Set Visit Report: TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D

Brian Salisbury visited the set of TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D. Get the scoop.

It is amazing how often we horrorphiles, with our inclinations tipped so pronouncedly toward unholy content, treat classic horror films as holy ground. We tend to therefore find our hackles thoroughly elevated when some presumptuous filmmaker dares to tread on that holy ground by revisiting or, Cthulhu forbid, remaking one of our beloved films. If the last few years have somehow managed to fail to convince you that nothing is sacred anymore, you’re probably more than a little reticent about next year’s Texas Chainsaw 3D.

Perhaps you were soured by the two Platinum Dunes outings and you recoil at the idea of taking further steps away from the original Chainsaw canon. You can however rest somewhat easier knowing that the rights have changed hands from Platinum Dunes to Lionsgate and that Texas Chainsaw 3D is seeped in the blood of ancestors. Badass Digest was fortunate enough to be invited to the set of Lionsgate’s Texas Chainsaw 3D, and what we gathered from the severed pieces of the film we examined was encouraging.

Shreveport, Louisiana in August. There are few things more uncomfortable to contemplate, but to actually attempt to shoot a movie there with multiple outdoor locations? Madness. Stepping out of the van, the heat was abusive; hammering down on us with far more proficiency than grandpa trying to kill Sally. A house had been constructed in the middle of a field on this military base, but it was largely obscured with makeshift cooling tents. The atmosphere was quite tense, the swelter causing an understandable amount of friction as the cast and crew were being cooked like raw meat. There was something sinfully appropriate about the conditions on set; a taste of the grueling, filmmaking trench warfare that made infamous the production of Tobe Hooper’s original.

So what’s the new movie going to be about? Are they just going to pick up from where the remake or Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning left off? Hardly. We’ve been told by the filmmakers to act as if the Platinum Dunes films never existed. Done. The new movie will actually begin where Hooper’s revered initial film left off, as the Sawyer family is dealing with the fallout of their diabolical treatment of Sally Hardesty and her friends. Having just dealt with the driver of the Black Maria, they are barricading themselves against the inevitable appearance of the law. They let Sally escape, and now there will be hell to pay. From there, the plot leaps forward to a more contemporary setting as a young girl returns to Texas to collect an inheritance; one can imagine whom she might run into there.

So right off the bat, we’ve got the latest entry in a long, and arguably tired, franchise rooting itself firmly to the progenitor film. Producer Carl “Texas Chainsaw” Mazzocone (Repo! The Genetic Opera) elaborated on this new, yet simultaneously classic approach.

“You know, when I pursued the rights and I acquired the rights for six remakes, I wanted to reboot the franchise off the original. I thought there was an enormous missed opportunity, mainly for continuity. I thought the first one had a greater consistency of horror. And they got, sort of, campier after that. And, it was, that's an interesting idea, but I wanted to make a classic monster movie in 3D. I took a page out of a lot of masters and put it in this film. A little bit of Frankenstein in here. There's a little Jaws. Some Hitchcock, a little King Kong. It's all sort of intermixed in, all the good stuff.”

Six remakes headlined by a reboot in 3D? Sure, we can understand how that could engender misgivings. The filmmakers behind Texas Chainsaw 3D seem keenly aware of this and offer, as suitable counterweight, several members of the original cast returning in various roles; some wholly new, some eerily familiar. Marilyn Burns, Bill Moseley (of TCM 2), John Dugan and Gunnar Hansen all make their franchise return. The casting of these actors represents a sincere genuflection to source.

“In this movie, I wanted to get back to the original Hooper basics,” Mazzocone noted. “The decision to bring Bill Moseley back was he was a personal friend of mine, and we did a few movies together, and he looks a lot like Drayton Sawyer. And he knew him, so that was a no-brainer. John Dugan played the original grandfather, and because he's wearing such extensive makeup, he could reprise his role as the grandfather here, which we thought was cool. Marilyn Burns is probably one of the sweetest people I've ever met on the planet; so full of life and love. I couldn't picture a better Verna Carson. She plays the grandmother. And Gunnar Hansen came about from watching all the DVD bonus tracks. He had been so overlooked in all the subsequent movies; people were offering him below scale to return. I thought to myself, ‘If I ever get this franchise, I'm not gonna treat him like dirt. I'm going to give him the respect he deserves.’ He is the quintessential Leatherface. There's him, and then there's everybody else.”

The cast was unsurprisingly pleased to be reconnecting with the TCM universe. “It’s a great deal of fun,” Moseley said. He’ll be tackling the role of Drayton Sawyer played in the first film by the late Jim Siedow. “I’m really happy to be here. It’s weird playing Drayton. I liken it to Moe playing Curly in the remake of The Three Stooges. I consider it a real honor to be channeling my buddy Jim and also to protect his legacy.” Marilyn Burns also gushed a bit, stating that while the script had her excited, it was the prospect of a cast reunion that really appealed to her. “That was even better,” she said. “Nothing could beat that. What could be more fun? Again, who would've thought that just after a couple years, we'd be back together again.”

