Friday, January 4, 2013

Worth Mentioning - Blood, Guts, and TX BBQ

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

Cody accepted the invitation to come join Leatherface for a seventh time. 


The Texas Chainsaw Massacre series has been a big part of my life since I was around 3 years old. I've shared the story on the blog before of how I had already seen the original TCM by the time I was in preschool, and rather than being terrified and disturbed by it, I loved it and was slightly obsessed with it. The same went for part 2, which I've written an Appreciation article for, and eventually part 3. There was a time in the early '90s when I would come home from grade school and watch the three TCMs every day. As Jay put it in his Appreciation for TCM '74, the movies integrated their way into my own dialogue and daily activity. I like all of the Texas Chainsaw movies in their own way; reverential respect for the original, a giddy love for the second, having fun with the rockin' slasher that is the third, being entertained by the fourth despite its flaws. I always dug its '06 prequel, but I was not happy with Platinum Dunes' '03 remake when it first came out, I was upset that it even existed. Over time, I've even come to enjoy that one on its own merits, and was able to accept it even more when news of this latest film first came out, with word that it would be ignoring the Dunes films and returning to the series roots' in the '74 original. I was bothered by that Thomas Brown Hewitt fellow when he replaced my beloved "Bubba"/"Junior" Sawyer Leatherface, but now that he's been locked into his own two movies... eh, he's alright.

As I told part 3 director Jeff Burr at the Fall 2012 Cinema Wasteland, I'm always interested in seeing more Leatherface. I was excited to be getting a new Chainsaw movie, and this morning I put on my TCM T-shirt and headed to the theatre to see the seventh movie in the franchise on opening day.

Texas Chainsaw 3D does indeed return to the '74 roots, the main titles appearing over stock footage from the original film. This is the closest I've managed to come to seeing TCM '74 on the big screen, so I was in awe during this sequence, being able to see some of the best moments and shots from the classic beautifully remastered and converted into 3D. As the title sequence ends, Sally Hardesty escapes from Leatherface, leaving the flesh-mask-wearing killer swinging his chainsaw wildly in the middle of the road... then the film proper begins, picking up later that same day.
The house from TCM '74 is recreated for the opening scenes of 3D, not perfectly - the land around it is a bit too desolate, a windmill is out of place, trees are missing - but impressively, with the abandoned Black Maria semi truck still sitting out front. As the events of the day play out, it becomes clear that this film is ignoring not just the remake but also the sequels to the original, making itself a new part 2. That's an approach not exactly unheard of in the series, 3 and 4 arguably did the same, aside from 4 begrudgingly including a reference to two other "minor, yet apparently related incidents" occurring between it and 1974.

Despite the fact that an angry mob makes sure that TCM2 couldn't have happened (in a bit that can't help but bring to mind The Devil's Rejects, since Rob Zombie's first two movies were so similar to TCM to begin with), there are some nods to that first sequel here - the family name first revealed in part 2, Sawyer, is retained, as is the full name of Jim Siedow's Cook character from 1 and 2, Drayton Sawyer. Drayton and Leatherface are no longer brothers, though. Instead, this film goes with the common misconception that Drayton is the father of Leatherface, here given the name Jedediah Sawyer.

In the role of Drayton Sawyer is Bill Moseley, who famously played Chop Top in part 2. Moseley isn't the only TCM alum who gets a small role, as John "Grandpa" Dugan, Gunnar "the first Leatherface" Hansen, and Marilyn "Sally Hardesty" Burns also turn up along the way.

As far as the vigilante mob can tell, no Sawyers survive the confrontation at the farmhouse... But one man and his wife do steal away from the scene with a member of the family, an infant child that they intend to raise as their own.

