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Friday, 11 January 2013

TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D (2013) - Alexandra Daddario 'one of young Hollywood’s most important and promising new players' stars in a film that 'fully endorses the original’s flamboyant charm, subtle wit and brutal fun'.


*This review may contain spoilers hung on a meat hook in an abandoned farmhouse ~ watch before reading!*

The director of Texas Chainsaw 3D - John Luessenhop, is the kind of man who, in normal circumstances, you wouldn’t have thought would have had the blood and guts to direct yet another sequel to the Leatherface-starring franchise (of which there have been many: a new generation, a prequel, a comedy splatter Part 2 courtesy of original director Tobe Hooper with star Dennis Hopper as well as a fairly well-received remake in 2003) having only directed a couple of lightly poached crime movies prior to the Chainsaw gig.

While I haven’t seen either of Luessenhop's previous movies (so they could well be brilliant) they sound slightly uninspired and yawnily predictable: a competitive swimmer whose life went off the rails (or who climbed out of the chlorine and smelt the poppers) gets himself back in the deep end by returning to college and being framed for murder in Lockdown (2000), and Takers (2010) an equally unendearingly naff-sounding bank robbers VS sharp-witted detective flic starring Hayden Christensen and Matt Dillon.

Two movies in thirteen years isn’t exactly prolific, and with no background in horror you could be thinking that Texas Chainsaw 3D is going to be as anemic as most of those other sequels. You’d be wrong – it’s frigging fantastic!

The screenplay of this new Texas Chainsaw entry and direct follow-on from the original movie is by Adam Marcus, Debra Sullivan and Kirsten Elms (from a story by Stephen Susco and of course based on the now infamous characters created by Tobe Hooper and Kim Henkel back in the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre from the grimehouse era - 1974).

I know what you may be thinking right now (because I certainly was) too many writers all round, and one big pot of steaming bones, slightly rancid! Well, no – the script here is smart, sexy, witty, clever, and seriously nasty good fun.

Two of the scriptwriters; Marcus and Sullivan have worked together before - on the 2008 Val Kilmer thriller ‘Conspiracy’ but their upcoming films together may be of more interest with Cabin Fever: Outbreak coming in 2014 and the highly anticipated remake of I Walked With A Zombie (also to be directed by Marcus) out later this year. Basically – these guys kind of rock in the horror world right now.

Adam Marcus also has great horror pedigree in that he wrote the script for one of the most creative (I always felt) and certainly ‘different’ Friday the 13th sequels; Jason Goes To Hell (1993). As for the third part of this scriptwriting axis of evil; Kirsten Elms is a newcomer, and I’m sure brings a fresh-faced and young slant to the super-hip dialogue and smart wisecracks that drive along this fast, bloody, effortlessly crowd-pleasing horror.

The film starts with a montage of scenes from the original Texas Chainsaw movie that – if you are a fan of the original – are just about worth standing up out of your cinema seat and cheering for.

All the iconic cast from back in the day are present and correct (including the svelte girl in hotpants and annoying kid in the wheelchair - fond memories that come rapidly flooding back!) and - thankfully - the old clips are shown, not in the black and white or tinted hues you may expect, but in an overwhelmingly sun-drenched and rich palate of extreme colour.

That kind of colour overkill and especially the sheen of Texas sunlight bathing itself on dust-ridden off-the-beaten-track roads while a van-load of teens roam around carefree on bright summer days (ready made for unexpected horror) or run for their life under a beautifully blood-red and vivid sunrise for the last reel of final terror were what made the original (for me) so memorable and effective a visual experience. It made some kind of extra awful connection too, when the cinematography was mixed with an astounding degree of aural prowess and demented sound effect-use that punctured the original's soundtrack and helped to highlight and intensify all the horror stuff.

It's not unappreciated to be reminded (in such a smart and quite deliciously-montaged way) right from the start what a fabulous cast the original film was blessed with – Marilyn Burns especially as the principle victim, Sally (and boy could that girl scream) and of course Gunnar Hansen as her chief torturer; Leatherface (both of whom have roles in Texas Chainsaw 3D). Marilyn Burns and Gunnar Hansen danced a ballet of death in the bright orange glare of a Texas sunrise at the end of the original movie. It was one of the most beautiful moments in the history of horror.

The plot of Texas Chainsaw 3D (after the opening montage that just made me want – long – for the original film to get a 3D transfer one day too!) follows on directly from the '74 ending, a nice touch that I felt worked brilliantly.

The angry mob locals from the Texas town where the Sawyer family brought murder and mayhem (and a nice line in cannibalism) to the community, gather together and massacre the entire family shortly after the family's last victim - Sally, escapes from Leatherface’s whirring chainsaw in a terrific shoot-out that features many of the original cast lurking in the shadows of the old house in fear of their lives.

