Texas Chainsaw 3D follows nothing else in the canon of films about the cannibalistic Sawyer Clan after Tobe Hooper’s original film from 1974, and while Hooper’s primary sequel from the mid-80s gets forgotten about here, this modernized outing still manages to be the most purely enjoyable entry in the franchise since Hooper generally left it behind. It sets aside the depressing realism and showy gore of the reboots, and gets back to the roots of the series, creating tension and atmosphere and injecting a fair but of humour. It’s the sequel audiences probably would have gotten had someone other than Hooper made the first follow-up back in the 80s, and that’s not a knock against it.
As Heather Miller (Alexandra Daddario) prepares to go on a road trip with friends, she gets a bombshell dropped on her. Apparently her adoptive parents were vigilantes who helped to off the Sawyer clan during a standoff with a gun toting mob shortly after the events in the original film. Not knowing she’s actually the last surviving member of the most infamous family of serial killers in Texas, her friends accompany her instead to the homestead she’s now inherited as the last surviving member… with the exception of that child-like chainsaw wielding guy locked up in the basement who likes to use human faces as masks. He’s still around.
Following a slick 3D recap of the original film of the opening credits and a genuinely good looking flashback to build a bridge between the old and the new, the film settles into somewhat familiar ground that genre buffs can easily understand. There’s a random hitchhiker. Wicked behaviour gets punished. There are a lot of near misses and menacing silences cut by the sound of the saw starting up. It sounds standard, but it goes through the playbook more closely in step with the original film than any of the films after it. There are still clever nods to all three of the sequels in the franchise that eagle eyed and attentive series fans can pick up on, but it never plays them in a tongue in cheek fashion. It has its own sense of wit and inventiveness.
It also only stays a standard sequel until part of the way through when a twist involving the town’s lunkheaded mayor and the former head of the angry mob changes the stakes of the movie entirely. Without spoiling too much, it kind of becomes something a bit more akin to The Devil’s Rejects or the reboot of Friday the 13th (minus that film’s laundry list of problems). It’s a bit slower of a burn than people might be used to, but it works to the movie’s credit. It never takes itself seriously and there’s some great campy moments along the way.
It’s definitely not high art and it’s far from a genre high, but it’s a great looking, well paced, efficient, and thoughtful take on the series that’s far better than it probably has any right to be. The cast is great even in parts that can be essentially played by anyone. The 3D works without dampening the experience. It leaves the door open to continue on in a way that makes sense. There’s not much else that fans of this kind of movie could ask for, really.