With its no-name actors and grainy camerawork, the '74 picture looks like it could've been lifted directly from the Sawyer family's home video collection. In author Jason Zinoman's excellent '70s book Shock Value, horror maestro Wes Craven (director of The Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes, and A Nightmare on Elm Street) describes The Texas Chainsaw Massacre as a movie that "looked like someone stole a camera and started killing people."
Shot in the swelteringly hot summer of 1973, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was a grueling, modestly priced $60,000 production in which the tired, underpaid actors didn't need to dig very deep to work up their characters' exhaustion and desperation. Working 16-hour days, the cast members baked in the 100-degree weather as terrible things happened to their on-screen personas. "Let me put it to you gently," says actor Edwin Neal in Zinoman's Shock Value, "I moved troops through the jungles of Vietnam, and it wasn't as bad as making [The Texas Chainsaw Massacre]."
Not only did Hansen never show his actual mug while playing the hideously clothed Leatherface, he never washed his costume once during the entire shoot. As the actor says in Shock Value, "By the end, my pants stood up and I smelled so bad that they wouldn't let me in the food line." Even worse, the film's climactic dinner table scene—during which Sally's head nearly pops from tension as Leatherface, Poppa Sawyer, and the brother try to help the decrepit grandfather smash her head with a hammer—was shot over the course of 26 straight hours. "I got a black eye that day," recalls Burns in Shock Value. "I remember getting beat up by everyone while Tobe [Hooper] was standing nearby saying 'Hit her harder! Harder!'"
Texas Chainsaw 3D, on the other hand, heightened by some nifty 3D effects and an undeniably glossy sheen, gives no impression of qualifying for America's Scariest Home Videos. "I didn't want an overly gritty film," says Luessenhop. "These days, I think people want movies to look like they cost something."
But Texas Chainsaw 3D's actors did endure exceedingly hot conditions on the Shreveport, Louisiana, set—by Daddario's account, the temperatures rose to as high as 105 degrees. Unlike Burns, though, she wasn't subjected to realistic physical abuse, just the kinds of body-pushing to which Olympic runners might relate if they trained while being chased by a large, agile madman. The closest Daddario came to feeling Burns' pain was while shooting a scene where Heather's arms are chained above her head. Her mouth is covered with masking tape, her shirt floats open, unbuttoned, and Leatherface gently presses a slowly humming chainsaw atop her shoulder blade. "It was very physically challenging, but totally worth it," says Daddario. "I embraced what this film was, and I wanted it to have the right shock moments. I definitely knew what I was getting myself into."
While filming, Daddario spoke with Burns about her experiences contending with Leatherface back in the day. The older actress recalled one moment during production when her fellow actors were trying to cut her finger, but they couldn't simulate the skin-ripping well enough, so she yelled, "Just cut my finger." And they did. "However intense our scenes got," says Daddario, "I never had to actually draw blood. So I can't complain."
In addition to issues of realness, the second big difference between Texas Chainsaw 3D and the The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one that should satiate gore-hounds. Just how gruesome does the new film get? Since the MPAA ultimately didn't give it and NC-17 rating, it's not unbearably nasty. Some last-minute nipping and tucking in the editing room was done so, you know, people would actually be able to see it without seeking out art-house theaters. As it exists now, Texas Chainsaw 3D is hardly on the same blood-splattered level as, say, Hostel or any of the Saw flicks. Still, the red stuff definitely flows, particularly during a standout sequence where Leatherface abruptly saws a chained-up victim in half, without any cutting away. The carnage is right there, uninterrupted, and very much uncompromised.
This contrasts with Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, a wildly misunderstood work. Those who've never seen the picture assume that, due to its wonderfully garish title, it's the most gorily revolting thing ever committed to celluloid, but the exact opposite is true. There's nary a drop of blood seen throughout the whole film. "That movie was so controversial for being so graphic, but it's amazing how un-graphic it really is," says Daddario. "And it was banned in England and even denounced by people publicly, which, of course, only made people want to see it even more."
In Texas Chainsaw 3D, such visual implications are replaced by, amongst other sights of brutality, Leatherface hand-making one of his human-face masks, an impaling via pitchfork, and a body getting mashed up in an oversized meat grinder. "Compared to what we typically see nowadays, it's not so bad," says Raymonde, in the film's defense. "We're so desensitized now. We've seen so much messed-up shit that nobody should ever see, to the point where all of the gore and sickness really doesn't mean anything anymore. So the sad result is that you can do things that don't even shock people anymore. The only thing that's going to shock people is if you write a real story that actually makes sense. That's the tricky part, really, because no one's afraid of anything anymore."
So why forego that kind of less-is-more style in Texas Chainsaw 3D? "I went with the heightened gore in a few specific moments because I felt the movie needed that," says Luessenhop. "That's why the pay $16 in 3D to watch it. I owed that to the audience." Spoken like someone who's well aware that horror ticket-buyers are waiting with charged-up chainsaws to cut both him and his movie down.
But who can complain? The fact remains that Texas Chainsaw 3D—despite its bigger budget, 3D gadgetry, less-harrowing production, and slicker veneer—is closer to the family-comes-first spirit of Tobe Hooper's original than any of the previous Chainsaw pictures. And for that, it's worthy of praise.
Written by Matt Barone (@MBarone)