“He needs special care, he doesn’t do well outside, you understand.”
TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (2022) – not to be confused with THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE (1974) or THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (2003) – is the new TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE movie released on (but not made by) Netflix. Like THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 (1986), LEATHERFACE: THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE III (1990), TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: THE NEXT GENERATION (1995) and TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D (2013) it’s a direct sequel to Tobe Hooper’s 1974 masterpiece, seeming to ignore all the other installments.
As in the original film, we have a group of young people driving from Austin to a remote Texas town where they don’t fit in. But instead of a pretty casual day trip it’s for a business venture: chefs Dante (Jacob Latimore, SLEIGHT, DETROIT) and Melody (Sarah Yarkin, HAPPY DEATH DAY 2U) purchased a small ghost town at a bank auction, with plans to open a restaurant and turn the town into some kind of hipster enclave. Along for the ride are Melody’s younger sister Lila (Elsie Fisher, EIGHTH GRADE) and Dante’s girlfriend Ruth (Nell Hudson).
The nearby, unsolved Texas Chain Saw Massacre of 1974 is local legend now. Everybody knows about it. They sell chain saw keychains at gas stations and shit. But nobody has caught on that afterwards Leatherface (sans leatherface) found sanctuary at an orphanage here in Harlow, where he’s the only “boy” left to be taken care of by Mrs. Mc (Alice Krige, SLEEPWALKERS). That’s what Dante and Melody accidentally discover when they wander into the orphanage and find her still living there, swearing she still owns the place.
The inciting event in the movie seems like an homage to DRAG ME TO HELL – Melody pathetically tries to justify kicking the woman out of her home and convince her she’d be better off in a nursing home, then the police come and roughly yank her out of there.
But unlike Christine in the Raimi film, Melody accepts that she did the wrong thing as soon as the lady violently pukes and has to be taken to the hospital for a heart attack. Melody wants to go with her to make sure she’s okay, but Ruth insists on going so Melody can stay and help Dante woo a party bus full of potential investors who are just arriving.
So anyway, unmasked old man Leatherface (Mark Burnham, WRONG COPS), seen with his face mostly obscured but looking like Gunnar Hansen, rides along with his adopted mama and when she dies in his arms after asking him to be a good boy, he makes the opposite choice, goes home and busts the ol’ chainsaw out of the wall like slasher John Wick coming out of retirement. I won’t give away the first kill except to say that it’s an ingenious feat of impossible bodily mutilation that sets the stage for an over-the-top gory rollercoaster ride of a slasher movie. If you would prefer not to see an excellent hybrid of practical and digital effects graphically slicing off heads, bisecting bodies and turning skulls into pancakes I recommend you still watch this and see if you change your mind because come on, man. What are we here for, then? You think this movie would be improved by restraint?
The 1974 film had siblings Sally and Franklin on the trip. I like that Melody and Lila take those roles but they both seem like they could be Sally. Lila is not a whiny pain in the ass like Franklin, but she’s the one not having a fun time, listening to her headphones, not wanting to be there. She seems like she’s kind of rebelling against her sister when she’s the only one who tries to have a conversation with Richter (Moe Dunford, KNUCKLEDUST), the good ol’ boy who Melody insulted at the gas station before knowing he was the contractor they hired to help them with everything. He proudly drives a comically pollutive diesel truck and open carries*, but is sympathetic to Lila when he finds out she was a survivor of a notorious school shooting.
*He says it’s for shooting feral hogs. Unfortunately this turns out to be only a non-jokey reference to a famous tweet and not foreshadowing.
I’ve already seen one person say that giving Lila the school shooting past is in poor taste for a movie that uses violence in a fun way, and that’s fair. But I think her backstory makes an interesting point. The opening narration of Hooper’s original laments “the tragedy which befell a group of five youths” and that “it is all the more tragic in that they were young.” Since 1974 there have been over a thousand school shootings, with 18 where 5 or more people died. They’re not “the most bizarre crimes in the annals of American history,” in fact they’ve become so routine that they have to be particularly deadly to make the national news. “Final girls” are iconic characters in our favorite horror movies, but in the real world there are an unfortunate number of people out there who are like Lila – who is like Sally – in that they faced death at a young age, saw their friends die, and will forever be haunted by the trauma, survivor’s guilt, etc.
This is the first TEXAS CHAIN SAW sequel to bring back the character of Sally Hardesty (unless you count Marilyn Burns’ hospital cameo in NEXT GENERATION). She’s also a local legend, having become a Texas Ranger and spent years hunting Leatherface like he’s Moby Dick. (Basically the same as Dennis Hopper as her uncle in part 2.) When she gets the call tipping her off to Leatherface’s whereabouts she’s in the middle of gutting a pig. She’s played by the Irish actress Olwen Fouéré (MANDY, THE NORTHMAN), who is straight up awesome in the part. She doesn’t need an impressive physique, she just has grit, a weathered, haunted face, long gray hair, a swaggery walk, and an ability to swallow down her fear most of the time.
