Halloween Scene: Texas Chainsaw (2013)

Texas Chainsaw When I got a press email about review copies of Texas Chainsaw DVDs being available for review, I almost didn’t respond. I get several of those a day and only reply back to ones I’m really interested in reviewing. First off, I only have so much time and don’t want to spend time watching things I don’t think I’ll like. Sure, I’ll probably miss out on some unexpected greatness doing this, but it leads into the second reason which is that I do feel a real responsibility to write a prompt, timely review when a company goes out of its way to send me a review copy. I don’t want to be that guy who asks for free stuff, but never fulfills his part of the agreement by actually reviewing the material.

Anyway, I gave Texas Chainsaw a watch and didn’t fall in love with it, but it definitely has some interesting idea kernels in there that kind of burrowed their way into my brain. Unlike the 2003 remake or its 2006 prequel The Beginning which worked with a new universe based on the original Tobe Hooper film, this version of the story is supposed to be a direct sequel to the original 1974 film. To let you know this, the film picks right up with a montage that pretty succinctly sums up that film and then moves right into a scene of the local sherif trying to get the Sawyers out of the house. Just as things look like they might end peacefully, in rolls Burt Hartman with his redneck posse, their own guns and a few Molotov cocktails. Soon enough, there’s a firefight and the whole house goes up in flames. Nearly every Sawyer dies except for a little girl who gets saved and goes off to live with another family.

Cut to today (or some mysterious time) when Heather (Alexandra Daddario) discovers that she’s inherited a house in Texas that belonged to her birth grandmother. What she doesn’t yet know, but soon discovers after travelling to the house with her friends, is that she’s actually a Sawyer and her cousin Leatherface is living in the basement. Leatherface winds up getting out and making short work of her friends. Heather gets away to the cops where she informs the hunky young deputy of what’s going on, but it turns out said deputy (played by Clint’s son Scott Eastwood) is actually the son of now-Mayor Hartman! Burt and his buddy try to go for some off the books justice against Leatherface which doesn’t work out too well for them.

Many of the problems with the film stem from basic writing and production choices. First off, the timing is all kinds of crazy. They make a big deal of saying the date of the events of the original, but then firmly set this movie in 2012. That’s tricky if you know that the original took place in the 70s and are then curious why Heather isn’t in her 30s or 40s as she was supposedly a baby in the events following the first film. I’ll be honest, this didn’t bother me much until I read Brian Collins’ review over on Horror Movie A Day and really realized how sloppy that made things. I was also really confused as to who all those extra people hanging around the Hewitt house were in the beginning. It’s great that they gave cameos to some of the original cast members — Gunnar Hansen (OG Leatherface), Bill Mosely (from TCM 2), Marilyn Burns (Sally) and even Grandpa himself John Dugan — but it added an extra layer of confusion for me. If they’re such a tight nit family, where were they before? How’d they hear about the troubles so quickly?

The script — which I assume was written and re-written several times by many different people — also suffers from some really corny bits. For absolutely no reason, Heather’s best friend Nikki (Tania Raymond) is constantly after Heather’s boyfriend Ryan (Trey Songz). Heather winds up never finding out about any of this and the only purpose seems to be to make you not like either of them and also get them out of the house for a bit, but it just comes off as rote, typical slasher stuff. Another problem that arose from this relationship is that Nikki gets Ryan out to the barn with the idea that something monstrous has happened, but it’s before they discover that someone is actually murdering their friends and acquaintances so it just comes off as overly meta.

My biggest problem with the movie involves pretty significant spoilers, so skip this paragraph if you want to stay pure. A huge part of the movie revolves around Heather discovering that she’s part of this murderous, psychotic, cannibalistic Sawyer family. One of the idea kernels that I was most intrigued by was how Heather would deal with the idea of being related to those folks. Is this an examination of nature versus nurture? Will Heather turn out to be evil because it’s in her DNA? Will she fight it and stay good? Those were the questions that started appearing in my bead Pop Up Video style. There’s a weird turn where Heather realizes she’s related to Leatherface and also finds out what happened to the rest of the Sawyers (also that she is one) and then instantly teams up with Leatherface. Who, I will remind you, is a man who killed her friends with a chainsaw (he cut one dude in half at the waist in a pretty great gore scene), tried very hard to kill her before seeing a particular birthmark and also sews human faces onto his own face (another pretty great scene, by the way). You get kind of caught up with this as the mayor is trying to kill Leatherface, but when he and Heather get back home and she tries to dab his face — the face he’s wearing on his face — you come back to your senses and none of it washes. I completely understand being adopted and how that can mess with your head, but if I found out that my birth parents were psychotic murderers, I’m 99.9% certain I wouldn’t instantly switch to their side. I also wouldn’t throw him a chainsaw and say, ugh, “Do your thing, cuz,” especially after he almost killed me with the same weapon.

