The horror genre has seen an exceptional amount of growth over the last five years. Gore and ghouls are so popular now that some of us at CinemaDebate are just waiting for the day when the live action comic book empires commit to their scarier properties. Maybe that day will be here sooner rather than later, as Matt Reeves’ The Batman and Sam Raimi’s Dr. Strange and the Multiverse of Madness promise some of the darkest renditions of their titular characters.
While horror might finally be penetrating the modern mainstream, this is far from the genre’s first boom. The 70s and 80s saw iconic releases like The Exorcist, Alien and The Thing born within the span of a decade. That was also the era when the first faces of the horror genre were truly born. There’s a reason names like Freddy Krueger and Michael Myers are known in every household. Another one of those champions of horror, and arguably the first, was Leatherface.
Tobe Hooper introduced fans to the character in 1974’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. He painted a portrait of a dry, gritty and dying Texas. It was a setting that flirted with the idea of the 1970s apocalypse. Post-Vietnam America, especially rural America, felt like exactly that. People at the time were convinced they’d seen the death of the American dream. In retrospect, it’s no surprise that the family of antagonists in that first film were desperate killers and cannibals clinging on to the ways of the old world. This was a Texas that had devoured itself after all. Leatherface and his family embodied that.
Unfortunately, that vision of Texas has never truly been recaptured in the franchise. Don’t look for that in this film. That magic isn’t something that can be recreated. Today at least, we have a new imagining of this slasher icon. 2022’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre now has to reveal which side of the franchise’s property line it lands on. On one side we have the original, the fun, and the shocking. On the other side, we’ve seen bizarre decisions and Hollywood politics lead to utterly disappointing franchise entries.
“This is Leatherface at his bloodiest yet.”
After sitting through the sharp 82 minute runtime, I’ve got good news for slasher fans. This is Leatherface at his bloodiest yet. The story was helmed by Fede Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues, who together have already given us gems like Don’t Breathe and 2013’s Evil Dead. It was adapted for the screen by Chris Thomas Devlin and then brought to life by David Blue Garcia and a team of experienced filmmakers and creatives. Those two don’t have the longest resumes but if this film is any indicator, they’ve got plenty to contribute to the genre.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre follows what many would mislabel as a current trend of “requels” among Hollywood horror properties. Sure, it was done in 2018’s Halloween and in 2022’s Scream, but the reboot-sequel concept isn’t new at all. We saw it in the aforementioned Evil Dead. We saw it in 2011’s The Thing, 2009’s Friday the 13th, and we’ve seen it within the Texas Chainsaw Massacre series itself. This franchise has struggled to bring itself back to life time and time again. For those already fatigued by “requel” films and by legacy characters who turn up in their old age to kick some ass one last time, don’t fret. Texas Chainsaw Massacre offers a few twists on those ideas.
This film begins close to 50 years after the original. It even reintroduces us to the dead Texas made famous in Tobe Hooper’s classic. We see the full town for the first time here, as young entrepreneurs have gathered to buy the abandoned properties and to begin new rural lives where they can escape America’s inner city violence. It isn’t just the setting or final girl Sally Hardesty (played by Olwen Fouéré) who make their returns. There’s an observation behind the carnage of this film, just as there was in 1974. This time the message is clear: American violence is inescapable. We can’t run from the things we fear. We have to fight to change them. Whether that message is delivered well at all, or if the concept is too heavy for a film built around a body count, will be debated over social media by individuals more passionate than me.
It would be a mistake to gloss over that body count. In typical slasher movie fashion, we’re quickly introduced to a cast of expendable characters. Sarah Yarkin and Elsie Fisher bring out the best parts of the script, while actors like Moe Dunford and Jacob Latimore at least fill their roles serviceably. No one is particularly dull or disinteresting, even if many of the characters are designed to be unlikeable. It is the nature of the film for many of them to die however. At least they die in glorious fashion.
I can say confidently that this is the most blood Leatherface has spilled over the course of a single film. The combination of predominantly practical effects (as explained in 2021 by Fede Alvarez) and digital VFX by Mr. X studios stretches the anatomy of the human body to its most gruesome. Mark Burnham and Vasil Yordanov, actor and stunt double respectively, are the latest men to don the visceral mask of Leatherface. The character is at times frightened and intimate, and at others he’s an undeniable force of nature. This is the best Leatherface has looked and moved in nearly two decades.
With all of those praises sung, it’s clear early in the film’s runtime that the 2022 rendition of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre isn’t quite perfect. Gone is the grit and visual stench of the first movie. While Ricardo Diaz’s cinematography is certainly stellar, in its cleanliness we lose some of the authenticity that made the first film so memorable. Colin Stetson’s score alleviates some of this burden with a soundtrack that can feel as heavy and intimidating as a hot Texas summer but it can’t do all of the lifting on its own. And while the unique script brings us to an unseen part of this familiar setting and provides many young faces for the killer to cleave away, not every line is polished. A few of them would even be outright laughable if they weren’t delivered amidst very distracting (and entertaining) acts of violence.
“If you’re looking for a bloodbath, you can’t do any better than Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”
Ultimately Texas Chainsaw Massacre remains a great time. It’s a slasher film first and foremost. It makes no apologies for what it sets out to be. That does mean if you weren’t a fan of last year’s Halloween Kills, itself another splatter flick for fans of graphic special effects, then you might not enjoy this film to its fullest. The plot is mostly forgettable and you won’t be rooting for this cast of characters, but if you’re looking for a bloodbath you can’t do any better than Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
3.5 / 5
Texas Chainsaw Massacre is available to stream now on Netflix.