Now considered a cult classic, Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre didn't receive a warm welcome when it was originally released. In fact, several movie theaters in the U.S. stopped showing it because of complaints about the violence. And yet nearly 40 years later, the franchise is still going strong. Texas Chainsaw 3-D, the latest film to adopt the title and feature the characters, arrives in theaters this week. While it's hardly accompanied by the same controversy that followed the original, director John Luessenhop (Takers) says he still tried to stay true to the spirit of the original, a movie that billed itself as a true story.
"To me, the original was everything," he says in a phone interview. "I went back and watched [all six of the Chainsaw films]. I couldn't put my arms around all of it, so I went back to Tobe [Hooper's] picture. I love the framing and the poetry that's juxtaposed against unabashed violence. To me, that was appealing. It was that approach of having a lower body count where every body means something. That was how I approached it."
Luessenhop's film picks up where the original leaves off and follows a young woman (Alexandra Daddario) who escapes the Sawyer house following the brutal murders of her four friends. Years later, she must confront her past. And yes, she must contend with that chain-saw wielding maniac known as Leatherface (Dan Yeager), whom Luessonhop portrays with at least a little sympathy.
"When I watched the original again and saw Leatherface go to the window where he had killed the kids and he was fretting over what would happen when dad got home, that suggested he had a conscience and he was upset, but he didn't know any better," says Luessenhop. "I was taken by some of that. In the script I started with, Leatherface was more of a Terminator. He would walk into town and bullets deflected off him. I fell over in my chair laughing and realized that wouldn't work. For me, we've retained the humanizing qualities but never to the point where you can get comfortable around him. He's always lethal. In this version, I asked how he would have evolved."
While it's clear Luessenhop paid close attention to building a storyline that was consistent with that of the original, many horror fans will undoubtedly just want to see the film for the 3-D effects. You can imagine how the chainsaw is going to look when it practically leaps off the screen. And yet, Luessenhop says he didn't want to get too carried away with the technology.
"First and foremost, I just wanted to build a cool 3- D world and at sensational moments, you could amp it up to have things break the plane of the screen and come at the audience," he says. "I didn't want to throw the whole movie in the audience's lap. I wanted you to be able to watch it. The heightened moments really deliver and I think the audience will have a great time with it."
And in today's world of horror flicks, where seemingly nothing's shocking, Luessenhop says that keeping the violence in check was key to making the bloody moments matter.
"I went low body count so you weren't too desensitized, and I changed up every killing so nothing was redundant," he says. "Each one seemed special and they were alarming. You couldn't predict what was going to happen. I didn't want to over-gore it, even though we do in one place. Then it becomes special. Otherwise, you're just shocking people. Larger than all of that is to create a story that is a story. This one has that."