DVD Review: Texas Chainsaw (2013)

Texas Chainsaw DVD CoverDistributor: Lionsgate

BBFC Classification: 18

Director: John Luessenhop

Starring: Alexandra Daddario, Tania Raymonde, Scott Eastwood, Bill Moseley, Gunnar Hansen, Marilyn Burns, Dan Yeager, Thom Barry, Paul Rae, John Dugan

Released theatrically as Texas Chainsaw 3D, which was really just an excuse to show a chainsaw being wielded up close and personal, this is an example of a film being green-lit purely on its title because when it was announced that there would be a new Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie it was never made clear whether it was the original 1974 film being transferred, another remake or a completely brand new film. As more and more news filtered out about the project you could almost feel the anger coming from genre fans as their beloved exploitation classic was being dragged back into the public consciousness for yet another modern make-over, but could a half-decent horror film be produced from such cynical beginnings?

After Sally Hardesty (Marilyn Burns) makes her escape from redneck cannibal Leatherface and his maniacal family, Sheriff Hooper (Thom Barry) turns up at the Sawyer family home to investigate. Just as Hooper persuades Drayton Sawyer (Bill Moseley, replacing the late Jim Siedow from the original film) to hand over Leatherface a vigilante mob, led by Mayor Burt Hartman (Paul Rae), turn up and burn the house down. Presuming the whole Sawyer clan dead, the mob pick through the debris for souvenirs and Gavin Miller (David Born) finds baby Edith Sawyer in the clutches of her dying mother Loretta. Finishing Loretta off, Gavin takes the baby for his own and raises her with his wife Arlene (Sue Rock).

Move forward several years and baby Edith has been renamed Heather and receives the news from her ‘parents’ that she is really adopted and her biological grandmother Verna Carson has passed away, leaving Heather (Alexandra Daddario) her estate. Heather, her boyfriend Ryan (Tremaine Neverson) and her friends Nikki (Tania Raymonde) and Kenny (Keram Malicki-Sánchez) then pile in a van and head for the small Texas town of Newt, picking up hitchiker Darryl (Shaun Sipos) on the way, to meet up with Carson’s lawyer Mr. Farnsworth (Richard Riehle) and take possession of her inheritance, which includes the huge Carson family house and a letter from grandma Carson which Farnsworth implores that Heather reads. Ignoring his advice the four friends head into town to fetch supplies whilst Darryl stays behind under the pretence of unpacking their stuff, but really Darryl is a thief and starts to help himself to the family silver. Exploring every room in the house Darryl ends up in the basement and opens the huge door to the wine cellar, where he discovers a huge metal door that is hiding one Sawyer family heirloom that he won’t be quite so quick to get his hands on…

The first thing to say about Texas Chainsaw is that it is a film that shouldn’t really exist. Tobe Hooper’s original The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is as much of a near-perfect example of how to induce terror as Steven Spielberg’s Jaws and didn’t really require a sequel. Of course, it had three sequels made in the 1980s & ’90s that never got anywhere near recreating the raw panic of the original but these films are really for completists only. The 2003 Marcus Nispel remake and its prequel are a separate canon and have a different mythology – although this film does touch on a couple of points brought up in that film – and so coming back to the original source nearly 40 years later quite rightly raised a few eyebrows.

But that said, after all the eyebrow raising and nit-picking is over with, what we have is a competently made slasher film that pays respect to its source material and has enough of a modern feel to call it a proper update. The integrating of Tobe Hooper’s film into this one at the beginning is handled well, the obvious difference being Drayton Sawyer is now being played by the great Bill Moseley – who memorably appeared in Tobe Hooper’s 1986 sequel The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 as Leatherface’s brother Chop Top – instead of the late Jim Siedow. There is also a shot of Leatherface (played by Sam McKinzie in this scene only) that is trying to recreate how the killer looked at the end of the original film (where he was played by Gunnar Hansen, who has a cameo during the Sawyer shoot-out scene) that overdoes the make-up on the skin mask, and this immediately sets the tone for the rest of the film, which never goes for the rawness of Hooper’s film or the contemporary bleakness of Nispel’s remake, instead settling somewhere in the middle and providing some of that black humour that Hooper has always been keen to point out was in his film (if you looked hard enough) but having enough of the red stuff to keep modern audiences happy.

Once the new story has kicked in the main characters are all fine, with nobody going out of their way to deliver an awards-worthy performance but you don’t go to these types of film for that. Alexandra Daddarion builds on her burgeoning reputation as a genre actress with chops and the rest of the younger cast are adequate without being too annoying. Paul Rae plays the surly Mayor Hartman with enough spite to make him a kindred spirit to R. Lee Ermey’s Sheriff Hoyt in the 2003 film but, surprisingly, it’s Richard Riehle as the lawyer Farnsworth who provides most of the warmth onscreen, his knowing presence and persona being very welcome amongst all the other antagonists, because you’ll discover that Leatherface isn’t the only one who doesn’t quite think straight.

There are a few gripes to be had, though. For one thing, it is documented that the events of the first film happened in 1974 and although the year when the events of this film take place is never outrightly stated, there is a police walk-through of the Carson house using video phones so one can assume it’s meant to be within the last few years, and there is no way that the not-ugly-at-all Alexandra Daddario is playing somebody who is nearly 40 years old.

Another thing that didn’t quite work was Leatherface’s overall look. Granted, Dan Yeager – who plays Leatherface in all the scenes set in modern day – has the right build and mannerisms that were established by Gunnar Hansen in the original but there’s something about the mask that doesn’t quite sit right. It could be the lack of defined features on it but wisely the cameras never linger on his face for too long. There are also some bizarre character choices that happen in the film that will make you tut and some other editorial lapses – such as one character being sliced in half with his head and shoulders swinging and shaking but when it cuts to his bottom half it isn’t moving at all – but the stuff that works is so much fun that it is easy to overlook the gaffes.

So is Texas Chainsaw worth parting with your hard-earned cash for? Well, it goes without saying that the hardcore fans of the original will moan and gripe about this purely because it isn’t that film and fans of the 2003 remake may find this a little lighthearted in comparison to that film’s so-called ‘torture-porn’ leanings, but Texas Chainsaw is a solid enough slasher film that can stand on its own. Probably more comparable to Friday the 13th Part 6: Jason Lives in that it’s a sequel that knows what it is and has fun with it, Texas Chainsaw is a perfect beer-and-pizza-on-a-Friday-night film that will give you plenty of enjoyment provided you approach it in the right way. And make sure you keep watching after the credits for an extra scene of mayhem.

Texas Chainsaw

Special Features: Audio Commentary with director John Luessenhop and actor Dan Yeager, audio commentary with producer Carl Mazzocone and filmmaker Tobe Hooper, “Chainsaw Alumni” audio commentary with stars Bill Moseley, Gunnar Hansen, Marilyn Burns and John Dugan, Texas Chainsaw Legacy featurette, Resurrecting the Saw featurette, The Old Homestead featurette, Casting Terror featurette, Leatherface 2013 featurette, Lights, Camera, Massacre featurette, It’s In The Meat featurette, On Set Short Subjects: Five Minute Massacres featurettes, alternate opening, bonus trailers.

UK Release Date: 27th May 2013

Lionsgate UK – Website

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