Taking over the reigns of a franchise the stature of Texas Chainsaw requires a unique combination of confidence and thick skin. Irrespective of your own creative vision, your film will inevitably be compared against Tobe Hooper‘s classic original. For director John Luessenhop, several have come before him and, in the eyes of most, several have fallen woefully short of capturing the magic of the original.
All of this said, Luessenhop doesn’t seem to carry the weight of someone tasked with creating the first direct sequel to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. In fact, during my set visit interview with the director, I felt a sense of excitement. Both astutely aware of the standard his film will be judged by and confident in the direction of his own take, Luessenhop seems intent on creating something that is, in part, homage and, in larger part, his own extension of the original Chainsaw story. To read what the filmmaker had to say about Texas Chainsaw 3D including the process of shooting the film in 3D, picking out his favorites scenes from the original, and more, continue reading for the full interview.
JOHN LUESSENHOP: Well, there is, but I’m trying to cut down on like just running in the woods because it gets a little boring unless there’s something that happens in the woods. So we’re trying to create something, really work on the story rather than just “Hey, it’s a girl running from a chainsaw”.
Speaking with Alex (Alexandra Daddario) earlier she said that Leatherface is maybe a little more human or humanized in this film. Can you talk a little bit about that?
LUESSENHOP: Right, well this one is really intended as the first installment of a little bit of a series or a new franchise. So, I’m not trying to turn him into a superhero or anything like that. He still always has to be a menace, you have to be afraid of him and the minute that you aren’t I think the whole movie breaks down. But, at the same time, if we’re going to keep going with him then we have to give him some human dimensions, some semblance of emotion. But I never want to give the sense that you can tame the dog with this guy. He still has a chainsaw. He’s mentally stunted.
Sure, you don’t want to give the idea that he (Leatherface) is overly rational?
LUESSENHOP: You can’t. In fact, whenever we’re deciding things on the set we, Darryl, the hitchhiker who gets killed and his backpack was left in the wine cellar and it was scripted that the backpack was later discovered by Kenny further into the lair. When we were filming we realized why would Leatherface ever pick it up? He could care less about it. It should stay right where it was when he put it down the last time we saw Darryl. So, it’s things like that. He doesn’t have rational thought. I mean he does have rational thought but it’s like a dog, the instincts are strong, the incarnations are really strong and that’s what drives him and keeps him consistent so you always will fear him is the thought.
Was it important to kind of analyze the events of the first film, since this is a direct sequel, just to kind of make sure that everything works?
LUESSENHOP: Well, it is a sequel but it’s like years, decades, later. For us, Leatherface has evolved as physical man but has not maybe evolved much beyond what he was in the original so, with that said, that’s how we viewed it. He has evolved but he’s still a guy who does what he does and even in Tobe’s picture, though, he’s humanized. There’s a moment at the window where he’s upset that he’s killed all of these people and he goes to the window and wonders, you know, “Where’s Drayton? When is someone going to come home and how do I deal with this?” so I wouldn’t be the first to try and do that. But, at the very end of the movie, which is already shot, I thought Alex and Dan Yeager (Leatherface) I thought they were great. She reaches up and…[interrupted by publicist before giving away too much].
LUESSENHOP: But it’s set up to be open-ended as to where it’s going to go and while the story is about Leatherface, it really is Heather’s journey through this movie. It deals with issues of family, you know, I guess all of us have come home at Thanksgiving and nobody’s family is perfect but you’d rather be with that family than someone else’s. I think that’s what Heather comes to grip with is that, this is her last bit of family that is left, and she’s willing to accept that versus something different.
You mentioned that you wanted to open this up to a new series…
LUESSENHOP: Well, it’s intended, I mean, I’m not personally but they have the rights I think to do up to six and, well, you know the Saw guys. We’re just trying to keep it open-ended as to where it would go from here, certain characters, Scott Eastwood’s character is intended as an ongoing character, so is Sheriff Hooper played by Thom Barry and some others that we can’t talk about right now. We’ve also had great fun with just bringing back part of the original cast to play different roles within this one which is really cool. I’d never met Marilyn Burns and for her just to walk in and all I’ve seen is this 24-year old girl running for her life and riding off in a pickup truck and to now see this 60-year old woman it’s interesting. She was so excited to be part of something that wasn’t just a, can this girl get away from the chainsaw movie, so she’s been very laudatory, very happy to be here and play this new role. It’s a lot like when they remade Cape Fear and they put Robert Mitchum as the Lieutenant. So that’s fun and there’s some other stuff but I guess I’m crossing the line of what can talk about and what I can’t talk about. I think Gunnar’s (Gunnar Hansen), the original Leatherface, is going to be in the opening scene in this as a different character. John Dugan is coming back to reprise Grandpa.
I heard also that Bill Moseley is going to be here next week.
LUESSENHOP: Yeah, yeah he is [laughs].
Why does that make you laugh?
