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Ormond Beach Observer Sunday, Jan. 6, 2013 6 years ago

Horror franchising: When to kill a killer


The horror genre is the least respected in all of cinema, and movies like “Texas Chainsaw 3D” give it that bad name.


After the original “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” ended, there was a shootout. This is the part of the movie you didn’t see — and it’s where “Texas Chainsaw 3D” starts off.

A mob burns down Leatherface’s family’s house, but a baby girl survives. Jump 20 years later and that girl inherits her long-lost grandma’s mansion.

But bet you can’t guess who lives in its basement?

Plot-wise, that’s it. Leaterface starts killing people. The girls, I’m convinced, are in a secret contest to see who can dress more like a hooker. All of the characters — from a murderous mayor to the world’s-most-incompetent sheriff — are ridiculous. And none of it, not one second, elicits a single honest emotion.

There’s this “Weekend at Bernie’s” routine that horror franchises start doing after a couple sequels, and in cases like “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” they keep on doing it for nearly 40 years.

After their stories are told, their creators have left and the hearts of these characters stop beating, inexplicably, the franchise keeps going. Except something’s off. The stories are bloodless and pale, being pushed along and propped up like corpses in cabana wear and shades.

Fact is, these franchises have nothing to say anymore; they only have a name to sell. So they stop trying.

To be clear, I consider myself a huge horror fan. I love the complexity of the genre and how the good ones are able to manipulate me into irrationally carrying their fear and tension around after the credits. The good ones take serious chops to pull off, and I don’t think any movie gives me the same high as a truly effective horror.

But most horrors bore me. And the older the genre gets, the more its style has moved away from psychological scares to cheap startles.

Alfred Hitchock once said that suspense isn't a bomb going off in a crowded room, it's the audience knowing that a bomb is strapped under a table in a crowded room, ticking down, but the characters inside are clueless. The same sense of inevitability has to be there with horror, too, or else you’re dealing with something else.

A slasher, maybe. A horror-comedy. And either those could be worth watching, if they’re at least fun to look at. But “Chainsaw” isn’t even that.

Getting people to buy into and elect to participate in somebody else’s nightmare has to be one of the toughest feats for a filmmaker. And I get that. It's why so many directors take the blood-and-guts or the almost-funny approach instead.

But franchise installments like this that don’t even try, that give us gimmicky 3D, a halfhearted reimagining of the original’s themes and no reason at all to care about their characters, they don’t just fail, they actually hurt their genre. They lower an already too-low bar, making a style of film that I love, one with real power potential, into something silly.

Releases like this make watching movies for money no fun.

Critical mass

“Texas Chainsaw 3D” (R, 92 minutes)

Director: John Luessenhop

Released: Jan. 4

* (of five)

If you didn’t make it out to opening weekend, save that money for the Jan. 10 wide release of “Zero Dark Thirty.” Or open a savings account. Or buy a month of Netflix. Or eat 10 McDoubles.

Rotten Tomatoes         22% fresh (of 41 critics)

IMDB 5.3/10 (of 1,725 fans)

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