Time to play a new game. Let’s call it: Who Has It The Worst? Our first contestant is a middle-aged man who wears a human mask sewn right into his face. He has the mentality of an 8-year-old, lives all alone in his family’s basement and enjoys slicing off human body parts with his trusty collection of chainsaws. (A cannibal’s gotta eat, you know?) Give it up for Jedidiah, everybody!
Now let’s meet our second contestant. She’s an aspiring artist in her 20s who cuts and packages meat at her local grocery store where she works with a girlfriend, a cashier, who is secretly fucking her live-in boyfriend, a fighter. Her parents can’t stand her and the feeling is mutual. Let’s hear it for Heather!
Little do either of them know, they’re about to meet for the first time in Texas Chainsaw, the more-disturbing-than-scary seventh installment in this longtime horror series. Pretending that there never was a sequel to the 1974 original, the film continues the story by slyly incorporating new scenes set in the same time period to match quick flashbacks from its influential predecessor.
After we witness Jedidiah kill a number of innocent people (and watch his family torment a woman who eventually escapes), the Sheriff of this small Texas town (Thom Barry, one of the standout supporting players here) tracks down his entire family of cannibals at their farm house (a carefully replicated version of the original set (both inside and out) from the first film) where he demands the surrender of the first silent, masked, homicidal maniac in movie history.
The family initially refuses. But as they reconsider honouring the request, a band of local yokels, led by Bible-thumping Burt (the terrifically villainous Paul Rae), arrive and they’re not exactly the patient types. Completely ignoring the pleas of the sensible Sheriff Hooper, they launch an unprovoked attack on the entire household. (Think gun shots and Molotov cocktails.) Later that night, in a makeshift garage away from the utterly decimated crime scene, one of the hicks discovers a terrified woman with her baby. Knowing that his wife wants one of her own but can’t conceive, he kicks the poor woman and takes away her pride and joy. She’s the last Sawyer to die in the aftermath of the original massacre. Despite damning written testimony by Hooper, no one goes to jail for willfully participating.
A couple of decades later, a fully grown Heather (the beguiling Alexandra Daddario) learns she was that baby. She also learns that the grandmother she never knew has just died and bequeathed her large mansion to her among other assets we never learn about. Already planning to go to New Orleans to celebrate Halloween with her unfaithful boyfriend, Ryan (musician Trey Songz), her two-timing gal pal/co-worker, Nikki (sexy Tania Raymonde), and her new guy, Kenny (Keram Malicki-Sanchez), a would-be chef old high school friend Ryan fixed her up with, they all agree to check out the mansion in Newt, Texas along the way.
During a junk food pit stop, Ryan appears to have hit an innocent hitchhiker (Shaun Sipos) with his van. The stranger convinces everybody inside through his convenient tale of woe to take him along. Once they arrive at the mansion gate, Heather’s lawyer, Mr. Farnsworth (played by reliable character actor Richard Riehle), gives them all the lowdown on her newly acquired property. He also specifically requests more than once that she read a letter her grandmother wrote to her shortly before her death. The fact that she doesn’t do this until the end of the movie reveals the overall lack of intelligence we’re dealing with here.
Also dumb is how the foursome allow Darryl, the aforementioned too-good-to-be-true hitchhiker, to stay behind while they go into town to buy groceries for the next couple of days. (The gang decide to spend the night in Newt because the mansion is “insane”, you see. Example: it has a pool table!) Trusting a guy they barely know to watch the place while they’re gone for a bit leads to the discovery that he’s a thief. (How shocking.) Thanks to his greedy ways, he stumbles upon a secret entranceway and a staircase that leads to the basement where he hopes to find more treasure.
After grumbling about all the old bottles of wine he finds in one room, he spots an empty dinner tray on the floor right in front of a sliding steel door. Trying desperately to open it, he encounters the mansion’s big secret. You guessed it, Jedidiah, who promptly offs him, an event that goes completely unnoticed for quite some time by the returning couples. He was that missed. (However, there’s a funny moment when the gang return and express admiration for his “smooth” con job.)
Later that night, old Leatherface wacks another curious member of the group (also unnoticed for a time) and introduces himself in his own unique way to the exploring Heather, the surviving cousin he’s never met as an adult. (Should’ve read Granny’s letter, miss thang. Speaking of the old lady, her body is still in the house. What’s that about?) She barely escapes the property with Ryan and Nikki (who unintentionally save her by drawing attention to themselves after their literal romp in the hay is interrupted), albeit temporarily. Thanks to the chainsaw wonder, their car flips over and Heather is the only one who manages to get away.
With the relentless Jedidiah hot on her trail, she runs frantically through a carnival until she’s rescued by Carl (Scott Eastwood; yes, Clint’s son), another character our sad sack hero is wrong to trust.
As I mentioned before, Texas Chainsaw is the seventh Massacre movie in a franchise that has now entered its fifth decade. It is by no means a good movie. There are only two genuinely effective thrills. One involves a chainsaw toss, the other a freaky painting. Although it continues the unchecked depravity and gore that ran rampant in the two most recent entries in this series (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake and its subsequent prequel, The Beginning, both unpleasant experiences no one should ever suffer through), it at least tries to be a little different, just not very successfully.
When Leatherface finds himself on the receiving end of a redneck double team late in the third act, if this were a professional wrestling angle, ideally, the fans would start cheering for his comeback. Unfortunately, I didn’t. Sure enough, his terrified cousin (who is deeply relieved she has that family birthmark he eventually sees and recognizes) forms an uncomfortable, belated alliance with him despite what he did to her friends earlier on. I’ve seen some awkward babyface turns in wrestling before but this one takes the prize. No wonder it’s not terribly persuasive.
But back to our game. I ask again, Who Has It The Worst? Is it the friendless, orphaned psychotic freak who lives in a dank, windowless basement, can’t stop killing people and is never seen without his human face mask? Or the overly naïve young woman with the haunting eyes, no good options remaining at the conclusion of this film and who’s roped into taking care of him?
Call it a draw.
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, July 24, 2013