Thursday, May 30

The problem of humanizing Leatherface and why Texas Chainsaw 3D screws it up...

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Illustration by Don England
After watching the latest, now third tier of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise, Texas Chainsaw 3D, its hook was bound to happen in the series. One of the unsaid touches behind the Leatherface character, his child-like demeanor and family-bred reasoning behind his vile actions, is placed front-and-center in John Luessenhop's quasi-direct sequel to Hooper's '70s horror classic. I remember my 13-year-old self; in an attempt to sound insightful, telling friends who had seen the original about the character actually killing out of fear and his butchery being a product of his upbringing. So it seems natural that a sequel would finally try to flesh out that concept Hooper always intended.

Before getting into that, this newest installment is so ho-hum you'd think Leatherface was a leading gimmick in the WWE right now and their film division decided to capitalize. A few stock twenty-somethings run afoul of the momma's boy Sawyer with some gruel and chainsaws flying at the camera to appease the "3D" moniker. It's unchallenging with forgettable performances and somehow manages to look much cheaper than the similarly-budgeted Platinum Dunes Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003). Some of the original series cast return, but most only appear in a fleeting opener that the writers seemed barely to have bothered with while speeding into territory that's easier on the minds of dunderheaded teenagers.

(Spoilers henceforth) Such banality damns Texas Chainsaw 3D from getting into the "meat" of the dilemma of Leatherface. We're supposed to believe that after his family is burned to death by an angry mob, Leatherface is taken in by his grandmother who secretly cares for him in her basement for over twenty years. During all that time were his perverse inclinations softened? Does he still continue to kill and cannibalize? It's unclear, but he seems all too prepared to commence blindly slaughtering pretty young people once they stumble upon his lair.

And that's what the character does for the remainder of the movie. There's never any pause for emotion, no matter how primitive, from this totally silent Leatherface. Remember Hansen sitting down to wring his hands in anxiety or cowering after being scolded? The quirky amorous feelings in Hooper's sequel? Confusing a picture of a clown as "FOOD" in Texas III? Even Robert Jacks' ridiculous turn in Kim Henkel's abomination of a fourth sequel has more feeling. The best this one musters is a bit of uncomfortable silence between Leatherface and his newfound caretaker/cousin at the very end.

That doesn't mean there aren't plenty of missed opportunities. Before discovering the blood relation, Leatherface is in pursuit his cousin, Heather, through the woods when they happen upon a carnival. Naturally this rendition saws through the fencing and rampages through the screaming crowds without a second thought for the purpose of a Saw reference and CG 3D effect.

But what would the "old" Leatherface do? Immediately upon seeing the flashing multi-colored lights in the near distance, drop his chainsaw and slowly approach the fence in awe of the spectacle and laughing children. He'd place his ham hock of a hand on the fence and suddenly notice how filthy and bloodied it is. Feeling his skin mask, he'd whimper in anguish over the realization yet again he's nothing like them and it's something he can never have. There's some instant needed depth instead of the boring maniac with a chainsaw witnessed in this movie.

There's also no sign of any personal rage toward the men that slain his kin. Be it some random innocent girl or the ringleader of the mob that destroyed everything he knew, this Leatherface just barrels into them like their meat. During the climax, he uses his saw to force the man responsible for his family's death, now the town's sheriff, backward into a large cow grinder with some terrible CG as the pay-off. Why not have Leatherface get "hands-on" with the bastard and rip a chunk of his face off using his teeth and then consume it while screaming with rage? Despite many satisfying possibilities, Texas Chainsaw 3D is just lazy and uninventive.

Ultimately, it's hard to tell what the hell a follow-up could do considering this set-up of Leatherface as an anti-hero who has already destroyed his only arch-nemesis. What possible beef could Leatherface and Heather have now? Luessenhop's effort just feels like a stab at a quick opening weekend buck primarily aimed at those with the "only good horror is stuff in English after 1998 from Hollywood with blood, guts, and hot chicks and everything else fucking sucks" mentality. Might be the worst insult yet to Hooper's original creation and intention. "Maybe it's just time to just shut down. Time to shut down the show, yeah. Yeah, pull the plug. Where's that fuck you Charlie?"
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