Gunnar Hansen was rather coy about his role in the film. All he would offer was that he would be playing a character he described as “Boss Hog” Sawyer. Though he had been forced to relinquish control of his own seminal monster years ago, we wondered if it was difficult for Hansen to be on set and watch someone else don the mask. Truth is, Hansen is thrilled with this latest incarnation of the character.

“There are a couple things, which I’m not allowed to say, about Leatherface that are really neat. I would never have thought of them. A lot of times when they create a new Leatherface in these movies it’s like they ignored the original Leatherface. So they’ve got a kid with a skin problem and an attitude, that makes him nothing.” No idea as to what Hansen could have been referring. Ahem. “But they did some details on the new Leatherface that when I read them I thought ‘Oh, what is this?’ And then I thought about it and thought they were really nice additions to the personality of Leatherface that were consistent with the Leatherface from 1974, which I like.”

We watched from the safety of the video village as the younger version of Leatherface inside the house (played by acting noob Sam McKinzie) frantically cleaned up the carnage from his 1974 rampage. McKinzie will be splitting the iconic role with Dan Yeager, who will take over the part when the film jumps ahead to today. Wait, does that work?

“Yeah, we have a bit of fudge when it comes to time. I wish I'd made this 15 years ago. It would have made my life easier,” Mazzocone offered when presented with this conundrum.

As the first half of the scene concluded, McKinzie was brought into the cooling tent covered in sticky, fabricated viscera courtesy of KNB Effects, their presence a further note of reassurance. We were led around to the front of the house, and down the long driveway. It wasn’t until we were walking back that the authenticity of this set became so fundamentally striking. It was something akin to stepping through the screen as the grungiest, most therefore beautiful 35mm print of Tobe Hooper’s film rolled. This experience was apparently not specific to press.

“Oh man, it was a shock,” admitted Hansen, “we usually come up the back road here, but yesterday we came up the main road. So I’m sitting in the car and I look over and through the trees I get a glimpse of the house, and I’m really startled. I got out and it’s like right out of ’73. I was really shocked at how real it was and how everything was right. It was the creepiest feeling looking down the road, down the driveway, and seeing the house kind of coming up.”

Inside the house, the recognizable decor of discarded bones and strewn chicken feathers moving about the room on what little breeze Shreveport would grant. Having been in what is left of the original house, now a restaurant in Kingsland, Texas, the painstaking accuracy of each room, of each piece of furniture was overwhelming. Looking toward the back of the house, Troy Harris, who appears in the film as the unfortunate driver of the Black Maria, was hanging from a hook. Just another day in the Sawyer house.

Two questions remained as the day drew to a close, the merciful reprieve from the heat in sight. First, the prospect of the new Texas Chainsaw being undone by its own 3D gimmick lingered like a fattened cow in the room. Mazzocone defended his extra-dimensional decision…

“I wanted to make the best 3D monster movie ever. It starts with writing the screenplay to be a 3D movie. And if you're gonna have great 3D, you've gotta shoot 3D; you can't convert from 2D to 3D. I just think that's a major mistake. There is so much work in laying up a 3D shot, because 3D is not just gimmicky 3D coming out of what's called negative space, which is the stuff coming out at you. There's great 3D and positive depth. And when you watch this movie, we took advantage in our set construction and design to have a lot of depth in the picture.”

Finally, the keys to this venerated horror franchise were being handed to a director with no experience within the genre. How would still burgeoning John Luessenhop (Takers) tackle the transition into darker territory? Is it possible that his inexperience may prove beneficial? Could it help prevent his getting bogged down by the unfortunate conventions that dominate studio horror?

“I had never been in the horror genre,” he admits, “so I approached it differently. I approached it as, ‘make a good movie.’ We’ve gone to pretty great lengths to contemporize the movie. What I didn’t want it to feel like was just another '80s/'90s horror movie.

Of course the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre is far from just another horror movie, but how much of the new film will be beholden to that first movie? Apart from the familiar faces in the cast, of course.

“When I look at Tobe’s picture, there are around ten little things that I wanted to homage that you can sprinkle into the script without being heavy-handed. I tried to put those in imaginative places where they fit without looking like they were forced in. We’re stepping into pretty heavy shoes here. The people that follow this genre are incredibly detailed. That’s why we’ve gone to great lengths with the house and certain things they say. We don’t want to offend [fans], but at the same time not try to remake that same movie. They’ve already seen that movie.”

Loaded, fittingly, like cattle back into the vans, we escaped from the set of Texas Chainsaw 3D. Much to our chagrin, Leatherface gave no chase. The filmmakers, cast and crew had fostered within us much higher hopes for the new film than when we had arrived. But when Texas Chainsaw 3D opens January 4th, will those hopes survive? And what will be left of them?