Texas Chainsaw (2013, 2D) (US - BD RA)
Based on the title, Gabe thought he'd be watching an infomercial for garden tools.
In Newt, Texas, people have been going missing without a trace for decades. Years later and hundreds of miles away from the original massacre, a young girl, Heather (Alexandra Daddario), discovers that she has inherited a sprawling Texas estate from an unknown grandmother. To claim her estate, Heather goes on a road trip with her friends to Newt, but learns that wealth comes at a price when she discovers the horror that waits in the cellar of her new mansion. (From Lionsgate’s official synopsis)
Tobe Hooper’s original The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (or, as British readers may prefer, The Texas Chain (space) Saw Massacre) was made in a creative vacuum that led to a unprecedented and magical motion picture. Despite being a categorically singular experience, the film’s rampant popularity and important place in the annals of horror have lead to countless attempts at re-creations – even playing a key role in the invention of the slasher and survival horror subgenres. Most of these re-creations are more easily categorized as creatively bankrupt ‘rip-offs,’ but some filmmakers have successfully appropriated Hooper’s themes and styles and applied them to similarly influential movies, like Ridley Scott, who famously cited The Texas Chainsaw Massacre as one of the chief inspirations on Alien. More often than not, however, Hooper’s lightning-in-a-bottle achievements have proved unrepeatable. Even Hooper himself found similar successes to be unobtainable and steadily spiraled into obscurity after a series of high-profile (and no so high-profile) creative failures. He did manage to make one official sequel to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre more than a decade after the original film’s release, but, outside a few callbacks and the presence of Jim Siedow, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 (1986) is a conceptual reapplication of the director’s original ideas. It’s not a relentless horror film with veiled political subtexts – it’s a bald-faced social satire and generally a spoof of the first film. This began the tradition of Chainsaw Massacre sequels acting more like a continuing series of reboots than sequential follow-ups.
Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1990), written by splatterpunk novelist/ace horror critic David Schow and directed by Jeff Burr, only has cosmetic continuity with Hooper’s films and was very much intended to be a soft reboot of the material. Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1994), written and directed by Kim Henkel (Hooper’s writing partner on the first film), as the title indicates, was the brand’s first hard reboot. Both ‘sequelboots’ failed to find mainstream success (agents representing Renée Zellweger and Matthew McConaughey famously tried to bury The Next Generation) and the property remained dormant until Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes picked it up as the first of a series of popular horror remakes in 2003. Marcus Nispel’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was a surprise hit and led to prequel in 2006 called The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, directed by Jonathan Liebesman (who is, for all intents and purposes, the same director as Marcus Nispel). Still, after an attempt at reinvention, three attempts at rebooting, and a prequel to a reboot, Hooper’s original film still stands alone as a singular achievement. And, even though Nispel’s film was the only follow-up to actually make a substantial profit, Lionsgate still thought it would be a good idea to buy the rights and make another Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie using the latest 3D gimmicks, under the title Texas Chainsaw.
Hold on, though, let’s talk about that title for a moment – Texas Chainsaw. Minus the ‘Massacre’ these words seem to suggest that Lionsgate shot two hours of a regional shopping network trying to sell us power tools. Apparently in 3D. This stupid, albeit fashionable choice of shortening the title is merely the first in a series of confusingly wrong-headed decisions that leads to the single worst movie in an already under-impressive franchise. Hooper’s sequel is overrun by its excesses, Burr’s sequel is undone by a lack of ambition, Henkle’s ambition is undermined by dopey ideas, and Nispel’s reboot and Liebesman’s prequel are empty mimicry of Hooper’s original – but, in comparison to Texas Chainsaw, these films all appear as modest failures, because, ultimately, they make sense on a basic story level (yes, even Next Generation). Now, I’m afraid I’m going to discuss some spoilers that I think are necessary to convey the anarchic idiocy of this screenplay. The problems appear to be based in the fact that the script passed through no fewer than four (credited) hands (Kirsten Elms, Adam Marcus, Debra Sullivan, and Stephen Susco), creating a patchwork of ideas that overlap and invalidate each other (at one point, the project was conceptualized as a trilogy). The major screw-ups are so dopey that I found myself laughing out loud, so any reader looking forward to unintended entertainment value of the jaw-dropping nonsense may want to skip ahead to the video section.
