Why is it important for cinemas like the Paramount and Stateside to continue screening classic films? For one, in this era of countless remakes, reboots, sequels, and prequels, we should remind ourselves of the original film’s intent and remember the reasons why it has been declared a classic. This appears to have been a low priority for the filmmakers behind Texas Chainsaw 3D (in theaters today).
Though TC3D is being promoted as a “direct sequel” to Tobe Hooper’s original The Texas Chain Saw Massacre from 1974, seeing it immediately after Hooper’s landmark film doesn’t do the new one any favors. Unfortunately, that’s exactly how I experienced it last night as part of the Alamo South Lamar’s (temporary) Closing Night.
First, we were treated to the classic (a fine treat indeed, in 35mm) with Hooper in attendance for a Q&A. Remarkably humble for someone who has directed not one but two horror classics (Poltergeist being the other one), Hooper regaled us with stories about shooting the film in the miserable Texas heat and how the cast and crew ultimately came to hate one another until the film was finally in the can.
Whatever happened on that set, the outcome proved to be not only one of the finest horror films ever made but also one of the lasting artistic reflections on the prevailing mood in America in the early 1970s. More than just a band of crazies, the burly, grotesque Leatherface and his cannibalistic family represented the dissolution of the American domestic ideal and the awakening of repressed anger and violence that followed the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War. For a change, a horror film had a lot to say.
Which is why I was surprised to hear Hooper himself praise Texas Chainsaw 3D for “not trying to reinvent the wheel,” an odd statement from a man who, with his own film, got rid of the wheel entirely and made the horror genre soar. But it was certainly an accurate statement. TC3D feels like every other horror remake we’ve seen in the past several years. Gone is the visual and aural experimentation of the original (how about those opening photo flash sounds? I shudder…). Sure, Leatherface and the family concerns are all still there, but they’ve been entirely stripped of their meaning, leaving nothing but a bloody mess behind.
The original Massacre ends with a favorite shot of mine, a visual summation of everything the film represented. As the only surviving girl jumps into a fleeing truck, Leatherface gives up the chase and begins spinning around madly, hurling his chainsaw in all directions as the sunlight reflects off the blade. The shot reminds us that, even though this particular girl has gotten away, we as viewers cannot escape the fact that Leatherface (or, rather, what Leatherface represents) is here to stay – a terrifying, breathtaking image of triumph. I was hoping for just a single moment as effortlessly and thrillingly effective as this in the new film. I didn’t get it. That’s why we keep showing the classics.
Suggestion: Revisit the original 1974 Massacre, then skip TC3D and head over to Vulcan Video or I Luv Video for Hooper’s own followup The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, a wild and woolly film (starring Dennis Hopper!) that probably needs its own blog post…