“Do your thing, cuz!”

Not since Busta Rhymes challenged Michael Myers to a kung fu fight has one moment in a horror movie so signified that a beloved franchise had completely lost its mind. But unlike Halloween: Resurrection, which represents the desperate, pandering death rattle of the Halloween franchise, those four words spoken near the end of 2013’s Texas Chainsaw find the series embracing a lunacy it had left behind for 20 years and attempting to inject new blood into Tobe Hooper’s dynasty. Literally. [Spoilers for Texas Chainsaw follow.]

Though it made a boatload of money upon its January 2013 release (about two and a half times its $20 million budget), Texas Chainsaw—originally called Texas Chainsaw 3D, as it was the first in the series released in the 3D format—is the kind of widely reviled sequel that most horror fans mention in conversations about the worst modern franchise films, standing alongside Jason Goes to Hell and the aforementioned Halloween: Resurrection at the bottom of the sequel pile. Even Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation gets more respect, probably because of Kim Henkel’s involvement as director and the before-they-were-famous turns from a young Renée Zellweger and Matthew McConaughey. But Texas Chainsaw is looked down upon for its often nonsensical plotting, wild tonal detours, and a look that’s too “CW pretty.”

It’s true that director John Luessenhop, whose most noteworthy credit prior to this was being the director of the 2010 crime caper Takers, eschews the grungy aesthetic of the past entries for something slicker and more beautiful. Taking a page from the Michael Bay-produced remake (and subsequent prequel), the cast is populated only by impossibly gorgeous actors; even the small-town Texas sheriff played by Scott Eastwood is a hunk. Cinematographer Anastas N. Michos shows no interest in even the faux-grittiness of the Platinum Dunes remake. Instead, his compositions—and even the production design—are cleaner than what we’ve come to expect from a Chainsaw movie. But the form matches the content. Texas Chainsaw has more in common with ’80s and ’90s slasher movies than its predecessors, and it looks the part. It’s not meant to be the usual descent into hell until it is.

Some aspects of the movie play like Texas Chainsaw’s greatest hits, especially the opening sequence, which post-converts scenes from Tobe Hooper’s original to 3D (if you’re into the format, cool!) before jumping ahead to the day after the events of the first film to show cops surrounding and executing the Sawyer family—played by the likes of original Leatherface Gunnar Hansen and Bill Moseley, who, although he more or less got his big break playing Chop-Top in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2, stands in for Jim Siedow as Drayton Sawyer here. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre star Marilyn Burns also shows up later in the movie as the grandmother of final girl Heather (Alexandra Daddario, in a perpetual state of midriff). Texas Chainsaw isn’t just another entry in a 40-year old series of movies; it’s a celebration of the entire franchise.

No, the timeline doesn’t make any sense. If Heather was born shortly after the events of the first movie and has, by what can be ascertained, only recently graduated high school, her roughly 20 years on Earth puts the events of Texas Chainsaw sometime around 1994. Instead, the movie seems to take place another 20 years after that, in 2014—though, to be fair, the exact date is never shown or mentioned, but the presence of an iPhone suggests a contemporary setting. This is just one of the movie’s many sloppy qualities; it feels like a story told out of time and out of continuity despite a prologue that tries its damnedest to make it canon. These mistakes can’t be defended, but, as the movie gets weirder and crazier, they can be rationalized as being of a single insane piece. Texas Chainsaw exists at an uneasy crossroads between slick studio filmmaking and a movie made by crazy people.

Texas Chainsaw is also the first film in the franchise not to focus on the “family” aspect of the story. Rather than offering up the whole murderous Sawyer clan, this one really just finds Leatherface locked up in the house alone for most of the film. Having torn the family apart in its opening moments, Texas Chainsaw instead turns its attention towards building a new clan when Heather discovers that she’s a Sawyer, having been stolen away from the family as a baby. The climax of the movie is about restoring the nuclear unit and bringing new blood to the series. It could actually function as the start of a new series of films, one told from the perspective of the reformed Sawyer family as they continue to exact revenge on those that wronged them. That’s unlikely to ever happen, of course, because despite its box office success, this isn’t a movie that many people speak about fondly. But we fans—what few of us there are—can always dream.

