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Texas Chainsaw 3D (2012)

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Texas Chainsaw 3D (2012)Starring Alexandra Daddario, Dan Yeager, Tremaine “Trey Songz” Neverson, Keram Malicki-Sánchez, Scott Eastwood, Tania Raymonde

Directed by John Luessenhop


Texas Chainsaw 3D is the first installment in a major horror franchise to reclaim itself from the Hollywood remake trend. In this case the filmmakers have ignored the god-awful “Platinum Duniverse” and used the Tobe Hooper original as a springboard for the return of Leatherface and the Sawyer (not Hewitt) clan. That’s a trend I hope to see in coming years as long as it’s executed to better effect. Sadly, despite every attempt to win back the fan base, this return trip to Texas isn’t any better.

After a 3D recap of the original, we pick up with the Sawyer clan moments after Sally Hardesty escaped the infamous dinner table finale at the end of Hooper’s classic. And while it’s cool to see the original house lovingly recreated, this attempt at an olive branch quickly spirals into fan service with ill-conceived cameos (Bill Moseley fills in for the late Jim Siedow while Gunnar Hanson plays a previously unseen member of the family). From there a Devil’s Rejects style firefight ensues with Texas police and town locals, resulting in every member of the Sawyer clan being wiped out – save for one baby.

Cut to modern day. We’re introduced to Heather (Daddario, whose character should be about 40 given that this film takes place present day), the grown-up adopted survivor who has matured into a sexy Goth chick who works in the grocery butcher section and makes morbid art from animal bones (insert collective groan here). After receiving word that she’s inherited an estate in the middle of Texas, she gathers together a group of stereotypes (Doomed Black Guy, Slutty McSlutwhore, and Nameless Red Shirt) on a road trip getaway to her brand new secluded mansion. But not before picking up a random hitchhiker and leaving him alone in the estate while they take off to get weekend party supplies.

Morons.

TC3D is full of this kind of horror movie stupidity, where the characters are required by law to be as brain-dead as humanly possible in order to stay in danger. I realize the victims in Hooper’s classic weren’t exactly deep characters, but there was a rawness to them that made you fear for their lives. Here everything is chock-full of superficial Hollywood bullshit with chiseled WB teens and a bad hip-hop soundtrack in one of those mindless studio attempts to make Chainsaw appeal to the younger (i.e., dumbed down) generation.

The film is miscast from top to bottom, especially with regard to its antagonist, Leatherface (Yeager), now a balding, average-statured redneck who isn’t physically imposing in the slightest. While it’s not the case, it feels as if the filmmakers went down to the local dive bar, grabbed whatever random guy they could find and slapped a bad mask on him. Despite having KNB on makeup F/X duties, there’s nothing about his appearance or persona that distinguishes this version of Leatherface from the low-level imitations seen at your local haunted attraction every Halloween.

With flat direction by John Luessenhop, Texas Chainsaw 3D even wastes its central gimmick with boring, uninspired visuals the likes of a Syfy channel movie (if it weren’t for the title, this film would have never seen theater screens). The filmmakers even waste a potentially classic setpiece that sees Leatherface chasing our heroine through a crowded late night carnival. I was excited to see a chainsaw-fueled homage to Hooper’s Funhouse, or any other crazy visual scenario (a blood-drenched “Hall of Mirrors” or “Tunnel of Love”), but quickly realized I put more thought into this than the people making it. For most of the film’s runtime, everyone seems content to mine the same Texas Chainsaw formula we’ve seen time and time again.

Only in the home stretch does the script shake things up, with an unexpected twist that manages to change your sympathies. While it doesn’t change the sloppy execution that exists in every second of the ninety-minute runtime, you have to at least commend the writers for trying something different (something that can’t be said of the Platinum Dunes team). With a real genre director and better cast, it might have even worked.

But for all its good intentions, TC3D plays like a low-budget fan film and ultimately fails to redeem the franchise. Maybe turning this property into a franchise was the first big mistake. After Tobe Hooper’s goofy send-up sequel, it’s become more and more obvious that there’s nowhere left to go. Leatherface may be an icon, but several decades’ worth of attempts to bring him back have only resulted in tainted meat.

