Thicker Than Water
Warning: This review discusses the ridiculous plot at length. Cease reading if you’ve yet to see the bleeding.
Texas Chainsaw 3D is the sort of movie that makes you wish they made kevler contact lenses. You’ve barely got over the prologue, in which scenes from Tobe Hooper’s 1974 original have been cackhandledly cut out to facilitate stereoscopic layering, perhaps using a chainsaw such is the imprecision, when you realise this new film constitutes both a sequel to and reconing of the original series. This is not to be confused with the remake and its prequel and certainly not to be thought of in conjunction with the pre-existing sequels to the original, the first of which Hooper wrote and directed himself. What impudence, you say! But hold the fuck on, because once you’ve seen it, you’ll realise that such arrogance is just the tip of a berg made of intestines and severed limbs.
What’s extraordinary about this clothesline of genre clichés is that at the root of it all is something like a good idea. No, really. On these pages you’ll have read a million and one reviews that lament that distinctly American past time of forcing the sanctity of the family unit down audience’s throats. Many movies, too many by far, begin with a brood in crisis and from there it’s a torturous trudge to the close in which this ignoble and often damaging institution is restored to its former solidity.
Audiences are thought to be in love in with the domestic idyll you see (by suits screwing their secretaries); it’s considered both aspirational and reassuring. The horror genre, which revels in what Keats marked as the amoral and unprincipled character of the poet, that is, a mind unchained from any dogmatic, righteous or sentimental position, and yes this was a bet to see if Keats could be plausibly integrated into a review of a Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie, is antithetical to such crassness; it’s the one place that satirical barbs levelled at sacred cows can be at their most, er, cutting, and John Lussenhop’s film, though moribund in every other respect, does at least toy with sending up that “ties that bind” trope.
The movie’s sole new idea is to have a baby from Leatherface’s family of flesh eating hicks adopted (i.e. stolen) by a couple of barren rednecks, raised unawares, only for it to discover the truth as a young, improbably beautiful young adult, complete with bare midriff and perfect breasts (where did the good genes come from?), when Grandma Gein, or whoever, leaves her the family mansion. Naturally she opts to visit her inheritance with a group of equally well bred friends – chainsaw fodder like her slut BFF and cheating boyfriend – and much gory stalk and slash mayhem ensues. The twist is that the principle victim-in-waiting is the killer’s long lost cousin. If only the two of them can find each other before one murders the other.
Now I know what you’re thinking, so stop it, but this idea might have worked; it had seared legs; but from the truncated title down, this Texan tearup is so lazily written that not one drop of comic joy can be wrung from its cardboard pages. From the moment that Heather, the girl with the chainsaw blade shaped birthmark, gets the news that she’s now on the property ladder, we’re asked to accept more madness and one line cover ups than the human mind can process in a single sitting.
Heather’s family were gunned down and burnt to death by a simple mob, yet her grandmother, apparently conscious of both this and the fact that her granddaughter was being raised by one of the men responsible, who can also add kicking her daughter to death to his CV, made no attempt to contact the girl in her lifetime. “You were never lost,” says Grandma’s lawyer, pre-empting the audience’s plot hole conversation. Scant comfort for Heather as she contemplates Granny’s decision to remain in palatial surroundings, though it’s not clear why she lived in luxury while the rest of her family occupied a run down shack, while allowing her to be brought up in poverty by a couple of cannibal judging yokels.
Later, when Heather arrives at her new pad, she neglects to read the mysterious letter from her deceased gram gram, instead opting to spend the day walking around and making a journey into town to buy supplies. If someone had left me a house I might have troubled myself to read that mysterious letter but the decision not to results in many deaths and Heather being subjected to indignities like being chained up with her chest exposed and close to cleaved in two while she hides in, er, Grandma’s coffin.
All of which reads like a lot of fun but such inventive stupidity is blunted by breathtakingly middle of the road direction and an equal lack of zing in the screenwriting department. Leatherface may have learning difficulties and no social skills but one imagines even he could have manufactured better shocks and conjured more interesting performances from the swimwear catalogue cast than Luessenhop. That lack of suspense and visual interest leaves time and a half to sit open mouthed at the banality of a scenario that strings together unreconstructed misogyny and character clichés from a million plus genre farts and presents it as fresh meat.
At the close Heather and her cousin are cautiously reunited. Despite having nothing but a genetic connection to a hulking psychopath who’s just killed her circle of friends (the numerous attempts on her own life notwithstanding), Heather agrees to the written request from a grandmother she’s never met, to look after everyone’s favourite chainsaw wielding leviathan and the two begin an uneasy alliance; cousin Jeb living in the basement, Heather tending to the rest of the house. The only comfort for Tobe Hooper must be that if his sequel can be superseded once, it can be done again. In fact he’ll be hoping that work on Texas Chainsaw Massacre II – III, is already under way. Who’d bet against it?