It’s quite a nice shock seeing the likes of the evil old Grandpa get spettered with bullet holes (though also quite disturbing – and what; slightly disrespectful?). The local Sheriff - Hooper, tries to stop the massacre, but fails. A baby is found by a young childless couple as they scavenge the outbuildings (the husband had earlier been involved in the vigilante squad slaughter) round the back of the burning farmhouse and they take advantage to snatch themselves an instant-daughter, kicking the baby's wounded mother lying dying in front of them, and pleading to be helped, in the face. This is adoption – Texas style!

Fast forward 20 years and pretty local girl and working butcher; Heather (there’s a clue in all this background stuff you know!) gets a letter to tell her that she has inherited a house in Texas following the death of her Grandma (that she didn’t even know she had). Heather challenges her parents who have to own up that she’s adopted. This couldn’t be more obvious to any of the rest of us without the need of a letter to reveal all as this jaw-droppingly gorgeous, friendly and hard-working girl is so far removed from the beer-swigging, blindly swearing and scarlet-necked parents she is supposedly the daughter of that she may as well be Bugs Bunny born to Betty Boop and Desperate Dan. This is cartoon horror – and no less fun for being so.

As a note on initial critical reception to the movie, some have mocked the dubious timelines on display here with the main problem being that the lead actress, first seen as the snatched baby, would actually be almost in her 40s with the first film shot in '74 and this being 2013 and all that - but don’t worry, unless you want to be really picky about this wickedly taunting use of poetic licence, it won’t ruin your fun.


Young Heather decides to make the trip to Texas to claim her inheritance, taking along her boyfriend - Ryan, and best friend Nikki. Along the way they pick up a random hitch-hiker who they think they have just run over at the local gas station (hey, you were fooled by that old chestnut?). The hitch-hiker - Darryl (Shaun Sippos in a pleasingly ridiculous puffed-up Jack the lad role) just happens to be dressed in a rain-soaked and flimsy shirt open to the groin and have muscles that ache to be set free. The girls in the van, not surprisingly, tell him to get in - quick! Big mistake – at the beautiful mansion later, the out-of-towners leave dishy Darryl to wander around alone to ‘freshen up’. But it's more of a 'cleaning up' the guy has in mind - the type that doesn’t involve the use of a bathroom. Not only does he get to bag the valuables on display, he also gets to meet the big boy lurking in the basement. The deceased old woman and owner of the house had been looking after Leatherface, one of the last remaining members of the original massacred Chainsaw family and had (rather unlikely, I know!) kept the fact secret for all these years. There are only two of the original clan left now; the legendary Leatherface - and Heather. And a town-full of former vigilantes out to finish the job they'd started back in '74.

Texas Chainsaw 3D is hugely respectful to the original movie it follows and also to the characters that the film's director Tobe Hooper brought to such vivid life. If you were a fan of the original, you should also love this one too - it’s awash with non-intrusive nostalgia right from the start. Rather than present a gore-soaked, darkly-lit (like so many of the other films in this franchise), simple reimagining of the original’s iconic themes, we get a witty, deliberately free-riffing nostalgia-fest (cleverly and smoothly updated with a modern sensibilty). This is a Texas Chainsaw movie that links to the past but very much insistes on being a great horror movie in its own right.

Much like 1983’s equally brilliantly realised Psycho II did to Hitchcock’s original horror film from 1960 and brought a familiar character back to life with wit and warmth (and had a bloody bucketful of fun while doing so); so too does Chainsaw 3D drag an iconic movie monster - Leatherface, back for a hungry audience without harming the character's good standing and depth of character.


Interestingly, Psycho II was set exactly 22 years after the original film and made this fact a big part of the subsequent advertising campaign and taglines. Texas Chainsaw 3D is here set 20 years after the original (yep, the fact it doesn't feel like 1994 is a major problem it seems for some - but like I say; just deal with it, it's only a movie!). Both Psycho II and Chainsaw 3D include flashbacks that add to the plot and that aren’t just there to shine up a shit film.

In many ways, the returning character of Norman Bates from Psycho II turned out to be something of an anti-hero, no longer the obvious straight bad guy. The boundaries of expectation had been moved slightly to one side. Sure, Norman’s still a killer, but he’s better now. Well, sort of. A bit like Leatherface here is in a kind of peaceful limbo (though it seems he may still have been busy in the absence of any visiting teens by practising his butchery skills on assorted others with his favoured power tools in that steel-doored slaughterhouse of his under the stairs).

