I went into Texas Chainsaw not really knowing a lot, more just excited about the 10PM Thursday night screening. I’d seen several TV spots which really didn’t make it out to be all that interesting, but it’s a storied franchise and blah, blah, blah. I hadn’t seen a good horror movie in a while so I figured I’d check this one out. I like to give filmmakers the benefit of the doubt and come into the theater with an open mind, and that’s definitely what you have to do here. I was pleasantly surprised by the movie overall, which turned out to be a good little slasher flick with an interesting driver. Instead of just being a remake, or just being a “re-imagining” as seems to be the trend these days, Texas Chainsaw was actually a compelling extension of the original story. For fans of the 1974 original, like me, there were a good number of cameos and plot devices that were greatly appreciated, but it also held its own and retold enough of the story to engross newcomers to the story. Now that I’ve said a lot of overall positives about this thing to get us started, lets sit down and get to the gory details.
I have very mixed feelings about the visual feel of this one, and I think a lot of it stems from the 3D. I do believe this is being officially billed as “Texas Chainsaw 3D”, so you would think there would be a lot of emphasis on the 3D visuals. Now, horror, as a genre, has not really figured out how to use this new technology. I want to say we were the first to use it, with Friday the 13th 3D and Jaws 3D way back in the day, but that was a whole different thing. In the 80’s, there would be maybe 3 scenes where something was flying out of the screen at you, totally cheesy. Modern 3D technology is being used to give extra depth and clarity to the picture, increasing the visual appeal throughout every scene, not just the gimmicks. It seems to me like horror directors really want to embrace the modern role, but can’t resist falling back to the old tricks. For example, we get several chainsaws coming toward the audience, but they feel out of place in a scene where there is real, developed tension. It almost kills the mood in a way. Most movies made for 3D should be watched that way, but this is one where I don’t think the 2D version will fall short. Beyond that, I dug the lighting and set design, especially in Leatherface’s room. Lots of bloody bits, really lives up to the TCM name.
What really stuck out for me was the way they used the original story and built a whole new world around it. Fans of the original should really enjoy the opening and the few cameos by the original cast. The story driving the movie is interesting, but I hesitate to say it is original. I can’t put my finger on another movie with the same premise, but Halloween comes close. It just feels like I’ve seen this before. The other interesting note is how similar the overall plot movement is to the original. The storylines are completely different, but the whole “kids go to house, run away from crazy guy for an hour” thing is still there; I‘m not going to spoil anything so I won’t go into the details. The end, however, was definitely it’s own handiwork. I can’t say I liked it, but we’ll touch on that later.
When it comes to sound, you’ve really got two types of horror movies: Ones that use a well crafted score to build tension for the audience, and ones chock full of ambient sound that let the audience build tension themselves. Like any movie with “chainsaw” in the title, this one is part of the latter. The score doesn’t stand out, which isn’t necessarily bad, but what you really want to hear is that sputtery two stroke revving away in the background. And you do, a lot. Now I’ve got some beef with the sound quality at the screening I was at, but I am assuming that was just the theater. If the mid-section of the movie was mixed as poorly as I heard it, the sound guys should be ashamed of themselves. But as I said, it was probably the theater. The other point I have to mention is a particular song that comes on when they are just getting to Texas, fairly early on, that had me cracking up. I have no idea who it was by or what it was called (I know, I’m a bad critic and didn’t stay for all of the credits), but the chorus was something along the lines of “God will **** you up” sang in the most redneck drawl imaginable. And they say horror movies don’t have good soundtracks.
The acting in the movie was alright, with the veterans doing there part well and the newcomers holding there own. Alexandra Daddario plays a pretty decent lead, and Trey Songz surprised me with a fairly compelling performance. Dan Yeager was not your daddy’s Leatherface, but he did a really good job in the role. It’s good to see a little freshness in an old franchise. The characters themselves were a mixed bag. The kids were very bland in my opinion, mostly because they really didn’t fit the typical stereotypes. It felt, to me, like the writers were trying too hard to give them depth, and I just didn’t care about them. I was also very disappointed in how dynamic Heather’s character was. I understand that people change in response to overwhelming situations, but this was a little far-fetched for me. The characters I did like were the ones that carried over from the 70’s portion of the film, people like Sheriff Hooper (homage?) and Burt Hartman. I thought the dynamic of the town was well crafted, drawing the audience in and dividing them over the moral dilemmas at the center of the film.
While I can’t say I really liked Texas Chainsaw, I felt it was well worth seeing. Fans of the franchise can enjoy it if they go in with an open mind, and the rest of the world will be hit or miss, really depending on if they like gory slasher movies. The guys behind this movie put the audience in a very interesting place; I went to see Texas Chainsaw with a friend who had never seen the original, and by the end we had completely different views on what was going on. Who is good and who is bad is really brought front and center here, with the director seemingly nudging the audience in a direction that I completely disagree with. I felt like my past experience with the TCM franchise taught me one thing, and this new movie wanted to teach me another. Just a comment, not bad or good, but it did spark a pretty interesting conversation on the way home. You’ll have to see it yourself and decide which family you’ll side with.