Once upon a time, there was a pair of independent filmmakers named Tobe Hooper and Kim Henkel who made one of the most notorious pictures in the history of cinema – The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
Taking inspiration from the Wisconsin killer Ed Gein, whose grisly activities also influenced Norman Bates in Psycho and Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, the film was about a family of cannibals who murdered and tortured a group of teenagers who were unlucky enough to run into them. Of the three family members, the one who was responsible for dispatching all of these kids was Leatherface, who infamously wore masks made of the skin of his victims.
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David Blue Garcia’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022) is the ninth film in the franchise and has been promoted as a direct sequel to the original picture. The story picks up in the present day with a group of young people on their way to the small Texan ghost town of Harlow to gentrify the area and attract several modern businesses. Dante (Jacob Latimore) and Mel Sarah Yarkin) are in charge of the whole venture, while Mel’s sister Lila (Elsie Fisher) and Dante’s girlfriend Ruth (Nell Hudson) are along for the ride, with particular focus on Lila as someone who needs supervision.
When they get to the town, everything seems perfect except for one thing: a Confederate flag is hanging from one of the properties. Jacob and Mel enter to try and take it down, only to find someone still living there: an elderly and infirm lady and her adult son, who we’re told needs looking after. She insists she still owns her property, and when challenged, has a heart attack and is taken to the hospital by the sheriff, and this is when the proverbial starts to hit the fan, because of course the adult son is Leatherface, and of course he’s pissed when she ends up dying while en route.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre is not a good film. It’s not even an entertaining film and it’s certainly not a scary film. It’s stupid, boring, and it only feels tangentially related to the picture it’s supposed to be a sequel to. In fact, the film it shares a greater kinship with is another legacy sequel that used the same name as the original film: 2018’s Halloween. But instead of survivalist Laurie Strode we have survivalist Sally Hardesty, who was the final girl of the 1974 edition and has spent her time since being haunted by the spectre of her experience and has been trying to hunt her aggressor down.
And here we come to Leatherface, who just doesn’t feel anywhere near the Leatherface who we met in 1974. There are attempts to make him resemble that character but these are half-hearted; there’s a scene where he puts a smidgen of makeup on that is reminiscent of a deleted scene in the original film, but none of it feels like the same person, especially when you take into account this guy is potentially in his 70s.
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The problem – and this is certainly not limited to this instalment – is that they posit Leatherface as the Michael Myers, Jason type, which he is not and has never been, although at several points it feels like he’s been taking lessons from Patrick Bateman. Therein, however, lies the other problem: there’s no family here, not in the way both of Tobe Hooper’s movies were explicitly about the American family unit. There’s no attempt to make any modern connection to how the family lived with Leatherface as a part of that, and especially no reference to the cannibalism that formed part of the family’s deranged modus operandi.
It may have helped if we learnt anything about Leatherface and his mom but we don’t. In the 1974 film, Leatherface had taken up roles that included the gendered role of the mother but used a different, more “feminine” mask and did what historically were traditionally women’s jobs, mainly because there was no female role in his life. So to suddenly see him with one is strange, especially as we have no idea if this is supposed to be his biological mother or someone else, and is another reason why this doesn’t feel like the same Leatherface.
It’s a fairly gory film, which if you’ve seen The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, is on point, although that movie went super over the top, whereas Texas Chainsaw Massacre feels often like it’s nasty and nihilistic for the sake of it. There is an attempt to inject some social commentary and satire but this is undeveloped and falls flat. There’s a thread about Lila being a victim of a school shooting that feels very muddled, and somewhat like an excuse to replay her experience in the film’s goriest scene. The latter is also quite ineffective, especially as it tries to get a laugh out of a 21st-century social media kid’s response to a character like Leatherface, and how things play live over apps like Instagram, but again this feels like something superficial rather than any interest or effort put into it.
The cast is fine, if not outstanding. Elsie Fisher is probably the MVP, and it’s nice to see William Hope aka Gorman from Aliens in something, even in a small role. Olwen Fouéré makes a good elder Sally Hardesty, but she’s very underused and the character is super underwritten. I liked Jacob Latimore but his role was, like everyone’s, underdeveloped and thin, especially given his role as a person of colour and the issue with the Confederate flag. Some snippets profile Texas as the usual backwater redneck place it’s stereotyped as, but this is also never looked at in any detail, even with some of the supporting cast being of colour. The film runs 83 minutes but there’s never any inclination that anything major was excised, or even thought of, and the script by Fede Álvarez and Rodo Sayagues is poor.
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The best thing about the film is Ricardo Diaz’s cinematography. There are some beautiful shots here and he commands the light wonderfully, with a sense of the arid and sweaty patina of the original film. There are several scenes bathed in the orange light of the Texas sun (well, Bulgarian, as the film was shot in Eastern Europe) that give a quite lovely atmosphere, in contrast to the horrific goings-on. Also, Colin Stetson’s mechanical music is a fitting tribute to Tobe Hooper and Wayne Bell’s creepy 1974 score and blends well with the sound design without getting lost.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre is yet another disappointing sequel that appears to either misunderstand the film it’s a sequel to or wants to willfully ignore it in favour of making it its own thing. Either way, it’s not clever and it’s not entertaining, and it just feels incongruous together with the 1974 original. Leatherface may have returned, but the only real massacre here is to his character.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre is streaming now on Netflix.