The makers of “Texas Chainsaw” — or “Texas Chainsaw 3D,” as it’s being widely advertised — would like to you forget all about nearly 40 years’ worth of sequels, prequels, remakes and reboots, and pretend that only a couple of decades or so have passed since the events depicted way back in “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” (1974). Helmer John Luessenhop (“Takers”) and a small army of scripters go back to the bloody roots of the long-running franchise to concoct a better-than-average horror-thriller that relies more on potent suspense than graphic savagery or stereoscopic tricks. Don’t be surprised if it scores a B.O. killing.
Pic begins quite literally where Tobe Hooper’s ’74 original left off, with a shrieking, blood-splattered beauty fleeing the homestead of a psycho-killer clan, pursued by a masked and humongous brute wielding a chainsaw. The new plot kicks off when angry locals arrive on the scene, torch the home of the fiendish family, and prematurely celebrate as they rashly assume they’ve destroyed Leatherface, the chap with the chainsaw, and all his creepy kinfolk.
Flash-forward about 20 years: Lovely young Heather Miller (Alexandra Daddario) is thrown for a loop when she’s informed that the white-trash couple she’s always known as mom and dad really are her adoptive parents. Truth to tell, however, this revelation doesn’t appear to strike her as bad news. Besides, she’s perked up by what she thinks is good news: A recently deceased grandmother she never knew she had has bequeathed her a palatial home near a small town in Texas.
Accompanied by her boyfriend (R&B artist Tremaine “Trey Songz” Neverson), another fun couple (Tania Raymonde, Keram Malicki-Sanchez) and a too-friendly hitchhiker (Shaun Sipos) they pick up along the way, Heather drives deep into the heart of Texas to check out her inheritance. Unfortunately, the house isn’t entirely empty. Even more unfortunately, the sole, secretive inhabitant is a masked maniac with a penchant for heavy-duty garden tools.
Luessenhop occasionally springs a wink-wink allusion to Hooper’s original pic – most notably during a scene involving a well-stocked freezer – and sprinkles a few darkly comical touches into the mix. (Heather, it should be noted, is introduced carving steaks in the meat department at a supermarket.) For the most part, however, “Texas Chainsaw” is deadly serious as it goes about the business of sustaining tension and generating shocks.
And while Luessenhop and his writers respectfully adhere to many genre conventions (rest assured that, during the first two-thirds of the story, just about everyone you’d expect to get killed does), they’re surprisingly clever when it comes to subversively shifting audience sympathies during the final 30 minutes of their briskly paced 92-minute pic.
Daddario — who’s given ample opportunity to flaunt the flattest stomach of any scream queen in recent memory — makes an impressively resourceful heroine. Standout supporting players include Thom Barry as a sheriff who disapproves of vigilantism; Paul Rae as a mayor who only thinks he knows where all the bodies are buried, and Dan Yeager as the still-crazy-after-all-these-years Leatherface. Sharp-eyed movie buffs may notice Gunnar Hansen, the original Leatherface, and Marilyn Burns, the heroine of Hooper’s ’74 pic, in cameo roles.
To his credit, Lussenhop doesn’t linger on the gore in intensely violent moments. (What he does show is more than adequately effective.) Nor does he exploit the 3D gimmickry to startle auds with gushers of blood or severed body parts. On the other hand, the helmer can’t resist the urge to make it appear, every so often, that a chainsaw blade is jutting off the screen, understandably enough for a pic with this particular pedigree.