Tobe Hooper’s 1974 The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a horror masterpiece—a gruesome, chilling exploration of why you shouldn’t poke around other people’s property, especially in rural Texas. It’s a story other filmmakers haven’t been able to resist revisiting, with diminishing returns. The latest example of this hits Netflix today.
Directed by David Blue Garcia from a script by Chris Thomas Devlin—and a story by co-producers Fede Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues, who made Don’t Breathe and the 2013 Evil Dead remake—Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which follows the recent trend of just naming one’s sequel/reboot after the original property (see: Halloween, Candyman, Scream), posits itself as a direct sequel to the 1974 film. That could be taken as an insult to Hooper’s horror comedy classic Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 until you realize this 2022 take is an equal-opportunity insult machine. Nobody is safe: small-town Texans, city slickers with gentrification on their minds and dollar signs in their eyes, school-shooting victims, one of the series’ most important legacy characters, and most of all the audience, particularly fans of Hooper’s films. Only Leatherface, the chainsaw-swinging villain played here by Mark Burnham, escapes with his dignity (mostly) intact.
The set-up is at least somewhat novel. Business partners Melody (Sarah Yarkin) and Dante (Jacob Latimore), along with Dante’s girlfriend Ruth (Nell Hudson) and Melody’s sister Lila (Castle Rock’s Elsie Fisher), head to the deserted town of Harlow, Texas, the spot they’ve selected to create a hip utopia for artists and social-media influencers. Many things about this plan don’t make a lot of sense, but in the name of plot conflict, the quartet pulls into Harlow—the place they’ve staked their futures on—for what’s apparently the very first time just ahead of a bus packed with their potential investors. They’re aghast to realize that one of the town’s most prominent buildings, an old orphanage with a tattered Confederate flag on its façade, is still occupied by an elderly woman (Star Trek: First Contact’s Alice Krige) who’s been there for decades, with one of the “children” still under her care.
Who this orphan happens to be is no secret, though since Texas Chainsaw Massacre doesn’t trust its viewers whatsoever to figure that out, we get multiple lingering shots of a group photograph showing a hulking figure with an obscured face standing at the rear. Could it be the character heavily foreshadowed in the film’s prologue and opening scenes... and the only character anyone is watching this movie to see, a certain Leatherface? Fans of the original film will see the yawning plot hole here, which is that in the 1974 film, Leatherface was already an adult living with his (let’s call them eccentric) family in their farmhouse, something the 2022 film explicitly reminds us of. So did he move into the orphanage after the original massacre and, like, hang out with Alice Krige’s character for 48 years, somehow escaping detection and squelching the urge to slaughter people with the chainsaw he’s kept tucked into a special hiding place all this time?
This information remains elusive, but there’s not much else left to the imagination in Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Nobody would call the original film “subtle”—it is a movie where people decorate their home with human body parts, and other people get hung on meat hooks and bashed in the head with hammers—but it had nuance when it came to setting the scene and pacing its startling plot turns. There’s an aura of menace, a sense that the original victims are blundering into a bad place but are too self-absorbed to realize it. The new film’s characters are also self-absorbed (and self-righteous, and incapable of making logical decisions), but the movie goes one further and makes them instantly detestable caricatures. You want Leatherface to make barbecue out of these disposable assholes, which is perhaps the point, except for the two people who’re supposed to be sympathetic: Lila, whose entire characterization is “she endured a school shooting” (complete with flashbacks, the most self-serious aspect of a movie that’s already way too self-serious), and Sally Hardesty (Olwen Fouéré, taking over for the late Marilyn Burns), the sole survivor of the 1974 film.
The inclusion of Sally—who’s introduced in a scene where she’s carving up a giant piece of meat, and has apparently been plotting payback for nearly 50 years—sets her up to be the Laurie Strode of this movie, or at least the equivalent of Dennis Hopper in Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. But as cool as it is to bring her back, it’s also supremely frustrating that she doesn’t get to do more, and that we don’t get to learn more about her. It feels like a wasted opportunity.
Instead, Texas Chainsaw Massacre has plenty of time to show Leatherface barging onto a bus full of people whose first instinct is to start livestreaming his entrance (since we can see their screens, we’re privy to snarky comments like “That looks so fake!”), which leads into the goriest scene in the movie, which is also the best scene by default, simply because it’s the only memorable one.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre is streaming on Netflix now.
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