Another year, another stab at rejuvenating the flagging Texas Chainsaw Massacre brand; one of the most confounding franchises in all of fandom, especially given how easy it should be to come up with something reasonably frightening/entertaining given its simple premise (guy meets girl/guy chases girl with chainsaw). This year’s model, “Texas Chainsaw”, has even gone so far as to drop the "Massacre" from the moniker, perhaps in hopes of attracting the desirable multi-tasking teen demographic, who are so busy texting, instagramming, and tweeting that they don’t have time for those three extra syllables, nor the attention span to actually notice that everything that’s unfolding upon the screen before them had been done, and done much better, long ago.
“Texas Chainsaw” opens with a montage of original, cleaned-up footage from Tobe Hooper’s 1974 classic, and it looks exceptional, here, making me wonder aloud why my Blu-ray doesn’t look nearly as good. These scenes represent a sort of ‘greatest hits’, and run during the opening credits, ending with Marilyn Burns finding salvation in the bed of a pickup truck. We are then thrown into a Devil’s Rejects-style siege scene meant to take place immediately following the events of the first film (thus negating the events of Hooper’s tongue-in-cheek 1986 sequel and every one thereafter). Here, the Sawyer family, led by Drayton Sawyer (Bill Moseley standing in for the departed Jim Siedow), and a cavalcade of previously unseen distant relations including “Boss” Sawyer (the original Leatherface, Gunnar Hansen), attempt to fend off an attack by an angry mob of vigilante types, who presumably kill every last member of the Sawyer clan, save for an infant girl who is adopted by the kindly Miller family.
Flash forward eighteen years where said infant, Heather Miller (Alexandra Daddario), has blossomed into a perpetually frowny proto-goth chick who learns that she’s inherited a sizeable chunk of property from a grandmother she never knew she had. Conflicted and enraged at her adoptive parents, Heather decides to take a trip across Texas to appraise her inheritance, bringing along the usual blend of stereotypes, including Confrontational Black Guy/Boyfriend, Ryan (hip-hop guy Tremaine “Trey Songz” Neverson), Slutty/Hot friend, Nikki (Malcolm in the Middle’s Tania Raymonde all grown up and mid-driffy), and Geeky-hot/chainsaw fodder, Kenny (Keram Malicki-Sánchez).
The Scooby gang arrives at the sprawling manse and, after the requisite amount of bitching/partying/sex-type stuff, discover that they’re not alone. Leatherface, the chainsaw wielding maniac, dwells in the home’s basement, and, soon enough, Heather’s friends find themselves on the receiving end of his whirring blades of doom. Heather, of course, escapes, and seeks the aid of an assortment of local yokels, including handsome deputy, Carl (Scott Eastwood, who’s the spitting image of his dad), and her deceased granny Sawyer’s lawyer, Farnsworth (Richard Riehle), where she learns of her biological family’s horrifying history. However, there’s a big ol’ plot twist, here, and, when it comes to pass, Heather finds herself returning to her roots in hopes of enlisting the help of the last person you’d expect, unless, of course, you’re not a total fucking moron.
Oh mercy. Where to begin? “Texas Chainsaw” is, perhaps, one of the most inept, unintentionally hilarious, and thoroughly misguided genre films I’ve seen in…well…ever. It’s a gore-for-gore’s sake mess of slasher clichés, poorly realized plot devices, logic holes (since this is supposed to take place 18 years after the events of the first film, shouldn't it be 1992 rather than 2012?) and SyFy channel level production values. The performances are embarrassing, the direction is flat and lifeless, and there’s nary a scare to be had (unless you’ve an aversion to blurry shot-for-3D images accompanied by the sound of power tools). Virtually everything good about the movie happens in the first ten minutes, and half of that consists of footage from the original. What remains is "bad movie" entertaining; good for a few laughs and some visceral bloody bits, but hardly worth shelling out the cost of a Blu-ray to see at home.
Nevertheless, the film is now available on DVD, Blu-ray and Download from Lionsgate, with the Blu-ray coming in two separate editions. One is your bog standard 2D affair, while the other allows you to re-live the glory of the theatrical 3D experience (minus the excited yelps & whistles elicited from the abundance of overly sexualized tween girls to be found in cinema audiences these days in response to Neverson’s shirtless presence onscreen ) in all its fairground chainsaw-tossing stupidly. The High Definition transfer is gallingly superb and the audio equally stupendous -- supplying us with an ear-drum shattering DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 Surround sound extravaganza, plus a Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track apparently optimised for late night listening!
Extras are copious, starting with a grand total of three audio commentaries. The first brings together the new Leatherface on this picture, Dan Yeager, with director John Luessenhop, although it proves a fairly low-key affair in which both men merely deliver little tit bits of not very interesting anecdotal info about what happened when such-and-such a scene was shot, etc., during the making of the movie. There’s a bit more meat on the bone (pardon me!) when it comes to producer Carl Mazzocone’s commentary, for which he is joined by Tobe Hooper himself. Bringing in the original director to help endorse this sequel as a legitimate entry in what its makers are hoping will prove to be a re-energised franchise seems like a potentially risky strategy on the face of things, but the fact that Hooper accepted an executive producer credit on this film already suggests he was okay with the direction taken here, and indeed the best acting performance of anyone involved with this flick might just be Hooper’s on this audio commentary, as he professes to love every frame of it! It’s the third track here though, a moderated one with original cast members Gunnar Hansen, Marilyn Burns, John Dugan and Bill Moseley, which is the most entertaining of the three, as it’s really more about their memories of the making of the original picture (once we get past the first ten minutes and Marilyn Burns’ brief turn as family matriarch Verna Carson) and I seriously doubt that anyone is going to care too much that there is no cast commentary with the actors who are in the majority of the rest of the picture – a fact that speaks volumes in itself. Amazingly, after all these years, there are still a few nuggets of new information to be gleaned from this track, such as the revelation that the twenty-year-old John Duggan, who was playing Grandfather Sawyer under all those layers of prosthetics back then, quite fancied Marilyn Burns (who wouldn’t have) and began to get aroused during that famous finger-sucking scene!
