"I'll just get my gear."

Dear Twisted Pictures and Stephen Susco: Don’t fuck it up

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.

chainsaw-leatherfacewithfac

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.

chainsaw-family1. 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.

chainsaw-bubbaandstretch2. 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 chainsaw-texasshot 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 chainsaw-hitchhikermakes 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.

chainsaw-dinnerA6. Grandpa!

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…

7. Laffs

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 chainsaw-familypart2gloomy 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.

This would look incredible in 3-D!
Shit like this would look incredible in 3-D!

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.

This entry was posted on Thursday, October 15th, 2009 at 1:22 pm and is filed under Blog Post (short for weblog). You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

20 Responses to “Dear Twisted Pictures and Stephen Susco: Don’t fuck it up”

  1. Great article Vern, this should be sent right to twisted pictures ASAP. Never seen part 2, I know, I have to see it immediately now. The one I saw yesterday was The Children, I thought it was a lot of fun, everybody loved it.

  2. Vern, I think you would be a great movie producer. Don’t know about your screenwriting and directing skills, but I can totally imagine you, sitting in an office, reading bad screenplays and sending notes to the writers and directors, to make the movie better.

  3. Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure the producer’s job is to make the movie crappier in order to make his job easier. For instance, it’s often cold outside and sometimes it rains, which causes shoot days to go long, which means you have to pay the teamsters overtime. Therefore, it makes much more sense from a producorial perspective to shoot your jungle adventure in front of a green screen in Pasadena instead of going to an actual jungle, even though that is a terrible idea that has never improved a single movie in the history of the color green. I think the era of producers who make humongous, unwieldy spectacles to prove how big their dicks are might be fading.

  4. I was just thinking that one way to get the urban setting would be to use the pastoralizition of americas cities, detroits the most extreme with even wild grouse repopulating the area, but I’m sure there are some texan cities with the same problem.

    Setting the family in this environment would work with the originals ideas
    of a forgotten land economically devistated by the shutting down of the
    slaughter house and can only feed themselves by using their obsolete skills
    on any people that happen to wander by.

    A good retraining program might have prevented all the mayham to begin with but that’s socialism which is Unamerican.

    Anyway, as much as the origional played on the fears of city folk about country folk I think it more deeply plays into the fears of those places and people screwed over by capitalism and left to rot.

    This happened to the rural areas in the seventies but if you want to make it contemporary the new place would be in the poor urban prairies. I’ve seen pictures of a single house standing in thickets of new underbrush with nothing else in sight but a flat horizon so I could see the family moving in and making themselves
    comfortable. Maybe the wandering youth supply dried up and they moved to the city for new jobs only to lose those jobs too, so it’s back to the cutting board I guess.

  5. I never said he would be a popular producer or loved by the crew which is now shooting outside at night in the rain. :)

  6. Yes…Vern, that’s it…summon them…bring them to us. Mark Burg? Stephen Susco? Tobe Hooper! Yes, we shall have them, we shall have them all.

  7. XefalbousX — See, that’s good thinking. I don’t know why they think they need to take this shit into the city, but if they must, I don’t think its a complete wash from the get-go. Some of the issues you mention are what make the one truly great urban horror film (CANDYMAN) work so well. Plenty of horror films assume that the only way to get at our fears of isolation and helplessness are to set their stories out in the country. But it doesn’t have to be that way, if we use things right. I AM LEGEND and THE OMEGA MAN also gets a lot out of their urban setting, although robbing it of people might be a little unfair.

  8. XePfAlouS X. – that’s the spirit, that’s what I want to hear. I hope these guys are putting that kind of thought into it. Of course, it takes more than thought but that’s where you gotta start.

    To be fair I also want to point out that he doesn’t necessarily say in the quote that he wants it in the city. He just says “more urban” which might just mean a small town, not as isolated. I don’t know. I’m now guilty of what I complain about with blogs reading too much into a quote and then spreading it around and it becomes common knowledge even if it wasn’t true.

