Texas Chainsaw 3D: Public fascination with horror flick just won’t die
When Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre was released in 1974, it was banned. Now, some 40 years later, it’s the saga that simply won’t die. Texas Chainsaw 3-D, the new film by director John Luessenhop, picks up where the original film left off and follows a young woman (Alexandra Daddario) who escaped the Sawyer house following the brutal murders of her four friends. She doesn’t get far, however, before she has to face the wrath of Leatherface (Dan Yeager), a chainsaw wielding psycho killer. We recently spoke to Luessenhop about the film for a shorter feature we’re writing for a weekly paper. I had such a good time talking with him, I wanted to share the rest of our discussion.
What initially inspired you to want to remake the film?
It was a complete fluke. I was contacted by the producer of the movie who wanted to advance his script and it wasn’t going the way he wanted. He called me late one night. I still remember the date. It was November 2nd. I told him I mostly do action movies and man-with-a-gun kind of things. I said this is what you need to do to get it to shine. He wanted to meet me the next afternoon. I explained my thoughts and vision and [screenplay writer] Kirsten Elms was hired to implement those thoughts. Off we went. For me, it was truly a journey. For me, horror had been The Shining, The Omen, The Exorcist. I hadn’t really gone into the subgenre of it, which is where I believe is where it really is now. I love that you can take these smaller budget films and put your own imprimatur on them. You can make societal comments or you can do anything and everything you’ve been thinking about. I was impressed with what filmmakers had done with it over time, and I had started to become a big fan. At one point, I had to stop and say, “I have to make my movie.” I was taken by Tobe’s original movie.
Do you recall when you first saw it and what your reaction was?
I saw it back in the ’80s in college. I remember being scared and thinking it was an incredible movie and then I never saw it again. I took a frame from every set up in the movie just to look at it. It gave me a greater appreciation of that film. There’s a lot of poetry from the sunsets to this and that. There’s great scope and great detail. He slowed it down and sped it up and gave you unabashed horror. You go, “He’s not cutting. There’s no cutting away from the violence.” It had its own humanity, too. When I watched it again and saw Leatherface go to the window where he had killed the kids and he was fretting over what would happen when dad got home. He had a conscience and he was upset. But he didn’t know any better. I was taken by some of that. For me, when we started to revise the script and work on it, I took the things I really like from Tobe’s movie and put them in my pocket. When we went back to the movie, I sprinkled them out, from the van to the armadillo and the freezer. I used them in different ways at different times. I didn’t want to rip Tobe but I wanted some feeling of nostalgia and to be true to the original. That was the approach to it. It was great fun. It was lower resources than my previous film. It was very hot and 108 degrees or something in Shreveport, to the point that the cameras stopped working at different times.
Filming in 3-D has its advantages, especially for a horror movie. What did you try to accomplish with the 3-D in this movie?
First and foremost, I just wanted to build a cool 3- D world and at sensational moments, you could amp it up to have things break the plane of the screen and come at the audience. I didn’t want to throw the whole movie in the audience’s lap. I wanted you to be able to watch it. I had to change the photographic approach. I went into the field with no lens longer than 50 millimeters. I shot shorter lenses so that I could capture the focus in a frame. That way, when it’s 3-D, the eye can explore it like a fishbowl. You can’t do that with the longer lenses. It changed that. When you compose a little differently to take advantage of the 3-D frame, it took some thought to figure out what gear to use. I didn’t use Steadicam so you didn’t have a tough experience watching the movie. It’s smooth to watch even though it’s 3-D. The heightened moments really deliver and I think the audience will have a great time with it.
What kind of perspective did Gunnar Hanson and Marilyn Burns — who were both in the 1974 original — have on the filmmaking process?
I smiled when you asked me that only because each one gave me something different. Marilyn Burns brought a tremendous amount of energy and fun and instead of being the young girl in the pick-up truck, she was more like mom. She regaled in it. With each of them, it’s a franchise that grew that they were never invited back to. To be put back in it and the fact that it’s now taken its place in the pantheon of horror made them very happy. With Gunnar in particular, when he got out of the van and saw the farmhouse that we had reconstructed to scale, he stopped when he walked out of the driveway. He was searching back 30 or 40 years when he was a kid in his mid-20s who was asked to shoot this movie with Tobe and the gang. He would touch things and say, “You know this is just where the chicken was.” It was like a grandfather going through his old house. It did hit me and it made me very respectful of them. They appreciated that, to be brought back into something that is so important that they can participate in it again.
How was the original initially received?
It was banned. They couldn’t play that movie until 1981. Then it made the cult circuit. It did get VHS dollars when that happened and then when the world shifted to DVD. It wasn’t until the early 2000s that it was appreciated in terms of where it goes. To me, the original was everything. I went back and watched all of them. I couldn’t put my arms around all of it. I wanted to go back to Tobe’s picture. I love the framing and the poetry that’s juxtaposed against unabashed violence. To me, that was appealing. It was that approach of having a lower body count where every body means something. That was how I approached it.
In the script I started with, he was more of a Terminator. He would walk into town and bullets deflected off him. I fell over in my chair laughing and realized that wouldn’t work.
And Leatherface is almost like the creature in Frankenstein. He’s sympathetic, at least to a point.
In the script I started with, he was more of a Terminator. He would walk into town and bullets deflected off him. I fell over in my chair laughing and realized that wouldn’t work. For me, we’ve retained the humanizing qualities but never to the point where you can get comfortable around him. He’s always lethal. In this version, I asked how he would have evolved. It had to start with what I thought was in the original. I thought of him as someone who was 18 to 25 who did have emotions and we kept that. I’m proud of what that does in this film.
We like in a world where nothing’s shocking. What’s the key to making a good contemporary horror movie?
I went low body count so you weren’t too desensitized, and I changed up every killing so nothing was redundant. Each one seemed special and they were alarming. You couldn’t predict what was going to happen. I didn’t want to over-gore it, even though we do in one place. Then it becomes special. Otherwise, you’re just shocking people. Larger than all of that is to create a story that is a story. This one has that. I think the way this one ends is quite provocative.