannibalism. None. I mean yeah, Leatherface hacks up corpses in his basement room, and one brief gag has him in the kitchen cutting the fingertips off of one character's hand into a mixing bowl (...'kay?), but other than these non-sequiters that could be summed up as "Jed don't know any better", the fact that Draton Sawyer and the rest of his clan were involved in a grave-robbing, flesh eating conspiracy is simply swept under the rug. Kind of a weird move considering the film takes great care to try and keep whatever consistency was set down in Tobe Hooper's original film, other than it generally pretending that "Part 2" - also co-written and directed by Tobe Hooper - never happened. Though they do keep the name "Sawyer" which is... odd, considering it was a goddamn joke. Seriously, SAW-yer... get it? The fanservice peppered through the film is just bizarre like that, giving long time fans of the original three films little moments of familiarity that only serve to remind us how big a mess everything else on display tends to be, and how poorly this stuff fits back into what's left.
No. I'm not posting the high-res version of this stupid photo.
Just not gonna bother. You don't care. Why am I even saying this?
I spoke about how Ryan and Nikki (BF and BFF, respectively) were knocking boots shortly before getting killed - let's explore this for a second. There's zero doubt in my mind that this scene was put here so that the audience would be rooting for them to die and give Heather an anchor to embrace her dark destiny without needing to look back. In theory, it's actually kind of a cool hook; betrayed by the only people she had left, she sinks into a violent paranoia and embraces the one monstrous option left. Classic morally indistinct stuff! The problem with that is that she doesn't actually know her friends are lying to her - there's no moment of clarity with her asking why they're basically naked, no mention of her knowing "something" happened and her trying to ignore it, not even a look of her looking betrayed when she sees the two of them together from a distance. As far as we, the audience, can tell she's blissfully unaware that her boyfriend is cervix-ramming her best friend the second her back is turned. And then, just in case you forget, they get murdered in the face by a chainsaw wielding maniac.
So tell me, friends, how would you react to this same situation?
Using any semblance of logic, Heather should hate LEATHERFACE, not the townsfolk! Their "friendship" in the final reel should be an uneasy alliance where she's ready to turn on him as soon as she's safe - hell, if anything she would have stabbed him in the back as soon as Leatheface was done doing her dirty work! (I actually feel like this reveal should probably have happened earlier, giving Heather the knowledge she needs to try to warn her friends but also know that Leatherface is really on her "side"... wouldn't that have been neat?) Regardless, because the audience knows they betrayed her, the character switches sides, because that makes the loosest kind of sense, and that's all the film seems concerned with. We as a viewer are meant to feel good about that, even though the characters shouldn't. There's a subtle implication that she was "always a Sawyer" with her morbid arts and crafts and all of that, but it's so half-assed and buried under stupidity that's never properly explored I don't want to give it any more love than I absolutely have to. It's shit like this that consistently make the film feel disjointed and dumber than it was meant to. Well, that and the film pulling out a groaning one-liner at the single most inappropriate moment possible, seemingly just so they had something badass to put in the marketing materials.
Leatherface himself, played by 6'6 Dan Yeager, is... kind of dull, to be honest. Not achingly bad, but he's given fuck all to do but look vaguely menacing and grunt in monotone. As I've likely discussed ad-nauseum before, my fascinating with Leatherface is largely due to Gunner Hansen's original take playing him not as a giant lumbering sociopath, but as a terrified special needs kid who literally doesn't understand that what he's doing is wrong. In the original film, Leatherface defended his home from strangers, and one of the most terrifying, poignant moments is after he's killed three people and sits in his own filthy living room, holding his head like it's ready to explode. This isn't the boogeyman; this is the kid who doesn't understand that he pet the doggy in the parking lot too hard, and doesn't understand why it bit him. Hansen's Leatherface was an emotional fragment grenade, cutting into every bit of fear and sympathy the view can muster. What we get here is much closer to the rumbling, sighing, boring impression from LEATHERFACE: THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 3. The Sawyer's lawyer (a thankless role) calls attention to the fact that Jed's a mental deficient, but the actions we get are of a brooding madman looking for satisfaction, not an overgrown anxious child capable of destruction he doesn't fully understand. If any film in this franchise, ANY of them, had an excuse to play up the "It's not really his fault, he's just a giant child!" angle, this would be the one... and, we get pretty much fucking nothing. Brilliant. Had Leatherface tried to connect with Heather - carried her home at the end like a kitten, or had a moment in the middle where he tries to communicate with someone he realized was kin, anything remotely human at all, this whole dumbass idea of him being a murderous superhero just might have had a prayer. Too bad this idea whips right over the film's head, along with a dozen others that would have made a whole lot more goddamn sense.
