Jeremy Checks Out the Hair-Raising Film Set of 'Texas Chainsaw 3D'
by Jeremy Kirk
January 3, 2013
There is a list a mile long of different things that can kill you in the Louisiana swamps. Alligator. Snakes. The occasional run-in with a "True Blood" vampire. One item was added to that last in the Summer of 2010: Chainsaws. The man wielding that chainsaw is more often than not Leatherface himself, hacking up innocent civilians for his family's BBQ and doing a great job of it in many Texas Chainsaw Massacre sequels. The results of his latest spree hit theaters Friday in Texas Chainsaw 3D. I was lucky enough to see firsthand on a hot, August night outside of Shreveport just what went into bringing a horror icon back.
One thing you need when bringing a horror icon back to cinematic life is cotton candy. Lots and lots of cotton candy. And a giant Ferris Wheel. This was what our van of journalists were in store for when we arrived on set that evening. A fully operational carnival complete with rides, games, and snack bars of all kinds had been built for a quick chase sequence late in the film. Roughly 150 extras milled about the set as preparations for the shots were being handled by crew and the whole production was waiting for the sun to go down. The "hurry up and wait" coin of phrase was on full display, while the production awaited the darkness and made sure to keep hydrated in the sweltering dog days of Summer in the South.
The film, as producer Carl Mazzocone and director John Luessenhop tell us, is the first direct sequel to Tobe Hooper's original 1974 seminal horror classic Texas Chain Saw Massacre. In fact, as we were told on set, the first part of this latest film takes place just after the events of the original film have transpired, the Black Maria semi truck and other elements of that final scene being recreated here. Even the original house was painstakingly rebuilt for new scenes to play out there. From there, Texas Chainsaw 3D moves to modern time where a woman, a distant relative of the Sawyer clan, has inherited the famed house. Needless to say, she and her friends who go to investigate the house don't have a merry time of it.
Mazzocone and Luessenhop wanted to take the franchise in new directions but also keep the gritty intensity the Leatherface franchise is most well known for. Luessenhop had a very precise idea of how he wanted to depict Leatherface in what's being primed as the jumping off point of a new series of Texas Chainsaw films:
"I'm trying to cut down on just running in woods, because it gets a little boring unless there's something that happens in the woods. We were trying to create something that is a better story than just girl running from a chainsaw. This one is really intended as the first part of a series or a new franchise, so I'm not trying to turn [Leatherface] into a superhero or anything like that. He always has to be a menace. You have to be afraid of him. The minute you don't, I think the whole movie breaks down, but at the same time, if we're going to keep going with him, we have to give him some human dimensions, some semblance of emotions. I never wanted to give the sense that you could tame the dog with this guy."
Luessenhop also reveals Leatherface has evolved from the first film, but he's still the chainsaw-loving, face-wearing psychopath fans have come to know and love. As an example, the director began to reveal a pivotal scene between Leatherface and Texas Chainsaw 3D's leading lady Alexandra Daddario, but producer Mazzocone was quick to step in for fear of spoilers getting out early. Much was kept tight-lipped on the Texas Chainsaw 3D set, which made the idea of revisiting the end of the original while building a new Leatherface legacy for younger audiences all the more enticing. See the final trailer & TV spot here.
Luessenhop also revealed what Texas Chainsaw 3D is about other than Leatherface making new friends:
"While the story is about Leatherface, it really is Heather's journey. It deals with issues of family, and I guess all of us have gone home for Thanksgiving, and nobodies family is perfect, but you'd rather be with that family than someone else's. I think that's what Heather comes through. This is her last bit of family that's left, and she's willing to accept that versus something different even though the burden of the consequences are so great. It's open-ended. Each character is intended to be a continuing character."
Mazzocone, known for his work on the Saw franchise, owns the Texas Chainsaw rights for six movies, and if the Saw series was any indication, keeping a franchise alive for that many installments in a row is nothing new for him. At one point, the Billy doll on a tricycle was spotted on the carnival set. Mazzocone joked he might make an appearance in the film, and Leatherface may even slice the doll up as a sort of passing of a franchise torch. Says Mazzocone about the potential transitioning from Jigsaw to Leatherface:
"As I saw in the offices of Twisted Pictures as we were cranking out Saw movies, I thought to myself, 'What franchise could I work on and provide the same kind of insight as we did on the Saw movies?' I was really proud of the way those movies turned out. I thought that The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, the first one, was amazing and then the subsequent prequels, sequels, and remakes were never at the same ilk as the first one. They were all over the place, and they brought a campiness to them. They got watered down, but more importantly, there was no real consistency. So I fantasized what I would do if we ever got our hands on it."
