What is it with Texas Chainsaw Massacre sequels? Why do they always try ignoring everything except for Tobe Hooper’s 1974 original? It’s as if every sequel thinks the rest of them “got it wrong”, and only they stand a chance of getting it right.
There’s arrogance to this approach that, as a fan, has always bothered me. And it’s compounded by the fact that Hooper himself made the only great follow-up in an entire canon of sequels. I know that Texas Chainsaw Massacre part 2 wasn’t exactly a box office success, and that its reputation has increased considerably with fans over the years. That explains why Leatherface was essentially made as a ‘modern’ remake of the original just three short years after part 2’s theatrical bust.
Of course, New Line got cold feet and slapped a roman numeral after the title at the last minute, outfitting Texas Chainsaw Massacre III with perhaps the most baffling continuity of all time. Who in the hell was that family? Are we supposed to believe there’s another clan of Sawyers living somewhere else in Texas doing the same thing? And that Leatherface had merely gone off to live with them after the events of the original? After all, this movie’s opening narration tells us that W.E. Sawyer died in the gas chamber in 1981. It’s safe to assume that this is the name the filmmakers gave to Jim Siedow’s ‘Cook’, confusing, since Tobe had made him Drayton just three years earlier. And this Leatherface hobbles around with a leg brace, suggesting damage incurred from the ending of the original, but without any ‘battle damage’ from part 2’s wild climax.
Things got really weird when Kim Henkel tried returning to Texas Chainsaw territory in 1994 with his own sequel. Being one of the writers of the 1974 film, it sounded like a great idea at the time. Of course, he wiped the slate clean in one fell swoop, proclaiming The Next Generation (or, Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, originally) to be the ‘REAL’ sequel to the immortal classic. Gone was any semblance of the original family, offering a slightly more domesticated group of backwoods lunatics. Anyone who’s seen TCM: TNG knows that things go completely off the rails in act three, with the introduction of a shady character called ‘Rothman’ – a smarmy corporate-type in the business of marketing the experience of fear. So we walk away with the implication that the killers in this movie were all, to some extent, hired to play a part. And that part was to ‘recreate’ the original Sawyer reign of terror for one reason or another. Hell, these guys don’t even commit to their roles completely, opting to eat pizza over human flesh!
TCM: TNG isn’t a good movie. It’s not scary or funny. The performances range from absolutely terrible to delightfully over-the-top (still my favorite McConaughey role). And the writing? Well, that’s the thing, TCM: TNG is as much of a failure as the ‘project’ in the film is. But it was actually trying to say something about the era in which it was made. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was a dark examination of America’s post-Vietnam psyche while Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 made a wickedly wonderful comedy out of our American Dream ethos. Leatheface was a decisively entertaining if woefully empty addition while The Next Generation seems to think we, as Americans, have forgotten the ‘value’ in being scared. And as such we need to be violently shaken from our complacency.
And this brings us to Texas Chainsaw 3D (formerly Leatherface 3D). Keeping with the long-line of sequels (what remakes?), we’ve got another crew of filmmakers here who couldn’t figure out another way forward beyond ignoring everything that came after 1974. It would be insulting if it wasn’t already the standard in this series. Also, we’re finally able to bid farewell to that awful Hewitt family excursion that marred the 2000s, so whatever happens in this sequel, it’s already a step up from the last two films bearing the Texas Chainsaw title.
But this has promise. Not simply because the series has been rebooted back into its original canon, but because it sounds like these folks are making a good faith effort to appease fans of the franchise. What better actor to continue the late, great Jim Siedow’s legacy than Bill Moseley? I would’ve preferred seeing him return as an older Chop-Top, but seeing Moseley step back into the Sawyer world is exciting enough on its own. And I’m glad we didn’t see him in the trailer … something tells me Lionsgate is saving some of the best stuff for the film itself.
Lots of folks have expressed disappointment over the trailer, chiding it for being too reminiscent of the Platinum Dunes stuff. This is true. And while the movie itself looks a bit slicker than I’d like, the trailer is obviously a marketing tool. And here it’s being used to attract some of the people that helped make the 2003 film a $107 million worldwide smash. Let’s face it; we fans are going to be there opening weekend, regardless. I’m not suggesting we brush aside our cynicism and expect something great like good little sheep; rather I’m encouraging more of an open mind at this point in the game.
Plus, that coffin bit in the trailer is really good. In that one scene, we have more tension and suspense than in both of the Platinum Dunes movies combined. My hope is that the filmmakers understand that an intricate part of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre‘s legacy is madness and macabre. There’s much more to these films than Leatherface and his massive chainsaw. By the end of the best films in the series, we feel like we’re on the verge of insanity alongside our battered and crazed protagonists. And considering this film is built around a distant relative of the Sawyer clan discovering her unfortunate inheritance, is there perhaps room to take this aspect a little further and have her actually turn against her friends?
We’re four months away from Texas Chainsaw 3D and it’s a film I’m really looking forward to. My expectations are in check, but I do think there’s some promise here. Will the filmmakers go the extra step and imbue their film with the kind of satirical subtext these films live for (the timing is ripe to say something scathing about today’s youth culture)? Or will this be an excuse to push that chainsaw off the screen and into our laps for 85 minutes straight? Time will tell, but I’m really rooting for this one.
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