10 January 2013

DON'T MESS WITH TEXAS

1974's revolutionary, genre-defining horror masterpiece The Texas Chainsaw Massacre has inspired a small army of follow-ups and remakes and prequels, but shockingly, it's taken 39 years for it to finally kick off a film that takes place in what is demonstrably and purposefully the exact same continuity, the confusingly-titled Texas Chainsaw 3D, though of course, whether or not "3D" is part of the title is something that's really more a matter of style and taste, and anyway does not distract from the main fact that the movie's title does an extremely shitty job of suggesting what it is: up until just hours before I finally dragged myself, half-willingly, to see the damnable thing, I had it in mind that this was involved with the continuity of the 2003 Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake and its dreary 2006 prequel. Or, even more likely, that it had no continuity to it at all, and was just using the title, the iconic design of the psychopathic man-child Leatherface (Dan Yeager this time around, who as far as I can tell is not only not a stuntman like most Leatherfaces of yore, he's not even an actor), and chainsaws being used to massacre people in Texas. Or maybe even not, since that's something the franchise has had a difficult handle on in the past.

But no, it's a strict, by-the-books sequel, and it is extremely anxious to make sure you understand this right away: the film opens, underneath its stern red block letter credits, with footage from the '74 TCM cut down to a whirlwind tour of the film's basic plot: five teens go out to Texas in August, 1973, and four of them are killed by a giant wearing a mask stitched out of human faces (stock footage of Gunnar Hansen, who puts in a cameo as a separate villainous character in the "real" movie). In three dimensions, of course, because when a film puts "3D" right there in its title, nobody wants to dick around. And boy, you can bitch all you want to about all the lousy post-production conversion jobs into 3-D that you've seen in your day (I still have fond memories of The Last Airbender in all its mucky glory), but you seriously cannot say that you've been in the bad 3-D trenches until you've seen the converted footage of TCM '74 that opens TC3D. Or, for that matter, the whole rest of the movie, which includes some of the absolute worst 3-D effects that I can ever remember seeing: flame that appears to be totally disconnected from the structures it's burning down; mist that feels like it has been "flipped", like it's receding into the foreground, if you will; CGI blood spurts that compound how badly-lit the blood is in gloomy night scenes, bursting out like cherry juice on a summer afternoon, by also looking like flat plastic sheets against the 3-D humans they're squirting from; and a shot through a dirty car window where all the flecks of mud feel like they're right in your lap, though this is the only shot in a multi-perspective conversation that is shot from outside of the car, and thus it cuts together spectacularly poorly. This last is, of course, simply a failure of 3-D cinematography and not of the particularities of creating 3-D effects, but it's still fucking awful.

(There are, of course, the tacky effects that you would consider approrpriate if not compulsory in a movie titled Texas Chainsaw 3D: whirring chainsaw blades poking right at you, meat hooks swung in your direction, and a particularly vigorous moment when a whole damn chainsaw is pitched at the camera. But these moments do not, I am sad to report, dominate the entire feature).

I have thus far described an joyless, ineptly made piece of shit; and boy, I haven't even gotten to the bad parts! Worst among this film's sins are those of its storytelling, which begins with the most idiotic of them all: see, the day after the massacre in 1973 - a date carefully never specified, though the film stock and clothing and vehicles certainly make a year much later than that quite impossible - the locals went to the Sawyer home where all this evil was done (the family name Sawyer coming from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, and representing this film's four-person screenwriting team's sole reference to any of the other sequels) and burn it to the ground and everyone in it, several of whom are played by franchise veterans. Ah, but not everyone: one couple, Gavin (David Born) and Arlene Miller (Sue Rock) see fit to steal the Sawyer's single remaining child, a baby girl. They raise her into the woman Heather (Alexandra Daddario, plainly cast for her gigantic breasts, which do not merely threaten to upstage her, but to jump off her body and become a separate, far more nuanced and relatable character), whom we next see in October, 2012 - and this date is very clearly and unmistakably specified, multiple times - at which point she is presumably 39 years old. And boy, is Alexandra Daddario not even a little bit 39 years old. In fact, her Heather is just one of a cluster of underwritten, uninteresting, and massively unlikeable neo-punk hipsters, I don't even know what subculture they're supposed to be, and I don't think the filmmakers do either. Heather, y'see, has just inherited her biological family's huge mansion, and long story short, they all travel to Texas from Oklahoma, and everybody but Heather dies reasonably quickly at the hands of the other single remaining member of the Sawyer family, the same Jed "Leatherface" Sawyer who was up to such mischief in whatever year it was that makes the continuity not feel entirely impossible.

