The old adage, “you can never have too much of a good thing” would appear to be the mantra of Hollywood horror producers – excellence being sporadic and fleeting. Friday the 13th tops the list of saturated horror franchises with twelve movies, followed by Halloween with ten and then there are the seven Saws. The next dire instalment of mediocrity is probably not too far behind.
It has been thirty-nine years since Tobe Hooper’s seminal family horror, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) and over the years viewers have been party to sequels, new generations, prequels and remakes – “Chain Saw Massacre” became “Chainsaw Massacre” and then no “Massacre” at all – none of which have even come close to the first. Part of what made Hooper’s original so influential was its stark cinematography, verisimilitude and its “true story” marketing (based loosely on the exploits of real-life serial killer Ed Gein) with a documentary-style voiceover and photographic stills filmed on 16mm. Its narrative and plot were, of course, entirely fictional but the finished film serves as a subtle commentary on the political climate and symptomatic of the era; something of worth created within budgetary constraints. The US was still knee-deep in the Vietnam War and this affecting horror visualised an apocalyptic landscape, sparse and abandoned through industrial capitalism (Robin Wood). It depicted a non-traditional, perhaps arguably degenerate, familial homestead transgressing the boundaries of the norm and surviving via cannibalistic insanity. As a movie, it stays with you long after viewing and its esteemed standing in the horror genre a testament to director Hooper and writer Kim Henkel, who created an influential piece of frightening art in spite of a profound lack of blood, guts and gore.
A whole decade has passed since Marcus Nispel’s futile remake starring Jessica Biel and seven years since …The Beginning which tried to explain away all elements which made the original so groundbreaking and yet still the unnecessary franchise additions keep coming. The latest attempt, Texas Chainsaw is released on DVD from the 27 May 2013 through LionsGate. The film begins moments after the 1974 release and condenses its pioneer into a few short frames culminating in Sally Hardesty’s (Marilyn Burns) bloodied and hysterical escape. A Hatfield and McCoy type battle ensues between the Sawyers and Hartmans which leaves the old farmhouse burned to the ground, several members of each party dead and a small child ripped from the arms of her mother. Flashforward to present day and Heather Miller (Percy Jackson’s Alexandra Daddario) learns of her adoption and her biological grandmother Verna who has left her a significant inheritance. She jumps into a Volkswagen with her boyfriend Ryan (Tremaine ‘Trey Songz’ Neverson) and friends Nikki (Tania Raymonde) and Kenny (Keram Malicki-Sanchez) to learn her true identity. They pick up a drifter along the way in the form of Darryl (Shawn Sipos) and arrive in Texas to revel in her new-found wealth and meet her birth family, of which there is only one surviving member.
Regurgitating elements of horror films including Psycho (1960), Halloween (1978) The Funhouse (1981), I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) (there’s even a cheesy nod to Saw), this film lacks any of the originality, atmosphere, zeal or purpose of those previously mentioned. Its director John Luessenhop has, by his own admission, never directed horror before and it shows. He has attempted to make a film comprising mainly of replicated shots, imitating but never matching the original source material. The mise-en-scène is coaxed to the point of contrivance, resulting in no scares and making for dull, and insulting, viewing especially for a fan of the genre. The decision to discount the franchise instalments which have been made since ’74 is certainly an interesting one from writers Debra Sullivan, Adam Marcus and Kristen Elms, especially in the introduction of the extended Sawyer clan (the Sawyer family name was not introduced until the 1986 sequel).
Unfortunately, this lack of research and attention to detail is evident throughout the 90 minutes and, for a film selling itself as a saga continuation, is problematic. There is an attempt to humanise the psychopath to almost Frankensteinian level asking the audience to illicit empathy for a character that back in the day was motiveless and incapable of remorse and one who should be close to retirement age by now. The recurring motif of meat has all but been removed, here “flesh” obviously connoted through its Abercrombie-&-Fitch-alike cast of characters, all of whom are underdeveloped, and a leading lady who blatantly and irritatingly defies the timeline the writers and director are attempting to evoke. Throw in a few derivative proverbs regaling family, highlight vigilantism and have at least three cameo appearances that only draw attention to the shortcomings and you have got yourself a wholly atrocious and (un)bloody waste of time.