(Warning: contains some spoilers, but nothing can spoil this film as much as the people that wrote, directed, and starred in it.)
Poor Leatherface can't catch a break.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, released in 1974 on a budget of about $85,000, became one of the great success stories of the horror genre. It shocked and terrified audiences partly because it used its modest budget to great advantage (as many reviewers have pointed out, the poor film quality adds a certain documentary/archive footage feel that is actually quite unnerving) and is largely responsible for creating the 80's slasher genre. Yes, as much as it pains me to admit it, before there was Jamie Lee, there was Marilyn Burns. Yet, as with all unexpected success stories in Hollywood (and in the horror genre especially), sequels were inevitable, and for some reason the Texas Chainsaw films are some of the worst, and unfortunately this film is no exception.
This is frustrating because the premise is such a simple and frightening one -- cannibalistic chainsaw wielding maniac butchers a bunch of teens. The first film was so effective because it somehow, out of what I call the "Big Four" (TCM, Halloween, Friday the 13th, and Nightmare on Elm St.) feels the most realistic and most possible. Scary shit goes down in the country -- ALL city folk know that! New Yorkers are particularly terrified of Texas. Leatherface wasn't a semi-immortal monster running around a suburban street or a summer camp or inside of your nightmares -- he was a flesh and blood man (loosely inspired by serial killer Ed Gein, who also inspired the creation of Norman Bates in Psycho and Jame Gumb in Silence of the Lambs -- yes, reality is more disgusting and terrible than any movie) with a fucked up family, and his humanity is what made him frightening. The killings in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre could actually have happened. Simply put, it should be easier to make a Texas Chainsaw sequel than it is to do a new installment of one of the others.
For the most part all sequels suck, as a rule. Sequels with "3D" in the title suck even worse. We all know this and we all still go to see them, and pay much more than we should for those stupid fucking glasses. When I decided to review this movie I tried really hard to find something redeemable about it -- there's nothing more insufferable than an angry internet rant from a guy who hated a movie -- but even going into it with a mind that was almost as open and empty as my wallet, I sit here unable to find a single damn thing to enjoy.
The film starts with promise. They ask you to forget all the previous films in the series after the first one ("Done!" , exclaimed a legion of horror fans). It's nice to see the direct tie-in to the original and to see the events that took place immediately following the murders, since the first sequel did… other things (but, like I said, we're forgetting those, and we're five minutes into the film so far and have not yet been given a reason to go back on our promise of selective amnesia). So yes, the opening is effective, even if you get the foreboding sense that the filmmakers were very proud of the way the chainsaw looked pointing out of the screen in 3D and that you will be spending much of the next hour and a half with it in your face.
The problems start immediately afterwards, and unfortunately they're countless and obvious, even to casual fans. Any promises made earlier that this could be something other than a carelessly made brain insulting money grubbing sequel are broken immediately as the film jumps to the "present" day. The baby that survived is now grown up, something about a dead relative, blah blah blah ok let's take a road trip to Texas. The first noticeable problem is the age of the protagonist, who should be somewhere around 40 but is obviously 20-something. This might seem like a nit-picky thing to fixate on, but it bothers me because there's no explanation, no excuse, and it's just absolute laziness. I can't help but think how this may have been a more interesting film if they decided to go with a 40 year old woman instead of the usual youthful cannon fodder -- I think it had potential to go against genre conventions and do something very unique.
But obviously it didn't. It only gets worse from there -- as with most movies of this type, the actors are terrible, the characters unlikeable, and the whole thing feels slapped together and completely arbitrary. As a lifelong fan of "the girl who has sex and dies" (PJ Soles and Rose McGowan belong in this pantheon) I was particularly disappointed in the character of Nikki, played by Tania Raymonde. You know right away when you see her try (and succeed) to seduce her friend's boyfriend (played by Trey Songz, who looks good shirtless but is horrible at everything else) that she's going to get it pretty bad from Leatherface later on, and the film does nothing to go against genre tropes here. You're a woman and you have sex? You're a black man? Nope, sorry. Fortunately both actors are so terrible that you don't much feel like formulating a political argument in their defense. The other two guys are some random muscle dude and some weird little troll that looks like a bad OK Cupid date from Bushwick.