  9. I hate to ruin the party but I just recently watched Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. It was part of a 24 hour movie marathon in Chicago and it was on at like 4 in the morning. The time frame and how tired I was might have something to do with it. It was also the first time I’ve seen it in probably 15 years? I liked it as a kid because I was a kid. But this time I HATED TCM2. It was 90 mins of nothing but yelling. The entire family were annoying more than scary. I might have to check it out again when I’m not tired but it was weak.

  10. XePfAlouS X:

    I want to see that movie, or at least read the script.

    Or I’m writing it myself with a “story by” credit to you.

    Get to it, brother!

    (you can get my email address through Vern himself)

    SirV

  11. The sad thing is, as a Texan, there are a lot of people right here and now in Dallas who seem to think that this is how we act, and while I’m not the kind of guy to beat my chest and talk about how, “you know, everything’s bigger in Texas, haw haw!” Come the fuck on, guys.

    I’ve never been much into cowboy fashion myself, but when did it suddenly become something that only guys with three fingers on their left hand wear? I mean – Sam Elliot, guys! You can’t be urban and find a way to make what is our own specific style work in that context? I find that hard to believe.

  12. Well Lawrence, I can see how at 4 am after watching a bunch of other movies it would be the worst movie ever. But I’ve watched it many times over the years and it just keeps getting better and better. Last time I watched it was when the new DVD came out, and I wrote this monster:

    http://outlawvern.com/2006/10/10/the-texas-chainsaw-massacre-2/

  13. Fun Fact about Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2: When it came out, it became banned in Germany while it was still running in theatres. Literally! Some shows were even interrupted by the cops, who then took the movie with them! It’s still banned as far as I know and was never (officially) released on DVD or VHS here.

  14. Now that you mention it Vern, Death Sentence was a great movie, and Kevin Bacon was fantastic in it. Definitely one of the best revenge/action movies of the last couple years, shit maybe THE best because its been kind of a limited field and this one at least had some good subtext (not subtle or anything but there at least). And John Goodman! He wasn’t very good, but it was kind of a real world version of Bruce in Planet Terror, the guy who shot his scenes in one day and didn’t give a fuck. But man, Kevin Bacon gives good crazy. I’ve always loved how he fucks up shaving his head, so he has a little patch of hair on the back. JUst little things like that that prove they were thinking about it and making an effort, which is really all I ask out of my b-movies.

  15. I love Death Sentence. It’s got some precisely shot action that proves that you can actually excite the audience by letting them see exactly what the fuck is going on. Plus, I think Bacon is perfect for this kind of material because he has a weird appeal where he’s charismatic but not particularly likable.

  16. It’s great to see love for TCM2.

    A work of art, that one is.

  17. There’s a Turner Classic Movies 2 now?!

  18. TCM 2 was good in a slasher parody sort of way, or at least Hopper had a good laugh. C’mon people.

    Also because of that Cannon Films deal to get TCM 2 produced, we also got the greatest naked-chick-always-vampire-Alien movie ever in LIFEFORCE.

  19. We don’t even have a Turner Classic Movies 1 over here anymore. It’s now called TNT Film and while they still show good movies, they don’t bother with showing the end credits anymore. :P

    Hey, Mr Majestyk brought Turner Classic Movies up!

  20. Let me also add my kudos to XePfAlouS X’s post. Not only have you hit upon a setting with many excellent suspenseful possibilities, but you also go a long way toward establishing mood and creating a thematic framework for these times of recession (without resorting to the cliche of having Leatherface the misunderstood victim of a job layoff). Stylistically, I’d like to see the setting you describe, just not as obviously stylized as the setting for I AM LEGEND. CHAIN SAW needs grit and a smaller scope.

    I was actually going to respond to Vern’s article with something along the lines of “let it go, man; no one will get this shit right,” but you’ve shown that there are still possibilities. Well done.

    Mr. S – If my young nephew’s response is any indication, the second great urban horror film would be BABE 2: PIG IN THE CITY. Scared the little tyke senseless.

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