It hard to imagine that when the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre exploded onto our screens back in 1974, it would spawn a saga, but here we are in 2017 with the eighth film in the franchise, another prequel to the original. Surely, there's nowhere else a filmmaker can take this story and character, hasn't the franchise been well and truly exhausted yet.
Unlike the steady build of dread and horror which was so effective in Tobe Hooper's original film (he's an executive producer on this one), we are dropped into the savagery and brutality of the world that Jed Sawyer AKA Leatherface inhabits almost immediately. It's his birthday, and we are introduced to his warped, twisted family, and their idea of a birthday treat. Mother Sawyer, Verna (a scene-chewing performance by Lili Taylor) seems loving and caring, if a little too protective, of her boys. The Sawyer family have a party guest, a man who they have captured and proceed to torture. We are barely five minutes into the film and we are already having bloody chainsaws shoved into our faces, there's very little suspense or build up to the reveal of the weapon of choice or the debauchery of the Sawyer family.
The beauty of the original was the lack of violence, blood and gore on the screen, it was left up to the audience to imagine the horrors that occurred when the camera cut away. With Leatherface, directors Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo rush headlong into the horror as a teenage girl who is lured into the Sawyer barn is murdered. This is all the ammunition needed by Sheriff Hartman (Stephen Dorff) to remove Jedidiah from Verna and place him into a juvenile correctional facility.
Fast forward ten years and we're introduced to nurse Elizabeth White (Vanessa Grasse, reduced to a screaming and bloody mess by the end, much like Sally Hardesty) who is starting her first day at Gorman House Youth Reformatory. She bonds with charismatic Jackson played by Sam Strike - who does his best Martin Sheen from Badlands impression - and gentle giant Bud (Sam Coleman) who is very reminiscent of another slow-moving violent giant we've seen in the other Texas Chainsaw Massacre films. Through some chaotic chain of events, I'm still puzzled and perplexed by what actually happened despite rewatching the scenes several times, a riot breaks out and by sheer luck (or rather sloppy writing) Elizabeth, Jackson and Bud find themselves being dragged along for a killing spree by the homicidal Ike (James Bloor) and Clarice (Jessica Madsen ) who are the Mallory and Mickey of their day.
The main issue with the film, and trust me there are many issues with it, is that it's not trying to be original, but referencing and homaging numerous other films, whether it be Badlands, Bonnie and Clyde, and of course the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Leatherface suffers from paper thin characters with little motive, little character development and background. The explanation for certain characters' random acts of violence or sudden changes in behaviour is left underdeveloped, even ignored in order to show off some more dull violence. And, the violence is dull. It's gory, but not shocking. We've seen it all before; we've seen entire diners full of people get slaughtered, we've seen people get their heads smashed in with rocks before and we've seen people get their limbs sliced off with chainsaws before. And, most importantly we've seen it all done better before.
The question is where does the fault lie? With writer Seth M. Sherwood or the film's directors? Certainly, the writing seems very erratic and one is left wondering whether they rushed into production without a completed script or just a first draft. There is certainly a lack of passion here from the filmmakers and writer, the film is bland, especially in its paint-by-numbers approach to storytelling. The runtime stretches to 90 minutes and despite this, it feels a lot longer and by the end you're left screaming at the screen in frustration, wishing it would end.
Leatherface is certainly not the worse film I have ever had the displeasure of seeing, it's not even the worse film I have seen this year but it is the most joyless and soulless film I have seen for a long time. The film suffers from the fact that the most effective monsters are the ones we know very little about, those creatures who just appear without warning. Like Rob Zombie’s ill-fated Halloween remake, we end up knowing far too much about the motives behind our monster, and that makes him vulnerable. I would say that only die-hard fans should seek this out, however, they may find it insulting. How about we put the chainsaw down and leave the franchise alone now?
The disc released by Lionsgate Home Entertainment features a correct image, but a rather quiet sound, and no extras.