12 June 2024

Film Review – Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022)

Unlike the past decade of horror cinema where visionary filmmakers can release a single original, “elevated” work of art that very rarely gets a sequel, the same could not be said for all that came before – as far back as the 70s.

Every single commercial success whether instant or a sleeper was franchised by Hollywood. William Friedkin‘s undeniably exemplary supernatural The Exorcist, John Carpenter‘s prolific Halloween and Ridley Scott‘s spearheading sci-fi horror Alien are prime examples of horror films that shook the entire landscape of cinema and spawned multiple, multiple sequels over the next few decades. Some of which are still being tirelessly churned out almost 45 years later. The 90s and 2000s didn’t cut audiences any slack either. We were subject to numerous Scream, Child’s Play, Paranormal Activity and Saw sequels and spin-off movies. And more recently, James Wan has created an enterprise with his Insidious and The Conjuring universes.

Among the plethora of decade-spanning horror franchises is one that has had a rockier past than most – with the film that kickstarted it all with its premiered in 1974 which garnered it “one of the greatest and most controversial horror films of all-time”, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

Courtesy of Netflix

Dubbed a major influence on the horror genre still to this very day, Tobe Hooper and Kim Henkel’s landmark film set a new standard for slasher films, using its horror underpinnings for a vehicle for social commentary and laying the foundations for other historic films such as Carpenter’s Halloween and Wes Craven‘s The Hills Have Eyes.

Much like a Freddy Kruger from A Nightmare on Elm Street or a Jason Voorhees of the Friday the 13th saga, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre had its iconic character in Leatherface. And thus, Hollywood saw fit to turn Hooper and Henkel‘s multilayered standalone body of work into a Leatherface-fronted franchise that has induced countless sequels, prequels and reboots.

The first of many to come was the 1986 parody sequel and possibly the only worthy successor to the 1974 film, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2, once again helmed by director Tobe Hooper. Instead of hulking with horror and shock like its precursor, Part 2 utilised the same dark humour of the original film and let loose and had fun with it! Part 2 allows audiences to hone in a different perspective on the same problematic themes through its goofy, backwards comedic exaggerations.

Courtesy of Netflix

What followed after Part 2 is where the franchise took a swan dive from a mountain top into the fiery depths of hell.

The next two sequels in the TCM franchise, Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III and Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation saw their respectively difficult and lengthy theatrical releases in 1990 and 1997 and both films were met with unanimous negative reception from both fans and critics alike. And despite Kim Henkel reprising his role as a creative spoke in the wheel for the latter, the two sequels marked the beginning of a slew of tedious and repetitive sequels.

A Michael Bay-produced reboot of the original work…exploded (Get it? Exploded? Michael Bay? Explosions?)…its way into theatres in 2003 and was also universally panned as it lost all sense of intelligence, switching the bedrock of deep social critique for unnecessary, schlocky gore. Unfortunately, as reboot was a commercial and box office success, it meant Mr. I Use Explosions Excessively In All My Films went on to reboot other classic horror films such as The Amityville Horror, Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street as well as giving us another diabolical blood and guts galore prequel, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning in 2006.

TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE Mark Burnham as Leatherface. Cr. Yana Blajeva / ©2021 Legendary, Courtesy of Netflix

With Bay‘s reign of terror mercifully now over, in 2013 horror fans and cinemagoers alike got a direct sequel to Hooper and Henkel’s original feature, retconning all previous entries including the three original sequels. The plainly titled Texas Chainsaw was boldly and confusingly presented in 3D during a time where 3D cinema was declining. And despite being chock-full of fan service via cameo appearances from the original cast members such as Gunnar Hansen and Marilyn Burns as well as Bill Moseley (Chop Top from Part 2), Texas Chainsaw 3D was another gigantic misstep for the now exhausted franchise. 

In 2017 – just four years later from the failed attempt at a rebrand, we went back to the beginning…once again. Purveyors of nasty and New French Extremity icons Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo presented Leatherface, yet another prequel to the 1974 original and the 2013 3D-gimmicky sequel. The film was met with mixed reviews as the general consensus what that it like an earnest attempt at creating a backstory for one of horror’s most quintessential figures whilst respecting the identity and prowess of Hooper and Henkel‘s groundbreaking prototype.

Despite the lukewarm reception of Maury and Bustillo‘s prequel, Legendary Pictures bum-rushed in immediately after the film’s box office failure to obtain the rights to the TCM franchise from Lionsgate and soon announced YET ANOTHER sequel to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. This time, produced by 2013’s Evil Dead soft reboot director, Fede Álvarez.

©2021 Legendary, Courtesy of Netflix

Directed by cinematographer-turned-director David Blue Garcia, following suit from Halloween (2018) and Scream (2022) and dropping “The” from the title, Texas Chainsaw Massacre is set nearly 50 years after the events of the original film and sees Leatherface returning after decades of hiding to terrorise a group of young, idealistic friends who accidentally disrupt his shielded world in a remote Texan town.

And like David Gordon Green’s 2018 slasher revivalist film, Texas Chainsaw Massacre retcons all prior sequels and all prior prequels to act as a direct follow-up to the 1974 classic. And like David Gordon Green‘s direct sequel to John Carpenter’s legendary first entry, Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a nostalgia-reliant, unnecessarily excessively violent, diabolically wrote washout.

The film opens up introducing our four main protagonists – friendship group and utopian idealists, Melody (Sarah Yarkin), Lila (Elsie Fisher), Dante (Jacob Latimore) and Ruth (Nell Hudson). The four travel to the jerkwater town of Harlow which once had a very specific population of…1974. I wonder what the significance of that number may allude to…In Harlow it’s revealed that the four close-knit friends are there to “gentrifuck” the now derelict wasteland, to create an ideal place for younger generations and modernists to reside.

