By now you’ve probly read the news that Twisted Pictures (the production company behind SAW parts 1-through-indefinite) and writer Stephen Susco (THE GRUDGE) have nabbed the TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE rights out from under the noses of Platinum Dunes. They’re supposedly gonna “reboot” again, now setting it in the modern day instead of the ’70s, and doing it in 3-D. And while Platinum Dunes were only given the rights on a movie-by–movie basis, Twisted is supposedly planning a whole series of them. (Dude, do a trilogy, like LORD OF THE RINGS! Or CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK!)
Of course, I am a huge nerd for the TEXAS CHAIN SAW pictures (the real ones) so many of you were kind enough to notify me about this development. I think maybe I should be outraged, but I actually think it’s kind of a good thing. It was clear that Platinum Dunes were never gonna figure out what to do with these movies, and had sucked all the blood they could out of them. At the same time they already broke its remake cherry, following up on two iffy-even-if-I’m-in-a-charitable-mood sequels from the ’90s. So another one I don’t think is gonna tarnish the CHAIN SAW legacy any more, it’s just gonna smear it around a little. I’d rather the series rest in peace now, but I guess it’s fitting somebody would dig this thing up and play around with its corpse.
Plus, the naively optimistic idealist in me thinks about what if it actually went right? What if this was the WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE impossibly ideal scenario? Picking out pictures to use for this post I kept looking at shots from part 2 and thinking 1) I should be watching that right now instead of writing this and 2) holy shit, imagine that in 3-D! What if instead of a typical modern horror movie this was some crazy funhouse, one o’ them visual marvels like part 2? It could be amazing!
I don’t think this is another remake. They’re saying “reboot,” which is pretty much what they already did in part 3 and again in part 4. I think best case scenario it would be a new movie in the spirit of the originals, with Leatherface and some new family members, doing some of the same kind of things, but without the specific scenes and characters being the same. AND IN 3-D!
I got some theories about 3-D that I’ll do on a separate post one of these days. But since it’s 3-D I figure it’s supposed to be more of a lightweight fun-audience-movie than the original, and especially more than the remake. I’m okay with that. We already have an unmatchable serious one (the original) AND funny one (part 2). If you must do more might as well just make a fun horror movie instead of the joyless-but-not-scary-either dirges we usually get these days.
I have to admit, I’m not a big fan of the SAW series (although I don’t just write them off as worthless if you check my reviews) and those are the only ones I’ve seen from this company. I have seen DEATH SENTENCE a couple times and I was prepared to go on and on about the unheralded brilliance of that movie and how CHAIN SAW 3-D could follow its model of a satisfying b-movie that also has a bunch going on beneath the surface that makes it special. Unfortunately I looked it up and that one’s just the director of SAW, not the producers. So strike that from the record.
The writer’s horror credits are just on THE GRUDGE. I’m not ready to judge him based on that. Even though it didn’t entirely work on me I’m not convinced it’s the screenplay’s fault, and it did have some brilliant touches in it, like that first scene with Bill Pullman on the balcony. He also wrote RED, that movie where teenagers kill Brian Cox’s dog, and that actually was really good, so there’s a point in his favor.
All we know about their approach so far is one quote from an interview Shock Till You Drop did with a producer named Mark Burg (TWO AND A HALF MEN, B*A*P*S):
“It’s a ‘what if?’ It’s 35 years later, there’s a relative going back. Why is he going back? I don’t want to set it in a dusty town. How do we make it more urban but keep that feel. There will be some relatives, some new people. There’s still the subtext of ‘are they eating these people?’ The whole idea of cannibalism, we’re bringing it back.”
To get any juice out of that lemon we gotta do that blogger thing of interpreting it when we don’t really know what the fuck he means. Like, I assume the relative going back means like Dennis Hopper in part 2, a relative of a victim, but it could also be a second cousin twice removed of Leatherface is doing a genealogy project and quickly wishes he’d taken biology or English literature or something.
The part about making it urban sounds suspicious. Hopefully he’s seen HELLRAISER III and knows how stupid Pinhead looks walking down a city street. More importantly, the isolation of rural Texas and the tension between city kids and extremist good ol’ boys is a huge part of the CHAIN SAW formula for success. I’m not saying you can’t break that but I just gotta hope these guys are smart enough to understand that and really be sure they have a good reason to violate it and not just on some “I don’t like dusty towns” whim like the quote makes it sound.
And finally, of course, the cannibalism part of the quote invites ridicule and distrust. If he thinks it’s not clear whether they’re cannibals or not you gotta wonder if he’s only seen the remake, where they forgot to make them cannibals. There’s no ambiguity in other incarnation, even including the prequel.
But that’s just one quote, I’m not gonna try to extrapolate too much or make too many assumptions. I could see this going either way. There’s not enough of a track record to really give us an idea. All I can really do is wish them good luck and offer unsolicited advice in case they have Google alerts on their names. So here it is.
