Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Saw is Family

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise is a peculiar one in the history of the horror genre in that every almost addition seems to follow a completely different mission statement. Tobe Hooper's 1974 original is a visceral home movie affair that is grungy, cheap and nasty; the 1986 sequel is a much different beast with its focus on comedy and absurdism that reaches its apex in a finale that, well, reaches an absurd apex; the fourth from 1997 is a another cheap and grungy affair, but this time plays like a camp 1980s slasher flick as it focuses on characters who get lost on their way to prom getting chased by Leatherface in drag.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) | The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 (1986)

Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1997)

The films can't even get continuity in the titles let alone tone! The original is spelt Chain Saw, the second is Part 2, the third is given roman numerals and adds "Leatherface" before the classic title. And then there's the fourth which ditches any number at all, uses a subtitle and curiously deletes the "The" from the classic title.

The two most recent incarnations are in fact the only ones amongst the entire six-part (so far) series to feel connected. Marcus Nispel's 2003 "remake" (it's more of a direct sequel to Hooper's 1974 original than any of the other so-called sequels) and its 2006 prequel both wallow in a dirty, sun-bleached nihilism that works for some (like myself) and completely repels others. Even then, The Beginning was more of a lazy retread of its predecessor, which - in a meta sort of way - makes it completely unlike any of the other films in the series, so I guess that fits the pattern. Right? Yikes. I'm confusing myself!

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003) | The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (2006)

Last night I sat down to watch Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III, the final film in the franchise that I had yet to see. I was curious to see where it would sit within the films; would it carry yet another completely different personality or would it be a stylistic companion? Turns out a bit of both. While it and The Next Generation certainly appear to be attempting a modern day redo of the original aesthetic, Leatherface is yet again another Chainsaw film that has its own beats and rhythm. And yet, by saying it has it's own personality is to also say it has no personality at all. It's the least invested of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre films, that's for sure, seemingly made by somebody who doesn't seem to particularly care what movie he's making. Director Jeff Burr seems unable to rouse even the most basic of scares that should come organically from a film in which A MAN WEARING A MASK MADE OF SKIN ATTACKING PEOPLE WITH A CHAINSAW! He seems to be aiming for the original's uneasy force, but the sloppy attempts at humour and lifeless chase-sequences put a kibosh to that.

Perhaps it's due to lead actress - the "final girl" if you wanna use the noted horror phrase - Kate Hodge being so frustratingly passive for the majority of the (brief 80 minute) running time. Burr's direction features none of the gut-churning reality and surprise of the original, nor the finely-tuned parade of grotesquery that made Nispel's retooling so effective and allowed it to stand apart from the mythic 1974 version. Similarly, the Sawyer clan were never the smartest members of the Texan gene pool, but here they seem particularly dim and like poor facsimiles of the earlier film.

And what of Viggo Mortensen you ask? He plays the role of insane, psycho serial killer with all the subtlety that you would expect from a film with "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" in the title. I did like the inclusion of Miriam Byrd-Nethery as "Mama Sawyer" with her throat cancer vocal thingamajig to the ever-expanding wheelhouse of bizarre Leatherface family members. The film's writer, David Schow, has attempted several "only in a Texas Chainsaw movie" things, many of which fall flat, but some do work and feel right at home (the little girl with blonde pigtails pulling what can only be described as a "mallet lever" is particularly noteworthy).

Still, nothing can disguise the fact that this is a rather docile addition to the series, and for a film that hails itself as "the most controversial horror film ever" is curiously gutless (literally and figuratively speaking). Plus it gets progressively sillier as it goes along, and not in the affectionately hilarious way that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 did. No, I mean ridiculous like during the finale when the chainsaw - the actual chainsaw - takes on the life of "Bruce the Shark" as it cuts through a backwoods swamp like the fin in the opening credits of Jaws. And then there's the obviously tacked on happy ending that negates what came immediately before.

Still, at least it gave us this amazing and insane teaser trailer and isn't that something to be thankful for? C-

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