That baby grows up to be the film's heroine, and a very attractive young woman as played by Alexandra Daddario. In some recent 50 Years of 007 articles, I've talked about the fact that the idea of timelines and continuity is an obsolete concept when it comes to most film franchises. There have been so many remakes and reboots that it's pointless to worry about such things now, the days of fans sitting down to figure out dates and what happened when are pretty much over. So here, even though the original film's year of release is referenced in marketing materials, the fact that the events of that film occurred in 1973 has to be ignored along with the previous sequels and remakes. TCM 3D is set in October 2012, the month it was first meant to be released in, confirmed by a date on a tombstone, but our heroine is not thirty-nine years old, she's more around the actress's 25/26. Dates are meaningless now.

Baby Sawyer was raised Heather Miller, but she never felt right with the Miller family, and she clearly has some Sawyer traits - she's got a dark style, she works in the butcher shop of a grocery store, she makes artwork out of animal bones. Heather finds out she was "adopted" when she receives a letter notifying her that a grandmother unknown to her - a Verna Sawyer Carson - has passed away and she has inherited the woman's gated mansion in the small town of Newt, Texas.

One thing I greatly admire about TCM2 is that it's the only movie in the series that has taken a different approach to how its characters get mixed up with the murderous family. Every TCM other than that one follows a group of youths on a road trip. TCM3D does it again, as Heather and pals hit the road to check out her inheritance.

Seemingly subconsciously prescient of where her life will be going, Heather has surrounded herself with friends who are bottom of the barrel slasher fodder characters, an odd bunch who spews bad lines, tend to be ruled by their overactive hormones, are very pretty and buff, and make some really knuckleheaded decisions. Only one person who arrives at the mansion with Heather isn't a douchebag. The group is so unlikeable that it does make some things to come more understandable.

Heather herself shares the predilection Jessica Biel had in the remake for baring her midriff. The shirt she wears for part of the movie is cut a couple inches above her navel, and then when that shirt gets messed up and she's given a button down to put on, she only buttons it far enough to cover her chest. I don't mind. It looks even better when those top buttons are briefly opened as well.

Not much time has been spent at Grandma Verna's house before it's discovered that there's a dark family secret hidden in the home. Through the butler's pantry, down some stairs, inside the locked wine cellar, on the other side of a metal door, there's another surviving member of the Sawyer family. A cousin of Heather's. A man who wears a mask of human flesh and has a cupboard full of chainsaws... Dan Yeager does a fine job with his portrayal of Leatherface. He's not given the material to work with to make his Leatherface as memorable as some of his predecessors, but it's a solid performance and gave me a satisfying new fix of the character.

The trailer for 3D said, "It happened before. It's happening again," which I thought was a bad move, making the movie sound like a dull retread. But it is sort of accurate for a portion of the movie, where it hues too closely to things that happened in TCM '74. If you're familiar with the original film, you will know what's going to happen to some of these characters. This one gets hammered, this one gets hung on a meathook, this one pops out of a freezer.

It's when the group has been whittled down that some fresh life is breathed into the film, starting with a chase into a Halloween-themed carnival. It's a cool setpiece, though it didn't live up to my expectations. I was hyped up to see Leatherface cutting his way through the crowd, but his trip to the carnival turned out to be disappointingly bloodless and not very imaginative. Still, that did mark the point at which I began to enjoy the film more.

The story, assembled by a group of writers that included Jason Goes to Hell director/co-writer Adam Marcus, does have some interesting angles and takes some fun turns, but could've been even better if so much time hadn't been dedicated to paying homage to old gags. The dialogue certainly could've used an extra polish as well. I wasn't impressed by John Luessenhop's directing style, either, but it might have been somewhat limited by shooting in 3D.
TCM3D is a flawed movie. The elements were there that, if executed a bit differently, could've made for a much better film, but overall I did find it to be an enjoyable slasher with a fun third act. It far from lives up to the '74 original, but it was never going to do that, especially being a glossy 3D flick. It doesn't reach the levels of gleeful insanity TCM2 did, but that film is a unique beast. It's more along the lines of 3 and 4, but not as troubled as the latter. It will be joining the other films of the series in my collection, and I look forward to watching it again.

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