You can't keep a good villain down. Horror franchises thrive on the return of their stalwart psychopaths, who stand eager and ready to hack and slash their way through bodies and through decades.
Leatherface, the lumbering butcher who first appeared 1974 hit splatterfest The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, with his human skin mask and bloodied apron, is as iconic as Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers, and Chucky. A marketable brute despite having no catchphrase, it's his penchant for chainsaws and face theft which sets him apart from his peers.
So it's with little surprise that he continues to resurface every few years, the dominating figurehead of the Texas Chainsaw franchise, a series which has spawned sequels, reboots, and remakes, none restrained by the shackles of continuity or quality.
The latest attempt at resurrection comes from Netflix, who have revived Leatherface for a new take on Texas Chainsaw Massacre. But how does it measure up to its gory predecessors? Let's find out...
Playing the same old tunes...
Netflix's new entry hitches itself onto the legacy sequel bandwagon, perhaps after the success of Scream, Halloween, and Candyman in doing the same, with this movie serving as a direct follow-up to the 1974 original.
Based on a story by Evil Dead and Don't Breathe duo Fede Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues, the filmmakers have aimed to make a zeitgeisty modern take on the franchise, but have done so with a script that bludgeons with its efforts at relevance.
So what's the story here?
Gen Z entrepreneurs Melody (Sarah Yarkin) and Dante (Jacob Latimore) journey to an abandoned Texas town with gentrification plans in their hearts and dollar signs in their eyes. Along for the ride are Melody's younger sister Lila (Elsie Fisher) and Dante's girlfriend Ruth (Nell Hudson), neither of whom are given much to do other than react.
How exactly Dante and Melody intend to sell the town's buildings to a coachload of influencers is never really explained, and to be honest, it doesn't matter… much like the characters themselves. The main quartet barely deepen beyond self-important dialogue, each clunky line a vessel for thematic exposition. "All of the joys of late stage capitalism!" Dante cries, upon setting his eyes on the abandoned town he plans to pillage.
What's more problematic are the machinations which set into motion Leatherface's emergence. Dante and Melody, keen to transform the town into a hipster haven, turf a woman out onto the street (Alice Krige, in one of the film's better roles) claiming ownership of her home.
We soon learn, in a strange spot of mythology retconning, her ramshackle abode once stood as the town's orphanage where she took care of Leatherface as a boy. Circumstances following her eviction incite Leatherface's rampage, and by this point, sympathy for the face-wearing serial killer comes easier than the Gen Zs. Once the blood starts to fly – and boy, this sequel swims in crimson pools – the movie picks up the pace and settles into a gory groove.
Failing to live up to past glories...
Wes Craven, the horror maestro behind The Hills Have Eyes, Scream and Nightmare on Elm Street, once remarked that audiences need to feel like they're in the hands of a madman when watching a horror movie. He argued that it was essential to the horror experience for those watching to feel unsafe, the pervasive sense of risk frightening viewers beyond belief.
Tobe Hooper understood this, leading audiences through the harrowing experience of 1974's The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. The film threads unease and terror from the first frame to the last of what is an undoubted horror masterwork. This latest entry in the franchise – the 9th – prioritises a different perspective.
Director David Blue Garcia, who took over the Bulgarian production mid-shoot, makes the smart call in not even attempting to match the original's raw gutsiness. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (the original splits the weapon into two words, another emblem of its epoch) reflects the distrust sewn into the American public, on the heels of Watergate and the Vietnam War, making it clear the ramifications when you trespass on strange property. While Hooper's film isn't subtle – let's not forget it wheels out a desiccated cannibal grandfather in its final act – it understands nuance, managing to skirt excessive bloodletting in favour of making your skin crawl and your heart pound. Its dizzying climax remains unrivaled.
Where Hooper gently unnerves audiences with a desire to drive them mad, Garcia goes for brash butchery. This legacy sequel skips over the delicate meshing of social comment into theme and production, and cares only about chainsaws jamming into guts and sledgehammers splintering skulls.
This carnage is captured beautifully by cinematographer Ricardo Diaz, one of the film's highlights along with its brisk 80-minute runtime. Gorehounds will get a kick out of its setpieces, one involving a luxury coach and another where Leatherface comforts a loved one (no, seriously). The script confronts a matrix of issues – school shootings, racism, gentrification – yet this messy juggle handles them all so poorly.
Without considering a way to forge its themes into a cohesive whole, the movie then throws in original final girl Sally Hardesty (played here by Olwen Fouere) who is also done dirty. Halloween 2018 and Scream 2022 paid reverence to its returning legacy cast. They felt like revisiting old friends, who behaved as we remembered and whose stories warranted further exploration.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre treats Sally like a hindrance, a shell of a character leveraged in for the sake of waving the Legacy Sequel banner. Again, let down by the weak script, we're meant to believe she's pursued Leatherface for 50 years and yet it all falls flat, much like her scant screen time.
If this movie was able to shake itself free of its franchise trappings it might be more successful, as its premise – while not entirely well-executed – carries seeds of promise. Without feeling beholden to Leatherface and Sally, Texas Chainsaw Massacre would work nicely as a grimy gorefest meant to shake your guts. But it never gets anywhere near your soul...
Texas Chainsaw Massacre is streaming now on Netflix.
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Gem Seddon is a Seattle-based freelance entertainment writer with bylines at Vulture, Digital Spy, TechRadar, GamesRadar+, Total Film, What to Watch, and Certified Forgotten. Librarian by day, scribbler by night, Gem loves 90-minute movies, time travel romance, single-camera comedy shows, all things queer, all things horror, and queer horror. Alien and Scream are tied as her all-time favourite movie. She won't stop raving about Better Things.