Tim Lieder (marlowe1) wrote,

Pros and Cons of Amateur Productions - Texas Chainsaw Massacre

I am reading Gunnar Hansen's book on the making of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and because I am reading this book, I broke down and borrowed the latest attempt at cashing in on the franchise. And it's awful, but it's awful for many of the same things that make the first movie so good - amateur director, low budget, bad actors in principle roles. Tobe Hooper certainly wasn't a young genius (as his non-career can attest) but he put together a movie with beautiful shots, amazing imagery and a compelling story in a manner which gave the DIY low budget horror movie respectability. There was also the emergence of video which meant that many of these horror movies filmed for cheap in a friends' cabin could reasonably expect to make a profit by the 80s even with little or no theater distribution.

However, the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre is definitely better than most of the DIY horror movies made. Even the odd "classic" like I Spit on Your Grave or Evil Dead is 70% crap (at least). Texas Chainsaw Massacre manages to make the bad acting seem intentional with weirdly stilted dialogue putting us into a surreal place with people who don't quite know how to behave around each other. Gunnar Hansen just plays Leatherface in the same way that he played Lenny in Mice & Men. And one of the refreshing things about seeing Texas Chainsaw Massacre is just how few of the shitty horror cliches were in the movie. They hadn't been invented by the slasher genre. There were grindhouse movies at the time, but they had a completely different visual and textual language.

And there lies the crux of the problem with amateurish productions. For every original idea, there are a dozen cliches. Of course, I am thinking of this because of the Black Bed Sheets fiasco (who the fuck names a publishing company Black Bed Sheets?) but in small press you get some originality but a whole lot of by-the-numbers horror cliches to the point where the main difference between buying a DIY author's book and a Stephen King book is shittier artwork and less attention paid to character development, writing style, editing, etc.

So when you get to Texas Chainsaw 3D you get:
  • Bad actors spouting tedious exposition
  • Cameos by the original actors and actors playing the original characters who then get killed
  • Evil Cops
  • A letter that could have explained EVERYTHING and saved everyone a mess of trouble not being read until the last 5 minutes of the movie
  • Sexy 20something characters deserving their fate because they have sex!
  • Winking references to other horror movies of the same line (Leatherface attacks the character from Saw apparently)
  • Long stretches where the protagonist is reading old newspapers in order to get caught up on everything.
  • Deus Ex Machina based on a birth mark
  • Rapper trying to become an actor
  • Gory special effects
Of course, that last one is comically inane since everyone acknowledges that the original movie is effective for what it doesn't show and what it leaves to the imagination. In the making of parts of the DVD (usually the best parts of horror movies) they say that and then they go "But this is 2013" as a way of explaining why they are using campy gore that takes the viewer out of the movie. And you gotta love a director that goes "well we are building on a movie that used an amazing technique to invoke a visceral response in the audience, but we're just going to do the same old shit that you've seen in other movies."

The worst example is still Jan De Bont who decided to turn The Haunting into a fun house ride and eliminate any ambiguity about the "ghosts" of the house all being Eleanor's telekinesis and the expression of her repressed hatred for her role as a woman in 1950s America. No. Forget all that stuff and let's have some fucking moving staircases and cheesy CGI!

Of course, there could be a good version of Texas Chainsaw Massacre but it would have to respect what the original movie was doing rather than serve as a bad fan letter. Rob Zombie has been crappy for so long that it's hard to remember just how brutal and brilliant were House of a Thousand Corpses and The Devil's Rejects. But those are as close to remaking Texas Chainsaw Massacre as Hollywood is ever going to get.
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