Once again, Leatherface is going to be terrorizing audiences with his chainsaw. Takers‘ director John Luessenhop was tasked with remaking the American slasher film from the long-running Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise, first started by Tobe Hooper in 1974. We got the chance to talk to the director and his Leatherface actor Dan Yeager recently. They talked about staying true to the original, creating a meaningful story and working with a live chainsaw.
This one seems like a real proper sequel to the original. Did you feel pressure from the other fans?
John Luessenhop: We decided to build this from the bottom up for the people who were loyalists to the original. They know everything about this movie. So to bring back the original people, use some of the footage from the original and link it to a contemporary story was fun. I thought it was a good extension of what to do with the franchise, and to leave it open ended. There’s a big golf ball for the next filmmaker, to T-off on. I am proud that it’s about something and not just “could a girl get away.” That it has some family strands that were personal to me.
We built it for the loyalists, as well as to those who have never seen a frame of this, which is 95% of the people or more. Anyone can have a good time with it. They could understand the whole reference by giving them the first two-and-a-half minutes of Texas footage which is manipulated in a cool way for the big screen. And even some of that is tricky. That’s not all 3D, until she jumps out the window. Only shafts of light were done 3D, to temper you into the film.
What made you want to focus on the story, and make every death meaningful?
John Luessenhop: I didn’t know that much about horror. It’s a horrible admission, but I didn’t. I knew The Shining, The Exorcist, The Omen. For me, I had to go back and look at a lot of different films. And I started to get really impressed by what guys would do on smaller budgets, and yet they would make comments about society and they created these characters. There’s a lot of double entendre that’s in there from, we’re all walking dead to sexuality being covered in different ways. I thought it was very interesting even though it’s sometimes crude or a little over-the-top. I watched so many that I reached a point were I had to stop and decide to make my own movie.
I took the things that I liked. I think a gore fest is not what they really want. The impressive thing in a horror movie is what’s it about, and then sprinkle in the horror. For me, it was about this girl coming to grips with family. It was fun to try to tell a narrative, but deliver something that that fan base is going to go watch. I had fun with it. I did care about the photography a lot in the picture. I came off a picture where I shot everything long-lens, and glossed it to death, and compressed it and romanced it. This is 3D, and you want to see everything in focus. I tried to elevate the lighting and everything. I sound so serious suddenly. But it was an adventure, it really was.
It was a tough movie to make because of the heat and using these digital cameras that crap out because of the heat. It’s an enormous challenge for anyone. The technology is tough. Your shooting time is cut down because you’re dealing with those things, so you’re rushing through a low-budget movie with an armed guy behind your back. You can’t just go quickly and crank off some shots. It won’t happen. In that way, I’m proud of it. I think it’s faithful to Tobe [Hooper] and the Texas world. I was concerned, maybe scared, about stepping into the shoes of doing a Texas Chainsaw. I think the world has a right to be skeptical when you announce one. Why are they doing it? They just want to make money? I wanted to deliver something that was thoughtful and pretty cool, and that was the thought that went into doing the movie.
In your mind, where did you want to place the two films? There is an iPhone, yet the new posters are saying, specifically 1974.
John Luessenhop: I know, when I saw it on the poster, I almost had a heart attack. But if the movie was true to the time, the heroine would be 38-years-old. Leatherface would be in his 60s. We thought this genre works best with a younger girl. I tried to tap dance around it, to be quite honest. The chronology doesn’t work. I’m just saying that decades ago, this happened. Now we’re today, as these kids go down to the south, to reclaim this house. I don’t know what year it is, I have no idea. I’m just obscured it, but your keen eye has caught it. To me, it doesn’t matter. It’s just a creative liberty to take with a picture that’s been around and has had an impact for so long. That’s how I approached it. I just want the audience to be entertained and tell a good story. I have nothing against 38-year-old women by the way. I’m not saying it wouldn’t work, but I think the kids want to see a hot chick chased by a guy with a chainsaw.
I noticed that the character of Heather has a hard time keeping her shirt on. She’s being chased by a guy with a chainsaw and her shirt keeps ripping. How much of that is a character choice, or just the idea of needing the girl to show some skin?
John Luessenhop: I don’t think it was that gratuitous. The choice of showing her stomach, it was conscious. Her running and things getting ripped and torn, I think that was anticipated. I never said, “Hey could you lower your shirt more like that, or can I rip it off and see what’s underneath?” I let it play out. Obviously when it’s torn at the slaughterhouse, that’s intentional. That was to do a little bit more than the girl standing in the barn saying, “I told you it was f*cked up.” I was just trying to give you a little bit more, without going too far. If her whole top fell off some people may really love it, but you would know then, that they had pandered and crossed the line.
What was it like chasing everyone around with a chainsaw?
Dan Yeager: If you ever get the opportunity, and someone tells you to get a chainsaw and go chase somebody like you want to kill them, you should do it.
John Luessenhop: That thing is heavy.
Dan Yeager: There’s no more powerful feeling that I had ever had. It was a sensation.
John Luessenhop: There’s a scene where a couple is coming out of a barn and they’re yelling and he runs at them. He is running with a live chainsaw, real blade, mask on, can’t see jack, jumps over that two-foot fence. When I think back to it, I cringe. Talk about circumstances that could have gone horribly awry. On rough ground, at night at around 4 a.m.
Where you ever afraid?
Dan Yeager: No, we worked hard on safety. We rehearsed all of those stunts so many times. The stunt coordinator was incredible. He knows his stuff. It was all about taking care. The attacking of the van, as it comes out of the barn was the one that really struck me as, “We’re insane to do this.” That was really hard to rehearse. We rehearsed it in a parking lot, with a van, and I ran at the thing. Timing was critical, and we got it. We did it a couple of times. It never failed, and I never tripped. And running on rough ground, in boots, a mask and an apron. The whole bit. It’s a miracle that I didn’t hurt anybody.
What’s it like being one of the top horror villains ever?
Dan Yeager: I’ve told a few people that I’m actually surprised of how many times I’ve typed the world surreal into Facebook lately. But it is. It’s absolutely surreal to think I’m sitting here, telling you about playing Leatherface. I haven’t wrapped my head around it yet.
Texas Chainsaw 3D opens Friday, January 4th.