Apparently, the producers of Texas Chainsaw weren’t blind to the relative failings of the previous films and chose to not entirely reboot the series. Instead, they created a direct sequel to the 1974 movie. It makes sense to ignore Hooper’s sequel, because it has so little in common tonally with the original. I’m even a little impressed with the concept of bending over backwards to include fans of the original film in the loop. But then, apparently in an effort to differentiate this film from the ‘70s-set Platinum Dunes movies, the writers decided to place the bulk of the film in 2012. But here’s the catch – they take every effort to disguise the timeline clear until the moment they unleash a stupid iPhone gag (seemingly in an effort to cash-in on the found-footage phenomenon?). Until that point, the audience is left to use logic and assume that we’re at some point in the ‘90s (aside from the iPhone scene, people use pay phones), mostly because Heather – a baby in 1974 – doesn’t look like she’s in her bloody 40s. Either the production staff was too lazy to bother with logic or they had decided their audience was too stupid to notice. I’m used to this kind of insult from Z-list ‘70s and ‘80s slashers, but even dumb, multi-million dollar releases usually avoid this kind of thing. The best explanation is that the reveal was meant to be a twist, which is so arbitrary that I kind of have to ‘respect’ its ineptitude. (I will note that during Heather’s detective work montage, the dates are purposefully obscured, which may indicate that the filmmakers wanted us to assume that the original film took place in the late ‘80s.)
Even without the moronic timeline issues, the attempts to continue the original film’s story don’t really make any sense or at least don’t serve any purpose. Suddenly, four Sawyers (Leatherface, the Cook, the Hitcher, and Grandpa) are morphed into a whole houseful of rednecks with guns that aren’t a part of either of Hooper’s movies. Why bother setting up the original film as a reference point, not to mention making a tidal wave of references to things that happened throughout the first film if you’re going to ignore so much of it? Who is Texas Chainsaw made for? It can’t be fans of the series, because we’re going to be insulted by the placation and total mishandling of the original material. It also can’t be a new generation of fans, because they aren’t going to get/care about the references, nor are they going to be able to separate this film from the dozens of similar films that are released (mostly straight-to-video) every year. For the sake of argument, we could pretend that this movie was called Redneck Slasher Movie or something as effectively generic as the material deserves and that somehow the nonsense mythology actually makes sense. Given all of these allowances, Texas Chainsaw still fails due to its cookie-cutter characters (you might think that Heather’s best friend and boyfriend sleeping together will become some kind of plot point, but it doesn’t matter at all, because they’re unceremoniously killed – mostly off-screen – before she finds out), flat dialogue, and a complete and utter lack of scares or surprises.
It’s unclear how John Luessenhop ended up with directing duties. There’s nothing in his brief filmography, which includes urban drama Lockdown (2000) and the star-studded underperformer Takers (2010), that marks him as the guy to fix the problems of Platinum Dunes’ unimpressive and occasionally boring reboots. I get the feeling he just happened to be available and am positive he wasn’t Twisted Pictures and Nu Image’s first choice for director. Luessenhop’s look is simply too slick for the material. Nowhere is this more obvious than during the opening sequence, where he attempts to blend images from the original film with his new, hyper-clean digital 3D look. I suppose I’m thankful he didn’t go with the dull, desaturated Nispel/Liebesman look, but there’s nothing frightening about these plasticized, cartoonish images. We can’t exactly blame the terrible screenplay on Luessenhop and I’m willing to extend the assumption that he did not have a choice when it came to the stupid ‘twist,’ but he’s entirely to blame for the lumpy pacing, tonal flat-lines, and dearth of suspense.
