I’m going to do something now that I’ve held off on doing since starting this blog —two, actually — discuss a new movie and tell you how much I hate it. Last night, I dreamt that Leatherface ’90 terrorized a house I was in and pursued me down a canopy walkway. I’m taking that as a sign to unload my thoughts on the latest Texas Chainsaw Massacre “requel” (combination of “reboot” and “sequel” I thought I coined and was disappointed to see used by others), no matter how critical they are. I’ve been trying to follow the old advice if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all, but as Drayton Sawyer once put it, “There’s just some things you gotta do. Don’t mean you have to like it.”
The original versions of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Last House on the Left are two films from my formative years that affected me deeply. They were favorite rentals of my mom who had no qualms about watching them in front of her young, impressionable children. Blood-caked Sally Hardesty laughing hysterically in the back of a pickup and Krug Stillo instructing his victims to piss their pants are two scenes that have stayed with me since. Both movies falsely claim to be based upon true events, and my mom bought the gimmicks hook, line, and sinker. She told me on at least one occasion they’d been banned from video stores for a number of years because victims’ families sued to have them removed. This factually inaccurate knowledge made them more legendary in my mind.
The Last House on the Left is a standalone film. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre has three sequels. Naturally, as I got older I sought out the sequels. None are as good as Part 1, but they’re all in their own way enjoyable.
Tobe Hooper’s original unleashed the autistic, cannibalistic, cross-dressing, grave-robbing mad butcher Leatherface on an unsuspecting public. It’s a grueling, unrelenting experience that doesn’t lend itself well to repeated casual viewing. The second half is soundtracked by the constant buzz of a chainsaw and Marilyn Burns’ piercing screams in lieu of traditional music. There are multiple deaths, but not that much blood. Its gritty style and psychotic atmosphere are what truly affect people. The sequels are easier watches, giving them more replay value.
Part 2, also directed by Hooper, is a radical departure, basically the opposite of Part 1. It’s gory and blatantly funny. Hooper knew he couldn’t make a scarier film than he already did, so he took the subtle black comedy he felt went unnoticed and cranked it up to eleven. The result is a horror-comedy so over the top it’s almost a parody. The family’s last name is given as Sawyer, because it contains the word “saw”. Leatherface is now sexually curious. “You got one choice!” his eldest brother Drayton (variously referred to as “Old Man” and “The Cook”) reminds him. “Sex or the saw. Sex is, well, nobody knows, but the saw, the saw is family!” The film is a blast in more ways than one and has lots of memorable characters and dialogue set to some really great music. Jim Siedow steals the show.
Part 3 (Leatherface) reverts to the serious tone of Part 1. It was New Line’s attempt to refine the concept into a straightforward slasher with plans of producing more sequels and having its title character succeed Freddy Krueger as their next franchise player. The customary text crawl informs us a “W.E. Sawyer” went down for the crimes and the case was officially closed. The script is an absolute mess. It relocates Leatherface, makes him a dad (!) with a learning disability, and gives him a new family. He’s meaner too, sports a knee brace, and drives, which I don’t agree with. The movie’s not great, but has some cool parts, like the excavation of a body pit. Ken Foree is badass as always. If nothing else, check out the Arthurian teaser trailer.
Part 4 (Next Generation), written/directed by Kim Henkel, writer of the original, introduces more family members, including W.E., and places them in another new house. Leatherface is back to being an autistic cross-dresser, restoring balance to the universe. Curiously, he doesn’t manage to kill anyone this time around via chainsaw. Matthew McConaughey in a robotic knee brace takes care of that (I’m not sure what’s up with the knee braces). Part 4 gets a lot of hate, but I love it and its meta conspiracy angle about the Illuminati using the family to instill horror in people.
If I had to rank the quadrilogy, I’d probably go: 1, 2, 4, 3, with 4 being a close third. Disclaimer: my opinions on sequels change with the weather.
One complaint I have is I wish they would have reused more actors to give the series consistency. Instead, they just kept adding branches to the family tree. The only return is Jim Siedow’s in Part 2. I’m not counting the various cameos. The original Halloween series had Donald Pleasance, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Danielle Harris in multiple movies. Robert Englund played Freddy Krueger eight times in a row. Doug Bradley did the same thing as Pinhead. Brad Dourif is still voicing Chucky. Those series are better because of it.
Anyway, after those four came a remake, followed by a prequel. I saw the prequel in theatres, and all I remember is R. Lee Ermey killing a sheriff and just sort of assuming his identity, which seriously stretches believability. Then came a direct sequel to the original ignoring everything else and a prequel to that.
