Leatherface’s five decades-long journey has now brought him to Netflix. However, as opposed to another remake, Texas Chainsaw Massacre joins the ranks with Halloween, Scream, and The Thing (and The Town That Dreaded Sundown for the real horror fans), as far as horror films functioning as direct continuations of the series that decided not to change up the title (okay, so it’s spelled “Chainsaw” instead of “Chain Saw,” but you get it). Sometimes that signals the choice to deliver a soft reboot for the franchise. For this latest Massacre, audiences are getting (another) sequel to the original 1974 horror classic. While the famous question focuses on who will survive and what will be left of them, the real question to ask is, “Is it any good?”
Thankfully, yes, kind of. Look, for the ninth entry in the Texas Chainsaw franchise, it’s not like the bar for success is all that high. While the first is a genre-defying classic, there are more bad sequels than good ones. 2013’s Texas Chainsaw 3D and 2017’s Leatherface did not exactly leave the franchise off on a high note (they’re both awful). So, with a new film once again trying to build off the original, it’s not as though it’s greatness or nothing. With that in mind, the film presented has just enough working for it to look past a few bad choices made along the way, along with really only being a Texas Chainsaw movie in surface distinctions.
A prologue sets up the original film’s survivor, Sally Hardesty (played originally by the late Marilyn Burns and now by Olwen Fouere), as a woman who became a Texas Ranger on a never-ending quest to take down Leatherface. The main story follows a group of city folk on their way to the ghost town of Harlow, Texas (in reality, they filmed in Bulgaria). They plan to renovate (gentrify) the area as a safe place for people to get away from the troubles surrounding them.
Unbeknownst to them, Leatherface (Mark Burnham) has apparently lived in one of these old buildings, an abandoned orphanage run by Mrs. Mc (Alice Krige). The film is a bit hazy on this relationship, but suffice to say, the old lady doesn’t respond well to moving, things go sideways, and suddenly Leatherface breaks down the drywall to recover his ol’ chainsaw and get rid of anyone who has stepped foot into Harlow.
If that sounds like a lot of plot for a Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie, it is. With a story by Evil Dead and Don’t Breathe’s Fede Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues, there’s a clear effort to modernize this story through a set of characters plucked directly from the world of today. Jacob Latimore plays an internet-famous chef, Dante, who has set up this renovation plan with Sarah Yarkin’s entrepreneur character, Melody. Her sister, Lila (Elsie Fisher), survived a school shooting. This choice is either in poor taste or precisely the kind of thing needed for a movie that’s all over the place when it comes to any socio-political angle.
At 83 minutes, with credits (there’s a post-credit scene, by the way), for all the plotting to firmly establish why these people wind up where they do, the film is still remarkably efficient at setting up the dynamics and getting to the horror. This is not a film in need of heavy nuance or subtlety, but I can appreciate feeling caught up in the human drama well enough before remembering that none of this ultimately matters. Case-in-point, Dante’s girlfriend (Jessica Allain) also factors into this story but is so indistinct that her defining quality is being the one who chooses to be in an ambulance with an inactivated Leatherface, separating her from the group. You can guess what happens next with her.
Fortunately, there are some extended sequences of tension featuring characters attempting to hide from Leatherface that prove to be quite effective. Most of these don’t end well for those facing off against such a hulking figure. Once the bloodshed starts, however, director David Blue Garcia does not hold back. For those figuring this film would be much more in line with the gore-drenched Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 and beyond, as opposed to the nearly blood-free original, you’d be correct.
Credit where it’s due, this is a film that finds many creative uses for a chainsaw. It’s a stabbing object, a shield, something that can be kicked and thrown, oh, and it’s also used as a saw sometimes. The remarkably nimble Leatherface knows his way around his weapon, as well as this town, so whether or not one regards him as an old man with extraordinary skills, the film is far more content portraying him as an abstract force that can’t really be stopped.
In detailing this take on Leatherface, however, it does highlight how far away this film feels from the general setup of these movies. Never really functioning as a standard slasher, the distinction the Texas Chainsaw Massacre films have had is in their oddities revolving around Leatherface and his family. Yes, they are cannibals, but they’re also a group who work together and tend to stick to their area. Granted, this entry functions as a revenge story of sorts, so stripping away certain elements makes a level of sense based on the screenplay. Still, this meat and potatoes presentation of Leatherface does an awkward job of honoring the legacy of the film it so clearly worships.
Plenty of visual nods are presented, but they feel more like concepts handled for an aesthetic touch rather than ideas rooted in understanding the original film. Not helping is the chaotic use of the Sally character. Working so hard to feel like Halloween (2018), bringing in a new actress made to feel indebted to Jamie Lee Curtis’ latest take on Laurie Strode has almost laughable results. The movie is self-serious enough where finding aspects of it to be silly (intentionally or otherwise) doesn’t completely ruin it. Still, it stands to reason that some third-act choices nearly throw the film wildly off the rails.
Of course, there’s also a mid-movie slaughter that’s about as wild as it gets for a film in this franchise, offset by school flashbacks Lila is having. Given some of the uncomfortable elements in the Don’t Breathe movies, it all adds up. On top of this, the film attempts to make the viewer feel sorry for nearly every character introduced. This is quite the choice, given the actions of some well-meaning woke yuppies, along with the crazy man wearing human skin as a mask to honor his mama.
Being a bit all over the place is basically one way to sum up this new Texas Chainsaw Massacre as a whole. Given how much better in quality this film is over some previous entries, let alone how genuinely entertaining it is as decent horror junk, it’s hard to be too mad at it for some of its poorer choices. The stuff that’s effective works, and even when pushing further away from the qualities that make this series unique, there are some fun twists on where to take things that worked for me. Leatherface may have a new mask, but the old tricks he keeps in his arsenal do enough of a good job for the gorehounds.