When I arrived in Shreveport, Louisiana in August 2011 to visit the production of the upcoming 3D reboot of the legendary Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise, I didn’t know what to expect. Considering this was my first set visit, I only knew what clichéd Hollywood (or multiple Simpson’s episodes) told me: grumpy, lazy teamsters, lavishly over the top food selections, and dramatic blowups for overdramatic actors. Obviously, I witnessed none of that but I knew enough to know not to believe what the movies tell me. As long as I could meet some of the actors, see something be filmed, and hopefully witness Leatherface go all chainsawy on some poor schmuck, then I’d be a happy writer. After all, this wasn’t any movie set. This was an untouchable horror franchise like Chainsaw, something that should be as nasty and brutal as anything that could be filmed. Well…those were my expectations. Reality is always something…different.
For the uninformed, this latest franchise reboot pulls a Superman Returns, attempting to create a connection to the revered original while still attempting to place their own unique, bloody stamp on the cannibal loving franchise. On the surface, Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3D, which opens January 4th and stars Alexandra Daddario, Trey Songz, Scott Eastwood, among others, seemingly has done the right thing in terms of creating that bridge between projects – not an easy accomplishment considering it’s been, oh, almost 40 years since Tobe Hooper released his vision of terror on the world. TCM3D producer Carl Mazzocone, who secured the rights (a reportedly six film option) after two entries from Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes, reached out and brought back some of the ’74 cast to back into the family, including Marilyn Burns, Gunnar Hanson, and John Dugan. Oh, and Bill Mosley (who was in the ’86 sequel, but who cares.)
Sure, the modern, teenage, horror-going-audience probably won’t care about the cameos considering none of those actors went onto anything else or starred in multiple films, but hey, it’s the thought that counts. The originals apparently won’t have significant roles because even though the film is pitched as the first true direct sequel to the ’74 film, only a small portion takes place in the 1970s. The bulk of the plot takes place today where a bunch of hip, young, good-looking sorts encounter Leatherface who has been in hiding for decades. It’d be nice to explain more about the story, which became increasingly difficult as the day wore on as interviews offered little to no information about the film, leaving questions on the short side. Every person remained mute on the topic of story, but when someone did discuss the movie, the explanation always led to the script, which more or less became the mantra for the entire day. Whenever someone asked a question, everyone repeatedly pointed to the screenplay (which everyone repeatedly said was fantastic but I doubt Oscar will call).
First, allow for a quick recap of events. I woke up. Then I brushed my teeth…Ok let’s fast-forward a bit to the waiting in the lobby with the fellow writers for the film’s publicist. Once we were briefed and material was handed out, we were soon whisked away via van to an unknown secure location about 30 minutes outside the city. Somewhere deep in the bayou where anything could happen. Actually, the location wasn’t that mysterious but it was secure considering filming took place on a military base. Actually, it’s a little odd to imagine the government allowing a chainsaw wielding mass murder onto a base to carve up innocent victims, but as long as they got paid…
When the van finally arrived on location, there wasn’t much to it. In fact, my first thought on arrival to Louisiana was that I didn’t equate Texas Chainsaw Massacre with the bayou. In fact, it seems damn wrong to substitute anything for the Lone Star State. We were in the middle of a dry, dusty field with not a thing in sight save for some tents, trailers, and a house. Outside the day promised to be another brutal August day, something I’ve grown accustomed to living in Kansas (it’s hot here), but Louisiana has a kind of relentless heat. On that day, the clouds must have been part of a striking union – not a single one in sight. It was searing, and it wasn’t even noon. Most of the crew hid in the tents, hoping for a brief escape of the sun’s pissed off glare.
But the heat didn’t matter when we got a little closer to the house because it was THE HOUSE, a painstaking recreation from the ’74 film. It was as if I got loopered back in time. It looked perfect, and even more so the closer I got. The house. The field. The cars. The road. Everything had been reborn to perfection. It was eerie and surreal. Déjà-vu. I took a walk down the drive to find the semi-truck still in position. Producer Mazzocone explained, “It was important to respect the fans. To some people it’s like remaking Citizen Kane. We worked really hard and did, what I’d call, cinematic forensics.” He made sure that during the 1974 sequences that they would match up perfectly to the original. It did. “The ultimate kudos came when Gunnar Hanson walked on the set and was in absolute awe when he walked up the driveway.” Hanson agreed, “I was really shocked at how real it was and how everything was right… It was creepiest feeling walking down the road, down the driveway and seeing the house coming up. It’s dead on.” Mazzocone perhaps summoned up the house the best: “It’s like living a dream walking onto that set.” Unfortunately, the house’s lifespan was short. Only a few days later they planned burn the set to the ground in a Frankenstein homage. Too bad, too. The house looked damn good.
All together we were able to watch three scenes (all took place during the 70s): in the house, outside the house, and watch via monitor. The most interesting to watch was undoubtedly within the walls of the house, which involved the truck driver (from the end of the original film) who has been captured by Leatherface and strung up on a meat hook. Torturing commenced. Lots of blood followed. It sounded more painful that it looked (it was acting after all); however, I’m sure the scene will look brutal.
As the scene filmed, we received a mini-tour of the front room, the skull and bone room, and a glimpse of the kitchen where filming was underway. The inside of the house looked fantastic, recreated down to the last chicken feather in the room of skulls. Of course, it’s always odd seeing the crew relaxing on the couch in one room while in another a dude is hooked to the wall and chainsawed to death. But that’s the job I suppose.
The outside shoot involved the local townsfolk confronting the family in the classic Frankenstein moment (except pitchforks were replaced by shotguns, and townsfolk were replaced by rednecks) where victims seek justice against the misunderstood monster. The townsfolk sped down the drive only to stand in front of their cars and scream at the house. The most impressive bit of acting came from those stuck outside as they shot take after take in the heat. The sun was relentless.
Thankfully, we were able to watch one scene unfold in the air conditioning via monitor from the comforts of the tents. Producer Mazzocone had invited us inside to observe an unfolding scene via 3D. They supplied us with glasses, and we watched a scene where Bill Mosley confronts Leatherface, which was basically a lot of patented Mosley screaming. As for why the world needed another 3D event, Mazzocone said, “I wanted to make a classic monster movie in 3D.” He cited Frankenstein, Jaws, and Hitchcock as inspirations. “I think it is cool if people do it right.” If anything, he does sell the 3D aspect. Considering everything is filmed in 3D now (I’m still waiting of the re-release of Beaches in 3D), seeing Leatherface in an extra dimension was inevitable, so he made sure to emphasize that 3D was always the intention, avoiding any of the post-conversion drama. They created wider and longer shots. He called TCM3D a “user-friendly” 3D film. “You will not get nausea. You will not get eyestrain. You will not get a headache.” Well, let’s hope so.
STAY TUNED FOR PART 2 OF THIS SET VISIT!