Friday, January 4, 2013

We are the Sprocket Holes vol. 202


Roughly 40 years ago, a filthy little bruiser of a film called the Texas Chainsaw Massacre left deep cuts in the landscape of horror cinema that seem like they will never heal. In the decades that followed, entries in the backward-ass lunatic fuck genre that range from very good , pretty ok, and  really fucking bad (also good-bad and bad-good) have come and gone, and the original film itself spawned one of the most bizarrely frustrating franchises in genre film history, with sequels and remakes that not only failed to capture the power and spirit of the original (part 2 being a minor exception), but seem like they were made by people who had never even seen the original, or if they did they just didn’t understand anything beyond “big guy w/ chainsaw runs around and cuts up pretty people”.

It’s a new decade, and once again we have a new addition to this series in the form of the simply titled Texas Chainsaw. While it’s a forgone conclusion that nothing will ever match the presence of the 1974 original, 2013’s Chainsaw is at the very least respectful, and at its very best a meaningful contribution to the continuing mythology of Newt, Texas’ favorite son; Leatherface, as well as fleshing out not only the Sawyer family, but the town itself, suggesting that not all maniacs wear and/or imbibe the skin of their kills.

In this new film, Heather Miller (the gorgeous AlexandraDaddario) discovers that her recently deceased grandmother has left the family estate in her name. turns out Heather was adopted, and her legal parents snatched her from her birth mother’s dying arms. See… they were part of a vigilante lynch mob that set fire the Sawyer family farmhouse in August of 1973, and Heather’s mother was Loretta Sawyer, sister to the hillbilly cannibal Bar B Q brothers from the first film, who were all burned alive after Sally Hardesty’s confession.

… well… not all of them…

The one constant in all the TCM films has been prot-slasher Leatherface. In the first film, he’s the frightened infant; the baby in a trio of ghoulish brothers. In the second film, he’s a bashful prepubescent, teased about girls he likes and bullied by his more outgoing brothers. In the third film, he’s the surly teenager; growing his hair out while listening to heavy metal on his walkman. In the fourth, a gender-confused twenty something. Now it’s been some time since the events of the first film, and he’s a middle aged shut-in, much more bitter and skeptical about anyone outside of his circle  it’s beyond refreshing to see this, as in the awful Platinum Dunes films from last decade Leatherface was portrayed as little more than a scary pro wrestler in a Slipknot mask, but the less said about those, the better. 

Anyway, the film’s first half plays like an effective (if typical) backwoods slasher, with miserable assholes getting cut up by the grizzled veteran Leatherface. Once this wraps up, the film really shows its teeth, delving into family relations, dirty little secrets, and suggesting that maybe Leatherface isn’t the worst thing to happen to this town. See, Burt Hartman (played by Paul Rae), the good-ol-boy who led the vigilante lynch mob back in ’73 is now the mayor of the town, but time has not tempered his bloodlust with regards to the Sawyer clan, and the discovery that not only is there a long lost Sawyer girl, but also the reemergence of the gas-powered spectre that carved up a brutal legacy, has made him want to get the old band back together and put an end to this once and for all. But Leatherface remembers who he is as well, and meat will be ground.

But where does this leave Heather? In an interesting development, instead of joining the “good fight”, she comes to understand that this is her blood (in a matter of speaking), and oddly enough, once she has all the pieces, she understands where her cousin (Leatherface) is coming from, and makes the decision to stand by her family. Maybe I’m being silly, but I found this not merely perversely moving (although it is), but perfectly reasonable. Everyone Heather has encountered is a selfish lying asshole. Her best friend and boyfriend are fucking behind her back. Her adoptive parents are miserable white trash who don’t seem to think very much of her. Her lawyer Farnsworth (character actor Richard Riehle, the Jump-to-Conclusions-Mat guy from Office Space) fails to mention that a mongoloid serial killer is living in the basement of the house willed to her, and the town mayor wants to kill her for something she not only didn’t do, but had no knowledge of until the shrieking manchild in the dead skin mask cut up her shitty friends and chased her around a carnival. Once Leatherface finds out who Heather really is, he immediately stands by her side, and her him. Sure, he cut up her friends, but they were shitheads anyway whose friendship was based on a free ride to mardi gras, so fuck em. At least with Leatherface, you know where you stand, and he’ll protect you till the bitter end. All you gotta do is keep him fed. 

