As a general rule, an inheritance is a good thing.
It's even better coming from a deceased relative you didn't know you had. And better still when it involves a massive, beautiful and fully furnished Southern mansion in rural Texas.
Alas, there are gory exceptions to every rule.
Heather Miller gets news of her unexpected inheritance just as she and her live-in boyfriend, Ryan, and another couple (Nikki and Kenny) are about to embark on a road trip. They decide to take a detour to see what's been bequeathed to Heather by a grandmother she didn't know she had. And since this movie is titled Texas Chainsaw, it's nearly needless to say it'll be the last detour most of them will ever take. Ditto for a charming hitchhiker named Daryl they pick up along the way.
Heather and her friends rendezvous with the deceased grandmother's lawyer at the front gate of the estate. He refuses to go in. He does suggest, repeatedly, that Heather read a letter of instruction left to her by her grandmother.
Soon the group of friends is exploring the massive mansion, marveling at Heather's good fortune. Dinnertime rolls around, and they decide to head into nearby Newt, Texas, to procure some grub. Daryl volunteers to stay behind …
… and promptly begins stealing stuff the moment they leave. Going through the house, he finds a hidden chamber in the basement, kicking in a sturdy wooden door in search of more treasure without taking time to ponder why there would be a plate of leftover food and bones sitting smack-dab in front of said door.
He has no time to amend his error. The hulking horror known as Leatherface, who's been locked in the basement, promptly beats him to death and begins dismembering him with, yes, a chain saw.
Freed from his basement confines, Leatherface fires up his steel-toothed appendage once more and begins to unleash another bloodletting as Heather and her friends try—mostly futility—to flee from her grotesque inheritance.
That's all very predictable, of course.
What isn't so horror movie rote is what happens after Heather learns that she and Leatherface, whose name is Jed Sawyer, are actually cousins … and that words from her grandmother contained in that letter she neglected to read instruct her to take care of him.
When Heather's about to become Jed's next victim (he's never actually referred to as Leatherface in this film, as he is traditionally referenced elsewhere in the franchise), Ryan and Nikki lure the chain saw-wielding killer away from her. Heather returns the favor later, trying to get him to leave the wounded Nikki alone.
A twisted backstory gives context to Jed's vicious crimes. And while this isn't all positive, obviously, he is further humanized by being called a "retarded" psychopath with the understanding of a small child. Two things happen as Heather slowly learns the whole history and Jed learns that she's his cousin: 1) She grasps onto something akin to sympathy for him, and 2) he restrains himself from killing her. In the end, allegiances oddly shift, and Heather and Jed team up to challenge Burt Hartman (who's now the town's mayor) and his heartless henchmen who are bent on killing both of them.
The film therefore wants us to see Heather's newfound fidelity to her mentally damaged killer cousin, along with her willingness to be his guardian for the remainder of his life, as a very, very strange version of horror movie "family values."
Throughout, Sheriff Hooper laments that he didn't stop Hartman and his mob from killing almost all of the Sawyer family so many years ago (part of that backstory I mentioned).
As Hartman and his crew lob Molotov cocktails into the Sawyer home, he tells Sheriff Hooper, "Eye for an eye, Sheriff. You can't get around the Good Book." Later, as the sheriff stands by and watches as Jed delivers Harman to his grisly death, the officer quotes those words again: "You just can't get around the Good Book."
Reinforcing that Old Testament-derived understanding of bloody justice is the fact that every character who's killed has made some kind of glaringly immoral choice, from Nikki and Ryan betraying Heather by engaging in a sexual tryst, to Daryl stealing, to police officers' bloodthirsty enthusiasm for hunting down Jed and Heather in the name of finishing the job that was left undone 38 years previous.
Putting a perversely profane exclamation point on that moralistic message is the song "Hand of the Almighty" by country singer-songwriter John R. Butler. We hear, "Oh sinner, do not stray/From the straight and narrow way/For the Lord is surely watching what you do/If you approach the devil's den/Turn 'round, don't enter in/Lest the hand of the Almighty fall on you/He'll f‑‑‑ you up, He'll f‑‑‑ you up/Yes, God will f‑‑‑ you up/If you dare to disobey His stern command/He'll f‑‑‑ you up, He'll f‑‑‑ you up/Don't you know He'll f‑‑‑ you up/So you better do some prayin' while you can."
Heather and Nikki wear tops that expose lots of cleavage and midriff, paired with snug short shorts. At one point, Heather's button-down shirt is undone completely, and quite a lot of her breasts (stopping just short of full exposure) is revealed as she's tied up with hands outstretched to either side.