Too often Hooper’s original movie is misremembered as a particularly gory affair. Even smart, attentive film critics that liked the movie famously described it as ‘blood-soaked’ with ‘heavy doses of gore.’ In reality, Hooper left the vast majority of the violence to the audience’s imaginations. We never see a chainsaw slicing flesh, nor do we see any of the villains following through on their promised cannibalism. Hooper made his sequel so graphic, partially in response to these critics and every other follow-up took this lead. Every movie carrying the title Texas Chainsaw has had trouble securing the rating the filmmakers were hoping for. Hooper was hoping his first film would get a PG, while every other release has had trouble securing an R. Most of them ended up cut to ribbons and were eventually available on home video in an unrated release (though, even these releases still often had cuts). Luessenhop’s film gives the promise of aggressive, 3D-assisted gore, the likes of which made Steven Quale’s Final Destination 5 and Patrick Lussier’s My Bloody Valentine such abnormally fun 3D releases. Despite apparently almost scoring an NC-17, Texas Chainsaw is surprisingly anemic, leaving me with even less reason to recommend the movie to anyone. Leatherface chops/bludgeons a few people with metal implements, he chops up a couple of already dead bodies (a cop finds the leftovers later), and he clips a couple of living people with his chainsaw. There are effectively two nominally icky and very short scenes – one where a ‘hero’ is meat-hooked and sawed in half while screaming and another where Leatherface peels off a face to make a new mask – but even this is pretty low-impact gore, compared to the kind of thing we can see on weekly television with the advent of The Walking Dead and Hannibal.
This Blu-ray release contains both the 1080p 3D and 1080p 2D versions of the film. As per the norm (until I fall into some kind of money), this review will pertain only to the 2D version. Texas Chainsaw was shot in native 3D using both 3ality Technica and Red Epic digital 3D cameras and is framed in 2.35:1 widescreen. Luessenhop and cinematographer Anastas N. Michos make some interesting choices in terms of how to use the crystal-clear digital photography while attempting to re-create the general look of Hooper’s original movie. The footage from the original film is, not surprisingly, much more grainy and less clear than the rest of the film (it was shot 16mm, afterall). Once the new footage starts, the image is super clean, without more than a hint of digital noise (outside of some particularly dark scenes during the last 15 minutes of the film). In an effort to create some kind of texture, the darker scenes are arbitrarily smoky and the brighter scenes are foggy with blown-out white levels. Details are quite sharp and everything is very finely separated, even without the 3D enhancement. Despite the basic look being cheap and cartoonish, I’m mostly happy that Luessenhop and Michos chose to go with a particularly colourful and diverse palette. At the very least, it makes for some diversity. The colours are vibrant and punchy without notable compression blocking, edge enhancement, or unintended blooming effects. The black levels are very deep, pure, and nicely balanced with the sometimes overwhelming white highlights and poppy hues.
The movie is worthless, but this DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack is super-duper aggressive and just the kind of thing I’d expect from a reboot this focused on style over substance. The scary scenes are the obvious front-runners. Bones are crushed, metal clangs, car engines rev, and scenes involving the title object feature an effective mix of dynamic directional movement and crunchy LFE support. Non-scare scenes also have their share of ambience and directional enhancement, including spooky wind, creaking doors, and ominous footsteps. The track’s one notable issue is the dialogue’s sound quality, which is often either set too high in terms of volume or particularly off-sync or otherwise artificial-sounding. John Frizzell’s musical score sometimes recalls the bizarre sound-scapes Wayne Bell and Tobe Hooper put together for the original film, but tends to follow more of a modern sound, overall. The music sounds best when exploding throughout the channels in an effort to freak the audience out, but also sounds very good when underlying the scene in a less aggressive, murmuring threat.
The extras begin with three audio commentaries. The first features Luessenhop and Leatherface actor Dan Yeager. The basic theme of Luessenhop’s discussion (here and in the interviews that follow) is that he is bemused by the process, despite having little interest in the horror genre (he allows himself to be directed by everyone else on set during the behind-the-scenes footage). Yeager, on the other hand, takes things pretty seriously. For the most part, however, they just blandly talk about the technicals of filming and are tragically boring. The second track features producer Carl Mazzocone and original Texas Chainsaw Massacre director Tobe Hooper. Throughout the extra features, it’s pretty clear that Mazzocone is the creative force behind the film, above Luessenhop and all the writers. With that in mind I suppose this is the key commentary track, especially since Hooper is actually up for talking about things. The third track features what the promotional materials describe as the ‘Chainsaw Alumni’ track. It includes the cast of the original film – Bill Moseley (Choptop from Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2), Gunnar Hansen (the original Leatherface), Marilyn Burns (the original ‘Final Girl’), and John Dugan (the original Grandpa). Not surprisingly Moseley is the lead and the discussion is a bit muddled, due to the number of participants. No one acknowledges the stupid timeline once throughout the commentaries as far as I heard during my sampling.
