The gunky sequels and reboots that have followed The Texas Chain Saw Massacre are all so forgettable that you may, by now, be surprised to learn just how many of them there have been. Texas Chainsaw 3D is the sixth movie to cannibalize the original 1974 masterpiece of slaughterhouse terror. It’s yet another attempt to squeeze a few more gory, fetid, limb-severing, bodily-fluid-oozing shocks out of material that should have been deep-sixed a long time ago. A sign of how desperate the series’ producers have become is that the big twist here is that Leatherface, the slobby butcher-boy demon in his mask of human skin, is now…the good guy. (That’s a ”jump the chainsaw” concept if ever there was one.)
Not that he starts off that way. This time, the VW van of sexy twentysomethings who cruise into the maw of Texas dementia includes Heather (Alexandra Daddario), the last official surviving member of the Sawyer clan (i.e., Leatherface’s gonzo redneck family), who has no idea of her legacy because she was adopted. But then her grandmother dies, leaving her an old mansion, which she drives down to Texas to claim. Leatherface, of course, lurks in the basement, where he spends his days behind a metal door, tinkering, I guess, with his sewing kit and power tools and bone collection. As Heather and her friends take over the house to party, he emerges from his lair, uncorking a rampage that turns the movie into a kind of Chainsaw’s Greatest Hits: the hanging of victims on meat hooks, a body popping out of the refrigerator like a quivering Corpse-in-the-Box, the slicing and dicing of torsos, and Leatherface running through the woods as fast as his portly body will let him, his chainsaw a-smokin’, set off by a great deal of elegant nightmare backlighting.
But that’s just the set-up. What Heather learns, in the course of watching her pals get murdered and severed, one by one, is that the Sawyer clan, on that fateful day back in the early ’70s when Sally Hardesty climbed into the back of a pick-up truck to escape Leatherface’s wrath, were victims of a ”massacre” themselves. A vengeful posse of vigilantes incinerated their farmhouse, and supposedly everyone in it. The punishment, Texas Chainsaw 3D would have us believe, was just as bad as the crime. Maybe even worse! (Which makes me wonder how long it’s been since the filmmakers have seen the original.)
And so now, we’re rooting for Leatherface to get his payback, and to bond with Heather, his cousin, who by my calculation would now be in her early 40s, even though Alexandra Daddario plays her as a doll-faced ingénue with porcelain skin. There’s one good 3D moment in which the chainsaw blade slices, in thrilling close-up, through the top of a coffin, and we’re at the bottom of it, looking up. Yet watching Heather shift sympathies over to her kin, the poor beleaguered misfit Leatherface (so misunderstood!), is not exactly what you would call convincing. In fact, it’s just campy enough that when the two are seated in a kitchen, having defeated one of their now-mutual enemies, I kept waiting for Heather to say something like, ”So, you want a beer?” At this point, maybe Leatherface deserves his own sitcom, or even his own kiddie show, where he could chainsaw Barney and Elmo as a demonstration of how not to play with others. C