All horror franchises that last long enough tend to deliver diminishing returns to the point of pure garbage. ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ has had a particularly painful road. Aside from the original masterpiece, goofy sequel, and surprisingly decent remake, every movie made under this brand is a disposable turd distinguishable only by how smelly it is. ‘Leatherface’ is the eighth entry in the series, the second to be called ‘Leatherface’, and also the second attempt to spin an origin story. Originality isn’t exactly paramount here. Aside from some nice grungy visuals and nasty gore, there’s really not much to recommend.
Things start well enough, kicking off with a deeply twisted birthday party for the Sawyer clan led by Lili Taylor’s disturbed mamma and concluding with the youngest kiddie in the fam’ getting to try out a chainsaw for the first time. It’s a brutal and intense opening for a flick that doesn’t really deserve it. After the murder of his daughter, Stephen Dorff’s local sheriff takes the Sawyer kiddies away. We then jump ahead a few years and, for some reason, our new main character is a nurse played by Vanessa Grasse, who starts working at a corrupt mental institution. Once there, she befriends a seemingly nice patient (Sam Strike) and his larger, mute, and disturbed brother (Sam Coleman). Next thing ya know, the brothers are involved in a breakout led by a psychotic couple (James Bloor and Jessica Madsen) and the nice nurse is kidnapped. What follows is an unfortunate ‘Natural Born Killers’ knockoff that slowly turns into a ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ prequel.
I know what you’re thinking right now. Probably something along the lines of, “Whaaaaat?” No, it doesn’t make sense that this film being sold as a ‘Chainsaw’ prequel is actually a serial-killers-on-the-run movie. It’s not a particularly good one, either. The script shifts genres and tones at will and without purpose. It’s almost feels like those involved didn’t particularly want to make a ‘Chainsaw’ prequel, or that this started as a different movie that got shoehorned into the franchise. Either way, it’s odd. Those who show up for a horror movie aligned with the brand won’t know what to make of what they’re seeing most of the time and may even feel the need to double and triple check that they’re watching a movie called ‘Leatherface’ until the last few minutes.
Thankfully, it’s not all bad. The film marks the English-language debut of French directing partners Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury, who made the gorehound classic ‘Inside’ and a couple less memorable follow-ups. They know how to put together a stylish genre package and the movie drips with an icky beauty. It’s shot like a faded nightmare of an art film, with high impact gore scenes the likes of which are typically washed away from contemporary horror fare. It’s a horror movie that stings and feels repulsive in ways true to the franchise (well, with the exception of one necrophilia sequence that feels a step too far into tastelessness).
Unfortunately, while the directing duo are accomplished stylists, they aren’t particularly gifted storytellers. The narrative of ‘Leatherface’ is a mess, and while there’s a certain cleverness to how they slowly reveal which character takes the mantle of the titular horror icon (it really shouldn’t have been a mystery, but that was a good take on prequeling), the movie is mostly grimdark misery porn in search of purpose. The most memorable characters are lifted wholesale from previous ‘Chainsaw’ entries and knockoffs. It’s a mess, aside from the visuals and violence, which is a shame given that these filmmakers have the talent to make a decent entry in this franchise had they been given an even remotely memorable script.
What we have here is another messy and unsatisfying entry in a hallowed horror franchise. It’s disappointing, but not surprising. Beyond the surprisingly effective remake, there hasn’t really been a ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ movie worth celebrating since the late Tobe Hooper departed the franchise that he created. ‘Leatherface’ is merely the latest misfire, this time serving up a confused cross-genre effort that delivers everything that people hate about Rob Zombie movies without any of the humor, nerd reverence, or clever horror convention casting that make his movies special.
The sad thing is that this isn’t the worst ‘TCM’ movie. It’s merely the latest half-hearted failure to recapture the magic of one of the finest and most frightening horror movies ever made. It’s almost as if Hollywood should consider not pointlessly reviving old horror series for needless money-grabs. Maybe that lesson will be learned someday. Not today, though. We still have a new ‘Saw’ sequel to dread before this Halloween Hollywood horror season is complete.