LUESSENHOP: Well, because I get on the phone with him and he’s such a character. He knew all of the original actors. He’s the link to all of this from having played “Chop-Top” in Texas 2. He knew Drayton, the actor (Jim Siedow), he had been to parties with him, he imitates him. I thought it was hilarious, the stories, and he knows Tobe. Tobe’s backstories on some of these characters were never shot in any of these movies and some of it is out there but, Bill is a smart guy, he went to Yale, and he’s just very, very funny. That’s why it makes me laugh. To me on the phone he’s hysterical about it and he wants so badly to do Drayton to, you know, honor really a friend of his who played the original Drayton. I’m happy for him for that.
LUESSENHOP: I’d say it was definitely, that movie was made in the ‘70s and it was kind of banned and I don’t think it even came out until like the early ‘80s. This is contemporary. I mean, when I started with this script the last thing I wanted was a 1990s horror movie. Start at a car, go to a gas station, end at a house, right? So we tried to contemporize it. We’ve made the cast interracial, something that’s worked for me in all of my movies from Lockdown to Takers. And I think they played incredibly naturally without being like “Hey, look, they pandered” I don’t think we did at all. I think it worked out great. Trey and Alex are a wonderful couple. So, I liked that. Shots that I’m doing when they leave their town to go to Texas, I want you to see a real city. It’s not just “Hey, let’s bunch them in a car” and go with that. I’m trying to give you enough time to get to know the characters before they reach the state of horror and, to me, I’ve juxtaposed a picture that is a really good looking, pretty picture until you get to the lair and then I don’t want to say it is me vs. Rob Zombie but it’s that type of contrast. The camera stops being “flowy” and it starts to become this [makes a shaky gesture] and tougher as we tell the story.
Can you talk about shooting the film in 3D and, if at all, your approach has changed because of the technology or if the script itself was kind of molded around 3D?
LUESSENHOP: It was not molded around 3D technology. It was the other way around. We had to adapt the script to 3D. 3D is still cumbersome, it’s tedious, it’s tough because everything is tethered. You can’t just put a camera in a car and go film. You have to have someone there with the cable to the 3D world and your photographic choices are, I won’t say limited, but you have to be more thoughtful because long lenses don’t work. You usually use a wider, deeper focus so that someone can explore the plain. To me, the film is shot a lot more like a Hitchcock movie than movies I have shot before which is what made it cool. I’m at the lower end of the lenses for wider open so, my approach has been sort of fewer shots, better shots and with 3D you have to have a sustained shot because if you’re cutting then the audience is uncomfortable in a bad way just viewing it. And then we’ll have, of course, all of these obligatory, break the screen moments but I didn’t want to turn it into a ‘50s drive-in picture where everything’s coming at you in an interactive film. We used 3D to create a world. That’s the world and the stereographer (Ray Hannisian) in this picture is, I think one of the best in the world. It’s 3D in a world that you can accept and believe and fall into and watch comfortably and it will give you the sensational pieces as we go along.
LUESSENHOP: I’m not trying to make you duck and scream every two minutes. I don’t want to. I want to use it to bring you into the world. You won’t even realize that half of the movie might even be in your lap in that room, but just comfortably there so you can engage and be part of the scenes. Things like that. I’m very, very proud of the 3D in this movie. We did a lot of research before we started this and I picked out the pictures that I liked in 3D and the pictures that I didn’t like in 3D and then I went back and even looked at the animations which are a treat because they’re able to do the backgrounds and the foregrounds separately. But, you start to learn a lot about what makes a fun-looking frame versus one that after a while gives you eye strain.
Were you trying at any point to invoke the, I mean the look of the house in the first one, the design of the house was so dramatic with the sort of bone sculptures and the armchair arms and stuff like that. Was that maybe an influence for you?
LUESSENHOP: For me, yeah. But this story, in the way it’s written, is that the grandmother had a nice house but in the basement it’s not so nice. We’ve put back the bone chair. We have, how do I say this? The original platform on which he hooked people on, the one that Pam got hooked on in the original, I’ve built it the same way in the basement. Where I’ve been able to put homages comfortably, I’ve done it. When I worked on the script for this I picked out like the ten or twelve moments that I thought were great in the original and just sort of sprinkled them through in their new ways in this one.
Can you maybe talk a little more about that, like which twelve they were?
LUESSENHOP: I love the armadillo, I love Pam in the freezer, I love the hook that Pam was put on. I love the opening language to the film-
Are you getting John Larroquette back to do that again?
LUESSENHOP: You know what, that’s not a bad idea, but I think it’s going to be Thom Barry’s voice because, he is a person of the law, and I’m putting it as a confidential case file.
LUESSENHOP: [Laughs] You will not be disappointed. We have brought the Black Maria back and this movie will start with that poor truck driver.
That makes the 8-year old me very happy.
LUESSENHOP: [Still laughing] You know, trying to find a match for him was tough.
So does this movie assume a universe in which none of the other sequels have happened?
LUESSENHOP: It could play standalone and they could never make another one. I just left them with characters-
I mean, in the sense that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 was technically a sequel, does it just assume that never happened?