This latest release is the ninth official installment, another direct sequel ignoring everything else. The first and second movies were both directed by Tobe Hooper. How do producers continually justify “honoring” one, while disregarding the other? I don’t know, but we’re now at a point where the franchise has been rebooted thrice, has five continuities, three of the movies have the same title, and two share a different title. It’s like everyone involved got together and said Let’s make this shit as confusing as possible. Here’s a visual aid I whipped up. Hope it helps.
- Top to bottom, left to right:
- Texas Chainsaw 3D (2013)
- Leatherface (2017)
- The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
- The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)
- Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1990)
- Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1994)
- All American Massacre (unreleased)
- Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022)
- The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (2006)
- The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)
TCM22 starts off with a recap of Part 1 narrated by original narrator John Larroquette, framed as an episode of a true crime docuseries playing on a TV in a gas station hawking tasteless chainsaw-themed souvenirs. A young woman asks the attendant what happened to sole survivor Sally Hardesty. The attendant informs her Sally became a Texas Ranger, devoting thirty or forty years of her life to tracking down Leatherface.
It’s all downhill from here. I watched the trailer beforehand. I knew it was going to be bad, but I could not have expected, nor would I have wished to see as much of the bad as I was to see that day. For me, an idyllic February afternoon became a nightmare.
The main characters are annoying influencers. We have interracial sisters Melody and Lila, and a white female artist dating a black guy. The first movie had hippies, who represented the youth of the 70s. One of them was physically handicapped. This new crop may seem like a natural progression, but to me it just feels like a hollow attempt to be “diverse” and “inclusive”. Never mind the fact that the last reboot featured a white female artist dating a black guy. The influencers are supposed to be “woke” liberal types, yet are quick to judge others and end up being terrible people. They make fun of a manly contractor (they eventually come to rely on) to his face for driving a pickup and owning a firearm. They’re instantly hateable and only exist to be killed. I don’t feel bad when they die. Part of the reason the original is so impactful is because the characters, while less than fully formed, are likeable, except maybe Franklin.
These influencers have somehow purchased the entire Texas ghost town of Harlow and are on their way there to auction it off to a party bus full of interested buyers. After they arrive, they notice and decide to remove a Confederate flag hanging from an orphanage window. This gets them inside where they run into an elderly caregiver and her only remaining patient, Leatherface. They kick the old woman out on the street mistakenly thinking they own the place, causing her death and in turn their own. The old woman crumples and vomits, apparently suffering a heart attack. Police are called to remove her. Leatherface and one of the influencers ride with her to the hospital. However, she dies en route. Leatherface tries in vain to revive her with oxygen. An officer reaches over to stop him, sending Leatherface into a rage. He snaps the officer’s hand off and stabs him with his own jagged wrist bones, resulting in a crash. Leatherface cuts off and wears his caregiver’s face, transforming him into a superhuman killing machine.
Two brutal deaths follow. Leatherface walks back to Harlow. First, he slashes the black guy, hideously disfiguring him. Then, he pulverizes the contractor’s head with a hammer. One girl plays an unexciting game of hide and seek while he breaks down a wall concealing his chainsaw. The carnage reaches ridiculous levels when he uses said chainsaw to roar through the party bus. The occupants pull out their phones, livestreaming their own deaths as they threaten to cancel their killer. Lila’s shell-shocked reaction to the extreme graphic violence is intercut with flashbacks of a school shooting she survived and bears scars of. I was kinda sorta halfway with the movie until this scene. It’s not believable in the slightest and feels like it’s imitating the two stupidest parts of Halloween Kills, when Michael Myers takes out an entire fire rescue team and vigilante mob by himself, major jumping the shark moments for me. Studios these days are trading in what make the originals great for massive body counts.
Killing twenty people at once isn’t horror. In my opinion, horror should feature an evil or oppressive force (this can be anything — human, ghost, alien, robot, artificial intelligence, illness, lamp, refrigerator) killing or at least trying to kill people in intimate ways. When whole groups are wiped out, it stops being horror.
The original movie is full of violent imagery, but doesn’t fixate on gore. There’s a difference. In the iconic meathook scene, for example, the hook is neither shown going in or coming out of Pam. Kirk is beheaded behind a meat grinder. And poor Franklin is disemboweled with his back to the camera. Our imaginations are left to fill in the grisly details. “You come out of this thing thinking you’ve seen a bloodbath and you’ve seen very little blood.” production designer Robert Burns proudly states in the documentary Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Shocking Truth.
