Franchise Expansion (Or Implosion): ‘Texas Chainsaw 3D’
by Ben Martin
Franchise Expansion (or Implosion) is a column that looks at franchises that have new installments or releases forthcoming. In looking at a franchise, each entry in a franchise will be given a review and then be examined as part of the bigger franchise. (i.e., Was this sequel a worthy expansion of this franchise or was it an implosion of sorts?)
You know the adage, “Everything’s bigger in Texas?” Well, there’s one big, twisted franchise that — for better or worse — is synonymous with that sprawling state. I’m, of course, referring to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise; a series of films that spans nearly fifty years, nine entries, and a myriad of tonal shifts. Does it all work, or is it messier than a big plate of TX BBQ? We’ll find out by taking a strange, sun-roasted journey into this series. In my final trip to Texas (for now), I’ll examine one of the earliest legacy sequels — Texas Chainsaw 3D (2013)!
The previous entry I reviewed in this franchise, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (2006), was the first of the TCM flicks that I got to see in a theater. Even then, though, I remember being underwhelmed by that prequel as the excitement of being a 17-year-old who could finally get into any theatrical screening I wanted quickly wore off. If I remember correctly, the fanbase also largely seemed underwhelmed by The Beginning. But fan reaction only matters a little since the prequel grossed $51.7 million on a $16 million production budget. A few months later, the Unrated “Too Shocking for Theaters” cut hit home video in January 2008. In a synergistic move, this was also when Platinum Dunes producers Andrew Form and Brad Fuller (The Forever Purge, Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan) announced that they were moving forward with a sequel to the 2003 remake.
Despite the success of the aforementioned films, New Line Cinema and Platinum Dunes ultimately lost their franchise rights to Texas as they failed to produce the announced sequel during their designated window of time. At which point, the mini-major studio Lionsgate Films and genre production company Twisted Pictures swooped in to pick up the franchise rights (temporarily, of course) from series creators Kim Henkel and Tobe Hooper (1943-2017). After bursting onto the scene with the Saw franchise in 2004, LGF and Twisted Pictures wanted to add another set of sequels to their collaborative repertoire. As a result, a multi-picture deal was struck in hopes of making a new trilogy. Supposedly, the unique but untenable idea was to produce a trifecta of movies that would take place out of chronological order. I would have been down for such an approach; it sounds like an idea one would come up with after hours in the dry Texas heat after unwittingly eating a tray of canna brownies. Thus, the idea was dismissed in favor of directly sequelizing the original 1974 film.
With the proverbial Chainsaw revved up, a creative team was quickly assembled. Two screenwriters with horror bona fides — the infamous Adam Marcus, best known for Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993), and Stephen Susco (the American Grudge movies, Hell Fest) — were tapped to figure out the how for a direct sequel to the 1974 immortal classic. Susco and Marcus conceived the story, and Marcus ended up writing the screenplay. Lesser-known genre writers Debra Sullivan (Secret Santa) and Kirsten Elms (Exeter) also contributed to varying degrees. Around this time, director John Luessenhop, who had previously worked with Lionsgate a few years earlier on the rightfully forgotten heist flick Takers (2010), was brought on to helm this legacy-based reboot. Recruiting genre talent is the ultimate practical approach to making a horror movie. The same can be said of assembling a cast of fresh, attractive faces, which is precisely what was done here.
Rapper Trey Songz was cast as the movie’s male lead as he was supposedly hot in the hip-hop scene at the time. (I say “supposedly” because I’ve still never heard any of Songz’s work as a musical artist, despite being a fan of his musical genre.) Following that, Alexandra Daddario (Anne Rice’s Mayfair Witches) was cast as the film’s true protagonist. The rest of the ensemble cast was filled out with more fresh faces, the only recognizable visage of the group being Scott Eastwood (whose work I previously reviewed in F8: The Fate of the Furious and Wrath of Man). Recognizable or not, Texas Chainsaw 3D, much like its original following up, is an ensemble piece. But what would the new cast be without someone to carve them up? Enter: Dan Yeager (Sharknado 4: The 4th Awakens), who, at 6’6, is the tallest actor yet to portray Leatherface.
