I recently made my way through all the Texas Chainsaw Massacre films, an emotional journey I do not recommend. 2013’s Texas Chainsaw 3D is not the worst of the lot, but it is the most transcendently stupid. The films that are worse than this are either monotonously glum or excruciatingly boring; the ones that are better than this range from “masterpiece” to “bizarrely entertaining horror camp tainted by an antisemitic third-act twist.” Texas Chainsaw 3D marks the exact point at which the movies become not only bad but uninteresting.
This, however, is just entertainingly dumb enough to be watchable. It opens in the wake of the first film, as a gun-toting posse descends on the cannibalistic and suddenly far more numerous Sawyer clan. (It also breaks the number one rule of bad sequels: Don’t use footage from your vastly superior predecessor and make the audience wish they were just watching that instead.) The Sawyers were ready to surrender Leatherface to the law–is there no honor among cannibals?–but the posse took matters into their own hands and killed every Sawyer they could; as far as anyone knows, they wiped out the whole family. One posse member and his wife spirit away Baby Girl Sawyer, however. They don’t do it to spare her life as much as to save on adoption fees, but hey, they change her name from Edith to Heather, which is an improvement.
Twenty-odd years later, Heather (Alexandra Daddario) gets a letter notifying her that her grandmother died. This opens up a whole can of worms about her parents never told her she was adopted, prompting Heather to wonder about her identity and family history and me to wonder about the logistics of the cannibal matriarch marrying into money and, I guess, having conveniently not been at the original murder house when the posse came calling? And also not providing any financial assistance to her beloved but economically distressed relatives? These mysteries and more are explored in the prequel, Leatherface. You’re fine, though. Don’t worry about it.
Heather rounds up her ultimately unreliable boyfriend (Trey Songz), her ultimately unreliable best friend (Tania Raymonde), and her ultimately unreliable best friend’s crepe-making boyfriend (Keram Malicki-Sanchez) who eventually gets cut in half pretty bad. They also pick up a charismatic hitchhiker (Shaun Sipos) who, unlike every other hitchhiker in the franchise, isn’t trying to kill and eat them. Heather takes this motley crew to explore the immaculate, lavishly furnished mansion she’s inherited and ignore the letter her lawyer gives her and repeatedly emphasizes she should read. Unsurprisingly, it turns out, in a Castle Freak-like twist, that Leatherface has been living in the wine cellar for all these years, and he soon emerges to wreak havoc.
While Texas Chainsaw 3D fails to embrace the full comedic potential of “So You’ve Inherited a Cannibal,” it does veer more and more into that direction as the film proceeds. After Leatherface inevitably slaughters Heather’s friends, it turns out the real villain of the film is vigilante justice (although it’s okay to get vigilante justice on the vigilantes), and everything else is more a misdemeanor: Heather practically orders Sawyer Family T-shirts for her and her newfound cousin. Imagine the end of Knives Out, but Marta has a chainsaw-wielding maniac at her disposal. Truly, the biggest disappointment is the failure to play “We Are Family” over the credits.
Texas Chainsaw 3D is streaming on HBO. Try not to watch it sober.