Up next is a series of featurettes:
- Texas Chainsaw Legacy (6:50, HD) – a brief look back at the history and 40-year legacy of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre film.
- Resurrecting The Saw (9:10, HD) – on the development of this new film with very little mention of any of the other films in the series. This bit is fascinating, because it defines almost every misstep along the production process (i.e. too many ideas, none of them fully realized).
- The Old Homestead (14:50, HD) – concerning the process of recreating the original film’s set for the opening sequence, including discussion with the original cast, who hung out on set (again, Hooper’s original sequel is almost entirely ignored).
- Casting Terror (12:20, HD) – obviously on the casting process, including footage of the cast complaining about the Louisiana heat.
- Leatherface 2013 (14:20, HD) – an interview with the latest Leatherface actor Dan Yeager on his interpretation of the role (no mention of any other versions of the character other than Gunner Hanson’s), including costume and mask design. Hilariously, Yeager makes mention of Leatherface living in a basement for the ‘past 20 years.’
- Lights, Camera, Mayhem (11:30, HD) – concerning the 3D photography process.
- It's in the Meat (7:50, HD) – a look at the film's underwhelming gore and make-up effects. The best part is when the staff realizes they forgot to write a chainsaw kill into the movie.
- On-Set Short Subjects: Five Minute Massacres (33:20, HD) – a series of briefer featurettes, including:
- Burning Down The House
- Trapped in the Van
- Carnival Time
- Leatherface In Action
- Hot Times In Louisiana
- Bloody Good Times
Interview subjects throughout the featurettes include Tobe Hooper, Luessenhop, Mazzocone, writers Adam Marcus, Debra Sullivan, Kirsten Elms and Stephen Susco, production designer William A. Elliott, cinematographer Anastas Michos, make-up effects supervisor Robert Kurtzman, make-up artists Alex Diaz and Mike McCarty, prop master Mark Wallace, cast members Dan Yeager, Alexandra Daddario, Trey Songz, Tania Reynolds, Keram Malicki-Sanchez, Kyle Eastwood, and Sean Sipos, and original film cast members Bill Moseley, Gunnar Hansen, Marilyn Burns and John Dugan. The extras are completed with an alternate opening (3:20, HD), a trailer, and trailers for other Lionsgate releases.
During the climax of Texas Chainsaw, there is a glimmer of conceptual creativity, but it’s way beyond ‘too little, too late’ at that point. Against all odds, this made-in-committee reboot/sequel manages to be the worst follow-up film in a series of failed ambitions and bland retreads. I would rather watch any other movie with both ‘Texas’ and ‘Chainsaw’ in the title than ever have to sit through this bland joke of a film again. If for some reason you’re among the people that enjoyed the film in theaters, you are in for a very good-looking disc (at least the 2D version I watched) with a strong 7.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack, and way more extras than a movie this bad deserves.
* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 14th May 2013
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 English, Dolby Digital 2.0 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Extras: Director and Actor Commentary, Producer and Tobe Hooper Commentary, Alumni Cast Commentary, Texas Chainsaw Legacy, Resurrecting The Saw, The Old Homestead, Casting Terror, Leatherface 2013, Lights, Camera, Mayhem, It's in the Meat, On-Set Short Subjects: Five Minute Massacres, Trailers, 3D and 2D Versions, Digital Copy, UltraVIolet Copy
Easter Egg: No
Director: John Luessenhop
Cast: Alexandra Daddario, Dan Yeager, Tremaine Neverson, Tania Raymonde, Thom Barry, Paul Rae, Bill Moseley
Length: 92 minutes
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