2 out of 5

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TREMORS: A COLD DAY IN HELL Review – This Sequel Delivers Hot Graboid Action

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Starring Michael Gross, Jamie Kennedy, Jamie-Lee Money, Tanya van Graan

Directed by Don Michael Paul

Distributed by Universal


Anomaly. Noun. Something that deviates from what is standard, normal, or expected.

That’s the best way to describe the Tremors flicks. After around the third film most franchises descend into “wash, rinse, repeat” mediocrity; yet, here we are, six films in, and the Graboids, Ass Blasters, and most importantly, Burt Gummer (Gross) are still going not only strong, but seemingly invincible.

Once again the action is taken out of the town of Perfection, but this time it heads toward a whole new landscape… one of snow and ice instead of just sand and rock. You see, with the environment changing, so are the habits of long-frozen Graboids. These wormy wonders are not content with just staying all locked into their formerly frozen places. With nowhere else to turn, a science team decides that it is high time for an authority on these friggin’ things to step in… the big guns… the big Gummers: Burt and his son, Travis (Kennedy).

Upon their arrival on the frigid scene, we’re greeted with a truly colorful and likable ensemble of characters who, along with the Graboids, turn the horror, the comedy, and the action up to 11. Director Don Michael Paul once again turns in one of the most entertaining flicks in the film’s franchise, this time even eclipsing the good time that was his first entry into the series, Tremors 5: Bloodlines. It’s obvious that the team of Paul, Gross, and Kennedy is far more cocksure of the direction that their work and characters need to take, and it shows. For a little direct-to-video sequel, Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell delivers tons of monster action that almost never suffers from its smaller budget. There’s a lot to like here, and longtime fans of the series are sure to eat this one up. You just cannot help but have a good time as the monster party tone is infectious.

In terms of special features we get the serviceable basics here: The Making of Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell featurette, an Anatomy of a Scene feature that takes a look at one moment in the film that is truly a first for the franchise, and a brief inside look at Perfection’s hotspot – Chang’s Market. Nothing earth-shattering here, but certainly nothing bad either.

As long as the trio of Gross, Kennedy, and Paul are up for it, I’m certainly down for more monster-fueled mayhem; and I’m pretty sure other Tremors fans will be, too. Here’s to looking toward wherever road this series travels. Something tells me its best moments are still ahead of it, and that, too, is without question an anomaly.

Special Features:

  • The Making of Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell
  • Anatomy of a Scene
  • Inside Chang’s Market
  • Film
  • Special Features
3.3

Summary

This sixth entry into the long-running franchise feels as fresh as the first day a Graboid sucked down its prey back in 1990. That’s quite the accomplishment! Its balls belong in the Balls Hall of Fame.

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THE STRANGERS Blu-ray Review – Let This Stellar Release From Scream Factory Sneak Into Your Home

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Starring Liv Tyler, Scott Speedman, Man in the Mask, Dollface, Pin-up

Directed by Bryan Bertino

Distributed by Scream Factory


It’s a bit odd – though somewhat fitting, given the number of waited-too-long sequels being produced these days – The Strangers (2008) finally got a follow-up after a lengthy ten-year gap. The original is a fine example of a home invasion picture done right, or at least well enough, but, as anyone who has seen the film knows, the leads probably won’t be returning and the killers have the personalities of dime store Halloween masks. The Strangers is a disturbing film in the sense the events seem like they “could happen to you” – it is, after all, “based on a true story” (not really). Plus, the situations our leads find themselves in are exactly the sort people still freak themselves out, like whenever someone enters a room with large windows at night – let’s all be honest here. The only thing scarier than things that go bump in the night is the thought those things are just out of eyesight, waiting to scare you. With the exception of a few “wait, why are you doing that?” moments The Strangers manages to activate certain primal responses to being stalked and frightened. It’s creepy.

