Sunday, January 6, 2013

Been There, 'Saw That: TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D

There's a special pleasure to be had in seeing a 3D horror film in the theatres, waiting for implements of destruction and severed body parts to be thrust in your face like something out of an old SCTV sketch. Too many lopped-off limbs flying towards the audience are not enough, I say, and Texas Chainsaw 3D honestly needs all the help it can get.
The newest Leatherface outing starts off with a promisingly bold maneuver, skipping the three original sequels and the charmless, glossy, Michael Bay-produced remake (and its prequel). A highlights-reel of footage from the 1974 original plays over the opening credits, bringing us up to speed and picking up directly where that movie left off. The shotgun-wielding kinfolk of the first movie's family of hillbilly cannibals shows up to defend the homestead, including, inexplicably, a young mother and her baby daughter. Not to be outdone, an angry mob of locals shows up with even more firepower and molotov cocktails, and the demented clan gets blasted & roasted, in that order, with (seemingly) only one survivor--the baby girl, who is secretly adopted by a married couple among the mob. Fast-forward several years to a young goth girl named Heather (Alexandra Daddario) who receives a will saying that the grandmother she never knew she had has passed away, and that she now owns the old lady's palatial estate. The only sane response, of course, is for Heather to call up her pals and have a party there--what better way to get over finding out that your parents aren't who they said they were your whole life?--bringing along a predictable bunch of slasher fodder like the Slutty Best Friend, the Token Black Guy, and the Hunky Hitchhiker. Of course, the will says nothing about the secret door in the basement that hides the home of the other survivor of the family massacre (one wonders how easy it was to hide, for decades even, a hulking, brain-damaged cannibal who wears a face made out of human skin). Soon, the titular chainsaw roars back to life, taking down Heather's friends and several of the locals alike (many of whom participated in the opening mob scene, and are now in various positions of authority around town). As Heather slowly (very slowly--the 92-minute film does a lot of stalling for time) learns the truth about her real family heritage, the townspeople are shown to be the real monsters for committing such a heinous act of vigilantism and then covering it up. At least, that's the idea.
Texas Chainsaw 3D isn't clever or daring enough to inspire much excitement among fans of Tobe Hooper's original film (Hooper returned to produce the 2013 model--there's also a brief cameo by original Leatherface Gunnar Hansen in the opening minutes), but in its defense, there's also not enough of much else to inspire outrage, either. For the most part, it's a pretty by-the-numbers affair that owes more to Halloween IV: The Return Of Michael Myers than anything else, what with its young heroine learning of her familial connection to a legendary maniac. There are a few flashes of humour that, frankly, the movie could have used more of, like Leatherface pausing to put on his tie before the final showdown (I always loved how he dresses up nicely for the climactic dinner scene in the original), the reveal that Leatherface's last name is Sawyer (get it?), and a goofy after-the-credits stinger that provides a cheap punchline for Heather's identity crisis. But there's not enough of this stuff to justify the film's existence--even Hooper's own 1986 follow-up had the good sense to play the idea for laughs.
Which brings me to the biggest stumbling block in any attempt to build on the world of the original 1974 film. That groundbreaking terror flick seems to almost exist outside of any recognizable reality, creating instead an impressionistic vision of a world slowly going mad. It's filled with strange omens (is the solar flare activity discussed in the early scenes responsible for the chaos that follows? Does the creepy hitchhiker somehow mark the leads for death when he smears his own blood all over their van?) and ambient sound design (that weird, high-pitched noise that plays over the opening sequence, the buzzing of the chainsaw, Marilyn Burns' nonstop screaming for the last twenty minutes). Logically following from the nightmarish events of the first film is a nearly insurmountable struggle, on par with the challenge Peter Hyams faced when sequelizing 2001: A Space Odyssey--it's like having to create a sequel to a feeling or an emotion rather than a story (for the record, I like Hyams' 2010, but I don't envy him his task). But it's a bit much to expect from a money-driven slasher reboot by a hired gun director (prior to this, John Luessenhop directed the 2010 caper flick Takers) to take artistic chances or even have much of a sense of humour about itself, so Texas Chainsaw 3D plays it predictably safe. The only added dimensions a movie like this can realistically allow itself, after all, are the ones that enable blood and blades to fly towards filmgoers.

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