Both these two boogeymen - Norman and Leatherface, kill to protect and occasionally; to survive. Misguided loyalty for sure - but whether it's Bates dressing up and protecting/ dominating the life of a shy only child (the child being himself, of course) in the absence of his mother, now deceased - or Leatherface protecting family in the role of dutiful son; these two iconic movie monsters have motives beyond a simple urge to kill. Psycho II may well be one of the best sequels in the history of cinema. Texas Chainsaw 3D is also, easily, the best follow-up or sequel to the original movie out of the many that have been made so far.

In the final act of Chainsaw 3D, Leatherface (played wonderfully here by Dan Yeager as an older, slower, greyer monster of a man who is entirely faithful and respectful to Gunnar Hansen’s original iconic portrayal) has a decision to make; to kill or save the life of the latest addition to the family.

Some critics have seen this decision-making process as ridiculous. I don’t see why. Some of the greatest movie monsters or madmen have effortlessly turned from that cold-blooded dark side to the often equally cold-blooded but slightly more light side in sequels to the original movies they once raised hell in. Even the darkest Sith of all - Darth Vader, became a good guy at the end of Return of the Jedi in 1983!

Others in this walk of less blame include Richard Kiel’s brilliant Bond villain - Jaws, who, in his second appearance in the 007 franchise fell in love and started helping the man he had previously been trying to push off cable cars or force into coitus interruptus on a train, in 1979's Moonraker and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator character in Terminator 2: Judgment Day who, in this 1991 all-action sequel to the hard-edged original was said to be a brand new cyborg - but we all knew it was the same Terminator at heart, just the heroic protector of a moody teen now instead of the monosyllabic executioner of old (a personality change related to the fact that Arnie had become such a big star in the years between the two films that he had now been upgraded to hero status only!).


Leatherface in Tobe Hooper's Chainsaw Massacre was a sympathetic character at times, well - when not pinning girls to meathooks. This was a man-child who was always loyal to his family and in the '74 version we glimpsed the occasional glimmer of sadness in the eyes behind the mask as he carried out those horrific random killings on the teens who had illegally entered his family's home; killings that seemed born more of necessity than need. Leatherface showed a childlike glee and excitement as he danced across the desert landscape at the climax of the original film; like a boy lost and finding sudden freedom - his evil maybe not a pure one, but a cultivated one, forced on him by his own family. The character of Leatherface was as much of a victim as the people he routinely butchered and chainsawed.

I still remember going to see the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre on the big screen at its first London screening after years of being banned in the UK. The film came with such baggage – it was a 'video nasty', and a film that, by all accounts, was one of the most horrific ever made. It seems ludicrous today to think that British censors made sure films such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre were hidden from sight, and that horror fans were left with the films the censors thought wouldn’t deprave or corrupt us. But suddenly - Texas Chainsaw Massacre was no longer forbidden; it had broken free and was playing at a regular cinema, totally uncut. I felt quite terrified just buying a ticket at the time.

Of course, the great thing about the original film is that there actually wasn't much blood and gore on screen at all. The film relies instead on horrific, sometimes painful, but mostly gore-free imagery. Some scenes welded their impact to the brain, especially Leatherface’s first appearance in the house; opening the huge metal door to the hidden chamber with such force, dragging a victim within, stunning him with a sledgehammer out cold as the poor boy’s body twitches, then (as if he sees us watching) slamming the door shut with the loudest, shuddering 'blam' of sound you will ever hear in the cinema, as if the monster wants to stop us watching - "go away", he seems to be saying; "you don't want to see what happens next". We did.

I still think the scariest thing about seeing the original Texas Chainsaw for the first time on the big screen were those horrendous sound effects - like a slaughterhouse being ground to rusted dust in a clanking giant car crusher; loud, brash and horrid. The screams from Leatherface's young victims, also, were terrifying – loud and real (from Marilyn Burns especially, who was not only a fine and outrageously pretty actress but also had the best set of lungs in the film industry). Tobe Hooper had directed possibly the greatest horror movie in history and it was all done, sort of, in the best possible taste - well, certainly free of overly explicit gore. That – of course – was the clincher.

Fast forward to the modern day and Texas Chainsaw 3D preserves Tobe Hopper’s legacy with style and respect. Of the cast, Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief star (and also returning for the Percy Jackson sequel; ‘Sea of Monsters’ later this year) - Alexandra Daddario, is brilliant and adorable as last-of-the-cannibal-family; Heather. A lot has been made of this girl's taut and impressive midriff on display throughout the movie in various outfits (that some believe is an in-joke of some kind - maybe a tribute to the amount of flesh on display in the original!) and yes; it's the best tummy in the business right now, but thankfully it’s not all show from this terrific actress and Daddario brings conviction to her role and a subtle sense of fun - by the end of the movie she's a fantastically revenge-driven and slightly twisted heroine who it was hard not to love even when sticking a local between the ribcage with a pitchfork!

