For fans of Tobe Hooper’s 1974 horror classic, the two most recent reboots of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, produced under Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes banner, were a particularly painful, almost sacrilegious defilement. Everything that made Hooper’s film special—the grimy naturalism, the subversive wit, the political allegory—was slicked up to ’00s horror standards, like Creed doing a Johnny Cash cover. Billed as a direct sequel to Hooper’s film, Texas Chainsaw 3D tries to occupy the space between the ’74 film and its remakes, nobly attempting to subvert expectations while delivering the generic intensity of hot bodies getting ripped apart by comin’-atcha 3D chainsaws. Director John Luessenhop can never fully reconcile these contradictory impulses, but at least he makes the effort, and rescues the franchise from more typical 21st-century bloodbaths.
The flaws inherent to his compromised approach are laid out in the opening sequence, which presents converted 3-D footage from Hooper’s film, then provides a seamless postscript. We soon learn that the Sawyer family, the cannibalistic clan headed by “Leatherface,” was torched alive by a vigilante mob from the neighboring town. Cut to the present, where Alexandra Daddario inherits a Texas estate from her long-lost grandmother and learns of her own connection to the Sawyers. With a few of her extremely good-looking friends (Tania Raymonde, Trey Songz, Keram Malicki-Sánchez) in tow—plus, in a nod to Hooper, a hitchhiker they pick up en route—Daddario heads down to check out this charming little fixer-upper. They find the cellar particularly spacious, with a convenient, discreet entryway from the kitchen.
In the early going, Texas Chainsaw 3D delivers the expected mayhem of Leatherface (Dan Yeager)—still spry at his advanced age—terrorizing Daddario and her friends, with digital blood cascading from the screen. But when Daddario goes to town for help, the film turns the tables a little, throwing a surprising emphasis on the evils of Texas justice and the ties that bind. Luessenhop and his screenwriters handle this reversal crudely, but the mere presence of a second layer to the story gives Texas Chainsaw 3D an intriguing kick, and it adds a couple moments of visual wit that show a willingness to fiddle around with the genre. Not being irredeemable garbage counts as a modest achievement, but it’s a small step in the right direction.