Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Enough Already, Texas Chainsaw Massacre

I still remember the first time I saw The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I was already experienced with horror films by then, having seen many Friday the 13th films, Peter Jackson splatter pics, and even several Dario Argento movies. A film student girlfriend suggested we watch this seminal pic, and I agreed.

And holy s--t, 1974's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a seriously-disturbing movie.

Nothing about the antagonist's actions make sense; it's not even as clear as "you laughed at them, now they want you dead" - you have a handful of total psychos, and you don't know when their freakness will come out swinging. It's an utterly unexplained situation, which makes it all the scarier; like all stark survival experiences, motive means nothing. I'm at least partly unsettled because I know the bad guys were based a bit on Ed Gein, the serial killer who used his victims bones and flesh for household arts and crafts projects...

It also helps that the unfortunate victims are easy to relate to. They're just a bunch of normal teens - they're half-partying and half doing something decent for their friends, two siblings who heard their grandpa's grave might've been desecrated. This road trip group has two couples and a wheelchair-bound guy. The normalcy of these doomed kids - tTCM is the most obvious call-out in The Cabin in the Woods, btw - makes the killers' insanity all the more shocking.

Unfortunately, studios have never been able to replicate Tobe Hooper's success. Over the years, a franchise was created, with 5 more attempts to recreate the cinematic power (and box office success) of the original Chainsaw. Each effort has been a failure - the first sequel came 12 years after the original, and part III followed in 1990. There was an attempted reboot 4 years later, and then we had merciful silence.

Until 2003, when the ridiculous re-reboot came out, produced by Michael "ugh!" Bay. It was done in the sexless, flashly-but-unscary and senseless WB-series style seen more commonly with movies like I Know What You Did Last Summer. Three years after that, there was a prequel to "explain things" from the 2003 film, like why someone was missing two front teeth (according to IMDb).

Can you imagine how I felt when I learned that Texas Chainsaw 3D is coming out on January 4, 2013? If you guessed "sarcastic, blasé, and pissy," you're right! Bluntly put: after that original work by Hooper (on an $82k budget) the studio's desire to exploit the "Texas Chainsaw" name has barely produced 10 minutes of material worth watching.

The only impressive aspects are the odd casting elements: 2 had Dennis Hopper, the cast of III included Viggo Mortensen, and 1994's awful tTCM:The Next Generation had, I s--t you not, both Matthew McConaughey and Renée Zellweger. The scariest thing about it - a horrible dress.

By the time we reached the bland and not-especially-terrifying 2003 entry, I couldn't even work up much excitement over the casting of Jessica Biel, Eric Balfour, Erica Leerhsen, and R. Lee Ermey. I'm pretty sure I was incredibly bored one night, or maybe I saw it with a friend. Even the ill-advised 2006 re-reboot prequel-ening cast some good names: Jordana Brewster, Matt Bomer, R. Lee Ermey returning...

So what does the new face of old terror look like in the 2010's? Let's watch.

Not very inspirational, is it? Trying too hard, right? Liking horror goes hand in hand with remembering your teenage self, so I appreciate them getting a bra into the trailer - and less than fifteen seconds in, at that - but I might as well be watching this on valium or xanax. And since I've seen one member of this cast in exactly one TV series or movie before this, I can't be very impressed. The female lead was fine in what I saw her in, but one semi-notable actor simply isn't enough.

No wait, now that I looked it up, the not-lead female was in Lost as Ben's daughter. That's... nice, and she is quite pretty, but it's not a guarantee that her part in the film will be super-entertaining, or that she'll find some way to make it work.

It could be a good picture, but this series has an especially lackluster track record. And I have no reason to think there's any inspiration behind the picture than cashing in on a "brand name." There's no Christopher Walken, no Luis Guzmán, no Ben Kinglsey... & I don't have that much spare $ lying around.

Hollywood: please, please stop trying to copy some guy's successful exploitation flick from 40 years ago. Eventually, you will only manage to retroactively stain the good name of the original 1974 picture. For all I know, people might think you've already done it. Just come up with something new!

Don't you think the horror fan in me wants to see a movie about a house where all sorts of demented, dangerous stuff goes down? Don't you think I want it to have tension and seem scary and all that? If you can't tell a good, scary story from what Hooper set up, then let's just all move on to different material, ok?...


  1. I would say that at the very least -- and it really may be all that they could do -- they should release it in 2014 rather than 2013. Then at least you have the "it's been exactly 40 years since the first one" thing going for it.

    Though I will say that I found the 2003 version pretty entertaining. Or maybe I just enjoyed the way they photographed Biel. She was very sexy-grimy, if I remember correctly.

    1. That's an excellent point - yes, a "40th Anniversary" reboot/remake would actually make some kind of sense.

      The 2003 version had a nice start, and maybe a couple of good scenes... And, yes, Biel did look gorgeous, and they even shot her wearing a t-shirt while sopping wet... But I remember getting the feeling that we were back to post-Scream levels of trying to sex up a story without actually making it sexy, and of showing torture-porn-style horror without actually having enough tension to make it work. Then again, my memory might be a little harsher than the reality of that pic...


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