Heather’s finest moment comes in a knee-buckling sequence of intense excitement when she clings to the outside of a carriage on a Ferris wheel – one of the most sweat-inducing sequences I’ve seen in any movie, let alone in a sequel to a 40 year-old horror flick.

The carnival setpiece (of which the Ferris wheel sequence forms a major part) with Leatherface running amok among the rides and crowds is suitably bizarre and outrageous – and an inspired idea. There’s some neat humour here too, especially when the real Leatherface comes face to face with a young pretender. Also wonderful, shortly after all this mayhem, is the sequence where Heather finds out – in the Sheriff’s office, about the truth behind her family’s massacre; go Heather!

All the cast of Chainsaw 3D are memorable, especially Scott Eastwood (yes, son of ..) as local law enforcer Carl (and what girl wouldn’t be taken in by that familiar smile) and Sheriff Hooper (Thom Barry), who is suitably troubled of brow. R&B singer Trey Songz (here credited as Tremaine ‘Trey Songz’ Neverson) plays Heather’s wayward boyfriend Ryan - and guess what? He’s really good! I was entirely taken in by his part-loving boyfriend/ part-'man who fucks first and thinks later' role. Yeah – look out for Trey, I think he’ll be around in the movies for a long time to come.

Of the rest of the cast, Tania Raymonde as best friend Nikki was superbly sultry and sassy and a brilliantly complete bitch at times and the always fabulous Richard Riehle as befuddled Farnsworth, the Sawyer family lawyer who I adored from the moment he first bumbled and fussed his way into shot, pretty much steals the show. Paul Rae as the dodgy Mayor (and one of the murderers of the Sawyer clan) was perfectly cast in a boo/hiss role with some substance and meat for him to hook onto and chew to the death onscreen. At least one of the above characters has a fabulous hands-free death. Literally.

There’s some gore in the film (more than in the original of course, though some fans have complained still not enough) - especially a sequence where one man ends up being half the person he used to be or when randomly assorted fingers are sawn off and end up dropping into a handily-placed bowl. The gore isn’t really the purpose to this film though, and just like the original - it’s still mainly all about the family (even though there are only two - or less - of them left by the time the end credits roll). You know what I like about the main characters in this film - we actually care about both Heather and her long-lost family member Leatherface, well I did anyway. And I, for one, will look forward to their return and further fights to the death in (I hope) at least a few more sequels to come.

Chainsaw 3D ends with another glorious montage of Leatherface’s more recent finest moments set to another pulsing music track. The soundtrack throughout the film is excellent, with a perfect balance between an evocative and haunting orchestral score from John Frizzell and eclectic tracks that fit together perfectly from such varied artists as Willa and the Buffalo Chips (‘Jimmy Crack Corn’), G-Block (‘Got it On’), Dave Lowe (‘A Tramp’), The PlaceMints (‘Dancing on Top of the World) and Tom Leonard and Logan Mader (‘Closer to the Bone'). It’s worth staying around to watch all the end credits to the bitter final fade-out as there’s a gloriously wicked, hilariously heartwarming bonus scene that sticks two fingers up to those who don’t think this film is deliberately shot through with a knowing wink and a genuine love of the original movie that made all this madness possible.

One last thing - possibly the best sequence in the movie involves an open grave, a coffin, some cheating best friends and a man with a chainsaw. It's followed by a heart-pummelling getaway that runs right into the nearby carnival for its final rampage and finest setpiece. Hitchcock himself, I reckon, and certainly the likes of Brian De Palma would have been proud of all this continuous and bloodthirsty mayhem!

Texas Chainsaw 3D then, is a refreshingly bonkers and quite brilliantly inventive take on a familiar story that doesn’t take itself too seriously but seriously knows how to have fun. I loved it! It’s crazy and sexy, bloody and scary and easily the most fun you can have in a cinema with an 80p pair of 3D glasses on your head - the kind of film that knows what the audience likes and flings it right back at them, usually in the shape of a buzzing chainsaw (and just wait until you get a load of that flying chainsaw in the carnival sequence – surely moments like this in the movies are what 3D was invented for!). There are many delicious moments throughout the film that will (if you also love the original) make you smile; including an icky moment where Leatherface shows us how to attach a mask made of a human face properly to your own in a way that avoids any embarrassing slippage.

This is the movie that authorises super-toned and killer-eyed actress Alexandra Daddario's status as one of young Hollywood’s most important and promising new players. It's also the only sequel to the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre that fully endorses that original’s flamboyant charm, subtle wit and brutal fun. You really couldn't ask for more.

Words: Mark Gordon Palmer


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