Mixed Reviews Chainsaw

Is this massacre really necessary? In a word, no. But because it made 23 million this weekend, slaughtering the competition if you will, get used to more of the same coming soon.

There have been so many sequels and reboots already, why is “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” even being brought back once again, this time as “Texas Chainsaw 3D”? The reason is money. Baldly stated by the producers in this week’s Entertainment Weekly magazine, the revival of this landmark horror franchise is being carried out with hopes of equaling the “Saw” franchise’s success. (Dread Central online covers the whole shebang and more here: bit.ly/113XVFs) True, the seven “Saw” films succeeded monetarily, but as worthy horror, they most definitely did not. By the third movie, the franchise was little more than a hopeless shriek of outlandish, gory murders. Just like this newest ‘Chainsaw’. But it killed at the box office, and now we’re going to have to live with it for awhile more. Sigh.

This latest version doesn’t even carry the key word “massacre” in its title. It dropped that in favor of 3D. Not a plus, my fellow horror buffs. The 3D consists mostly of the chainsaw veering out straight at the audience. After the third or fourth time the filmmakers use this shot, it becomes laughable. And boy, did the audience laugh. I don’t think the greedy producers wanted that from us, did they?

If you’re going to try to add legs to an already tired franchise, it’s best to try treading on some new ground. 3D simply isn’t enough. But most of this outing is again all too familiar with anyone who knows the franchise, or the clichés of most horror movies these days. Once again a gaggle of sexy ‘twentysomethings’ unwittingly step foot into a chamber of horrors, and they’re picked off one-by-one. All of them are utterly disposable except for the lead heroine. And they are barely archetypes, let alone characters.

In this version, one of the victims likes to cook. That’s it. That’s his only character trait. Another guy likes to play pool. That’s it for him. And one girl is of course, a tramp. That’s the extent of their relatability. At least lead Heather (Alexandra Daddario) has some dimension, carrying a dark side that revels in rebellion, particularly when she is called on to defend her psycho cousin Leatherface versus the evil townsfolk. Still, that doesn’t make up for the one-dimensional aspects of everyone else.

What a shame too because Tobe Hooper’s titular horror classic was a revolutionary ‘slasher’ film. Say what you will about its B movie shortcomings, the 1974 outing struck a chord beyond the grindhouse due to Hooper’s clever direction and savvy handheld camera work. It almost played like a documentary, making its horrors seem all too relatable. And casting utterly unknown actors helped further the illusion of cinema verite. Finally, its twisted family characters perfectly captured the Manson family zeitgeist that was terrifying the nation in the early 70’s.

But since then, the franchise has gotten slicker and sicker. Well-known actors like Jessica Biel, Jordana Brewster and R. Lee Ermey have all appeared in the last couple attempts at re-booting and that means it doesn’t have a ‘mock doc’ veneer. Plus, almost every horror movie coming out of Hollywood these days has production values shined to a high gleam, so it all seems artificial and over-the-top.

The most unusual thing about this movie is that two of its three screenwriters are women. And yet it seems as testosterone driven as most male-written frightfests. They check the same horror clichés off one-by-one just like everyone else. Didn’t “The Cabin in the Woods” lampoon all those to the point now that they really can’t be done anymore? (My review of that terrific horror movie here: http://exm.nr/MMo28V) The only real female perspective shows up in Heather’s heroism which unfortunately ends up giving her troubled blood relative a license to keep spilling blood. You go, girl!

The movie does have a few good scares. One scene where Leatherface runs into a child impersonating him at a Halloween carnival is a wonderful bit. And the filmmakers painstakingly recreate the end of the 1974 film to start this one off. But then they’re so terrified of their timeline because if these events are supposed to be taking place 20 years later, that makes this a 1994 period piece. And we can’t have America’s contemporary, cutting-edge youth being asked to attend a movie that takes place almost two decades ago now, can we? Heaven forbid!

The whole movie is really quite afraid of itself in that way. And it’s equally afraid to do anything that pushes the envelope. The filmmakers are quite content with the status quo and know that aiming low didn’t stop the “Saw” franchise. We’ll see if this new “Texas Chainsaw” gets to seven films like that series. Technically, it’s already done so, with seven “Chainsaw” films produced over the past 39 years. Frankly, that’s more than enough. Here’s hoping the chainsaw runs out of gas.