There was a time when the inclusion of 3D in a film title suggested a degree of novel originality. Unfortunately those days are long past with the process now used in horror films to produce little more than substandard cliché shocks, beggaring the question why Texas Chainsaw 3D(2013) saw fit to draw attention to it in its title, if indeed use the gimmick at all? A ‘sequel’ of sorts to the cult classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), this new instalment in the franchise starts promisingly but soon degenerates into the standard gorefest audiences are coming to expect from contemporary horror cinema.
Heather (Alexandra Daddario) inherits some property from a dead grandmother whom, until recently, she didn’t even know existed. Taking her boyfriend Ryan (Trey Songz) and best friends Nikki (Tania Raymonde) and Kenny (Keram Malicki-Sánchez), she sets out for rural Texas in order to find out what she has been bequeathed. On arrival the group discover what initially appears to be a beautiful mansion. Unknown to them however, the house harbours a dark and long kept secret, which is about to break loose with murderous results.
So, where exactly does director John Luessenhop’s Texas Chainsaw 3D falter? After cleverly splicing footage of the original film’s victims over the opening credits, we are regaled with an imagining of the immediate aftermath of that said film’s grisly climax. So far so good. Up to this point the premise is promising and in fact surprisingly imaginative considering how well known Tobe Hooper’s version is. Even when the action is brought up to date there are enough knowing winks to the past that fans of the series will allow themselves a wry smile as they recognise the all-American kids in their camper van and the unexpected addition of a suspicious looking hitchhiker.
Unfortunately once the unsuspecting twenty-somethings arrive at grandma’s house everything starts to unravel. Though the horror is as unrelenting, the film loses the secret ingredient which makes the original as terrifying now as when it was first released – namely the power of suggestion. Back in 1974, though it was clear what Leatherface and his misfit relations were up to, the real horror happened offscreen – at no point did the viewer see blade actually touch flesh. Now you see it not only touch but gouge, mash, tear and mutilate bone and tissue in full-blooded and visceral glory. The demise of the victims is also well signposted in the fashion common to many modern horror films, meaning that those who wear white, smoke pot or partake in premarital sex are unlikely to make it as far as a sequel.
Visually the film is stunning. The plantation style mansion and estate which Heather inherits from her grandmother is outwardly beautiful, only serving to make the horrors it houses within its walls all the more distressing when the young people ultimately pry too deeply beneath its benign facade. This time however the story is not restricted to the confines of the family homestead. Some of its best sequences find the protagonists amongst the garish surroundings of a local funfair and the inevitably gore-soaked climax takes place within the bloody interior of an abattoir – a setting which is used to explain to some degree why Leatherface and his family became what they did.
The cast are pretty standard for this kind of fodder. Not much more is required of Daddario, Songz, Raymonde and Malicki-Sánchez than to run around screaming like headless chickens whilst shouting obscenities in the face of danger, which they manage to do with unrestrained enthusiasm. The other characters, apart from Leatherface himself, consist of the usual ineffectual police men and meathead town official – roles which need little ability other than to intermittently pull hostile and suspicious faces. As for Dan Yeager in the said role of the masked anti-hero, it’s hard to decipher anything under his grotesque features other than that he manages an accomplished and convincing line in guttural grunts.
The film finishes ambiguously, as much noncommittal to the fate of its surviving characters as it is to the future of the series. Only this outing’s success at the box-office will determine that.
Texas Chainsaw 3D opened in the UK and the USA on the January 4, 2013.
Cleaver Patterson is a film critic and writer based in London.