To this day, Tobe Hooper and Kim Henkel’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is still one of the most disturbing and influential films of all time (and its one of my personal favorites). It’s a film that made director Guillermo Del Toro go vegetarian for a while, and that’s saying something. And, it’s the start of one of the most bizarre franchises in the horror genre, mainly because it was strongarmed into a series during the height of the Golden Age of Slashers. Since then, studios and filmmakers can never really agree on what to do with this IP. The series quickly became a “choose your own adventure” selection, with stand-alone sequels that retcon each other with each passing entry. Do you choose Hooper’s 80’s satirical follow-up; New Line Cinema’s 1990 stand-alone sequel; Henkel’s 1994 off the rail’s entry; or Lionsgate’s 2012 3D legacy sequel. Then there’s the Platinum Dunes reboot timeline, and a more recent prequel. Continuity was massacred in the process, and as one can expect, another retcon was inevitable. This new entry, that partially comes from the minds of Fede Álvarez & Rodo Sayagues, who both hit the ground running when they rebooted Evil Dead, definitely has horror fans curious about their involvement. So, after a new writer, and a replacement director, how does the second legacy sequel stack up?
Set 47 years later, with the event of the first film left as an unsolved mystery, influencer Mel (Sarah Yarkin) and her business partner, Dante (Jacob Latimore) have purchased the abandoned town of Harlow, Texas, with intentions of gentrification. Along for the ride to the auction is Dante’s fiancé, Ruth (Nell Hudson) and Mel’s sister, Lila (Elsie Fisher), who is living with the trauma of surviving a school shooting, and has little interest or faith in the project. Upon arriving, the group realizes they’re not alone as they encounter an old woman who used to run the local orphanage. An argument breaks out over who owns the property, police get involved, and the old woman has a heart attack. She is carried into an ambulance by a large, mute man with an obscured face who has been in her care for decades. Shock of all shocks, she dies. Without his adoptive mother, Leatherface is not happy, and set his sights on the Gen Z kids entering his town. And along the way, Sally, the sole survivor of the original massacre, catches wind of her old foe and sets way for some revenge of her own.
That last sentence basically sums up the amount of impact Sally has on Texas Chainsaw Massacre. From the moment the film was announced, comparisons were made between TCM and Halloween 2018. Do we get a similar exploration of Sally’s PTSD? No. Any development is almost non-existent. Olwen Fouéré’s portrayal of Sally is introduced halfway through the film as a stock Ahab, even with familiar silent phone calls where the character slowly turns to the camera at the call to action. Her screen time is minimal and her long-awaited confrontation with her tormentor is unforgivably short, which feels disrespectful to the late Marilyn Burns’ original final girl. The recast isn’t the problem, it’s that the number of scenes she’s in are less than the fingers on one hand. However, Fouéré does have one great scene where she discovers a victim and expresses a great range of fear, stress, and determination at the ensuing horror. That’s the max glimpse we get, and her story takes a backseat to the main plot.
Unfortunately, the main plot is that Gen-Z thinks they’re the new hippies and are punished horribly for it. Particularly our lead, as Yarkin’s Mel is initially written as insufferable from her introduction, and the film makes it a mission to overkill this girl. The portrayal of all of these characters is on a level of unlikability that you’d associate with the mid-2000’s. Director, David Blue Garcia, is definitely skimping on exposition to get what he’s better at, executing death scenes. Coming from a cinematography background, Garcia definitely knows how to frame carnage when the mask goes on. The memed “bus massacre” shown in the trailer actually becomes the standout bloodbath of the film. It’s well shot, but even with the replacement director, the filmmakers make the same mistake as almost every other sequel; focusing on a gorefest rather than creating genuine fear. The film doesn’t even feel like a TCM entry at points, it feels more like a later Friday the 13th entry: the killer’s catalyst is the death of a mother figure. Leatherface seems to have undead immunity from any damage thrown at him, and an obvious slow-motion homage of him jumping out of water to boot.
Leatherface himself is at least one of the entertaining positives, with Mark Burnham lending him commanding physicality. He looks the part, and could definitely keep playing the character. But even once you suspend your disbelief that this 70-year-old heavyset man is still spry, and despite probably never having properly treated that leg wound from the end of the first film, it’s still hard to get behind him. He still has the stamina along with the chainsaw he’s been hiding for decades? This berserker portrayal of Leatherface is more in line with Andrew Bryniarski’s take on the character from the Platinum Dunes continuity, as opposed to the late Gunnar Hansen.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre doesn’t offer anything new, and doesn’t seem to care. It doesn’t care about explaining how Leatherface got to this location, or building any connection with Alice Krige’s cameo. It doesn’t want to tell us what happened to any of the family members (seriously, what happened to Grandpa!?!). You’re honestly teased a better concept for a legacy sequel in the opening, where John Larroquette returns to narrate a documentary within the film about the events of 1974, while the gas station is surrounded by murder-merch. Leatherface vs. the true crime fanbase was right there, and the filmmakers didn’t act on it. If there was one genuine highlight, Hereditary and Color Out of Space composer, Colin Stetson orchestrates probably the best score for a TCM film in a long time, combining the cacophonous power tool soundscape of the original with fitting industrial tracks. Otherwise, this film sure goes out of its way to prove that “new blood” isn’t always the answer.
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