And yet, the movie does a lot of things I like. It’s slick looking, though not as much as the remake. Nothing can really capture the look of the original, so I don’t have as much of a problem with it this time around. I also appreciate how much went into the gore scenes which all seemed to be at least mostly practical. In addition to those there are some legit creepy moments that got me a little twitchy like one where Heather’s looking at a picture of a relative and the reflection ghosts over her own face and the whole thing looked really great and weird and scary. I also liked how they played with some of the conventions associated with this franchise. There’s no dinner scene for one thing. And while it does include a hitchhiker who’s not exactly a good dude, they still do something different and fairly important with him, so it feels more earned.

And yet, there’s still so much goofiness and badness. I really wish they hadn’t used the same actors for the sherif and soon-to-be mayor in the past and present. They look exactly the same and it gets distracting. Same goes for naming the lawman Sheriff Hooper. I get it, you want to pay homage to the original’s director, but when you’re already dealing with so many elements that put horror fans out of the drama, don’t add another one like that.

While the movie itself comes up short, there’s a lot to love on this DVD. The special features are plentiful on this one and sure to please whether you really like this movie on its own or you’re just a fan of the original. Most of the features fall into either retrospective and practical sections. While all of the retro stuff features current footage from this film there are constantly references back to the original film and how this one was trying to pay homage to it in various ways. Take the one called “The Old Homestead” for instance. It’s about the house from the original movie which the crew scanned both in real life (the building is a restaurant somewhere) and the film and did their best to recreate it. Now, I noticed some of the more horrific elements were supposed to be homages, but my memory stinks, so I didn’t realize how far they went to recreate the scene. The coolest aspect of this featurette though was seeing the actors from the original who were in that scene I didn’t like at the very beginning come in and basically relive their experience as if they were transported back to 1974. You get even more from the original gang in “Texas Chainsaw Legacy.”

Meanwhile, there’s a lot of interesting technical stuff expressed on the screen. One called “Resurrecting The Saw” focuses on the producer and writers talking about actually bringing the franchise back and the 3D cameras involved in shooting. The writers straight up say they wanted to go for a vibe where Leatherface is the hero and this lynch mob is the bad guy, partially (I’m extrapolating a bit here) because the mob goes against our sense of fairness and the justice system in this country. Not sure if they nailed that one, but it was interesting to hear where they were coming from. The writers also talked about how much bigger the original script was with more kills and more 3D but a lot got changed. I think a lot was left unsaid here and would love to hear what all four credited writers thing about how this movie turned out.

You’ve also got “Leatherface 2013” which focuses on Dan Yeager and his super-intense experience while playing the renowned crazy person, something that might have made him go a little batty himself. “Lights, Camera, Massacre” gets into some of the complications of shooting in 3D (which seems a bit moot since you’re watching a DVD without that option) and “It’s In The Meat” gets into a lot of the gore special effects. So there’s really a lot to sink your teeth into as a TCM, Leatherface or horror fan.

I think my opinion of the move might have changed a bit after watching the behind the scenes stuff. You can really tell that most of the people involved with the film really had the best intentions and there are a ton of good things going on from the gore and Yeager’s performance as Leatherface to the set design. But then you remember something like “Do your thing, cuz,” and wonder if there wasn’t a producer or studio person sticking their head in a bit too much and making changes.

I think Texas Chainsaw might be the kind of movie that I can enjoy a lot more the second time around. I try to keep my head clear of bias when watching anything, but that’s not all the way possible, is it? You can’t help but let your memories sneak in while watching something referring to old favorites. Now that I know about the Sawyer’s hanging out at the beginning and what happens with Heather, it will be less of a shock to watch again. I find when some things are blunted like that, you can enjoy them more on a second watching.

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