I’m stunned at how much I actually wound up caring about these two. Sure, they’re murderers, but they’re the only honest characters in the entire film. They don’t do what they do for money or sex, and they certainly don’t justify their bloodlust by evoking scripture (as the vigilante mayor does at the film’s start) while deriving sick enjoyment from the kill. For Leatherface, it’s what he knows, how he survives, how he understands whose who and what’s what. Everything Heather has encountered up to this point in her life has been a lie, but bloodlines never lie, and she fully embraces that by film’s end.

Keep in mind, It’s not a perfect film. It suffers from leaps in logic and continuity issues, but no more than any other horror film; nitpicky pain in the ass stuff that’s prevalent in the history of the genre that pointing them out is just redundant. It’s gory, misanthropic, offers a fresh take on the long running story, and has enough genuine weirdness to suggest that the parties involved have an idea of what made the original film the enduring classic it has become.  

Seconds, please.


reviews are in, and they're almost universally awful. while i understand completely, i feel like a lot of people already made up their minds about it before they saw it. obviously, no one will ever capture the essence of the original film. the way it was shot, acted, directed, written... you can't manufacture that kind of hell, and it's foolish to think you're gonna get something even close to that.

the other thing critics and fans seem to believe is that the film is making the Sawyers into heroes. i don't see it that way. what the film is showing you is degrees of brutality. you're not meant to side with the Sawyers, but you're not meant to side with the vigilante lynch mob either. they say they're doing what they're doing out of a sense of biblical justice, but they get a little too much enjoyment out of torching the Sawyers. Revenge is not justice, and even if it was, it not their revenge to have. it's not like TCM 2 when Sally and Franklin's uncle Dennis Hopper wanted the family dead, or in Rob Zombie's Devil's Rejects, when William Forsythe's character seeks to avenge his brother Tom Towles' death at the hands of the Firefly Clan. as far as we know, none of the Sawyer's victims were tied to any member of the vigilantes in any way. i'm not sure if it was the filmmaker's intentions, but it was kind of a nice little stab at the whole "Kill the Killers!" attitude that rears its head whenever its perceived that someone got away with murder. you saw it on Facebook when that party bitch was found not guilty of killing her child, we watch it on goofy-ass Dexter every week. the vigilantes in TC3D are closer to the police officers in Clive Barker's Nightbreed; hate mongering sociopaths who wanna get 'em cus ther dffrnt. granted, the Sawyers kinda deserve it, but in the mind of Leatherface, the "Local Heroes" (as the paper pinned to Leatherface's headboard calls them) also deserve it. it's that  theory of Revenge being a kind of emotional Ouroboros (explored in fantastic Korean films like Oldboy, I Saw the Devil, etc); a destructive means to an end, only there is no end. someone kills someone. you kill that person. maybe that person meant something to this other person, and now this other person kills you, and they tell two friends and they tell their friends and so on and so on and so on....

i don't wanna make this film something more than it is. it's an entertaining horror film and a pretty good sequel. it's not as gleefully over-the-top as TCM 2, but unlike 3 and 4 it at least ties into the original in a way that makes sort-of-sense. i will say that if this film takes place in the year of our lord 2013, and Heather was a newborn during the events of the first film (1973), she would be forty years old. now, there are some supremely hot 40 year olds out there, but Alexandra Daddario.... a 26 year old who looks like a 19 year old.

...wait... what am i complaining about?

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