“Texas Chainsaw 3D” brings one interesting new facet to the nearly 40-year-old franchise — and it’s not the half-hearted 3D, which adds up to little more than the occasional shot of the titular implement bursting out of the screen. What the movie does do, which horror buffs may or may not go for, is turn the terrifying, bloodthirsty Leatherface into a maligned and misunderstood monster.
He doesn’t throw daisies into a lake with a little girl, mind you, but we’re still meant to feel his pain and to side with him against the local redneck vigilantes who have hounded him and his kinfolk. Beyond that curveball, however, “Texas Chainsaw 3D” is a dreary slog through the dreadfully familiar. You’ve seen it all in a million movies: attractive victims doing stupid things, foreboding secret passages, bifurcated corpses.
Previous attempts at reviving the franchise, particularly 1986’s “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2” and 1994’s “Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation” (featuring up-and-comers Renee Zellweger and Matthew McConaughey), at least tried to inject some of the gallows humor and pungent satire of the original. This new one, directed by John Luessenhop (“Takers,” “Lockdown”), isn’t just humorless; it’s witless.
Under the opening credits, we see highlights from “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” (1974), and the movie begins moments later, with local deputy Hooper (Thom Barry, playing a character thuddingly named after the original film’s director) going to the Sawyer house to arrest Leatherface, who suddenly has lots more family members that we’ve ever seen before. A rowdy bunch of local goons, led by Burt Hartman (Paul Rae), take the law into their own hands, setting the house on fire and seemingly killing everyone inside.
That night, when the yokels come to gloat over their victory, one of them finds a dying Sawyer and her baby; he kills the lady and steals the child. Two decades or so later -- yes, it’s been almost 40 years since the first movie came out, but the movie’s chronology is just one of its problems -- that infant has grown up to be Heather (Alexandra Daddario), who works as a butcher and makes art out of bones. (Take that, nurture!) She learns she was adopted when she receives word that her grandmother Verna Sawyer has died and left her a Texas mansion.
Heather arrives in town -- where Hooper is now sheriff and Hartman the mayor -- with her boyfriend (rapper Trey Songz) and a cadre of friends and hitchhikers, and the group is so busy exploring the house that Heather doesn’t bother to read the letter from her grandmother that explains that Leatherface (Dan Yeager) is alive and well in the basement and is now Heather’s responsibility. Cue carnage.
The movie’s none-too-subtle message is that family comes first, even when that family involves chainsaw-killers who sew human faces onto their own, and that we should cheer for Leatherface to prevail over the idiot townspeople who slaughtered his relatives. In a smarter movie, such a realignment of sympathies would seem bold and transgressive, but after watching idiots get picked off one by one for doing all the dumb things that characters in moronic horror movies do, the point is somewhat lost.
The film ends with the implication that more sequels are to come, and that’s probably the biggest scare that “Texas Chainsaw 3D” can muster.