Saturday, January 5, 2013

Stephen March, for Esquire:

Texas Chainsaw in the New Age of Violence

The first thing you'll notice about Texas Chainsaw 3D is what's missing. The word "massacre" does not appear in the title or on the posters. The reason is obvious: The word "massacre" has appeared so often in the news recently that it's no longer titillating or comical. That probably should have been the tipoff for the studio to cancel the entire production. As it is, the movie feels like an awkward letter from a more innocent time. It's a horror movie that seems totally unaware of the current nature of horror.
It's completely out of touch. The reality of the horrors of this world is so much worse than the imagination of the old-school slasher films. Leatherface is a monster who lives in a basement in rural Texas, locked up, and when he gets out, all he can find is a chainsaw, which he uses on half a dozen people in their twenties. We all wish that's what our monsters were like. Instead, the monsters of reality live right in the middle of the rest of us. They look normal. When they break out, they have access to legally purchased semi-automatic weapons. They go to schools, or they light fires and then call the police so they can shoot the firefighters as they arrive. They are infinitely scarier than anything Hollywood can dream up.

He's right, of course.

Real-life murderers are much more horrifying than anything Hollywood can dream up.

That was true in year 2012, when Texas Chainsaw 3D lumbered into theaters after a spate of horrifying mass shootings.

That was true in year 2006, when Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Legacy appeared on the scene just after Charles Carl Roberts IV murdered 5 Amish girls in a school in Pennsylvania.

That was true in year 2003, when Michael Bay revived the TCM franchise with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, while Colonel Thomas Pappas, Lieutenant Colonel Steven L. Jordan, Specialist Charles Graner, Staff Sergeant Ivan Frederick, Sergeant Javal Davis, Specialist Jeremy Sivits, Specialist Armin Cruz, Specialist Sabrina Harman, Specialist Megan Ambuhl, Private First Class Lynndie England and others tortured, raped, and mutilated prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

That was true in 1994, when that terrible Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation came out and OJ Simpson got away with murder.

That was true in 1990, when a young Viggo Mortensen starred in Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3 and James Edward Pough walked into a General Motors office and murdered five because his Grand Am was repossessed.

That was true in 1986, when the surprisingly good The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 was released and the still never captured Night Stalker serial killer bludgeoned his final victim to death in Sacramento.

And that was true in 1974, when the grueling masterpiece The Texas Chain Saw Massacre hit theaters as the Hi-Fi murderers forced their victims to drink Drano, then raped, tortured (including stomping a ballpoint pen into a man's ear canal), and finally shot them in front of their families.

Hollywood scares are never scarier than anything reality can produce. That is not now and never has been the point. And to call TCM a product of "a more innocent time" is sort of forgetting the literal torrents of hellfire we were raining over nations in the form of napalm as it debuted.

See horror cinema is about being scary, sure, and sometimes the scarier, the better - though many of the greatest horror films ever made are hardly anything more than occasionally tense - but movie scary is, and always has been, a different strain. Texas Chainsaw 3D isn't ineffective because it's a product of a more innocent time. There is no more innocent time. 

It's ineffective because it's a shoddy, sloppy film.

We have become a less violent world, though it doesn't seem that way down here in the muddy and shocking present. There is no "innocent time" except the unborn future. It's best to remember this stuff, because if we start slipping into the dishonest and rotten caul of nostalgia, we lose our ability to see the state of things for what they are: fixable. 

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