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Texas Chainsaw 3D (2013)

This is Almost 40?

"Incredible! A perfectly terrifying follow-up to the original."

I don't doubt that Tobe Hooper said this, following an early screening of Texas Chainsaw 3D--the new sequel to his 1974 genre-defining classic, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I do, however, question whether or not he meant it.

The quote presents us with two possibilities, neither of them reassuring. We can accept Hooper's words as sincere, in which case, he unwittingly confessed to having ungodly poor judgment and/or stunted mental faculties. We could also assume that Lionsgate tossed him a few extra grand in exchange for a little off-the-cuff promotion. Either way, we're dealing with a shill or an idiot, a rube or a liar.

I have no qualms making these accusations because one or the other must be objectively true. It's impossible for a reasonable person--horror fan or not--to be entertained by Texas Chainsaw 3D. Director John Luessenhop and writers Adam Marcus, Debra Sullivan, and Kirsten Elms have made a film so aggressively stupid that I have to wonder if that was their intent, or simply a bi-product of unchecked incompetence.

The film begins with a recap of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Sally (Marilyn Burns) and her friends stop at a large Texas farmhouse, where they are systematically stalked and butchered by cross-dressing freakshow Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen) and his nutty cannibal family. Sally escapes, and we enter the new story moments after she's whisked away in the back of a pickup truck. Sheriff's deputy Hooper (Thom Barry) shows up at the Sawyer family home and demands the family's surrender while awaiting backup.

In a bizarre nod to The Devil's Rejects, the family has magically expanded into a militia of armed-to-the-teeth rednecks who come to the aid of Leatherface, Grandpa (John Dugan), and Leatherface's brother, Drayton (Bill Moseley, stepping in for the late Jim Siedow*). Just as Hooper seems to have paddled up shit creek, along comes a rival mob of rednecks who somehow got the memo that the Draytons chopped up a group of out-of-towners in the bowels of their remote homestead. Within minutes, the "good" drunken good ol' boys have set fire to the "bad" ones, and the house collapses in a heap of bodies and ash.

During the panic, two of the mob--a married couple--steal a newborn from a young woman who'd almost managed to escape. They raise the child as their own, and she grows up to be the film's heroine. Yes, as a footloose and fancy-free twenty-something, Heather (Alexandra Daddario**) receives a letter from her late grandmother's attorney (Richard Riehle), bequeathing to her a large Texas estate--a different one from the beginning of the film, but one that for some reason has a cemetery out back with plots for everyone who died in the fire.

Heather, her boyfriend Ryan (Tremaine Neverson), and two other friends alter their plans to hit New Orleans on Halloween in order to check out the new digs. On arriving, they find a stocked kitchen, a tricked out sound system, and grandma's dirty little secret: an underground lair that houses Leatherface (now played with zero pizzazz by Dan Yeager), whom she apparently kept as a pet.

Let's pull over a moment and address the skin-mask-wearing elephant in the room: its name is math. The filmmakers would have us believe that Texas Chainsaw 3D is a direct sequel to the 1974 original--meaning Heather was "adopted" thirty-nine years ago. I'm sorry, why is she being played by a twenty-seven-year-old (who's arguably playing someone at least five years her junior)? The only age-appropriate principle cast member in the film is Keram Malicki-Sanchez,*** who plays one of the doomed friends; he was actually born in '74. But his character is also about twenty-five. I give up.

Eighty-five percent of the film's problems can be easily placed at Marcus's feet. He also wrote the story for Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday, the most convoluted and boring entry in the Friday the 13th franchise. You don't have to look very far to see his handiwork here: from the left-field mythology expansion (in both cases, involving adopted-infant relatives of masked maniacs) to the same annoying-teens-and-hicks template, the only difference between these two cinematic failures is that Final Friday at least had some inventive kills. Texas Chainsaw 3D erases the line between remake and sequel with nearly shot-by-shot recreations of scenes that have been famous for decades (Close-up of orange booty-shorts walking slowly towards the house? Check. Body popping up out of a locked freezer? Check. Surprise hammer to the face? Checked beyond belief).

The other fifteen percent is a matter of the filmmakers cannibalizing other remakes in putting their embarrassment of a horror movie together. It's bad enough that this, like the putrid Amazing Spider-Man, is the second recent attempt to reboot a franchise that's barely ten years old, but the movie steals so liberally from every other slasher remake that I must assume Luessenhop and company somehow think they beat everyone else to the punch (must be more of that wonky time-math). If you've seen the remakes of My Bloody Valentine, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (the remake and the prequel to the remake), or either of Rob Zombie's Halloween movies, you've seen everything Texas Chainsaw 3D has to offer--and far more effectively executed.

Hell, you could make quite a fun little drinking game by substituting Leatherface and his victims for the leads in those other films. For example: in which remake's climax was the killer choked by a chain and dragged slowly into a whirring piece of machinery?

Hey, it wouldn't be much of a game if I just gave you the answer, would it?

Maybe Luessenhop, Marcus, and the rest did all of us a huge favor. By ultimately neutering Leatherface (seriously, he's a cuddly killer by the end) and giving audiences nothing new to latch onto, they've proven that it's time to put this series to bed. I know that runs contrary to the six-picture deal the producers signed with Lionsgate, but these are the same folks who'd turned the Saw series into actual torture porn by the time they finally put it out to pasture.

On the other hand, maybe this is the perfect new-millennium franchise: recycled; gross; but neither inventively nor edgily so; and dumbed-down enough that the teens, tweens, and toddlers who occasionally look up from their phones might find it relatable. Nearly forty years after Hooper unleashed his unique, gritty, uncompromising vision on the world, his legacy has boiled down to shilling for a copy of a copy of a copy that someone used as a cat-vomit rag. I can't be too mad at him, though: In an era of massacred attention spans, the marketing exec is king.

*While I was glad to see the 1974 footage cleaned up and converted to 3D, the editing in of new clips featuring Moseley in the Siedow role was jarring and more than a little ridiculous.

**The actress has done fine work in other things, but her main function here is as a shapely mannequin for what appears to be the world's first nipple-tape-lined flannel shirt.

***Sing along, kids: "Keram Malicki-Sanchez is the wise way to say 'Merry Christmas' to you!"

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