©2022 Legendary, Courtesy of Netflix

Walking into a former orphanage, the four stumble across elderly woman Mrs. Mc (Alice Krige), who claims she still owns the papers to the property, despite Melody and Dante claiming the bank have sent her the eviction letter. As an argument breaks out between the three, Mrs. Mc suddenly collapses. Relying on a supply of oxygen to help with her heart condition, Mrs. Mc falls into cardiac arrest. When the police arrive to transport Mrs. Mc to the nearest hospital, a silent and lofty figure carries her into the back of the police van in her aid. And with absolutely no mystique whatsoever, it’s made blatantly obvious this is a much older Leatherface – without the masks, flailing chainsaw or ballerina twirling against the sunset. 

Opting to be a good Samaritan, poor Ruth brainlessly chooses to travel with the two police officers, the struggling and slowly declining Mrs. Mc and the imposing, beastly Leatherface. Not very long into the journey, poor Mrs. Mc meets her ill-fate. And in an effort to reverse the effects, the towering, goliath-sized figure attempts to revive his foster mother. Stopping him from exacerbating the situation any further, the one police officer who is sat in the back alongside him makes the idiotic mistake of intervening. In turn, awaking the infamously maniacal human flesh-wearing, Leatherface – who is now on a warpath to avenge Mrs. Mc’s accidentally aggravated death by all of those involved.

And thus begins the complete and total shitshow that is Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Not giving away the too much of what little narrative Fede Álvarez and Rodo Sayagues bring to the table, there are a considerably alarming amount of instances of Texas Chainsaw Massacre that had me screaming blasphemy at my TV screen and left with my head in my hands.

©2021 Legendary, Courtesy of Netflix

The first big mistake of the film was choosing to reveal Leatherface’s unmasked face. Even if it was for the briefest moment, it took away all the ambiguity of what his actual face looked like. I know this isn’t the first time we’ve had a Leatherface face reveal in a TCM film, but acting as a legacy sequel to the original film where we never saw his actual face, the choice made by Álvarez and Sayagues is mystifying and frankly unforgivable.

When it was revealed in the trailer that Sally Hardesty would be returning, I was on the fence with the prospect. In the trailer it was built up that Hardesty would assume the position of a Laurie Strode, shotgun-wielding badass-type figure, having spent the last several decades mentally preparing and physically training herself for the day that she might face Leatherface again to dispense her violent revenge. I absolutely do not care for this angle whatsoever. It was a ridiculous plot device in David Gordon Green‘s film and it’s even more ridiculous when it is copied and pasted into an entire differently franchise and doesn’t amount to adding any further depth to the overall inadequate narrative.

The Halloween (2018) plagiarising doesn’t stop with Sally channelling her inner Laurie Strode. No, Texas Chainsaw Massacre makes the error of turning Leatherface from a mentally-challenged, errand boy into an unstoppable, Michael Myers-esque killing machine. In this deplorable sequel, Leatherface survives a close-range shotgun blast and a chainsaw uppercut to the face. For someone who was probably in their mid-to-late 20s in 1974, there is just no way that a simple mass-murdering, mentally handicapped human who is presumably well into their late 60s/early 70s could survive such punishment. Nor could the same house bitch dish out as much punishment without breaking a hip. It’s completely illogical. Hooper and Henkel’s Leatherface became as iconic as he did because he was an ordinary human like you or me, only he was also a chainsaw-swinging depraved psycho. Reversing this complete possibility into an elderly man being invincible mass murder is embarrassingly witless.

It isn’t a complete misfire however, there is a couple of aspects from Texas Chainsaw Massacre I can appreciate.

Firstly, Colin Stetson‘s score is impeccable, unsurprisingly. Similarly to his work for Hereditary, Texas Chainsaw Massacre has a sonic highlight reel of earth-shattering rumbling horns and mechanical soundscapes that mimic the revving and pummelling of a chainsaw. Stetson‘s eerie and soaring compositions are about the only redeemable feature of any of the scenes within David Blue Garcia‘s film creating any genuine sense of tension or dread.

Too I can appreciate the sheer amount of effort put into this film to make it look as fantastic as it does. The cinematography and special effects are faultless. Ricardo Diaz and everyone else involved do a phenomenal job of transforming the Bulgarian scenery into feeling like an authentic-looking Texan village. Harlow is framed and lit like a location from any great western film. The special and visual effects teams too deserve a round of applause. Though I didn’t care for how over-the-top the action is in comparison to the much more subtle slasher from 1974, from the singular perspective of appreciating the kills and the gore in Texas Chainsaw Massacre, I can’t deny that it got a few chuckles and winces out of me. The film is vicious. There’s a heck of a lot of blood and guts. Gore galore! It feel like the bastard spawn of Michael Bay’s flavourless 2003 remake and the hack and slash-heavy Halloween Kills – gratuitous barbarity tastelessly delivered for nothing more than mindless entertainment.

Yet on the whole, Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a deeply miscalculated sequel to a far superior and much more ingenious original body of work. And while I do believe it is earnest in preserving the legacy of shock and controversy from Hooper and Henkel’s, the end result lacks any sense of elevation or intellect. Sometimes that is absolutely fine in horror films, especially slasher films. David Blue Garcia‘s film however feels purposefully made in vain of the current resurgence of iconic slashers, lazily appeasing to the most simple of audiences that don’t want anything even remotely thought provoking, only a brisk hour and twenty minutes of palatable gory drivel.

Horror, Crime | USA, 2022 | 18 | Netflix | 18th February 2022 | Dir.David Blue Garcia | Sarah Yarkin, Elsie Fisher, Mark Burnham, Alice Krige, Olwen Fouéré, Moe Dunford, Jacob Latimore,

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