This Halloween 2018-esque revival of Texas Chainsaw Massacre marks the return of the face of Madness, Leatherface, with his chainsaw, malice, and pure filth. “Who will survive, and what will be left of them?”
In 1974, horror cinema changed forever; thanks to writer and director Tobe Hooper (and co-writer Kim Henkel), an icon was born: the face of madness, aka. Leatherface. Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one of the most influential horror films of all time and paved the way for the slasher subgenre, as it was released before some of its legendary contemporaries: Halloween, Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, and Black Christmas (even if it was by only ten days). Although it was promoted as if the events really happened, and the title crawl read by John Larroquette suggested as such, it is, in fact, a work of fiction; it is loosely inspired by the crimes of Ed Gein (known as the Butcher of Plainfield or the Plainfield Ghoul), who skinned human corpses and made trophies and furniture out of them. His crimes also influenced the creation of characters such as Norman Bates (Psycho) and Buffalo Bill (The Silence of the Lambs). Despite the franchise’s blood-splattered reputation and gore-filled sequels, prequels, and reboots, the 1974 classic is “gore”-free. It’s quite tame with its “gore” and isn’t that bloody (it all has to do with the suggestion of blood), to begin with, making it more of an arthouse horror flick rather than a straight-out slasher.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) never explained anything (the motives and reasons for the Sawyers’ actions), and yet, it is still one of the scariest films of all time due to the effectiveness of the claustrophobic and all-out dirty atmosphere. Even horror maestro John Carpenter said that “it rode the knife-edge of terror like no other movie”, and after watching it, he “slept like a baby”. In fact, when it was first released, censors tried to cut the movie and discovered that, whatever they tried to remove, it made no difference: they could not cut the relentless air of terror out of the film, so they banned it in a couple of places. Unfortunately, its sequels are incredibly and achingly terrible; this includes TCM2, which was written and helmed by Tobe Hooper, albeit it appears to be directed by a person who hasn’t seen nor was involved in the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Believe it or not, the franchise kickstarted the careers of several actors, like Viggo Mortensen (Leatherface: TCM3), Matthew McConaughey, and Renée Zellweger (TCM: The Next Generation). Now, thanks to Netflix and director David Blue Garcia, the ninth installment is upon us. Although it is better than the previous flicks, it is still unnecessary and shoddy in most parts (especially in its narrative).
The film centers around a group of influencers, led by Melody (Sarah Yarkin) and Dante (Jacob Latimore), looking to breathe new life into the ghost town of Harlow, Texas. They want to set up restaurants, hotels, salons, comic book shops, amongst other stores, to “rebuild” Harlow, with the only people who are there from the town’s past being the contractor, Richter (Moe Dunford), and orphanage-owner Mrs. Mc (Alice Krige). However, the renovation leaders kick Mrs. Mc out of her own home because they think they bought all the houses. She begs and disputes that she’s the rightful owner, albeit the police arrive and take her away. This sets up a chain of events that go from bad to worse, starting with Mr.s C’s death and leading up to the comeback of the one called Leatherface, the killer who wears masks made of human skin. From the beginning, we know that some of these characters, specifically Lila (Elsie Fisher) and Melody, are part of this new movement because they want an escape from past trauma and violence, but what they don’t know is that there is going to be blood spread everywhere before they least expect it.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022) wants to develop a Halloween (2018)-esque revival by “rebooting” the franchise in search of a more modern take and intertwining it with the past. However, unlike that Gordon Green slasher reboot-sequel, this doesn’t add anything to the TCM canon. Here, we get a multitude of “greatest hits” sequences from the franchise’s past: the light-bulb flash sound bite, the Larroquette introduction, Leatherface dancing with the chainsaw, the open-door slam killing, and the return of Sally Hardesty (one of the first and classic final girls). That alone isn’t bad, albeit you’d wish that the director and writer would forge a more creative story instead of depending on every single callback; since it goes that route, it’s weird David Blue Garcia and Fede Álvarez didn’t attempt a meat hook killing or showed a body locked in a freezer. It also doesn’t have the dread lurking in the atmosphere that the 1974 classic had set up, nor the terror it oozed; you could almost smell the original’s repugnant stench (in a good way, of course).
One of the reasons why this version doesn’t have that horrifying sensation is because it feels that the studio overproduced and over-stylized it instead of using a grittier “grindhouse” or scratchy approach. There is a way bigger budget than needed, and it affects the final product as it wants to go “all-out”; it could achieve more with less, keeping a simplistic yet terrifying spirit. There’s also its social commentary on the rich and gentrification as well as the modern age of social media, which are half-baked ideas that lead nowhere and, to reiterate, add nothing to the franchise. Although it has a lot of problems that may cause many viewers to lose their patience, there are some positives. All that it lacks in story and character development it gains in surprisingly well-shot gore and splatter; from the bus scene alone, it contains, and rightfully deserves, the massacre in its title. There are occasions in which the screen is covered in pulping red. Almost everybody in the film will be missing a limb or have a hole in their body caused by a cleaver, sledgehammer, or chainsaw; bodies are being sawed in half “beautifully” by the cinematographer Ricardo Diaz.
Those scenes, mixed with the practical/visual effects and make-up by Iskra Parladiyska, Martin Hesselink, and Chris Ritvo, cause a great effective turnout carnage-wise. They have a good punch not only because of brutal killings but also hearing the head crunches, bones breaking, and the chainsaw revving. In terms of the cast, Elsie Fisher and Sarah Yarkin (both are talented actresses that I would love to see in more horror flicks) are pretty good final girls, and Mark Burnham is not that bad as Leatherface. Oh, and its ending is pretty good too.
Other than that, there isn’t much to it, unfortunately. There’s a large quantity of splatter and bloodshed for the meatheads and gore hounds, and… well… nothing else, really. This Texas Chainsaw Massacre reboot/sequel is the best out of the bunch, even though saying so isn’t much. None of these sequels should have been made, this one included, as they remind you yet again how great the 1974 classic is, and the efficacy of the panic and trepidation it caused. Despite the fact that this isn’t terrible, I think we should let Leatherface do his final dance with the chainsaw once and for all: it’s time to let the franchise go.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022) is now streaming on Netflix everywhere.