Much of one's enjoyment of the film will hinge on whether or not you find Heather (Alexandra Daddario) to be likable or redeemable in any way.
I did not.
In all fairness, she seems like she's trying, and the writers and director have not given her much to work with here, but the best you can say of her performance is "ok enough", and for a movie this bad, that unfortunately is NOT enough. A lot of those problems I talked about earlier come from her. Why does she leave a stranger alone in her new mansion? Why doesn't she notice her (we assume, but it's never shown in any way that would lead us to actually believe or care) best friend and her boyfriend very obviously cheating on her? Why doesn't she read the letter from her grandmother that she is told she ABSOLUTELY MUST read? Why does she escape from Leatherface into a crowd of people at a carnival (and why does everyone at the carnival seem to ignore the maniac with the chainsaw?) only to avoid the safety of that crowd and seek refuge by… hanging on to a very slow moving ferris wheel?
All of these things can be laughed off as just stupid throwaway actions in a stupid throwaway film. The one thing that really does ruin whatever little was left to salvage comes near the end. After learning about her past and discovering that the guy who just killed everyone she cared about was her cousin, she decides to… get angry at the mob that tried to kill HIM 40 years ago?
In what I assume the filmmakers thought would be an unconventional and surprising twist, the movie makes an awkward shift in whatever flimsy carapace of tone and theme it had grown around itself. Suddenly we're supposed to believe that despite the fact that a couple of hours ago he killed her boyfriend and all of her friends and nearly killed her, in one moment (albeit a painfully slow and useless moment dragged out longer than it needed to be of her looking through the evidence box and trying to form the connection), she makes a 180 degree shift from complete abject terror for her life to empathizing with her poor chainsaw wielding cousin and hating the town for trying to stop him.
At first I thought that maybe the useless random cheating boyfriend side plot had been thrown in there to piss her off and help push her over the edge -- I've been cheated on before, and the day that I found that out, I can honestly say I wouldn't have been that upset if Leatherface had ran into the room and chopped him up. But then I realized that she never actually discovered that the cheating was happening and she has ABSOLUTELY NO REASON TO SUDDENLY SIDE WITH LEATHERFACE. Look, I appreciate a good anti-hero as much as anyone (and, really, do we EVER like anyone Jason kills as much as we like Jason himself?). But the filmmakers, who made such a point of saying that this was a direct sequel to the original, don't seem to have actually SEEN the original. Leatherface and the Sawyers weren't a whimsical band of misunderstood gentlefolk -- they were fucking SERIAL KILLER CANNIBALS! THEY KILLED PEOPLE AND ATE THEM. And suddenly the movie wants us to believe that arson is a worse crime than murder and cannibalism.
I want to laugh it off and say that this is just another fun stupid gore fest to go waste money on and have a lot of laughs, but it's not even that. If I seem angry, it's because this ridiculous kind of movie is exactly the reason why horror is never legitimized or respected as a genre. All the complaints film snobs make about horror -- lack of characterization, nonsensical plot, lazy lazy lazy lazy LAZY writing, and endless sequels with scripts that seem randomly generated by a computer madlibs program that I used to play around with on Windows 95 -- are all true here. This is the stupidest film I've seen in a long time. For casual fans with curiosity about this series, which is often overlooked in the shadow of the other Big Four, if you want something other than the original film I recommend the 2003 remake starring Jessica Biel. Yes, I'm aware of how ridiculous the last two words of that sentence may sound, but it was a surprisingly coherent retelling of the story and has some of the most beautiful cinematography I've ever seen in a horror film. It's the only one of the Big Four remakes of the last decade that has any business existing at all.
Again, casual fans of horror might not mind this film if they're just looking for something stupid and mindless to go see. If you really insist on going to the movies this week and you're bored by Les Miserables, think The Hobbit is stupid, don't want to admit to yourself that you kind of want to see Barbra Streisand on screen again, and are afraid that people might think you're racist if you enjoy Django Unchained, then….
No, fuck it, stay home and watch the original.
Rating: F, for FUCK THIS SHIT