We genre fans will show up for a Texas Chainsaw Massacre sequel no matter what. But what would draw in general audiences? Well, as if being a legacy sequel with a horror pedigree and a hot, young ensemble cast wasn’t enough to get casual moviegoers in the door, the studio decided to throw a cyclical gimmick at the proceedings — 3D. Unsurprisingly, adding the post-converted additional dimension brings little to the movie in review, to the point where “3D” was removed from most post-theatrical releases of Texas Chainsaw. It’s also worth noting that post-converting Texas Chainsaw to 3D didn’t impact the film’s original release date of October 2012. Stiff competition from sequels and other horror flicks ended up shifting the release date, however.
Thus a decade ago this month, on January 4th, 2013, Texas Chainsaw 3D cut its way onto the silver screen to become one of the first legacy sequels (or selective continuity sequels, depending on how you think about it) in horror history. After a brief prologue that connects this film to the 1974 classic, Texas Chainsaw jumps many years later to introduced to our final girl, Heather Miller (Daddario), and her crew. Heather is making ends meet by butchering meat. She and her boyfriend, Ryan (Songz), enjoy living in one of the big cities in Texas. Like most folks, though (myself included), there’s no doubt they and all their friends are living paycheck-to-paycheck.
All this changes when Heather is surprised to suddenly inherit a massive house and piece of land in a rural Texas town. Strangely, though, the house was bequeathed to Heather by her grandmother, Vera (Marilyn Burns), of whom Heather was utterly unaware. Undeterred by this fact, Heather, Ryan, and their friends make a road trip to check out the new digs. However, everyone on the trip needs to be made aware that this house is (supposedly) the same one from the original TCM. Worse yet, the abode is occupied by another relative Heather knows nothing about: Leatherface!
The only legacy sequel I can think of in the horror genre before Texas Chainsaw is Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998). Texas Chainsaw 3D, however, has the distinction of being the first of the modern legacy sequels. Albeit some of the connections — other than cameos from folks like Gunner Hansen, the aforementioned Marilyn Burns of the original 1974 film, and Bill Moseley of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986) — that make this movie a direct sequel are arguably tenuous at best. But that’s the way it should be! I don’t know about you, but I find the notion of the titular massacre occurring once decades ago only for one of its perpetrators (Leatherface) to the rear their ugly heads decades later to be (enjoyably) ludicrous.
Alas, therein lies the biggest problem with the story. It’s a lot of fun and is filled with characters you want to see picked off. All of whom are serviceably played by this cast. But you have to suspend most of your disbelief for it to work. So much so that you have to jump the logic shark to get behind these characters’ choices. This is particularly hard considering the movie features the most useless lawman in cinematic history: Sheriff Hooper (Thom Barry). But, if you can ignore some of the more ridiculous elements of the narrative, the ride will make up for it, even if the kills are admittedly tame for an R-rated flick.
Texas Chainsaw 3D might be the perfect tonal mix for this series as it combines the darkness of the ’74 original with some of the more outlandish aspects of TCM2 and the Platinum Dunes visual styling. As such, Texas Chainsaw is a Franchise Expansion … or it should have been. Despite a modest production budget of $20 million, the film’s final worldwide gross was only $47 million — far less than the studio wanted. Thus, Texas Chainsaw 3D is the last theatrically released entry in this franchise.
A few years later, TCM was cut down to the direct-to-home video market by Lionsgate with yet another reboot/prequel entitled Leatherface (2017). The second prequel and installment in the series to use “Leatherface” in its title went direct to DirecTV and streaming services thereafter. Following that, the franchise rights reverted to Henkel, who went on to license the series to Netflix in a continuation of the ever more common direct-to-streaming model. After acquiring the rights, Netflix put out the very divisive and dully titled Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022) just last year. While I didn’t care for that flick, plenty of horror fans did. Thus, it’s no surprise that the streamer already has a follow-up in the works. However, movies aren’t the only way this franchise is expanding. TCM is also cutting its way into the medium of video games as the developers over at Gun Metal Media — the same company that brought us Friday the 13th: The Game (2017) — will be giving this franchise a similar treatment later this year. And no matter where this series goes, I’ll always be willing to take a trip back to Texas.
Texas Chainsaw 3D is currently available in Standard and 3D formats on Digital, Blu-ray & DVD.
Other Texas Attractions:
Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022)
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)
Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1990)
Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1995)
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)