The heavies in the film (such as they are) -Paul Rae as the murderous but charismatic mayor, James MacDonald as a twitchy cop, and Ritchie Montgomery as Rae's... goofy sidekick, really - are all kind of weak as villains. They try to look intense and cackle like good stereotypes, but I am having some SERIOUS trouble pinning down their fucking motivation here. Look, I can understand the gut instinct to kill anyone that wears other people's faces, but the lengths they go to kill a pretty girl who's literally done nothing wrong except breathe is just... obnoxious. They should come off as OCD madmen obsessed with some kind of petty revenge, but since the kids who were killed in Newt 20 years ago hadn't lived there in over a decade, and with all grave robbing and flesh peddling swept under the rug, I honestly don't know what they're so protective of. They're only villains because the film wants to make Leatherface a hero, and that's such a bad idea I can't even begin to explain why this feels forced. Oh yeah, Scott Eastwood plays the corrupt deputy (which is weird to start with - Christ, he looks like he's 20!) but he's waved away with a throw-away line and completely disappears by the end of the film. Look, he's the sheriff and his pa's dead... you think he isn't just going to storm the Sawyer mansion and fuck shit up?
The tone of the film is a mess, never taking itself seriously enough to hold any weight, but never outright playing it for laughs either. Going one direction or the other could have netted some interesting results out of the "Family Is Everything" thread running through it all, but it's so inept it seems to be going for the hardcore horror angle and just looks goofy for it. Going as far as to re-create several iconic scenes from the original film (and one notable sequence from the third), every act of fanservice is clumsy, and even when it doesn't totally suck it's still nowhere near as clever as it seems to thinks it is. The one time there's potential for some serious shit going down - Leatherface, saw ablaze, running through a fucking crowded carnival - basically amounts to him waving his bigger phallic symbol at a minimum wage kid in a Saw costume with a plastic chainsaw. Isn't that WACKY? Does that amuse you, and satisfy your distaste for modern franchise horror? Well it shouldn't, because that's exactly what you're watching right now.
Writer Adam Marcus, who was also responsible for the head-scratingly bizarre JASON GOES TO HELL which turned everyone's zombified teenage killer into a vagina hunting AIDS worm demon, describes the film as "good fun". I don't know if the director cut those parts, or if his definition of "fun" is simply on a different planet from my own... but I just don't like it. It's a crappy movie. Not as crappy as part 4, but again, making a TCM film worse that part 4 than that would require the total re-animation of Ed Wood and literally all of the SyFy Channel's resources. I guess it's even a marginal improvement over part 3, if for no other reason it desperately tried to do something different... even it didn't work. At all. But at least it's not dull AND familiar, I guess. If any one moment from part 3 sums up everything wrong with it, it's a sweet little girl pouring blood down the clearly dead grampa's throat, as if there was any life left in him, or he even cared. You couldn't come up with a better metaphor for that well meaning but completely mistaken rehash, not if you tried.
If nothing else, the opening montage featuring funky "3Dified" footage from the Tobe Hooper 1974 film on the big screen was a treat. Don't spend ten bucks just to see that, though; buy the original film again, or maybe give the Nispel remake a second chance. Seeing how much worse the alternative clearly is, I'm starting to think I might owe that stylish slice of experimentalism an apology. This just sucks, and it sucks for reasons that are so mind boggling and broken to the core that I can't even talk about them further without risking long term psychological damage.
Slightly updated from start to finish for clarity.