On Reboots and Chainsaw Massacres: Bryan Akerley
There are only so many times you can “reinvent” something before that something runs out of ways to be invented again. Then, pretty soon, it’s the same regurgitated nothing and all thoughts of integrity and originality have long since gone out the window.
But now, recently, the horror genre is shifting once again.
About a decade ago the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise became one of the first franchises to be rebooted after over two decades of sequels. And who better to do so than Michael Bay, right? Starring Jessica Biel (before she married Justin Timberlake), this movie obviously had the makings of a horror classic… Or not. No wonder Timberlake still writes songs about Britney.
Anyway, this movie and even more so its prequel a couple years later peaked the emergence of a trend: taking much-beloved horror icons from the 70’s and 80’s and giving them backstories. That’s right; take Leatherface, Freddy, Jason, Michael, etc. and remove the one thing that made their original films so terrifying: the mystery.
What’s the point? It is pure cinematic filler. There are exceptions; I enjoyed Rob Zombie’s Halloween remake if only for the chilling idea of a young Michael Myers and his psychological bully complex. But Halloween ’78 is timeless because a masked man showed up out of virtually nowhere, in a town that could be any, to murder teenagers for reasons only he knows. That is horror.
It is the same for Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Tobe Hooper’s original was, and is perhaps, the scariest movie ever made. It’s remake attempted to be a dramatic chronicle of a depraved and murderous family. But the original could have been a documentary. It feels real still. You are not an audience in a theater watching actors get killed gruesomely; you are at that dinner table, sick to your stomach and disoriented, and disturbed beyond imagination. It is visceral.
Instead, horror in the 2000’s became about knowing everything and seeing everything. It was supposed to feel more personal, but it did the opposite. I used to be afraid to sleep because Freddy Krueger could invade anyone’s dreams. Now I’m just thankful I didn’t go to that particular daycare when I was a kid; he won’t come after me!
But now, here’s Texas Chainsaw in 3D. Again, the franchise is on the forefront of what I believe is a shift in the genre. Here’s a twist—spoiler alert—instead of learning everything about Leatherface, make him identifiable. Make him a hero! Well, a misunderstood anti-hero. He just wanted to protect his family, don’t be so quick to judge.
But here’s the thing: it’s bloodier than ever, it’s stupid, but it’s fun! Because we’re not bogged down with so much drama—I mean this is a slasher movie—we get to see a minor twist on the formula that may not have been possible if this weren’t a franchise we know so well. I want to see more of these cynical horror reboots that aren’t taking themselves so seriously. It’s what Freddy vs. Jason did before anyone caught on, and that’s one of the most underrated slasher movies of all time, but more on that later.
The fun fades fast, though, because here we are with our ever-evolving franchises within a genre that is constantly trying to reinvent itself and find new directions. What we have to realize is the death of the slasher classic. These new movies can be entertaining, but they will never be timeless, never be visceral like those original movies. And the monsters, the icons, have stood the test of time. Why try creating a new one in a movie that only aspires to be a flash in the pan? These movies are the wheels of horror:why reinvent them? It works just fine. For now.