Posted on Wednesday, October 17th, 2012 by Germain Lussier
There’s not a cloud in the sky as the unfaltering Louisiana sun beats down on a barren piece of land in the middle of nowhere. As unforgiving and uncomfortable as the weather is, though, the sun has nothing on the man who lives here: Leatherface. The horror icon with the skin mask and chainsaw is soon coming back for his seventh film: Texas Chainsaw 3D. However, this film differs from the rest of the franchise in that it wipes the slate clean of anything that happened in the previous five sequels, prequels, remakes and reboots. They never happened. Texas Chainsaw 3D is a direct sequel Tobe Hooper’s 1974 masterpiece, picking up exactly where that film left off.
And exactly where that film left off is right where I stand on August 16, 2011. Director John Luessenhop (Takers) and his team have gone through the painstaking process of making an exact replica of the classic house of horrors seen in the original film. Everything from the skulls on the floor to the cuts in the door are precisely how a young Sally Hardesty (Marilyn Burns) left it when she ran away screaming for her life. For the characters on set today, those events happened mere hours ago. For the people inhabiting those characters – including some of the original actors from that classic film – it’s been almost four decades. And while the franchise isn’t exactly where Tobe Hooper left it on that hot Texas day, on this hot Louisiana day, it feels like nothing has changed.
It’s day 22 of a 30 day shoot as /Film was on the set of Texas Chainsaw 3D to talk to the filmmakers, new stars and familiar faces who’ll help continue the story of Leatherface on January 4, 2013.
We joined the production of Texas Chainsaw 3D in Shreveport, Louisiana way back in August 2011. The set in question, the iconic house, was built on an empty lot at Camp Minden Military Base and even approaching the location was creepy. An unmarked white fan. A security gate. A long, deserted road. Finally an abrupt left onto a gravel-covered clearing and it felt like we being led to slaughter. If not for the house on the horizon.
Again, the story of Chainsaw 3D begins immediately where the last film left off, with Sally narrowly escaping the clutches of Leatherface in the 1974. (We’ll even see some of that film in this film.) Hours later the police have been called and the town has been alerted. For the Saywer family, it’s a race to clean up Leatherface’s mess in preparation for a visit from the authorities. All of this will take up about five minutes at the beginning of the 90 minute film which, from there, fast forwards to the present day where the bulk of the story takes place. That centers on a young girl named Heather (Alexandra Daddario) who’s inherited a house that may, or may not, still have one chainsaw wielding inhabitant.
But on today’s set, it’s 1974 all the way: The decorations, costumes, actors. everything except for the tent filled with massive flat screens showing 3D violence. Luessenhop is shooting Texas Chainsaw 3D with the Red Epic cameras which, at this point, had only been used on The Amazing Spider-Man and The Hobbit. Everything, from the production design to storyboards, has been done with 3D in mind. “I didn’t want it to turn into a ’50s drive-in picture, with stuff thrown at you all the time,” Luessenhop said. “My goal was just to create a really cool 3D world that’s balanced, that’s easy to watch and it allows you to explore the frame.”
Producer Carl Mazzocone explained that this Chainsaw “is not a slasher movie.” It draws from, and echoes, the classics like Frankenstein, King Kong and Jaws. “I wanted to make a classic monster movie in 3D,” he said. “This is a very plot driven story and I think that’s gonna be the biggest difference between our movie and 90% of the horror movies made recently.”
The Gang’s All Here
The first scene we saw shot features Leatherface (played in this early scene by actor Sam McKinzie, actor Dan Yeager will be playing him in present day) being scolded by Drayton Sawyer, also referred to as The Cook. Originally played by Jim Siedow, in this version he’s played by Bill Moseley, who played Chop-Top in 1986′s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. He’s not the only person back either. Luessenhop and Mazzocone also brought back the original Leatherface, Gunnar Hansen, original Sally, Marilyn Burns and original Grandpa, John Dugan. In this film, they’re all members of the Saywer family. It’s one of dozens of nods to the original.
