It’s impossible to recreate the magic of 1974’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Shot on a shoestring budget in Texas heat, pervasive rotten smells, and the like, many consider it to be the scariest film ever made, an assessment I agree with. As with any success, sequels followed. And remakes. And prequels. Prequels ignored sequels, sequels ignoring prequels, prequels to the remakes, etc etc. Not to mince words, it’s a mess of a franchise, yet one with something for everybody. Want a comedic gorefest? The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is right there. Feeling in the mood for a grittier take? Marcus Nispel’s 2003 remake will do the trick. How about a bonkers retcon where Leatherface is an anti-hero? Boom, Texas Chainsaw 3D. Distributed by Netflix, Legendary Pictures’ Texas Chainsaw Massacre lacks any sense of purpose.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre ignores the entirety of the extended franchise to focus on being a sequel to strictly the original film. Fittingly, Texas Chainsaw Massacre had its fair share of production issues along the way. Shortly into filming, original directors Ryan and Andy Tohill were replaced by David Blue Garcia. Genuinely, the largest of kudos goes to Garcia. Factoring in the material he acquits himself quite well. Furthermore, his film looks great, thanks to no small part by cinematographer Ricardo Diaz who does his best to find the Texas grit in their shooting location of Bulgaria. Just as well, it feels solid too. The pace is quick, the atmosphere (independent of the plot) is thick. There are some moments in here that would’ve been revered in a better movie. Sadly, the content lets the director down.
For starters, the story is dead in the water. Melody (Sarah Yarkin), her sister Lila (Elsie Fisher), and Melody’s friends Dante (Jacob Latimore) and Ruth (Nell Hudson) venture to the ghost town of Harlow to clean it up for potential investors. In other words, they’re there for gentrification. These are our protagonists, folks. Nothing against the actors, who do a fine job, but you’re already on the wrong foot when we have a quartet of unlikeable characters who treat the town they intend to “rejuvenate” like trash. Screenwriter Chris Thomas Devlin crowbars in buzzwords to the script to attempt to make this version of Texas Chainsaw relevant in the modern age. Nearly all attempts fall flat. None more so than the actual inciting incident.
Our deeply morally reprehensible leads evict an elderly woman (Alice Krige) from her home, leading to her suffering a heart attack, eventually dying. Her death incurs the wrath of her “son” and caretaker: Leatherface (Mark Burnham). As investors roll in, Leatherface hunts them down one by one. That’s our movie folks. Nothing more. Gone is the crazy family that represents a major component of the franchise. Gone are any hallmarks of the franchise really, save for Leatherface himself and the film ostensibly being set in Texas. Speaking of Leatherface, the big lug is a massive bore. By this point, he’s been reduced to a generic slasher villain. Trying to find a personality on this guy is about as easy as finding a needle in a boneyard. Hell, that might actually be easier.
Wave goodbye to any kind of psychological examination of a once-fascinating villain. Instead, his role in the film begins and ends with “chainsaw go brrrr”. Strangely, that seems to be a positive for some of the film’s supporters. In a way, I get it. When Leatherface kills, there’s nice, mostly practical gore. I’m not above admitting a party bus set-piece containing the titular massacre brings a smile to my face. Yet, these isolated moments of mean-spirited murder are better suited by a YouTube compilation, because the story is threadbare.
In regards to what little story there is, the film tries to focus care on a non-existent bond between the lead sisters. Moreover, it gets downright tasteless as Lila is a school shooting survivor. One character that almost works is the returning Sally Hardesty (Olwen Fouéré), whose ill-advised inclusion almost works as a parody. For instance, her entire point in the film is to remind us the original exists, then get beat up by Leatherface. To be fair, Sally barely registers as a character in the original, but the accidental subversion of the Laurie Strode-type is a hilarious discarding of some kind of potential.
Unfortunately, any other squandering of this potential is just sad. None more so than this film’s producer, Fede Alvarez. Frankly, Alvarez has made some of my favorite horror films ever in Don’t Breathe and his Evil Dead remake. Even this year’s controversial Alvarez-produced Don’t Breathe 2 is a film I deeply love. Nevertheless, none of his wild energy comes through in Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Most of the problems of this project have a representative in one key aspect. Despite its title, Texas Chainsaw Massacre filmed in Bulgaria.
This may seem like a minor thing. However, it just so perfectly encapsulates the issues with this project. No care to maintain the soul of Texas Chainsaw. Even worse, no new ideas present themselves. At its best, Texas Chainsaw as a franchise brings an unparalleled Southern-fried horror. At its worst, it’s at least bonkers enough to say something about. Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a purposeless film. The sad old bones of a franchise that’s far past its vigor. Maybe one day someone will put a fresh spin on Texas Chainsaw again. I’m not holding my breath. – James Preston Poole
Texas Chainsaw Massacre is now streaming on Netflix.