We see Ryan kissing Heather's chest (she's wearing a bra) in a sexual encounter that gets interrupted. Nikki grabs Ryan's crotch in a grocery store and recalls a one-night stand they had in the past. Later she (successfully) seduces him by luring him to a barn and stripping down to a skimpy bra and a g-string. It's implied that they have had sex when they emerge later (he's shirtless and buttoning his pants and she's hastily buttoning her shirt).
Ryan alludes to the fact that he has a friend (who's just begun dating Nikki) who knows how to get women to have sex with him. A man in town makes a crude comment about Heather and Nikki when they first arrive.
The beginning of the film includes a montage of brutal violence from the original 1974 movie The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It boasts a man being hung on a meat hook, another being chopped with an ax, a third getting hit by a semi, and a fleeing woman jumping through a window. Then the Sawyer's house is burned down. (We see pictures of charred corpses.)
Once Jed's unleashed in the present story, the graphic carnage is similar. He hangs one victim on a meat hook, then cuts him in half with the chain saw. After hacking away at another victim, Jed systematically cuts the man's face off and places it on a mannequin head. We see the muscle-covered skull after the face has been peeled off. (Jed himself has someone else's face attached to his, and it seems he needs a replacement. That mask slips, and at one point he stitches it back on through his cheek.)
Despite the film's title, Jed is just as likely to kill with multiple blows from axes, knives or hammers. He dismembers bodies in the basement, and we see several limbs being removed. He cuts fingers off a dismembered hand. He slices Nikki twice with his chain saw before imprisoning her in a freezer, still alive. A police officer opens it and, startled, accidentally shoots her in the head when she jumps out at him. We see a head in a bucket, and all manner of bones, fleshly remains and other grisly things.
When it looks like one of Hartman's henchmen is going to kill Heather, she sticks a pitchfork in his gut and beats him to it. Hartman and another goon brutally kick and beat Jed in the climactic scene before Heather tosses him his chain saw and shouts, "Do your thing, cous'." He does, slashing Hartman's ankle and knocking him into a meat grinder. Hartman's hands are removed before he's ground to a pulp.
Somebody gets killed when the group's van flips. We see blood spurting from his neck. A mother is brutally kicked in the face and killed. After the credits, Heather's parents come to visit her … and she turns Jed loose on them. We hear his chain saw start once more.
Crude or Profane Language
About 35 f-words, four or five of them paired with "mother." Fifteen or so s-words. One c-word. There are a half-dozen abuses of God's name (once combined with "d‑‑n"), and a similar number of misuses of Jesus' name. Milder profanity includes "b‑‑ch," h‑‑‑" and "a‑‑."
Drug and Alcohol Content
Several scenes picture people drinking champagne, wine and beer. Nikki takes a long drag on a short marijuana blunt before seducing Ryan.
Other Negative Elements
Hartman's son, a police officer named Carl, appears to be an ally of Heather … until he kidnaps her. The sheriff doesn't stop Jed from killing Hartman. And the film tries to imply that in allowing Jed's bloody revenge, justice of some sort has been done.
Horror is, in some ways, a paradoxical genre.
Indeed, it can be among the most blatantly moralistic forms of moviemaking. And in Texas Chainsaw everyone who dies "has it coming," so to speak. That message of "take a wrong turn and burn for it" is impossible to miss with several nods toward the Old Testament reference to exacting the price of "an eye for an eye."
Lest we wax too philosophical, however, let me hastily say that this supposed "moralism" mostly serves as license for directors to dream up ever more gut-churning ways to try to creep and gross moviegoers out. Because let's get real: No one goes to a film like this to see a nuanced story about good and evil and choices and consequences.
No, they go to gaze voyeuristically on the bleeding edge of cinematic evisceration. That's the only real purpose here. And that's exactly what we get with Texas Chainsaw, which ends up reading as little more than a gratuitous bloodbath of onscreen carnage—never mind at all the stilted story about long-lost cousins being reunited and reconciled.
A postscript: As long as low-budget grotesqueries like this one continue to rake in many times what they cost to make, we can be sure that in 40 more years caricatured monstrosities like Jed Sawyer, aka Leatherface, will still be dispensing their bloody "lessons" via the business end of a meat hook or chain saw. Maybe even in 4-D or 5-D by then.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Alexandra Daddario as Heather Miller; Dan Yeager as Jedidiah Sawyer/Leatherface; Trey Songz as Ryan; Tania Raymonde as Nikki; Shaun Sipos as Darryl; Keram Malicki-Sánchez as Kenny; Paul Rae as Burt Hartman; Scott Eastwood as Carl Hartman; James MacDonald as Officer Marvin; Thom Barry as Sheriff Hooper; Richard Riehle as Farnsworth; David Born as Gavin Miller; Sue Rock as Arlene Miller
John Luessenhop (Takers)
January 4, 2013
Adam R. Holz Adam R. Holz