Not-newly-engaged couple James (Scott Speedman) and Kristen (Liv Tyler) have returned to James’ childhood summer home after a day spent at a wedding, where James’ proposal to Kristen was sadly declined. They go through some awkward motions back at home, trying to figure out where their relationship stands, when there’s a sudden KNOCK at the door. James answers and finds a young girl asking for a person who has never lived there. She leaves, cryptically mumbling she’ll “see them later”. She does, along with two other “friends” – the Man in the Mask and another girl in a pin-up mask – who proceed to stalk, taunt, tease, and terrorize both Kristen and James until the morning light breaks.

There aren’t many huge surprises in this film but the less you know about how the night plays out, the better. This isn’t to suggest the main characters make smart decisions viewers aren’t expecting, though. James is initially dismissive of a series of terrorizing occurrences Kirsten experiences when he goes out to get her a pack of smokes, brushing all of it off like she has an overactive imagination; this after the weird situation with the girl moments before. And expectedly, once James is finally on board with believing something sinister is afoot it’s already too late to do much about it. Past that point he and Kristen do act like rational people (mostly) and their plight gains a little more sympathy because of their noble efforts.

I hate the scene where James’ friend, Mike (Glenn Howerton), shows up, though. Spoiler alert: any viewer can see his accidental death coming from a mile away. Since it’s established early on James has called Mike to pick him up, what would have worked better would be if all the footage of Mike’s arrival and inspection of the house was cut. That way, his reveal at James and Kristen’s makeshift stronghold in the back bedroom would have been a major surprise. Instead, it plays out so obviously the intended impact is completely muted.

While the film falters in a few areas, it manages to make up for those gaffes by stepping outside the norm. One thing is does incredibly right is refusing to give the trio of terrorizers any personality or backstory or motivation. Viewers are left just as cold once the credits roll as they were upon being introduced to these faceless miscreants. This feels especially refreshing when watching the movie today because lately it seems so many horror films have been yanking the mystique out of things; between prequels and reboots and lengthy exposition it’s rare when a film chooses to eschew all of that. The film is also dire and dour, leaving little room for hope aside from a tiny tidbit that occurs at the very end. There are no white knights; the cavalry isn’t coming – and when you are staying at a house with weak security, near the woods, with no neighbors close by, don’t expect a deus ex machina to save the day.

Universal previously issued The Strangers on Blu-ray, though it featured both cuts on a single BD-25 and used an outdated codec. This new release from Scream Factory spreads the goods out onto two discs, giving each cut a full BD-50 to maximize bit rate. As a result, the 2.35:1 1080p image looks much more refined, smoothing out past compression issues and tightening up both contrast and definition. The lion’s share of this film was shot at night and black levels maintain a rich consistency throughout, while still allowing for details to remain apparent. Nothing is lost to the shadows, which frequently bathe the actors and environments. Scream Factory touts a new 2K scan of the intermediate and the results are nearly flawless.

As viewers might expect, sound design plays a crucial role in this film and the audio options ensure they’ll be immersed in subtle and not-so-subtle sounds from every direction. Both cuts feature an English DTS-HD Master Audio track in both 2.0 and 5.1 options. As expected, the multi-channel track offers a more discreet experience, spreading out the spooky sound design to fully envelope listeners. Thuds, knocks, voices, and footsteps creep from unexpected corners of the room, placing viewers right in the action and heightening the tension. The soundtrack goes a bit overboard on the jump scares stingers but since the whole point of this film is a couple being jolt scared over and over they seem fitting. Subtitles are included in English SDH.

Just as buyers should rightfully expect, Scream Factory has included all of the previous extra features found on Universal’s release and then some.

DISC ONE: Theatrical Cut

“The Element of Terror” – This is a routine EPK, filled with behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with the cast & crew.

“Strangers at the Door” – This piece covers the film’s initial concept and shows off some of the cast & crew working on set, with a few being interviewed, too.

A reel of deleted scenes, three TV spots, and a theatrical trailer, which is quite effective, can also be found on this disc.

DISC TWO: Unrated Cut

“Defining Moments – Interview with writer/director Bryan Bertino” – This is a newly recorded chat with the director, who discusses not only the making of the film but its legacy now that so much time has passed since release.

“All the Right Movies – Interview with actor Kip Weeks (Man in the Mask) – Here, the actor discusses how he got the role and what kind of direction was given to him for the character.

