Director – David Blue Garcia, Screenplay – Chris Tomas Devlin, Story – Fede Alvarez & Rodo Sayagues, Producers – Fede Alvarez, Pat Cassidy, Herbert W, Gains, Ian Henkel & Kim Henkel, Photography – Ricardo Diaz, Music – Colin Stetson, Visual Effects Supervisor – Chris Ritvo, Visual Effects – Mr. X, Special Effects Supervisor – Yovko Dogandjiiski, Leatherface Makeup – Illusion Industries, Production Design – Michael T. Perry. Production Company – Legendary Pictures/Bad Hombre/Exubria Films.
Sarah Yarkin (Melody), Elise Fisher (Lila), Mark Burnham (Leatherface), Jacob Latimore (Dante), Moe Dunford (Richter), Olwen Fouere (Sally Hardesty), Nell Hudson (Ruth), Jessica Allain (Catherine), Alice Krige (Mrs MC), William Hope (Sheriff), Sam Douglas (Herb the Proprietor), Jolyon Coy (Deputy)
A group of young people from Austin travel into the Texas countryside, having purchased the property rights to the abandoned town of Harlow, which they are preparing to redevelop as an alternative culture paradise. They disturb an elderly woman living in one of the houses who insists the place is legally hers and evict her and her hulking son. As the sheriff’s department takes the old woman away, she expires. Her hulking son snaps, eliminates the police and then skins the face from one of the bodies to make a mask for himself. Leatherface then proceeds to return to Harlow and slaughter his way through the group of friends and busful of investors arrived to peruse the property.
Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) is a landmark of the horror genre. It was a classic of the genre that this author has termed Backwoods Brutality, featuring innocents wandering into backwoods locales and being brutalised by hillbillies and the degenerate and in-bred. This has become a surprisingly prolific genre niche since then.
Tobe Hooper returned to make the first sequel with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986), which took a very different turn and plunged into black comedy territory. This is easily the best of the sequels. Other hands took over for the dull and formulaic Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1990), while Texas Chain Saw co-writer Kim Henkel’s made the not uninteresting The Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre/The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: A New Generation (1994). The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003) was a remake, which also spawned a prequel to the series with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (2006). Texas Chainsaw (2013) was another sequel and was followed by a prequel Leatherface (2017). Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a further sequel to the original, which, like all the other sequels, acts independent of the other.
This new version did not exactly inspire confidence. Soon into shooting, the original directors, brothers Ryan and Andy Tohill, were fired by the studio, Their replacement was David Blue Garcia, a former cinematographer who had only previously made one film with the non-genre Tejano (2018) about drug smuggling across the Mexican border. There is also the ominous name of Fede Alvarez, who previously directed the remake of Evil Dead (2013) and Don’t Breathe (2016) and who is proving to be one of the worst directors in Hollywood on the basis of The Girl in the Spider’s Web (2018).
The obvious inspiration behind Texas Chainsaw Massacre seems to be the surprise success had when David Gordon Green resurrected the Halloween franchise with Halloween (2018). Both films essentially pretend that none of the other sequels have occurred and revive their principal boogeyman once again in the present. In between seeing assorted victims slaughtered, he heads for a showdown with the original survivor – a sixtysomething Jamie Lee Curtis in the original, Olwen Fouere stepping into the role of Sally Hardesty here (replacing original actress Marilyn Burns who passed away in 2014 – although photos of Burns and the original cast are used throughout) – who has transformed into a well-armed badass by her experience years before. Like Halloween, this also brings back key creative talents from the original in peripheral roles – in Halloween, John Carpenter was brought back to compose the score, while original co-writer Kim Henkel is one of the producers here, along with his son Ian.
