John Luessenhop broke onto the scene in a big way two years ago when his urban action film TAKERS made a healthy $69 million worldwide, with another $17+ million in home video sales. Not bad for a guy whose only previous directing credit came in the year 2000.
Thanks in part to TAKERS' success, Luessenhop was hired by Lionsgate to helm TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D, which is buzzing its way into theaters on January 4th. A sequel to Tobe Hooper's unforgettable 1974 classic, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, Luessenhop's film gives the franchise a 3D makeover, catching up with Leatherface years after the events of Hooper's original. I spoke to Luessenhop recently and found out what can be expected from the new TEXAS CHAINSAW installment.
This movie is a direct sequel to Tobe Hooper's THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, correct? It doesn't reference any of the sequels, nor the Platinum Dunes films...
Luessenhop: That's correct. Anything that was done after the first one, I discarded. This is a story that stems directly from Tobe Hooper's original classic.
What has your experience been with the TEXAS CHAINSAW films before getting this job; was the original a favorite of yours?
Luessenhop: I've always been intrigued by it. I had to go back and watch it again and really study it. I really appreciated it more and more every time I watched it, it has all the sensation and grizzle and the horror, but it had a lot of poetry in it, too. The photography is actually remarkable. It inspired a lot of things when we decided how to present this sequel to the original, and there are a lot of things that look like the original that are sprinkled throughout the film, with a fresher presentation; they are simply there for people who know the original film, it comes with a wink. They get the armadillo again, and something happens with a freezer. Things like that I think the horror people will get a kick out of.
And also the casting, I know you've got Gunnar Hansen and Bill Moseley in there...
Luessenhop: I'm smiling when you say their names, just because when I saw Gunnar get out of the van and walk down the driveway to the house we built for the opening scenes of the movie, he stopped and went, “Whoa, look at this! This is all how we did it!” It was pretty amazing.
At what point was 3D introduced into the discussion?
Luessenhop: From the jump. The project, as it came to me, 3D was how they wanted to do it. For this kind of movie, I think 3D was a great idea. The heightened 3D moments pay off, they're worth the price of admission, and they add to the picture. The 3D throughout the rest of it is not so extreme that you feel like you're in a 50s drive-in movie.
Does it make planning more difficult?
Luessenhop: 3D is very cumbersome. For a movie like TAKERS, I averaged 35 shots a day, with 3D, mid-20s. The technology is sophisticated and it's finicky. Your lens choices change, more depth of field so the eye can explore a frame, rather than longer lens stuff where you can blur out things in the background. So it's more like CITIZEN KANE than HEAT. And just the camera – to move them 50 yards is 45 minutes. Composing is slightly different than you would a regular film as well. But I think shooting natively 3D is the way to go if you're going to do 3D.
Let's talk a little about Leatherface; where do we find the big guy at this point in the story? Is he the same old Leatherface that we've seen or have you introduced some new wrinkles into the character?
Luessenhop: When we dealt with Leatherface, we had to keep asking ourselves, where would Leatherface be now 20-plus years later, as an older person? And it's how we built around him, this kid, what he would have evolved into. That's how we kind of presented him. We start with him in the original '74 version, and then we bring it to a contemporary film; the actor had to practice a walk that would fit the character. Just how he holds a chainsaw, the things he would do if he's an older person, is this set in his personality, or has he evolved into something new?
That's interesting, because movies like this usually don't even acknowledge the fact that the villain ages, they always just seem to be the same age. That this movie is acknowledging that makes it unique.
Luessenhop: I think it does to. To be honest, we've taken a little bit of license with the years so that he's not 65-years-old, and that our heroine is not 40-years-old, to present a story that fits in the TEXAS world. We've taken a little bit of license with that, I'll admit, so that people don't do all the math...
But I think Alex Daddario is terrific in the film, I think people are going to appreciate her. I think adding Trey Songz was a nice add, to maybe broaden the audience, to bring in some of the urban, which fortunately enough for me has worked on other movies. At the same time, we've been very faithful to what we thought worked in Tobe's picture. Really didn't channel anything from any other TEXAS installment ever made.
In terms of violence and gore, are you guys really pushing it to the limit? Are there any particular kills we should keep an eye out for?
Luessenhop: (Laughs) Keep an eye out for all of them, man! It's not HOSTEL, I'll tell you that, but when we go for it, we go for it. To me, it's not body count in these pictures, it's when and how you present them. They all come at interesting times, and they're all in interesting ways. I think the horror fans are going to be very excited about it, I do, and a couple of them are going to be really surprised.