1. Remember the family.
The Shock Till Ya Drop quote seems promising for this one, but I still want to mention it because of how badly they blew this one in the remake. THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE is not just the story of Leatherface! Just because FRIDAY THE 13TH and HALLOWEEN have one masked killer and that’s it that doesn’t mean CHAIN SAW fits the same formula. The original Texas Chain Saw Massacre is about a family. The Cook and The Hitchhiker, in my opinion, are even better characters than Leatherface, he’s just singed into more memories because of that mask and running out of the metal door with the hammer. A true CHAIN SAW movie must have the family dynamic. To us Leatherface is a monster but to them he’s their dumb brother or misbehaving son. (or both.) A big part of the discomfort, the humor, the substance and the originality comes from the family’s bickering and thinking they’re just a normal family following family traditions.
2. Don’t fear the subtext
Keep in mind that a great horror movie, or even a fun one, can be about more than just chopping people up. To me, all the CHAIN SAW movies can read as stories about old, bad ideas that don’t die because they keep getting passed down through generations. Maybe I’m reading too much into the Southern setting, but there’s something interesting and funny about how Leatherface (especially in the sequels) is kind of this confused manchild who doesn’t know any better. I mean, really confused. This is not normal growing up type problems.
And there’s plenty more to read into them. I’m not sure the Vietnam War subtext people see in the original was intentional, but it’s there. Part 2 most definitely works as a commentary on the Reagan years, with the (now called Sawyer) family living their fucked up version of yuppie opulence and still complaining about taxes. That’s part of why those two are such classics, they’re movies about the times they were made in. Since this one is taking place in the modern day I think it should be a TEXAS CHAIN SAW for our times, not in the sense that it just follows the dumb horror trends now but that it actually speaks to the specific problems we face right now.
But maybe you can’t be too conscious of that. Don’t force it. Maybe I shouldn’t have said anything.
3. Keep it Texan
This should go without saying, but you never know. Texas is in the damn title, so stay true to it. I’ve never been to Texas but it was still obvious that part 3 wasn’t shot there. You gotta go to the real place, get the real texture and leave behind fake Hollywood Texas. This series came out of the Austin independent film scene, and so did most of its great stars (except I think Bill Moseley, so you can make exceptions). Any stereotypes are Texan-on-Texan stereotyping, not movie bullshit. The best ones wisely work in unique Texas culture (like part 2’s college football game, chili contests and Texas Rangers). This movie doesn’t originate from Texas I guess, but I’d rather see a movie that plays as an outsider’s love letter to Texas (DEATH PROOF) than a bunch of pretty Californians wearing cowboy hats and doing bad accents (the remake).
4. You gotta come up with some weird shit
This is something that Tobe Hooper excels at, and unless you listen to me on number 5 it’s your responsibility to fulfill that duty. The success of the CHAIN SAW movies is not just on repeating horror tropes that have been done before – Hooper makes you uncomfortable by throwing in weirdness you’ve never thought of. For example the hitchhiker’s weird ritualistic burning of the photograph, or Chop Top’s habit of heating up a coat hanger and using it to pick pieces of skin off his own head and eat them. You gotta go to new places that make us feel off balance, you can’t just have some squeaky rats come out of a closet to frighten us.
5. Fire everybody and hire Tobe Hooper to do it
Okay, I know you’re not gonna do that. But he’s still out there. His last couple DTV movies are actually pretty good, better than many recent theatrical horror releases, and this is his bread and butter. I really believe he would do it better than anybody else, this is based on actual studies of his work and not just nostalgia. But anyway. Just throwing that out there.
What the fuck, man. The remake didn’t have Grandpa in it. You gotta have grandpa meekly doing the honors with the sledge… IN 3-D! Also don’t forget graverobbing and playing with corpses. Which brings us to…
I put this last because it’s the most debatable, but in my opinion it’s time to bring back the black comedy. Hooper’s TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE PART 2 is the blueprint for how to make a movie that is darkly hilarious while still nailing your balls to the wall with real horror. With the Platinum Dunes movies we’ve seen the gloomy approach, let’s make it fresh again. When I’m sitting there in the theater with 3-D glasses on I don’t just want to watch a wounded, dirty girl crying, I want to watch some nut using a dead body for a puppet show or those types of things. Think of the amazing underground lair of part 2 and how good that would look in 3-D, as opposed to some dirty SAW warehouse shit. There’s an imaginative side to the CHAIN SAW universe that should not be forgotten.
Even the first CHAIN SAW is full of great moments like the cook apologizing (and later complaining about his electricity bill) while abducting a girl and poking her with a broom handle. Make us laugh to lower our guard and then put a bag over our heads and drag us out to the shed. Metaphorically.
Anyway, I hope they do a good job. I probly shouldn’t hold my breath but I would love to see another enjoyable CHAIN SAW movie. Good luck fellas.