[review by JA Kerswell]
2022’s sequel, requel - or whatever the hell you want to call it - of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE is a quite staggeringly unambitious entry in a franchise with more false starts over the past decade, or so, than a broken down Chevy. Yet it delivers cartoonish violence in spades and aims to not outstay its welcome at a surprisingly trim 83 minutes. It does, however, fluff - like another recent certain slasher juggernaut - its return of a beloved main character.
|Leatherface is back ... again!|
In a plot that could have been written on a napkin at a movie pitch (and probably was), Leatherface is living (sans mask) in the attic of a pretty much abandoned orphanage in the veritable ghost town of Harlow, Texas. The only other person sharing the building is his elderly care-provider - the economically named Mrs Mc (Alice Krige) - who must have thought a mass-murdering chainsaw devil was a good fit in a household full of vulnerable children after the events of the first film back in 1974. Understanding that a psychopathic boy has his needs, she presumably gave him day release to commit wanton mayhem in a number of sequels over the years. However, it seems Leatherface (Mark Burnham) - who must now be in his 70s - has settled into some kind of geriatric domestic bliss and has put his chainsaw away for a (literally) rainy day. That rainy day comes when a bunch of meddling kids comes to town …
Four young idealists from the liberal hub of Austin, Texas have purchased much of Harlow; with a view of shaping a new hipster life away from the big city - full of tattoo parlours and organic doughnut shops. To this end, they have invited a bus load of potential investors and residents to visit later in the day to see what could be rebuilt there. However, no one has told Mrs Mc that she no longer owns the orphanage and it will likely to be turned into a new media hub. Although, it turns out that the entrepreneurs may not be being entirely straight with her. Mrs Mc’s failing health is made worse by the news and a visit from the police to evict her. This leads to her collapsing and being rushed away to a hospital by the police with one of the young idealists (Nell Hudson) and Leatherface along for the ride. Leatherface - whose face is hidden by suspiciously black hair (presumably aided by Grecian 2000) - becomes enraged when Mrs Mc dies en-route and violently kills one of the policemen causing the van to crash into a field sunflowers. Considering the best way to honour Mrs Mc’s memory is not a wreath or a donation to her favourite charity, he cuts off her face and wears it as his own. Leatherface then heads back Harlow to exact revenge …
|Melody (Sarah Yarkin) begins to think that perhaps Harlow isn't the best town to invest in ...|
THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE benefits from gorgeous cinematography by Ricardo Diaz and some effective action direction. The film succeeds if you just accept it for what it is - and that’s a gory game cat and mouse. Whilst Hooper’s film barely showed any blood this entry is wall-to-wall flying limbs and buzz-sawed torsos. Had this been released back in the early 80s it would have been undoubtedly banned as a ‘video nasty’ in the UK - but now plays uncut on Netflix! Of course - as a slasher movie fan - there’s fun to be had here. But brains definitely need to be disengaged. Not least of all with a character who has been eviscerated and held aloft in the air by Leatherface’s chainsaw being able recover sufficiently to pop up later to get one last shot in.
The film takes some half-hearted jabs at satire. The reaction of the potential investors to Leatherface climbing aboard the bus - ahead of the standout massacre set piece - is to raise their mobile phones en-masse and stream him to their favoured social media platforms. Given that Hooper’s original can be seen as a jet black comedy, and his 1986 sequel a down right parody of mid 80s obsessions such as yuppies, the satire of modern society comes across as pretty weak here. And then there’s Leatherface himself. In the original he was portrayed as a deadly - yet prone to prat-falling - dribbling man child with a penchant for extreme violence and unpredictability. Again, any individuality has been stripped in this go around. Leatherface here is simply little more than a rent-a-psycho with a big chainsaw. Also, the film’s attempt at the message that violence impacts on the lives of survivors (one character has flashbacks to a school shooting she survived) is again handled pretty indifferently and ultimately comes to naught.
|Sally Hardesty (now played by Olwen Fouéré) returns to battle Leatherface. The only trouble is he has no idea who she is!|
Perhaps unforgivably, one of the biggest problems of the film is how it handles legacy character Sally Hardesty. In Tobe Hooper’s original movie, Hardesty (played by the late Marilyn Burns) rather than become the uber Final Girl of later slasher movies, she realistically is a character that is driven close to the edge of madness by the Sawyer clan - and barely escapes with her life. This time, Sally (now played by Irish actress Olwen Fouéré) has been waiting nearly 50 years to exact revenge on Leatherface. After hearing that he has re-emerged she heads to Harlow to confront him. That is all the character development she has. Not a moment more. She is now the generic bad-ass survivor that is seemingly the only option for franchise movies ever since Linda Hamilton put on sunglasses in TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY (1991). Not that I don’t love kick ass female stars. I do! But stripping them of any humanity and turning them into cartoonish vigilantes is simply reductive. Plus the cynics amongst us can see that this is a blatant lift from Jamie Lee Curtis’s reprisal of the Laurie Strode character in 2018’s HALLOWEEN (again sold as direct sequel to the original film). They’ve even been to the same hair salon! Perhaps unintentionally, this lift goes even so far as to show a monster that has no real interest in these Final Girls of old and prefers younger meat. Sally even has to remind Leatherface who she is! Whilst I was no fan of what they did to Strode’s character in the 2018 film at least they gave her some nuance, here Hardesty has none. She is portrayed as a stoney-faced, would-be avenging angel and functions little beyond being a cog in an already highly simplistic story. What should hold some gravitas between old nemesis’ comes across as little more than a pedestrian game of Mortal Combat. It probably comes as no surprise that we, as the audience, ultimately lose.
If all this - and the short running time - suggests some behind-the-scenes issues you might be correct. Director David Blue Garcia stepped in at short notice after the original directing team of brothers Ryan Tohill and Andy Tohill bailed (or were fired) from the production after just one week of filming in Bulgaria (not especially convincing as the state of Texas). The film was intended as a theatrical release in 2021, but after some reportedly negative test screenings was released direct to streaming instead.
Sadly, just like Leatherface’s chainsaw, this franchise is now running on fumes.
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