There are three very distinct phases in TC3D: the opening chunk which replicates in fairly exact detail the series' trademark shape, right down to four young victims alongside the Final Girl; and this phase is stupid and reductive, filled with some of the most instantaneously unlikable characters in any 21st Century slasher movie - I could not pick a least favorite, though Tremaine Neverson, AKA R&B artist Trey Songz making a dismal attempt to break into movies, is by a colossal margin the most incompetently played. But why pick on the actors? These roles would defeat any actor; if this were somehow being made at MGM in the '30s, with Norma Shearer as the Final Girl, Jean Harlow as the vixen, and Clark Gable as the sarcastic one, their combined star wattage would still be futile to make a single inch of this screenplay live and breathe.

Then the second phase comes along, and for 20 or 30 whole minutes, I genuinely thought that Texas Chainsaw 3D had righted itself, and was going to be an interesting, if deeply flawed, attempt to expand the series mythology in a compelling way: we start to get to know more about the culture of the town, and Leatherface, and Heather learns about her own history, there's a strange but effective scene of Leatherface rampaging through a carnival, and the character dynamics are unsettled in a way that makes for a watchable movie, if you can get past the bit where basic police procedure is not merely ignored but slapped in the face and laughed at. The third phase begins when four separate trips to The Ol' Slaughterhouse On The Abandoned Road start off, one after the other, bringing four disparate groups of characters to a single location just like a '60s sex farce, without the Burt Bacharach music. Which would, I am convinced, only have helped, particularly when the film decides for no reason to commit character assassination of the highest order against Leatherface and Heather (though we do not give much of a shit about Heather), in order to set up a sequel using a hook that's just about impossible to see working for a whole feature-length project.

Seriously, the ending is a screaming disaster. I don't want to go into it; I don't want to think about it. It's the difference between "relentlessly dumb movie with a decent middle" and "OH MY EVER-LOVING GOD, FUCK THIS MOVIE".

This is all directed by action movie veteran John Luessenhop with a rather notable lack of atmosphere, tension, or even gore: though the camera does not look away from some awfully bloody moments (it's the most violent movie in the franchise for sure), they are all so shiny and uniform in presentation as to lose all potency. The slick cinematography by Anastas N. Michos, obviously cribbing from the polished sickliness of the 2000s films in the series, doesn't help; it gives a techno sheen to everything, and with the film so obligingly presenting the genuinely squalid, nauseating footage from the '74 film right at the forefront of our mind, it's hard not to see this as a particularly gruesome car commercial. There are some decent jump scares; it's hard to mess up a jump scare involving a man that tall with a weapon that large and plot-conveniently noisy. But God, if the best we can say about a Texas Chainsaw Massacre film is that it has good by-our-lady jump scares...! On balance, the film manages to be as pathetic and pointless (if not as ruinously campy) as Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation, and on my word of honor, I would not have thought for even a split second that such a level of worthless incompetence was even in the realm of possibility.

2/10

Reviews in this series
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Hooper, 1974)
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (Hooper, 1986)
Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (Burr, 1990)
Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (Henkel, 1994)
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Nispel, 2003)
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (Liebesman, 2006)
Texas Chainsaw 3D (Luessenhop, 2013)

5 comments:

McAlisterGrant said...

"...plainly cast for her gigantic breasts, which do not merely threaten to upstage her, but to jump off her body and become a separate, far more nuanced and relatable character".

This is why I love you.

Brian said...

The moment I learned this was coming out in January, I went from being mildly disinterested to "have to see it" because of how bad I was sure it must be. I mean, January is a dumping ground in general, but nothing screams "HORRIBLE MOVIE ALERT" quite like a horror film coming out 3 months after Halloween.

The.Watcher said...

Yep, and it made 30-something million opening weekend, AND there's talk of a sequel. I fucking hate this world.

But then, I'm already incredibly upset because I just looked at the RottenTomatoes page for A Haunted House... it has, so far, a 1.4/10 critic rating, but the audience, my god! the audience... has given it a 4.3/5. With ~20 THOUSAND people voting. A 4.3/5. That's the same rating that Godfather 2 and Goodfellas have.

In the immortal and wise words of a certain chubby kid from a small town in Colorado:

Screw you guys, I'm going home.

Japes said...

Made some really nice points in your review....but really, your run on sentences are just as bad as the film. Read your first sentence....that is a travesty of the human language. And oddly enough I enjoyed reading it. And oddly the enough the movie does have all those bad things, buy yet I enjoyed it as well and even saw it a second time.

McAlisterGrant said...

RE: Japes—It's not a run-on sentence. It's just a long sentence. And Tim varies his sentence length enormously in a way that is both purposeful and effective, in my opinion.