The resurrection of both Michael Myers and Leatherface does leave you with the question of how old both the central bad guy characters are. In Halloween (1978), we learn that Michael was six in 1963 so would be 61 in 2018. No age is ever given for Leatherface. Original Leatherface actor Gunnar Hansen was born in 1947 so would have been 26 in 1973 so you can make a reasonable assumption that Leatherface could be around the same age or at a generous stretch in his early twenties. That would make for a Leatherface that is 75 now or at the least in his early seventies. That surely makes for a Leatherface that is less likely to be swinging around a chainsaw and lifting up people bodily impaled on it than someone swinging a walking frame and having to worry about a herniated disc at lifting up any bodies, at the very least putting on a pair of glasses over his leather mask. The other question is also his chainsaw – for something that has been buried in a wall for 49 years, it hasn’t aged and appears to be in perfect working order, coming back to life with a mere pull of the ripcord.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre is not a very good film. In fact, it has a more interesting subtext than it necessarily has any merits as a film. In the original 1974 film, the victims were not exactly hippies but were of the Flower Children generation and the film was about their world being brutalised by the dark forces that lurk in backwoods America. By the point of Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2022, which I am tempted to call Tepid Chainsaw Massacre (although that perhaps does a disservice to its quite high gore quotient), the cast of the original have been replaced by millennials.
This Leatherface vs the Millennials is actually one of the most interesting aspects of Tepid Chainsaw Massacre. The teens/twentysomethings are now a more varied racial mix than they have been in the other sequels. The group have grand ambitions of turning the abandoned town into some kind of artisanal utopia and toss off seemingly unironic lines like “Behold the joys of late-stage capitalism.” They are constantly seen on their phones – when Leatherface slaughters the people on the bus, there is the amusing moment where all of them raise their phones to film him and threaten to Cancel him if he does anything. There is also a debate about tearing down a Confederate flag on one of the buildings in the town.
The most pointed confrontation comes in the opening scenes as the millennials encounter Moe Dunford at the gas station and he is characterised as all that is obnoxious about the Southern redneck male – he drives a large pick-up and open-carries a holstered gun (amid requisite comments from the group about him evidently having a small penis). Not long after, he passes them on the road as his truck belches carbon into the atmosphere (via a chimney-like exhaust that he it never had when he pulled up). He is a proud owner of a semi-automatic weapon and comes out with lines about “I’m a Texan. I don’t like people telling me what to do, especially smug, self-righteous, rich, city folk.”
This resembles the recent The Retreat (2020), which spun Backwoods Brutality through a dynamic where the protagonists were represented by gay couples and the backwoods hicks were representative of all that is associated with toxic heteronormative masculinity. Texas Chainsaw Massacre seems to be setting up a similar conflict but fails to ever let any of it play out. For all that he is created as something that is repugnant to the millennials, Moe Dunford is slaughtered like all the rest of them and actually dies trying to aid Sarah Yarkin. For all the Confederate flag proves such a major issue early on, it is forgotten about immediately afterwards. Given that the film seems to be poking fun at the millennials, you can say that Leatherface (and by extension those making the film) regard both sides as equally unlikeable and worthy of extermination, which certainly makes this the first Texas Chainsaw Massacre film to regard its victim line-up as worthy of their deaths.
In terms of a sequel, Texas Chainsaw Massacre is not the worst of the series – that could be either the 2013 Texas Chainsaw or Leatherface. David Blue Garcia delivers a number of gore scenes, although most of these wash over you without much effect. The scenes where the bus driver’s head is severed (all seemingly without anybody inside the bus hearing the buzz of a chainsaw) or the deputy has his arm snapped off and then impaled in his throat, seem novelty shock effects that might appear in a Friday the 13th sequel and come without any real viscerality and brutality to them.
Amid this, it is worth remembering that the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre featured no blood at all. On the other hand, Tobe Hooper made up for this when it came to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, although the one that went to the greatest extreme in this regard was Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning. I started to get into this film by about the time of the epic bloodbath that David Blue Garcia stages in the bus, while the subsequent scenes with the three girls battling Leatherface are passable. The film was starting to head upwards in my estimation from this point, On the other hand, Garcia goes and kills any goodwill by ending the film with one of the lamest return from the dead endings imaginable.