“To many fans, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is the quintessential horror movie,” Mazzoncone said. “So touching it, to some people, is remaking Citizen Kane,” “That’s why we’ve gone to great lengths with the house, with certain things [the characters] say, to not offend [the fans] but, at the same time, try to not remake the same movie. They’ve already seen that movie,” Luessenhop added.
As Drayton yells at Leatherface, the scene looks just like it’s from the original movie – save for the 3D. There’s blood everywhere, the truck driver (or someone who looks just like him) is on a hook in the background, and Leatherface has a KNB Effects mask on that’s as close to the one in the original film as possible. “You really messed up, letting that bitch meat get away,” Drayton screams before going into a tirade of curses for his screwed up son. “Coon shit, hap haired idiot.”
A House of Nightmares
As the crew shoots at the back of the Sawyer house, we’re allowed to explore the painstaking details at the front (seen above). Mazzocone said the crew performed “cinematic forensics” to replicate the house from Hooper’s film down to the tiniest detail and it shows. The original actors themselves even lent a hand. One particularly cool example is how they’ve perfectly replicated the broken window Sally jumped out of in the original film and the exact chainsaw marks Leatherface made in his own door.
After they call “Cut,” we head through that door and even in the broad daylight, it’s eerie. There’s the famous butcher door with dozens of skulls behind it. Bones and more skulls are on the floor, walls and ceiling. Random feet are on the ground and there’s an arm chair with (human) arms on it. As the crew sets up for a reverse shot, I heard the someone scream “There’s gotta be a lot of blood on the floor, we see the whole floor!” Later that day, Mike McCarty from KNB Effects reveals he’s already gone through 20 gallons of fake blood today alone and is trying to get more.
The reason we see the blood on the floor is because Leatherface is cleaning all the blood that has drained from the victims draped all over the kitchen. A simple reverse shot of him, once again being screamed at by Drayton, needs about five or six takes because, sometimes, the position of his head isn’t right, or a knife falls off the wall.
We’re then ushered into a tent to talk to star of the original film, Marilyn Burns. It’s her first time on this set and she seems blown away by how close it is to what she remembers from 1973. She loves the script and while it’s not necessarily where she saw the movie going, she makes it sound like this is the first Chainsaw sequel that’s truly doing justice to Hooper’s original vision. “When I read this script, I was amazed at what they had accomplished,” she said. “The twists and turns and surprises, it excited me. And that doesn’t happen if you’ve read as many scripts as me.” And while she was coy about her character, she reportedly plays the grandma of the Sawyer clan in the present-day portion of the film.
Mike McCarthy from KNB Effects is next to the interview tent and in additon to that blood tidbit mentioned previously, he reveals there are three Leatherface masks in this film and that it’s so effects-heavy, he’s been involved on set almost everyday. “It’s a chainsaw massacre buffet,” he says. About 80% of the films effects are practical, according to Mazzocone.
The original legendary Leatherface, Gunnar Hansen, is brought in next and immediately echoed Burns’ sentiments that this film is doing justice to the original, especially in terms of his original character. “They did some details on the new Leatherface that, when I thought of it, were really nice additions to the personality of Leatherface that were consistent with the Leatherface from 1974,” he said, something many of the previous sequels seemed to ignore. As for the accuracy of the house, he said that the only thing he noticed when he walked into the house was that a chicken coop was in one spot rather than the other.
As Hansen is taken away for next shot we’re presented with a surprise visit from Richard Riehe. You know him; he’s the “Jump to Conclusions” guy from Office Space. In Texas Chainsaw 3D he plays Farnsworth, Heather’s lawyer. It’s a pivotal role because he has to provide the main character (Daddario, who had a night shoot that day and we didn’t get to meet) with the information that Leatherface is her cousin.
