Texas Chainsaw 3D is the latest attempt to revitalize the long-running Leatherface horror series – which already includes sequels, a remake, a reboot, and a prequel. This time around, director John Luessenhop (Takers) hopes to shed light on the man behind the masks with a more personal Leatherface encounter – while also providing the same chainsaw-wielding terror that helped the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre launch the horror villain subgenre (long before Jason Voorhees or Freddy Krueger entered the scene).
After nearly forty years of terrorizing helpless teens onscreen, and in theaters, Leatherface remains one of the most recognizable slasher characters of all-time but few (if any) of the subsequent films featuring the horror icon have provided an experience as provocative or creepy as the original. Has Luessenhop, with the help of 3D visuals, delivered a worthwhile Leatherface story with fresh scares in Texas Chainsaw 3D?
Unfortunately, an underwhelming mix of stale frights and familiar body horror moments coupled with a tangled narrative about “family” undercut any potential success in Luessenhop’s franchise offering. Every single plot beat is slave to the film’s “angle” – which aims to humanize Leatherface (named Jed Sawyer this time). Exploring a new side of the Texas killer is an intriguing idea, and the approach had the potential to bring a fresh perspective to the series, but the final onscreen product is an unsuccessful take on the concept – muddying the Leatherface mythos without even delivering quality thrills along the way.
Texas Chainsaw 3D takes place directly after the events of the 1974 original – when the townspeople of Newt, Texas enact revenge on Leatherface and his cannibal family members by burning their home to the ground. Years later, Heather Miller (Alexandra Daddario) discovers that her estranged grandmother has died – leaving the twenty-something grocery store butcher a sizable inheritance. Heather recruits the help of her boyfriend Ryan (Trey Songz) as well as friends Nikki (Tania Raymonde) and Kenny (Keram Malicki-Sanchez) to visit her family estate and collect the endowment – only to discover a long-contained evil in the Texas town. It’s a very familiar slasher flick framework – one that also endeavors double-duty with a more personal look at the motivations behind Leatherface and his murderous actions.
Texas Chainsaw 3D enjoys short-term benefits from the overarching Leatherface mystery but its attempts to humanize the serial killer only diminish the effectiveness of the scares – convoluting the onscreen narrative beats while, as previously mentioned, compromising the larger character legacy. Exploring the origins of an iconic slasher villain is always a risky proposition (just look at Jonathan Liebesman’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning) - since efforts to ground nightmarish characters in real world drama can also weaken the strength (and scare potential) of their persona. Meaning, as a filmmaker tries to fit a well-known slasher killer into a believable or explainable framework they add context that subverts mystery and fright potential. For some films, humanizing an iconic antagonist can add new layers but, sadly, in the case of Texas Chainsaw 3D, an intimate exploration of Leatherface only confuses the primary movie story while at the same time undermining the power of the icon.
At the outset, Texas Chainsaw 3D paints Leatherface and the extended Sawyer family (the murderous cannibals from the original) as semi-victims – resulting in a murky gray morality that plagues the entire film. Numerous character choices fail to take into consideration the gravity of prior events in the plot and, as a result, come across as nothing more than unbelievable attempts to further a muddled concept. Nearly every cast member is an unlikable and hollow cliche accompanied with a bizarre (and story-serving) sense of right and wrong – each one driving toward twists and turns in the plot that audiences will see coming long ahead of their onscreen reveals. The actual portrayal of Leatherface (played by Dan Yeager) is enjoyable and Daddario is a competent horror heroine but, given the challenging character-focused approach of Texas Chainsaw 3D, the supporting cast fails to keep things grounded – especially with on-the-nose exposition machines Mayor Hartman (Paul Rae) and Sheriff Hooper (Thom Barry).
Horror fans who can look past the flat story and stiff performances will find a couple moments of gory chainsaw action but a few standout scenes of violence do not make up for the film’s larger problems and lack of fresh terror (compared to modern genre offerings). The movie received an NC-17 rating in its initial submission to the MPAA, so it’s possible that some of the best horror moments were left on the cutting room floor. Still, a shortage of graphic violence is not the movie’s primary problem considering Texas Chainsaw 3D aims for a deeper than average slasher storyline. Nevertheless, the film rarely says anything profound with its central characters or twisted morality and, as a result, spends way too much time meandering from one plot beat to the next without successfully setting the stage for tension-filled Leatherface encounters and fright-inducing payoffs.
Surprisingly, the worst choice in Texas Chainsaw 3D is the use of 3D filmmaking. The most interesting implementation of the format comes during the opening prologue – with post-converted Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) footage. The remainder of the film hardly takes advantage of the increased depth with only a pair of off-putting (and downright uncomfortable) chainsaw in your face shots. The 3D is so exaggerated in those chainsaw shots that a distracting amount of ghosting was also present in the image (think Clash of the Titans).
On paper, Texas Chainsaw 3D is an interesting idea but the execution of the film falls short in nearly every way imaginable. Luessenhop’s movie dedicates too much time to a messy character story without enough worthwhile payoff to be a fun (albeit brainless) slasher film. Worst of all, the film refashions Leatherface as a character that is actually less interesting than he was waving his chainsaw and spinning around in frustration at the end of the original 1974 film. This isn’t to say that a worthwhile exploration of Leatherface isn’t possible (see the About a Boy comics) but Luessenhop’s film fails on all fronts – as a quality horror experience or a competent evolution of the Texas Chainsaw series.
If you’re still on the fence about Texas Chainsaw 3D, check out the trailer below:
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Texas Chainsaw 3D is Rated R for strong grisly violence and language throughout. Now playing in 2D and 3D theaters.