She is not very similar to older survivor Laurie Strode as depicted in HALLOWEEN: H20 or HALLOWEEN 2018. She’s not the central role, she’s not a complicated character struggling to put her life and relationships together in the face of trauma, and even if Burns was still alive to play her I don’t think this would need to be a “legacy sequel” going in depth with her character. She’s just this fierce specter of vengeance who we see coming for Leatherface like a hungry shark.
I’ve seen that some people feel she was mishandled because her screen time is limited or (SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER seriously SPOILER) because her mission is not exactly successful. I strongly disagree. I think she’s used powerfully, and I think even in this sillier incarnation THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW world is not a place for aspirational, happy endings. She does not accomplish her goal but she is there for Lila to look at, awe struck, hearing her call herself “the one who got away,” seeing what it looks like for a woman to chase down and face off with the killer she could only run away from almost 50 years ago.
She’s also there to tell Lila not to run so that she won’t be in that same place 50 years from now. (Metaphorically. I figure 110 year old Leatherface wouldn’t be as scary. But who knows?)
(Oh, and is it completely ridiculous that Sally carries around the photo Leatherface’s brother the hitchhiker took of here and her friends in the van and apparently didn’t succeed in burning up? Yes. Does it work for the movie? Also yes.)
One thing about most of the non-Tobe Hooper TEXAS CHAINSAW pictures is that they’re built on slasher tropes that didn’t even exist when the original was made, so they can’t help but feel more formulaic, less real, not as good. And part of what makes the original so powerful is the uniqueness of its execution. The characters aren’t up to much – they don’t exactly have subplots, arcs, backstories for the most part. Their conversations don’t usually push along the plot or the themes. And that gives it a documentary feel that you can’t possibly get when the dialogue is trying to explain this entrepreneurial scheme, Lila’s past and view on life, where Leatherface has been, etc. You end up having Richter directly telling Lila he has a problem with “smug, self righteous, rich city folk” while building only a fraction of the tension the original had from not stating that at all and just having these dorks in their bellbottoms frolicking where they’re obviously not welcome.
Yet I think a TEXAS CHAIN SAW sequel that tried to recapture that simplicity, not complicate things like this, would seem pointless and undewhelming. I think here they have a good balance of similar but different. Back then it was just some city kids nosing around cluelessly. Now they’re gentrifying cluelessly. Not just trespassing on people’s property, but kicking people off of their property. It doesn’t seem to have occured to them before that getting it cheap from the bank means somebody else lost it.
I do think it’s odd that the only main Black character is the jerkiest one, which I think might’ve happened in TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D also? But Dante has a good motive for being unsympathetic toward Mrs. Mc – when she realizes he came into the orphanage to take down her Confederate flag she defends herself as liking “Negroes” and he says, “Okay, fuck this” and gets the sheriff (William Hope, HELLBOUND: HELLRAISER II). It has definitely occurred to me before that every incarnation of the Texas Chain Saw Family would probly be shockingly racist, which is not really dealt with here. But I think it was smart to use the Confederate flag as an example of these giant cultural splits that are hard to make sense of. The first time I saw statues celebrating the traitorous losers who lost a war against the United States trying to protect slavery it might not have been “Leatherface coming out from behind the metal door with a sledge” shocking, but it was a real stomach churner. It’s hard to comprehend the different worlds we live in.
Richter is a very movie character – a redneck asshole in certain stereotypical ways, but not the specific ones that would be unforgivable (like if he wore a Q hat), so that we can get why he hates these kids and root for him when his gun fetishism and/or feral hog preparedness comes in handy to fight Leatherface. (He should’ve also sprayed truck exhaust on him and had a meat eating contest against him.) But this is a bit of a fake out, I think – Richter’s assault rifle doesn’t save him, and in the later uncomfortable scene where gun-violence-survivor Lila gets ready to do some triumphant gun violence on Leatherface, her big sister steps in with the chain saw.
Some people hate that shit. It’s not realistic to use the saw instead of the gun. I don’t have those kind of hangups. Here’s a seldom acknowledged fact about slasher sequels: there’s always a big chunk of veteran horror fans who automatically judge them worthless garbage upon arrival. I think part of it is that we treasure the previous ones as consecrated scriptures and relics of bygone eras, so when someone comes along and makes a new one we see it being made the way movies are made now, with technology that exists now, and cultural references that exist now. The young people in it are young now, and we’re old, and god damn it is some motherfucker trying to make MY movie appeal to THE FUCKING YOUTHS?
