Heather Miller (Alexandra Daddario) has inherited her grandmother’s mansion, a luxurious estate in small town Texas, already fitted with amenities. Of course, it also comes with a chainsaw wielding maniac in the basement, but take the good with the bad.
Texas Chainsaw opens in 1974, mere minutes after Sally Hardesty famously escaped in the back of a truck, leaving her potential killer Leatherface swinging a chainsaw in the sunset. Cue the events after as a sheriff is outgunned by locals who proceed to burn the house and everyone in it in a vengeful streak, sans the one they needed to kill in the first place.
Now, the problem is Heather’s, owner of the home built on those infamous grounds with no clue as to her families past, adopted when she was a baby. She brings her friends down for the legal weekend excursion, “Looks good shirtless” and “Likes to wear panties.” You can figure where this is headed.
Texas Chainsaw implicates itself immediately, switching from the grimy, coarse 16mm footage of its retrospective credits to the crystalline images of modern digital. The sharp mixture is a complete breakdown of tone, the series falling back on its routine, not its harrowing terror. Leatherface, looking good behind the mask almost 40 years later, bumbles around and picks off the inexplicably lonesome teenagers for the sake of a blood-seeking audience.
Then, the cogs begin turning. Texas Chainsaw gleefully dispatches the meager cast offerings, blissfully spewing blood at the lens, hanging intestines, and chopping off limbs. Chainsaw blows by its predictable meat hook kills, leaving the focus on Heather and her struggle to survive.
Enter a stray cop who enters the residence as Heather sits (remarkably calm for losing her friends) in the police station safely scanning evidence. Shining a distractingly bright cell phone light into the lens, the cop wanders the halls of a house we have already seen, sending evidence over an incredibly stable 3G connection to his Captain. For well over five minutes, the fresh-to-the-screen, low level officer sluggishly parades around the mansion’s interiors, doing nothing of note. His evidence leads nowhere, his purpose is unknown, and his walk penetrating to the pacing.
Texas Chainsaw will eventually reveal its goal: Humanizing Leatherface, turning the town’s stereotypical Texas rednecks into harsh killers with no soul. They savagely beat the franchise’s centerpiece as he screams for pity, and as an audience, we’re supposed to feel something for a man who chainsawed people in half for pleasure in gratuitous 3D. How the film makes that loopy transition isn’t even clear in hindsight, generous with its explosive violence and sexual exploitation, suddenly flip flopping like a politician for its third act.
It’s not a clean getaway, and never is there enough character pouring from the frame to justify such a decision. Producers saw dollar signs. Audiences saw chainsaws in a new dimension. Let’s leave it to die here.
As stated above, a digital 3D rig powers Texas Chainsaw, a glossy looking flick with enough pumped up color to splash red liquid, with an avoidance of botched flesh tones. The key here is intentional contrast which explodes from the first half of this direct sequel, blotching out detail aggressively, and then inserting crushing blacks into the nighttime-heavy back end. Shadow detail has less of a chance than the characters do of having a long life.
Definition sprouts up on the grounds of the home, unkempt grass and overhanging trees nicely resolved as the direction turns to pursue the beauty of the Louisiana location. Close-ups come and go although rarely drifting into faults associated with digital productions. Although clean, Texas Chainsaw works hard to maintain a natural appearance, sharp enough to pass for film were a grain structure evident. No one appears smoothed, and the sickening mask of the killer icon is displayed in full.
Bouts of noise hamper the back half, quite explicit inside a police cruiser as if the shot was zoomed during post. Blocky artifacts are far too severe to blame on the Lionsgate encode which holds to a high bitrate. Banding on the other hand could go either way, heavy during a foggy sequence as we’re first introduced to Leahterface’s lair, Heather waking up, the lights misty and revealing artifacts.
All of those faults – and positives – carry over into the 3D version, which despite being shot in the format, never pushes for gusto. Aggressive high spots plant a chainsaw right in the face of the viewer, once inside a coffin, another as it cuts through a body. One of those works, the coffin, the other a mess of supposed splatter pushing towards the lens, but failing to connect. Leatherface, at one point, toss his chainsaw towards the screen in awkward moment of CG that is more distracting than depth causing. The effect feels botched.
The rest struggles, the best stuff outside the home as Heather wanders a graveyard. Trees stick up from the front of the frame, and sit in the back to nicely layer the scenery. Inside the home, it’s often clumsy, with little effort placed to ensure elements capture the available depth. As the cop creeps through the home with this smartphone, the bright light obnoxiously ruins the 3D, and even as he turns it away, it becomes hard to tell what the 3D elements are supposed to be. You can say that for most of the 3D version, wherein the lenticular slip cover art is more effective.
Equally disappointing is the DTS-HD 7.1 mix, with nary a moment of specialized audio to impact the horror. Leatherface’s attacks are always front-facing, no need to swing the motor sounds into the stereos or rears. Any surround use is added from the fronts; there is little direct positioning here. The additional two channels never make themselves known, if they’re used at all. Ambiance is the best stuff here, including a deep heavy rain that exists on the interior of the vehicle and outside at a gas station. Some bar scenes work the surrounds too.
Texas Chainsaw opens on a house fire, the flames roaring up to dig into the LFE. An eventual collapse likewise pops up in the sub, along with a few moments in the soundtrack. Of course, the movie has potential, the finale inside an abandoned meat processing plant that should echo to create space. In actuality, the effect is barely there, and the most gruesome kill is mixed without much care. Most of the film is sufficient enough to match the visuals, at least until the dull finale.
Extras are fantastic, and if you need a reason to buy, this slate of thick bonus features would be it. Three commentaries are offered, the first two splitting the remake’s cast and crew. Director John Luessenhop and Leatherface player Dan Yeager join together for the first, producer Carl Mazzoocone and Tobe Hooper on the second. The third is a treat, bringing back the past cast members from the original including Bill Moseley, Gunnar Hansen, Marilyn Burns, and John Dugan. That’s how it should be done.
We’re a long way from the finish though, the extras split into somewhat annoying pieces instead of one continuous documentary. Texas Chainsaw Legacy has cast and crew discuss the original, followed with Resurrecting the Saw, which follows the trail of shifting film rights and a plan for six (!) sequels. The Old Homestead takes a run through the main sets of the home, Casting Terror a predictable run through the leads. Leatherface 2013 details the look of its killer and casting the role. Lights, Camera, Massacre squares up the 3D technology, and how its done. In the Meat is a wonderful look at practical gore effects.
All of those featurettes total 77-minutes, most of them a treat. There’s more, including a half-hour of raw on-set footage split into six more sections that focus on key scenes. These need to be seen to peer into the process. An alternate opening and trailers seem quaint after the fact.
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