Despite the obvious fan service, there are aspects of Texas Chainsaw that seem to deliberately deny the audience what they want. Of the group of four friends that make up the movie’s young protagonists, only one is actually killed by Leatherface (albeit in spectacular fashion). I see how this could be a problem for horror fans who go into the movie expecting teenagers meeting the business end of a chainsaw. And while I’d agree that seeing Trey Songz’s character killed in a car accident instead of by Leatherface is anticlimactic (particularly after it’s set up that he’s the scumbag boyfriend foolish enough to cheat on Alexandra Daddario’s Heather), there’s something refreshing and unexpected about a character in a slasher movie being killed in an escape attempt. It’s not something we see very often, and while it may disappoint in the moment, it’s a choice that improves with perspective.

The other major character death comes when Tania Raymonde’s Nikki is shot and killed by the cops—again, mostly by accident. It’s another kill that can seem frustrating the first time through—that is, until you discover that the cops are the real villains of the movie and therefore are expected to rack up their own body count. Plus, the way it’s staged, with Raymonde bursting out of a deep freezer, is another bit of fan service—although this time it’s a reference to Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation. Having seen Leatherface cut up plenty of victims over the course of four previous movies plus one remake and a prequel, I’m more than okay with an entry that takes chances and mixes things up a bit, so having a character shot by the police is a welcome change. Besides, it’s not as though the movie doesn’t go for broke when it’s time to get gory, whether it’s watching Keram Malicki-Sánchez’s character get bisected at the end of a chainsaw or Paul Rae’s mayor character being dropped into a meat grinder.

It’s this new development—that the true villain of the movie isn’t actually Leatherface, but a corrupt power structure—which makes Texas Chainsaw not just different from the entries that came before it, but also particularly relevant to today’s social and political concerns. Whereas Tobe Hooper’s original movie was largely about the fear of disenfranchisement—of those fringes left behind, either by the Vietnam War or by the shifting economic strata of the early 1970s—this latest Texas Chainsaw movie aligns the audience with the disenfranchised rather than making them the enemy. In spite of Heather’s lucrative inheritance, the movie makes us part of the 99% in conflict with the power structure of a ruling class, including the town’s corrupt mayor. That those in power are represented onscreen mostly by the police force is even more prescient in 2016 as more and more stories of violence and abuse suffered at the hands and guns of police come out. When Heather tells Leatherface to “do his thing” at film’s end, it’s not about making one of horror’s greatest slashers sympathetic. No, his chainsaw buzzes with righteous fury and gives a voice to all who are trapped within a system that renders them powerless. Leatherface does his thing for all of us.

Ah, but the “do your thing, cuz” moment is Texas Chainsaw’s most infamous contribution to horror, destined to become shorthand for a franchise hitting rock bottom. But it’s the thing I like best about the movie, because at least it’s the kind of lunatic inspiration that sets the film apart. Think about it: would another pale imitation of Tobe Hooper’s original Texas Chain Saw Massacre really be preferable? Haven’t there been enough of those already? In the same way that Jason Goes to Hell (whose director, Adam Marcus, is a writer credited on Texas Chainsaw) catches the ire of fans for daring to do something different, so too does Texas Chainsaw receive criticism for being too different, too silly, too crazy. As someone who counts the darkly comic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 among his favorite horror movies ever made, I’m all in favor of a film that’s willing to go completely crazy. Texas Chainsaw goes completely crazy. It’s a mess, sure, and it may not deliver exactly what the fans want, but it definitely goes crazy. It does its thing.

Next: Deadly Pleasures: HELLRAISER: BLOODLINE
  • Patrick Bromley
    About the Author - Patrick Bromley

    Patrick lives in Chicago, where he has been writing about film since 2004. A member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Online Film Critics Society, Patrick's writing also appears on About.com, DVDVerdict.com and fthismovie.net, the site he runs and hosts a weekly podcast.

    He has been an obsessive fan of horror and genre films his entire life, watching, re-watching and studying everything from the Universal Monsters of the '30s and '40s to the modern explosion of indie horror. Some of his favorites include Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (1931), Dawn of the Dead (1978), John Carpenter's The Thing and The Funhouse. He is a lover of Tobe Hooper and his favorite Halloween film is part 4. He knows how you feel about that. He has a great wife and two cool kids, who he hopes to raise as horror nerds.