It happens every single time. This one has (gasp!) smart phones in it. It has a clunky mentions of social media, it has a goofy scene where people live stream Leatherface instead of run from him, and one of them says “Try anything and you’re cancelled, bro.” People will cite these things as definitive proof of artistic bankruptcy, because they’re all references to now, and references to now will not stand… until it’s not now anymore, at which point I promise you a large percentage of those same people will decide actually this movie is pretty good. And they’ll be right! Thanks for catching up!
I’m not innocent of that sort of stubborn resistance to change, but I made peace with the unruliness of this franchise a long time ago. I haven’t warmed up to/forgiven the remake yet, but otherwise I appreciate these movies as various filmmakers’ perhaps misguided attempts to reconcile the specific appeal of Leatherface and friends with whatever horror franchising expectations exist at the time. Only Hooper has ever done it perfectly, but almost everybody does it interestingly.
This one kind of splits the difference between the utter silliness of 3D and the higher artistic ambitions of Maury & Bustillo’s 2017 prequel LEATHERFACE. It’s fairly straight ahead as a decades-later sequel, putting a modern spin on some of the original themes, using a similar structure but on a little bit larger, much more expensive canvas and, as one would expect from producer/story provider Fede Alvarez, with way more viscera to paint on it with. Alvarez gets a story credit along with his usual co-writer Rodo Sayagues, and I think it’s in a similar vein to their other movies (EVIL DEAD, DON’T BREATHE, DON’T BREATHE 2) – stylish, intense, mischievously stepping over lines without quite ruining the fun, getting in there, going fucking buckwild and then running out the back door before getting thrown out. This one runs 81 minutes including credits, and I admire that economy.
The screenplay is by Chris Thomas Devlin, who was hired on the strength of a Black List script called COBWEB (releasing some time this year). Director David Blue Garcia was the cinematographer of BLOOD FEST and directed a 2018 thriller called TEJANO. He came on late in the game after Legendary fired the original directing team (their footage was reportedly not used), but it seems very confidently directed, with a nice look to it and consistently good staging for all the mayhem. There are so many cool things that happen: a heavy door swinging back and forth so we see only segments of the violence going on in the other room, Leatherface treating the party bus like Jason treats a cornfield rave, Melody crawling under the house as the saw blade comes at her through the floorboards like an inverted shark, etc.
The part where he saws through the bathroom door on the bus and peers through Jack Torrance style reminded me of a part 2 poster I own:
And I guess some people are saying otherwise but I think it’s a real nice looking movie. These screengrabs are dark, but it always looked clear to me, and (following the original) much of it takes place in the sun. Cinematographer Ricardo Diaz has mostly worked on shorts, but weirdly one of his previous features is BUTCHER BOYS, the 2012 movie from original TEXAS CHAIN SAW co-writer Kim Henkel, initially written as a TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: THE NEXT GENERATION sequel but reworked to be unrelated. I wonder if that’s a coincidence or if it means Henkel’s producer credit on this is more than honorary.
As with most slasher movies, people are saying they hate all the characters and wanted to see them die. I’m not saying these guys are my best friends, but I like that Melody fits in with this parody of a certain type of person (“I love brunch. That’s great,” she says while introducing the owner of a brunch-specific restaurant) but has a moral reckoning and even a scene where she apologizes to Leatherface after accepting that he’s going to kill her. Again, the type of thing that people will use as ammo against it that is, in my view, one of the really cool and original things about it.
The leads are all very good. This includes Yarkin and Lila as our final-ish girls, but also Burnham as Leatherface. Yes, it’s Jason-ish or modern-Michael-Myers-ish that he lifts and tosses people around and shit, but I am someone who enjoys entertainment, so I liked that choice. I think Burnham still gets across the personality of the original Leatherface – lumbering, awkward, confused. I also think his overall look is high in the rankings for the series. I think probly the best non-Hooper Leatherface, though that’s not really saying much, most of them are pretty ugly.
For me this really works as a battle between Leatherface and everybody else, and I get a kick out of the premise that some old coot managed to make him behave for most of his life. (Or at least not use his chain saw.) But I would be remiss not to point out that the premise of Leatherface as the last survivor of the family takes away one of the primary appeals of Hooper’s movies, which is the family. I don’t know how you make another character as good as the Cook, the Hitchhiker, or Chop Top, but with just Leatherface and no other weirdo family members to interact with you’re missing out. So if they end up breaking tradition and making an actual sequel to this I hope they disregard credibility and just add a bunch of family members that are still alive. (And also show us some of those feral hogs.)
I can’t yet know if this is my favorite non-Hooper TEXAS CHAIN SAW. But I can tell you for sure I had a blast.