The Money Shot
Before the crew breaks for lunch, they set up the next shot and it’s a doozy. The camera is in the house, looking out the infamous broken window and we see the Sheriff (Thom Barry) calling for Leatherface to be given up. The camera then dollies back to reveal the whole Sawyer clan, including Hansen’s character (“The Boss Hogg Sawyer,” he says), hiding and debating what to do. After some choice language degrading Leatherface, they decide to give him up. Just as they’re about to peacefully comply, eight cars tear up the dirt road towards the house as the camera slowly dollies back up to the window (we’re still in the same shot). These town folk have had it with the Sawyers and, after the Sherriff tries to talk them down, a Molotov cocktail is thrown at the house. Or, at least it will be. The shot cuts there. But that long take, with the camera moving to tell the story, is the kind of thing Luessenhop wants to bring to this film and is a big reason why he thinks the 3D is so important.
He tells us as much when we sit down to have lunch with him a few minutes later.
“For me the approach of the picture became more like Hitchcock or the Coen Brothers,” Luessenhop explained. “A little wider. Fewer shots. Better shots. Because you can’t quick cut in 3D.”
He seems genuinely excited about his first foray into horror, but does say that he feels hamstrung by the small budget (around $11) and smaller schedule (30 days). “For all intents and purposes, it’s a low budget movie,” he said. “We’re making a full 3D movie for $11 million and they want to compete with Spider-Man and The Hobbit.” He’d never do another 3D film again with those kind of restraints. (Months later, he said the film’s delay – from October 2012 to January 2013 – was strickly a business decision and had nothing to do with finishing the film, which was completed in June 2012.)
For audiences, he’s hoping they’ll be especially excited because the structure is incredibly different from the other films. “These movies are generally ‘Can girl get away from chainsaw?’ and here, we’ll get to that point but then we don’t know where she really is,” he said. “You’ll complete the horror movie in 60 minutes and then you’ll go, ‘Where does it go?’”
Obviously, he’s a huge fan of the original and he picked about 10 things from that film to “sprinkle in without being heavy handed.” “I tried to put those in imaginative places without looking like you forced them in there,” he said. Some examples are the girl in the freezer and the armadillo on the road.
He’s reusing some of the original’s iconic sounds too and while, during production, he had yet to hire a composer, he expected the music to pay homage to the original as well. (He eventually went with John Frizzell, who did Office Space and Alien Resurrection). And while what we saw on set looks old, he promises the film has a modern feel unlike the horror films of the eighties or nineties. “We kept it today from the clothes they wear, to the music they listen to,” he said. “There’s a sequence with an iPhone, we wanted to make sure it was our new one.”
When Luessenhop’s brought back to set, we finish our conversation with Gunner, meet Grandpa (“I’ve been waiting 40 years for this phone call”) and then head back to a few more cast members such as Paul Rae (playing a hillbilly that eventually becomes mayor), the aforementioned sheriff played by Barry, Scott Eastwood, Clint’s son and the sheriff’s deputy in the present and finally Bill Moseley, who is making his return to the Chainsaw franchise, but in a much different role. “It’s weird playing Drayton,” he said, “I liken it to Mo playing Curly in the remake of The Three Stooges.” However, he has taken the honor very seriously. “I consider it a real honor to be channeling my buddy Jim Siedow and communicating some of the joy he brought to Chainsaw 1 and 2.”
Almost everyone was guarded about plot details though we did get a few tidbits here and there. Leatherface will be Heather’s cousin, he lives in the basement of her newly inherited mansion and her lawyer will know about him. There’s a carnival scene and, oh that’s right, the house gets burned to the ground by the angry mob.
But the day I was there, it was all about staying cool in the sweltering Louisiana heat and paying homage to a horror film that was so before its time maybe it really has taken almost 40 years for all of us to catch up and finally finish the story. Everyone involved with the film seems to think that’s what’ll happen on January 4, 2013. ”It totals at the end,” said Luessenhop. “It’s about something new that’ll hopefully take it off into future installments.”
That’s right. If all goes well, producer Mazzocone has the rights to do six films. We haven’t seen the end of Leatherface. Not by a long shot.
Photo credit: Justin Lubin