The disc is also overflowing with featurettes, most of them coming in at around the 10 to 15 minute mark and which together clock in at around an hour-and-a-half of extra material. “Texas Chainsaw Legacy” (6 mins) features director of the original “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, Tobe Hooper, and original cast members Gunnar Hansen and Marilyn Burns reflecting on the 1974 classic, while “Texas Chainsaw” producer Carl Mazzocone and director John Luessenhop and the main cast members of the sequel talk about how seeing the original movie affected them. “Resurrecting the Saw” (9 mins) is perhaps the most informative of the featurettes in terms of explaining the thinking behind what motivated this re-boot in the first place. Mazzocone explains how discovering that the rights to the original movie had reverted back to the original writer Kim Henkel led him to propose an attempt to kick-start a new Chainsaw franchise in an effort to turn it into a successful SAW-like series, with a plan to make at least six sequels, all of them based around a new group of characters established by the end of this film. Screenwriters Debra Sullivan and Adam Marcus make the scriptwriting process sound like a bit of a nightmare, while the demands of the 3D technology seem to have ended up swallowing up a large part of the budget, forcing the writers to scale back on their original ideas for several spectacular set-pieces. Sullivan and Marcus were brought in after the original script idea was rejected for having cannibalism in it. (Imagine – a Texas Chainsaw Massacre script with cannibalism! What were they thinking!) The next plan was to turn the film into a Hatfield & McCoys-style tale of a murderous family feud, which presumably they intend to spin out across numerous sequels should they get the go ahead. “The Old Homestead” (14 mins) focuses on the filming of the opening ten minute sequence which takes place in a reconstruction of the original Sawyer household, on a Louisiana site chosen to replicate as closely as possible the appearance of the surrounding area seen in Hooper’s film. Gunnar Hansen and Marilyn Burns are re-united at the reconstructed house and marvel at the extent of the painstaking recreation of the environment seen in the first film, right down to the wallpaper on the staircase and the precise placement of props throughout the interior. Bill Mosley played Chop Top in “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part Two” but here talks about the challenge of taking over the Jim Siedow role for the opening segment, and John Dugan relates what it’s like to be back after forty-years to resume the role of Grandfather Sawyer.
“Casting Terror” (10 mins) is a bit of a standard puff piece that sees the young cast of this sequel talking about their roles and experiences during the making of the film, and generally bigging each other up and extolling the camaraderie of the cast and crew. “Leatherface 2013” (10 mins) features actor Dan Yeager meeting his idol Gunnar Hansen to discuss the role of Leatherface and talk about how the character changes between films; while Producer Carl Mazzocone talks about how the production avoided casting one of the many wrestler or American Football-type hulks who were submitted for the role and instead approached Leatherface as an acting challenge. Special make-up effects artists Mike McCarthy and Alex Diaz talk about the ideas behind the designs for the film’s selection of Leatherface masks while the selection of prop chainsaws and other implements used as weapons by the character are displayed. “Light, Camera, Massacre” (12 mins) features producer Carl Mazzocone, director John Luessonhop and stereographer Ray Hannisian explaining the 3D process and relating some of the difficulties created by shooting with the technology; and “It’s in the Meat” (8 mins) features make-up artists Mike McCarthy and Alex Diaz talking about the creation of the gore effects seen throughout the film.
“On Set Short Subjects: Five Minute Massacres” consists of six behind-the-scenes segments, each one detailing the shooting of a specific set-piece sequence: “Burning Down the House” shows us the planning and shooting of the opening shoot-out at the Sawyer house; “Trapped in the Van” highlights the filming of the sequence in which Leatherface attacks the occupants of an overturned vehicle; “Factory Action” focuses on the death of the villain at the climax of the movie; “leatherface in Action” consists of a collection of sequences which show actor Dan Yeager rehearsing and filming attacking and/or killing his victims; “Hot Times in Louisiana” takes us behind-the-scenes as Yeager in the role of Leatherface, attempts to gain entry to a barn in which two of the protagonists have taken refuge; and “Bloody Good Times” dwells on the filming of some practical special effect shots. Also included on the disc is an alternative version of the opening sequence with a different colour grading effect in use.
What’s really infuriating is that the premise, here, is not half-bad!. Granted, the idea of Leatherface as a sort of Punisher-esque anti-hero takes a bit of getting used to, but, were it handled properly, I could see fans of the character getting onboard with it. Sadly, the whole concept is squandered by director, John Luessenhop, who seems more concerned with giving Trey Songz a venue for his music than crafting a remotely effective horror movie. Were this placed in the hands of a capable horror director (um, how about Tobe Hooper?), this could have been genre gold. Instead it’s only a barely passable diversion that, were it not for the promise of its legendary title, would have gone straight from the editing room to the shelves at your local big box store.