Apart from Halloween, I don’t think any other horror film franchise has as much continuity confusion as Texas Chainsaw Massacre. As a matter of fact, it takes a fair bit of Wikipedia research just to keep straight all the sequels, prequels, remakes, and reboots and their relationships to one another.
The latest release, Texas Chainsaw 3D (truncated to the silly Texas Chainsaw for home video), adds a great deal to this confusion. It posits itself as a direct sequel to the original film, set about 20 years later and disregarding all previous remakes and sequels. To hammer that identity home, the film begins with actual footage from the original, which leads directly into the main plot, and immediately introduces massive continuity issues that could have been easily avoided at the script level.
First and foremost – the time setting. Texas Chainsaw very explicitly takes place in 2012, based on tombstone epitaphs seen early on. Yet the the opening scenes, set minutes after the events of the original film, are clearly set in 1974. Footage from the original TCM used in the intro makes this abundantly clear with the gloriously 70’s fashion. Once the film jumps forward to the present the main character, seen as an infant in the opening, is about 20 years old. There is nothing to account for the approximate 20 missing years, and the cleanest way to resolve it is to pretend that the original TCM took place in the mid-90’s and all the main characters were on their way to an offscreen 70’s retro party.
But I digress. Continuity is one of those things people get hung up on, and in our age of perpetual film franchises we ultimately need to accept that it’s not a priority for the film makers anymore. OCD folks beware.
As for the film itself, I confess that I watched it based on sheer curiosity, knowing full well that it was a critical disaster. I wondered how the material would be treated when saddled with the task of making a direct connection between the Texas Chainsaw Massacre of 1974 and the modern age. The Platinum Dunes-produced remake and prequel had an unmistakably commercial, 2000’s vibe and characterization that shared nothing with the original movie. I had to know if Texas Chainsaw (guh, that title) would take a different, grittier approach.
You can probably predict the answer. Even though this new installment ignores the Platinum Dunes films, and even though three actors from the original have cameos, and even though it begins with archival footage from the original film, the tone could not be further off. The cinematography is clean and conventional, the soundtrack super modern and filled with hip hop, and the scares predictable. The characterization of Leatherface has the exact same missteps as the previous two releases – he was never supposed to be a clever, calculating, theatrical slasher villain. The Leatherface I know and love is a barely functional man-child who knows only one thing – chasing people and butchering them like animals. He has no agenda, no strategy, and no cunning. He is simply a mentally undeveloped, unpredictable lunatic. But the modern TCM movies can’t resist forming his skin mask into a menacing scowl and making him silently hunt his victims as they hide in increasingly dubious chambers, such as open caskets.
There are also few other horror franchises as obsessed with the iconography of the series as Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Meat hooks (and the placing of people upon them), sliding metal doors, chicken bone sculptures, and that eerie old-timey camera flash sound effect are all apparently contractually obligated to be present in every TCM movie now.
The main plot, prior to the 3rd act pseudo-twist, is fairly generic and not really worth recapping. There’s yet another foursome of unrealistically beautiful youngsters in a van (always a van). The main character Heather (Alexandra Daddario) is even a bit of a blank slate, unless you consider breathtaking amounts of exposed torso to be character traits (no comment). That third act twist I referred to is not even much of a twist as Heather’s relation to the Sawyer family and Leatherface himself is established in the opening scenes. I will not spoil the ending out of basic courtesy, which is a shame because it involves a line of dialogue from Heather so jaw-droppingly terrible I could not believe it was even written, let alone delivered. If the curiosity gets too much for you, contact me directly for the spoiler.
The original Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s nauseating atmosphere was mostly built with gritty cinematography, sparse sound effects, and spectacular set design rather than full-on gore, something none of the modern reimaginings are willing to attempt. Texas Chainsaw, of course, is no exception. Folks get chainsawed all up in this bitch, early and often. Setting aside the argument about the power of suggestion in horror versus all out gory assault, the practical effects in the first half of the movie are at least well done. Then… the CGI comes in. Since Texas Chainsaw was filmed with 3D in mind from the get-go it has a few of those obligatory “stuff flying towards the camera” shots, accomplished using CGI that was clearly beyond the film’s budget. Don’t take this as exaggeration: There are visual effects shots in this movie (particularly in the climax) that are SyFy Channel quality. I’d love to be able to speak to someone close to the production; I have a strong feeling they’d have a story about being behind schedule and over budget, because those effects were that abysmal.
So, in the end, we have yet another cynical reboot attempt that fails to add much of value to the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise, besides another layer of canon confusion. And get this: there’s reportedly a prequel to this movie (yes, another one) in the works as the next installment. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.