“Brains and Brawn – Interview with actress Laura Margolis (Pin-up Girl) – Just as with Kip Weeks, Margolis talks about playing such a quiet character as well as discussing some changes to the trio that were made during production.

“Deep Cuts – Interview with editor Kevin Greutert” – Learn about how the film took shape, the reasoning behind cuts and sequencing, and what changes were made right up until the theatrical release date.

A still gallery is also included.

The cover art is reversible and there is a slipcover included on first pressings featuring newly commissioned artwork.

Special Features:

  • NEW 2K REMASTER of the Theatrical Version of the film
  • NEW 2K REMASTER of the Unrated Version of the film
  • NEW Defining Moments – An Interview With Writer/Director Bryan Bertino
  • NEW All The Right Moves – An Interview With Actor Kip Weeks (Man In The Mask)
  • NEW Brains And Brawn – An Interview With Actress Laura Margolis (Pin Up Girl)
  • NEW Deep Cuts – An Interview With Editor Kevin Greutert
  • The Element of Terror – Interviews With The Cast And Crew
  • Strangers At The Door – Interviews With Writer/Director Bryan Bertino And The Cast
  • Deleted Scenes
  • TV Spots
  • The Strangers
  • Special Features
3.8

Summary

Still effective only with only a modicum of true stupidity, “The Strangers” might not be the classic it’s been called in more than a few recent retrospective pieces but it does occupy a cushy spot near the top of the contemporary home invasion film list. Scream Factory’s release offers up excellent A/V quality and all the bonus features anyone could want (barring an audio commentary).

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7 GUARDIANS OF THE TOMB Review – Rest Easy, Indiana Jones, There’s Not Much To See Here

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Starring Kellan Lutz, Bingbing Li, Kelsey Grammar

Directed by Kimble Rendall


If it only weren’t for those friggin’ spiders. Kimble Rendall’s adventurous flick, 7 Guardians Of The Tomb is one of those “wanted to be, yet couldn’t quite hit the mark” action-films that will probably entertain those looking for some cave-dwelling escapades caught on celluloid, but for the more picky aficionado of said slam-bang pics, this one might be viewed as a bit stagnant. Let’s strap on our mining helmets and pick around this one, shall we?

Acting as a bit of a search-and-rescue formation, the movie tails alongside Dr. Jia Lee (Li) as she hunts down the whereabouts of her missing brother after losing contact with him while he was on expedition in Western China. Apparently he was looking for a secretive Emperor’s tomb that supposedly holds a potion that can reanimate, or re-invigorate…or rehabilitate – anyway you slice it, the juice has got some pretty potent powers. So a search team is assembled, led by Mason (Grammar – glad someone got Frasier off of the barstool), and he’s latched onto all-American fella Jack (Lutz) to assist this operation. As it turns out, the initial journey is cut off fairly quick when a violent electrical storm forces the group to head underground, and that’s when things get creepy and crawly…like 8-legged style. The film is ripe with some feverish action and a few decent performances, but it’s the overall framework that acts as the big bully, tauntingly kicking sand in the little guy’s face at the beach.

We’ve got love interests, a flurry of backstories, and oh my lord, those spiders! Yep, even the heartiest of CGI can effectively ruin a good case of the willies when it comes to arachnids and their powers of sucking humans and animals dry of their lifeforce. It’s an intently goofy movie, and even the dialogue seems a bit showy at times, leaving plausibility and intelligence at the entrance to the caves. Lutz is fun to watch as the burly rescuer, and he looks as the type who is just waiting for his cinematic moment to step into the spotlight. What pains me is that this movie really could have been something much bigger, and apparently it looks as if the majority of the film’s budget was wasted on those hokey-looking computerized spiders.

All in all, 7 Guardians Of The Tomb is spotty entertainment, even if you despise those little skittering aphids racing towards you, programmed or not. Give it a peek if Raiders Of The Lost Ark isn’t readily available at your disposal…even that crappy Crystal Skull one.

  • Film
2.5

Summary

A film that could have been so much more adventure-wise instead comes off looking like a lesson in how not to waste too much time on computer imagery.

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