The Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise isn’t exactly sacrosanct, and even the terrible new entry in the series, Texas Chainsaw 3D, can’t match the sheer awfulness of Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation. But while Texas Chainsaw 3D will never be able to claim status as the worst entry, it’s still a giant turd of a movie.
The Texas Chainsaw movies are kind of weird, historically, because they're all over the place. The first one - the only really undeniably good film in the series - suggests more than it shows, and its reputation as a gore-soaked shocker comes from masterful manipulation by Tobe Hooper. You don’t see any of the stuff you think you see. The sequel, which came a decade later, is a blackly comic farce that is tonally a sharp right turn from the original. The rest of the films in the original series aren’t worth your time of day. I actually like the Platinum Dunes remake, since it tries to make the movie everybody thinks the first film is. It’s not totally successful, but in the context of the time it was admirably brutal. The prequel, though, was crap - until Texas Chainsaw 3D it was the second worst film in the series.
Texas Chainsaw 3D opts to ignore every film in the series except for the first one. To make sure you can’t fit 2 or Leatherface or TNG into the timeline, TC3D opens moments after the end of the first film with a local lynch mob showing up at the Leatherface residence. There’s a brief Ruby Ridge-esque standoff and then the locals burn the place to the ground, killing Grandpa and everybody else inside... everybody except Leatherface and a little baby.
Flash forward twenty years and that baby, who was adopted by two of the rednecks who killed her family, has an inheritance from a grandmother she never knew she had. She loads up a van with her generic, unbearable friends and they roadtrip out to grandma’s house. Grandma has left the girl her whole estate, include her backwoods Texas mansion. There’s a letter with important instructions - a letter which gets utterly ignored.
If the girl had read the letter the whole movie would have been over and we’d all be happier. See, the letter explains that Leatherface, the 6 foot 8 retarded cannibal we all love, lives in grandma’s basement, where he’s fed mysterious meat. In the course of events too stock to bother recounting, Leatherface is set free from the basement and the body count begins.
I want to take a moment here to address an issue that bothered me for the first half of the film. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was released in 1974. It’s safe to assume that the film takes place around then as well. This new movie uses actual footage from that film, establishing the fashion, cars and references in TCM as canon. The events of Texas Chainsaw 3D must take place about 20 years after the original film, which would place the film in roughly 1994. That makes sense going by the first half of the movie. Nobody has a cell phone, for instance, and one of the kids looks like he’s in Smashmouth. It seems clear that this is a period piece.
Suddenly it’s revealed that it’s 2012. Suddenly a sheriff has an iPhone and uses it to FaceTime with a deputy who gets offed by Leatherface. Suddenly The Texas Chainsaw Massacre takes place in the year 1992. Something about this bothers me so intensely that I can’t quite articulate it. It’s not particularly something to hold against Texas Chainsaw 3D (there's plenty else to hold against it), but it does point out how generally half-assed the film is. If you’re going to make a big deal out of being a direct sequel to the original film, show some respect to the original film.
The first half of the movie is almost unwatchably tedious, with these hateful kids fucking about - smoking pot! Playing pool! Listening to the hip hop music! - before getting offed in largely uncreative ways. The second half makes a sharp turn, and I perked up in my seat. Could this be the twist that would render the first half interesting in retrospect?
In the second half we realize that the same people who burned down Chez Leatherface are now the town fathers of the local burg. Our heroine is now forced to make a choice between going to the authorities, who killed her real parents, or supporting her blood, even when he’s a crazy murdering lunatic. This actually feels like it’s a story. The script never engages that in any way, opting for boring scenes of running away and sequences of characters learning things we already know. The film opens with a flashback to 1974/1992 that tells us every bit of information our lead learns in act three. That’s terrible, terrible structure.
What TC3D feels like is a mash-up of bad 90s slasher sequels. The town fathers with a dark past stuff is right out of A Nightmare on Elm Street, while the girl murder prodigy stuff is a rehash of Halloween 4 and 5, with a bit of Tommy Jarvis thrown in for good measure. You’d hope that riffing on this strange, continuity-laden era of slasher films would produce something interesting, but that isn’t the case.
I will give the film props for some nice practical FX in the first half (when the movie seems to be set in the 90s). The second half goes for truly shitty CGI gore that has a sub-SyFy quality to it; if I were told the entire second half of the film was a reshoot I wouldn’t be surprised at all. If I were told nobody involved in the film had a lick of talent I also wouldn’t be surprised at all.
Texas Chainsaw 3D is very much a movie that was made because someone had the rights to a brand name and needed to exercise them in a timely manner. There’s not a whit of effort on display, not a moment that works. It’s not even laughably bad, it’s just a lowest common denominator bore of a film. There are no good performances at all. Lead Alexandria Daddario is extraordinarily gorgeous, but she has no life on screen. Rapper Trey Songz appears in the film as a guy who needs to be murdered much, much faster. Everybody else is utterly forgettable.
The 3D sucks too.