There’s a lot to be said for meat and potatoes filmmaking. The new Texas Chainsaw Massacre, a direct sequel to the classic 1974 horror movie, provides a hearty power tool-driven killing spree located in the middle of the Lone Star state. If violence is all you’re after, the Netflix horror movie delivers as necessary.
In this instance, Leatherface has disappeared since the events of Tobe Hooper’s seminal The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. That encounter has become the stuff of legend, the subject of an in-film documentary advertised in the opening minutes. Sally Hardesty, the sole survivor of the chainsaw-wielding butcher, is now a recluse who’s been trying to find the skin-masked grotesque ever since.
Melody (Sarah Yarkin), a young entrepreneur with plans to gentrify the quiet town of Harlow, is undeterred. She’s dragged her sister Lila (Elise Fisher) along to scope out some properties, with Dante (Jacob Latimore), her close friend and business partner. They have a gang of potential investors in tow, all media socialites eager for their next project. Unfinished paperwork causes a wrinkle that becomes the wrong kind of rager when an older, meaner Leatherface joins the party.
Melody, a young entrepreneur with plans to gentrify the quiet town of Harlow, is undeterred. She’s dragged her sister Lila along to scope out some properties, with Dante, her close friend and business partner. They have a gang of potential investors in tow, all media socialites eager for their next project. Unfinished paperwork causes a wrinkle that becomes the wrong kind of rager when an older, meaner Leatherface joins the party.
It takes some time for Texas Chainsaw Massacre to rev up. Melody, Lila, and Dante arrive at Harlow, where an odd vibe is written off as skittish locals. Some disagreement over permits causes an old lady to take ill, helped to an ambulance by her brutish stepson. Dante’s girlfriend rides with her to show face. It’s formulaic, moving a group of naive, somewhat arrogant twenty-somethings into proximity of all the hammers and whirling blades.
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Though his outfit is rusted brown, Leatherface is perhaps sharper than ever. Before he’s reunited with his gasoline-powered implement of choice, he brute forces his way around. Heads are caved in and bodies slashed, blood pouring from man-made orifices. No words, no sense of morality. The ritualistic removal of a fresh face to wear is the closest we get to genuine emotion, a glint of release to signify a cage has been opened, and the monster within is now free.
For his second feature, director David Blue Garcia isn’t coy. Blunt force meets skin and bone with few cuts to emphasise the weight of the barbarism. The camera is held steady on any mutilation, forcing us to share in the damage. Dialogue is quick and to-the-point, treated like polite interruption to what we’re really there for.
The picture comes into itself once Leatherface is unleashed on a bus full of unwelcome visitors. Body parts go every which way in a maelstrom soundtracked by constant revving. A woman is sawn in half in a single-shot, while hands desperately clamour at the windows in attempts to escape. Intestines spill out across the floor. Lila, a school shooting survivor, suffers PTSD flashbacks as she and Melody manage to hide.
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Hooper largely avoided gore for the 1974 original, letting the screams, pained faces, and icky sounds fuel our imaginations. This Texas Chainsaw Massacre answers that by refusing to look away. Leatherface, now decades older and still as much a carnal force, is a conduit for the terror that hides in plain sight.
He’s torment that cannot be reasoned with or assuaged. There’s no logic to him, no way to predict when or where he’ll appear or what he’ll do. He lies dormant in the quietest corners, waiting for the slightest excuse to go on a rampage. Leatherface is driven by, as Slayer’s Tom Araya puts it on ‘Divine Intervention’: “No mercy, no reason, just pain.”
The connection between Leatherface and Lila’s trauma demonstrates a candid weariness to our collectively slow, often blasé attitudes around repeated suffering. Forget being tactile and psychological, let’s try the other way and put the horrifying reality in full view. Without Lila, whose fragile demeanour is softly held by Fisher, Texas Chainsaw Massacre risks worshipping its recurring villain.
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Such is the line often threaded by Fede Álvarez and Rodo Sayagues, who wrote the story as well as co-produced. They made their names via the similarly gruesome Evil Dead remake in 2013, an ostentatious reimagining of Sam Raimi’s 1981 cult hit that spared no chance to make us squirm. Where that used drug addiction from which to manifest its demons, Texas Chainsaw Massacre weaponises grief and survivor’s guilt.
Ironically, one of its great flaws is an attempt to root this in the franchise’s history. Now that Leatherface has reappeared, Sally comes out of hiding to face him. Olwen Fouéré is brilliant in the part, angry and sad and ruthlessly obsessed, but the screenplay strains to give her purpose beyond following the trend of legacy ‘requels’.
The ending of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, with Sally’s laughter and Leatherface’s deranged dancing. is one of cinema’s greatest endings, a manic escape from an unstoppable madman. Continuing that at all is folly, and Hooper knew it, as evidenced by Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, and all that followed.
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The temptation was always there, but it wasn’t necessary. Random encounters fit Leatherface better, making him some absolute psychopath sitting in a backwater town waiting for his next victims. When this Texas Chainsaw Massacre embraces that, it’s close to brilliant. When it tries to become something bigger, it bows to the weight of franchising for the sake of it, and falls on its own saw blade.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre is now streaming on Netflix.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre review
A strong return for Leatherface that leans too heavy into the franchise’s history.