Mazzocone then pitched the rights holders at that time on a six-film idea he had and walked out of the room holding the rights to do just that. And here we are at the beginning of the new Chainsaw franchise.
But Texas Chainsaw 3D might have enough going for it with returning cast to need any kind of torch passed by a more recent franchise. This film touts the return of many Texas Chainsaw alums: Marilyn Burns, John Dugan, and Gunnar Hansen among them. Bill Moseley, known from the series as Chop-top in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, also makes an appearance here, though he won't be reprising his role but stepping in as Drayton Sawyer, the patriarch of the Sawyer clan made famous by Jim Siedow in the original.
After the sun set and the extras began getting wrangled, we made our way over to video village, the term used for the producers and key set individuals to watch the scene being shot on video monitors. The monitors for this 3D production was 3D televisions lined behind one of the carnival games. As exciting as it is to watch a movie being shot from the vantage point of video village, it's all the more impressive on the set of a 3D movie watching it being shot with instant, 3D playback. Texas Chainsaw 3D uses the RED Epic cameras (same as on The Hobbit), and the 3D sequence on display this night was extremely eye-popping. According to Luessenhop, the script for this was adapted to be catered specifically for a 3D experience:
"3D is still cumbersome. It's tedious. It's tough, because everything is tethered. You can't just put a camera in a car and go film. You have to have someone there with a cable to the 3D world. You're photographic choices are, I don't want to say limited, but you have to be more thoughtful, because long lenses don't work. You usually want wider, deeper focus so someone can explore the frame. To me, the film shot a lot more like a Hitchcock movie than movies I have shot before, which made it cool. My approach has been few shots, better shots. We'll have the obligatory, "break the screen" moments, but I didn't want to turn it into a '50s, drive-in picture where everything is coming at you. We use 3D to create a world. It's 3D in a world that you can accept and believe and fall into and watch comfortably, and then we'll give you the sensational pieces as we go along."
Mazzocone wasn't the biggest fan of 3D, but feels the way they're using it now is ideal for this franchise:
"That was a real education for me. I wanted to go out and make the best 3D horror movie that's ever been made. I had been really let down by 3D. I think a lot of people have. They shoot movies in 2D then post-convert them, and I never think they're as good. This is the same camera system Sony used for Spider-Man and what they're using for The Hobbit. I really went all in on that acquisition, because that was really important to me. A movie our size shouldn't have that kind of camera package. The goal is to deliver the best 3D, horror, monster movie of the modern day, and I say that. Now it's on record. You guys will hold me to it, but I am swinging for the fences on that one. I am really proud of this 3D. I think it's exquisite."
What we actually saw being shot says it all, though. The chase sequence being shot was Leatherface chasing Daddario's Heather through a crowded carnival towards a Ferris Wheel, the young woman screaming for help from carnival patrons who aren't quite sure what's going on. Getting all the extras in place, having everything work perfectly, and ensuring the actors hit their spots just at the right time takes well into the night preparing, and only a few takes of that very shot were pulled off before our set visit came to an end. However, as little as we saw of actual Texas Chainsaw 3D being shot on this trip to Lousiana was all but made up in the amount of interest Luessenhop and Mazzocone instilled into us about the film.
The bottom line is Texas Chainsaw 3D is hitting theaters Friday, January 4th, and it's got more going for it than just a rehashed plot of unsuspecting teenagers getting hacked up by Leatherface and his chainsaw. Texas Chainsaw 3D is about family. It's about the events that directly resulted from what we saw in Tobe Hooper's original film, and the producers and team behind it clearly showed their love for this franchise's original installment. If what was heard and seen on the carnival grounds is any indication, Texas Chainsaw 3D is sure to be an effective screamer and the first of many more bloody Leatherface adventures to come.