Looks Aren’t Everything

By: Chanell “Chainsaw” Thomas

The aesthetic of horror drives the experience. The after image that haunts your dreams for days after viewing a horror movie is crucial to the power of the genre. We generally believe that a monster is scary if his or her aesthetic is scary; I also believed this seemingly obvious statement. However, John Juessenhop and his most recent adaptation of Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2013) completely undermine my fear of one of the most iconic serial killers in cinematic history.

Leatherface, a man-child who fashionably wears the skin of others as a mask and wields a chainsaw, terrified me. He terrified all who saw him. Gunnar Hansen played an actively violent, sinister villain in the original film. A large portion of his ability to scare international audiences was his aesthetic. In addition to being intimidating in stature, his human mask and our understanding of where it came from were equally terrifying. Furthermore, the sound of the chainsaw was, and still is, a universally terrifying sound. One would imagine that a villain with these horrific attributes could be scary regardless of personality, context, or location. Unfortunately this is extremely untrue, and Dan Yeager, the most recent Leatherface, is a prime example of this.

I was unaware of the individuality Gunnar Hansen put into the original Leatherface. He had habits, reactions, and specific behaviors. He was calm, but extraordinarily violent in his calculated movements. He had a very childish, giddy laugh as he captured his victims and reveled in their screams. His reactions to almost any sudden stimuli were sharp and abrupt. He defined chaos; he made me cringe, whether he was doing something cringe-worthy, or not. The same cannot be said for the most recent adaptation of Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

I did not know it was possible for a man wearing a human face and swinging a chainsaw to be uninteresting. Dan Yeager’s performance is dismal and character itself is more like Pleatherface, than Leatherface. He has the physical capacity of a man in his 60s with a history of back problems. He skins his victims as if he has better things to do. Finally, he is a horribly ineffectual murderer. The franchise rests on Leatherface’s shoulders and his ability to terrify the audience; however, the most recent adaptation falls flat. While I appreciate the visual of Leatherface, he is dull. And if the horrific part of a horror isn’t horrific, is it a horror at all? If Dan Yeager’s leatherface believes the answer is yes, I will gladly debate this with him in person because he does not scare me.

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5 thoughts on “Looks Aren’t Everything

  1. I haven’t seen any of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre movies, but reading this definitely makes me want to watch them and be able to compare them. It is very interesting how, although we may notice a terrifying outward appearance at first, the terror will not hold unless the thinking and the actions of that creature are equally as terrifying, if not more. Frankestein’s monster, for example, despite looking horrific, isn’t really that scary to me at all. Whereas Frankenstein himself? He’s the one who’s scary to me, because of the way he thinks and his actions.

  2. I have also not seen any of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre movies, but I really want to watch some over this Halloween weekend. I will take your advice and watch the older originals rather than this new unhorrifying monster. I especially liked how you said, “Dan Yeager’s performance is dismal and character itself is more like Pleatherface, than Leatherface.” I agree with what you were saying about the aesthetics making something scary or not. I believe that this is where what could be a truly great movie, into something that is so bad to even say laughable.

  3. I haven’t seen the new Texas Chainsaw Massacre yet so I can’t really compare the two portrayals of Leatherface. However, I have noticed that modern remakes of classic horror movies have all been sub-par and reviewed poorly by critics. For example, the 2010 remake of the classic Nightmare on Elm Street was a huge letdown. As a matter of fact, Jackie Earle Haley’s portrayal of Freddy was heavily criticized – there was no playfulness in the way he would torment his victims (not sure if an error on the writing or acting) like the way Robert Englund used to portray him, and his the new Freddy’s electronically deepened voice just felt overdone. It seems like remakes of classic horror films just can’t stand up to their originals.

  4. I understand being disappointed that the physical appearance of a monster doesn’t scare you that much, but I think the actions that he or she is capable of is far more terrifying. I think the crux of horror is revealing to the world that people can do truly awful things. I agree that the combination of a monster that is physically scary looking and also does really scary things takes the cake in terms of horror characters. However, for me it is way scarier to see into the mind of a monster knowing that someone can be so dark and cold inside that they can chainsaw the skin off someone else regardless of how scary they actually look.

  5. I can identify with the feeling you describe here, of disappointment and a lack of connection with something that is supposed to be able to creep into your blood and scare you from within; that is true fear. Some monsters and figures can do this, they make you cringe and shiver. Some characters, particularly in many new horrror films, lack the depth and developed human qualities that make us fear them so much. Instead, they become nothing but violent murderers that another group of people must run from. They themselves present no real fear.

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