The Texas Chainsaw Massacre as a franchise is a captivating yet unscrupulous query. Despite multiple chances, directors, writers, and the changing of the scope in horror as a genre, it appears that the premise of a psychopath wielding a rusty chainsaw and wearing a skin mask made out of his victim’s faces can’t seem to be taken as far as filmmakers or audiences desire. But should it? The original 1974 film was a perfect mixture of low-budget exploitation, guerilla storytelling, and crafty psychology for a reason. It was made at the right time, with the right people, in the right era to truly be as impactful as it was, carrying a reputation that’s grown over the decades as something to witness…or despise. And while it’s received acclaim and status in that time, it’s implicitly clear the parameters to re-capture such a harrowing, suspenseful experience just isn’t possible at this point. It’s a product of its time in an abundance of ways. Moreover, the jumbled, convoluted nature of this saga is a result of creators trying desperately mimic what made the original groundbreaking, failing in that herculean task, and executing distinctly wacky, zany, or gory ideas to capture a sickening growth or significance to this world. As a result we’ve had satirical sequels, graphic prequels, and slick remakes that act as What If? scenarios or choose-your-own-adventure paths with Leatherface. Much like the Halloween franchise only less beloved and, believe it or not, less coherent and consistent.
Essentially that’s what this new entry is in retrospect. It asks the intriguing question – What If Leatherface and his trusty chainsaw emerged in the present day? What would that look like? What would it entail? And would his brand of grimy sawplay work under the age of cell phones, influencers, politics, and divided America? One thing’s for certain, modernizing horror icons has been a literal goldmine for content and furious discourse, so it was only a matter of time before the mask man took a heavy swing into this territory.
As the story goes, nearly 50 years after the events of the original massacre, the dilapidated ghost town of Harlow, Texas has been bought out by a bunch of rich, young entrepreneurs who want to auction off its properties to build businesses, turning it into a tourist attraction. Little do these idealists know, one particular resident is in hiding amongst them and after a misunderstanding leads to an unfortunate death, that said resident is revealed to be Thomas Hewitt, a.k.a. Leatherface, who decides to tear through this unsuspecting group in glorious, violent retribution. A very bad night ensues.
Relative newcomer director David Blue Garcia with the assist of producer Fede Alverez of Evil Dead (2013) and Don’t Breathe (2016) fame, starts off by setting the stage of this story quite nicely, from the desolate town, to the long stretch highways, and tons of thick fields. A great deal went into how this film appears and feels, crafting a haunting visual texture and eerie structure that seeps out of nearly every scene, especially in the quieter moments. (A certain scene involving the fields at pitch-black night is perfectly spooky) Later, when the blood starts to flow, things take off at a relatively brisk pace, not letting up until the final vicious frame. There’s some incredible kills here, including a particular sequence that acts as the main course and centerpiece of carnage that highlights the massacre part of this feature significantly more than any in the franchise before it. Brutally remarkable.
Also sprinkled throughout the tight runtime is a few homages to what’s come before, including the voice of John Larroquette doing some narration and the return of Sally Hardesty, the sole survivor of the original massacre. Both a welcomed treat for long-time fans. While others may view this element as creators taking the Halloween (2018) route, the actress who portrayed Sally, Marilyn Burns, stated once an idea for a sequel would be her character returning to seek revenge on Leatherface, so this could’ve been a way of honoring her wishes since Burns passed away in 2014. Not to mention bringing back actors and characters from classics into these sequels is kind of a no-brainer and not a new concept either. Olwen Fouénd takes up the shoes of Sally in this, putting in fairly decent showing. The rest of the cast is also adequate. No standouts or anything, but the new LF, Mark Burnham, did an excellent job enforcing his own physicality and presence to the long list of those who’ve picked up the Saw in the past.
As far as the other themes go, this installment possesses many of the miniscule and grand societal strengths (and weaknesses) of present day like gentrification, social media, the 2nd amendment, technology, social awareness, big business practices, and ever so elegantly DICES THE EVER LOVING SHIT out of them to an audience’s dismay or enjoyment. It’s an equal slashing for all the right reasons, mixing up these themes in a blender for a viewer’s own interpretation and perspective. The irony if it all being palpable or subtly nuanced.
Is there flaws in this? Duh, Sure. But nothing that shouldn’t offer up a healthy dialogue on the merits of it based in what’s come before. So far there’s been criticisms about the absence of cannibalism as well as the rest of the Hewitt clan, and of course the overall stupidity of these new characters. But honestly, intelligence in this franchise has never been especially apparent, even in the original. And one can argue that the timeline explains why LF is the lone survivor of the family and stayed off the meat for awhile. And of course you have to suspend your disbelief a bit, but that doesn’t necessarily take away what’s on display here. Or maybe it does.
However, Leatherface himself hasn’t missed a beat. And that’s perfectly fine because in horror, antagonists can exist within the modern world without subjecting to it, or they can. Such is the growth and expansion of said characters. Candyman, Michael Myers, and Chucky did this and it just made them more purposeful and effective killers, yet their origins remained intact. Leatherface’s subtle progression stems from being able to operate without his family and come into his own without their support, ridicule, and/or control. Which he does exponentially. Now the real question is, can this character progress further should this story grow into another trilogy? Well that depends on the filmmaker who wants to roll the dice and see where it could lead. Definitely a cleaner, advanced chainsaw in the future that’s for sure. Maybe with a little compartment on the side to hold his knives and meat mallets? Meat cleavers? Meat tenderizers? All of the above? Though reflecting on it, the chainsaw he uses in this film is weirdly durable and powered. To say the least. So maybe the advancement already came. But I digress.
Bottom line, this grisly sequel is the most solid entry to come out of the franchise in a long time. Does it echo the original? No, but as stated before, nothing has since its release, and that’s understandable. Is this at least a decent addition amongst others in the franchise? Absolutely. It may upset and cause a divide, but definitely offers something a bit distinctly substantial than previous fares and continues the ongoing discussion on how these iconic antagonists can exist in the current climate. Plus as an alternate-timeline-reboot-sequel goes, it does deliver on what it promises – A dirty yet sleek, full-fledge massacre that proves such a concept can never go out of style. It’s as timeless as the chainsaw itself, mask included. Some assembly and faces required.
Review written by Marcus Wilturner