LUESSENHOP: This one is pretty direct in that we’ll tell you what happened the rest of the day after she (Marilyn Burns) escaped. And then we’ll take you decades later. We’ll tell you what its ramifications were and then we’ll start with a new story that comes all the way back around. When you see it, what I tried to do was do a traditional horror movie in the first sixty minutes, then the girl gets away, and then you go “What’s going on, what’s this movie about?”. That is what I think will keep you engaged because I think if you stick to ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s horror structure, we’ve sat through it. Every beat we know. So, you start going “What’s the movie about?”. Kim Henkel, who wrote the original with Tobe, we’ve had long talks about it and he has views on it about if you trespass, that’s his word, or go somewhere or do something that you shouldn’t do in the social world then you pay the price for it. I said I think that’s true, but I think we can go a lot further than that too. That’s really what I tried to do here. You’ll tell me if I was able to do it later.
LUESSENHOP: He’s been just a really good guy. He’s really been excited. He says this is his favorite of the group that’s ever been made from it to me. I don’t know if he’s just blowing smoke or what but he’s been very complementary. Probably because he stands to make a lot of money [laughs]. I mean, everyone involved in the prior ones has been awesome. They really have been. There’s no bitterness. They’re still astounded that in the early ‘70s, a group of 25-year olds just out of film school could go make this movie that was kind of D.O.A. for a big chunk of time and then even until Platinum Dunes remade the two, their first remake and then the prequel, the movie was still there and it’s had a great deal of things discussed about it, huge fan base now, sites about it, they know what every original piece is from the house to this or that, you know, the restaurant in Texas (the Junction House). It has a great following so it’s kind of fun and it’s really intimidating too because it’s big footsteps to follow into in terms of, you know, if you screw it up or you try too much to homage it that you don’t bring your own story to it then you can have your challenges there.
[Complaining of the heat] Why are you shooting this thing in August?
LUESSENHOP: This should have been shot in November [laughs]. With longer nights and everything. You’re preaching to the choir here. I wish I’d shot it in the fall also because the challenge of this production is that it’s a night movie so your dark is from 9pm to 6am and you have lunch in between so you have 8 hours to cram 12 hours worth of work. So that’s been a challenge with it. I’ve enjoyed it, I mean I’m just not a horror guy. I had to go back and look at these things and I think hopefully that will help it out because some of the better horror movies were made by people outside of it, who step into it and do their version of it versus trying to play “monkey see, monkey do”.
Like Tobe Hooper himself who I don’t believe had intentions on being a horror director.
LUESSENHOP: No, and by the images in the first one, the images are unbelievable when you really break it down. The compositions in that movie are pretty terrific. I haven’t met Tobe yet, but I’m a huge fan of what he did with the original and, like I said, it’s a little daunting to step into his big footsteps.
LUESSENHOP: He has masks [emphasizing the plurality].
He had masks [emphasizing the plurality too] in the original too, right?
LUESSENHOP: Yes he did. People don’t realize sometimes that he did. We’ve replicated the one from the original to a tee and then we have two others in this one that I had the best in the business, Aaron Sims & KNB (KNB EFX GROUP, INC.), to help me on just to do it and I think they look pretty great.
Which one did you replicate from the first one?
LUESSENHOP: The one at the end of the movie. That’s where he’ll be at the beginning of this.
LUESSENHOP: Well, first off, I had never been in 110-degree heat in my life. I grew up in D.C. and I thought that was hot. We were filming all day like a week ago in the sun and when we were mounting cameras onto the sides of cars, I thought people were going to have to go to the hospital. I really did. It was so hot that it hurt. It made it a real challenge. But all said, everyone has weathered it, the crew has been great, Lionsgate has been really supportive, Avi Lerner’s (producer) been great, so, I mean, I suspect that it’s going to turn out well and that we’ll have a good time.
I know you’re only a little over halfway done shooting this film but, for you personally, have you looked ahead to what you may be doing after this?
LUESSENHOP: Takers 2 is on the horizon. That’s something I want to do. I have already agreed to one other deal that hasn’t been announced yet. I’ll let that be announced. I’ve also written other things that I want to make where I’ll probably need to get enough traction in Hollywood to get them done. But I will probably not be in the horror genre again. Not that I don’t like it, I’ve loved it, but to me, I’m not a 30-year old anymore, I’m 50-years old, so I would like to, you know, each of these opportunities is a privilege so you want to make sure that you keep doing as much as you can.
For more from our Texas Chainsaw 3D set visit:
- 10 Things to Know About TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D from Our Set Visit; Plus a Filming Recap and Exclusive New Image
- Alexandra Daddario Talks About Starring in an Iconic Franchise, How This Film and the Original Differ and More on the Set of TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D
- Carl Mazzocone Talks His Role as Producer, Says the Goal Is to “Deliver the Best 3D Monster Movie of Modern Day” on the Set of TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D
- Scott Eastwood Talks His Character, Future Projects, and More on the Set of TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D