At one point, the gas station attendant from earlier picks up a panicked radio transmission and phones Sally Hardesty, who answers curtly with “Hardesty”, signifying she’s now a militant no-nonsense badass. Sally is played by stage actress Olwen Fouéré, which fans say is only because Marilyn Burns passed away, assuming she would have been cast. Don’t be so sure. After all, this is the eighth Leatherface. Sally has just finished gutting a pig in her barn. According to the film’s director, this shows “she’s prepared herself for the level of violence [needed] to take [Leatherface] down.” but all it does for me is bring to mind the old Nietzsche quote “Beware that when fighting monsters you yourself do not become a monster… for when you gaze long into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”
In other words, I don’t like it one bit. Sally was conceived as a carefree hippie. By the end of Part 1, she’s irreversibly traumatized. Part 2 claims she became catatonic. 3 kills her off, stating she died in a private healthcare facility four years later. This hardened, revenge-driven take on the character is a total 180, a shameless misguided attempt to convert Sally into a Laurie Strode clone.
Sally rolls into town with a shotgun and finds Leatherface sitting in bed in the orphanage. “Kirk, Pamela, Jerry, and Franklin.” she whispers down the barrel of her gun. It irks me how she says Franklin last when he was her brother. If I was her, I’d lead with “You killed my brother, you fuck!” She holds off on shooting him even though she’s been preparing herself for this moment for half a century, because then the movie would end. Leatherface ultimately outmaneuvers her, impaling her with his chainsaw before throwing her body atop a pile of garbage, symbolizing the way this movie treats Hooper’s legacy.
Producer Fede Alvarez told a podcast before the movie released “It is a direct sequel, and it is the same character. It is old man Leatherface.” I hate to break it to you Fede, but it’s clearly not the same character, and nothing about him suggests he is old.
I would have guessed the original Leatherface was thirty to thirty-five, but it’s hard to say because we never see his face. I was surprised to read Gunnar Hansen was actually twenty-six when the movie was made. I can’t imagine the character being any younger than that. Using Hansen’s real age makes Leatherface seventy-four at the youngest, yet he moves like a man half that age, snaps bones, overpowers the burly contractor, and of course kills those twenty people, stopping only once to rest on a bed. Why can’t this series get ages right anymore? The heroine of the last reboot was thirty-nine played by a twenty-six year old.
At nearly eighty, Leatherface no-sells getting stabbed, run over, shot multiple times, uppercut with his own chainsaw, and drowned in a puddle. Horror villains have always been subject to power creep, but this is too much. Do you remember what it took to fell the original incarnation? A wrench. The driver of the Black Maria throws one square at his face, causing him to fall backward and saw through his leg. The real Leatherface wouldn’t be able to take even one shotgun blast without spazzing.
The real Leatherface is human, vulnerable. He screams when confronted. After claiming his third victim in ten minutes, he panics. He frantically pulls back the curtains to see where the people are coming from. He gets so overwhelmed he has to sit down, then nervously pats his head with his hands, indicating he’s on the autism spectrum. In The Shocking Truth, Hansen recalls spending two days studying the residents of a “campus community for retarded persons” in preparation for the role.
He doesn’t kill for enjoyment. Watch the movie again. He looks frightened and/or irritated that intruders keep traipsing into his home. He kills them as a means to restore order to his world, and because his family commands him to, possibly for meat. His real passions are cross-dressing and interior decorating, which he does with animal carcasses. He’s submissive to the others, cowering in fear when Drayton raises his broomstick. Contrary to what you may read or assume, Drayton is the clear leader in both 1 & 2.
Let’s get back to the new entry. Melody uses Sally’s SUV to hit Leatherface. However, she crashes, impaling herself. Sally, still clinging to life, shoots Leatherface from the trash heap. With her dying breath, she encourages Lila to finish him off once and for all. Lila takes Sally’s gun and tracks Leather into a building. The final showdown, because of course there’s a final showdown, falls incredibly flat. Lila, who as you’ll remember survived a school shooting, is forced to overcome her fear of guns to… shoot Leatherface. Except, it doesn’t work and the deathblow is dealt with his chainsaw, knocking him into a deep puddle for some reason. If this were Jason, I’d understand. The sequence relies on several last-minute Deus Ex Machina saves, a telltale sign of lazy writing.
The whole movie, not just the ending, is overwritten with tons of tired clichés. Hilariously, the excessive goriness, which is all it really has going for it, has the unintended effect of reducing its shock value. TCM22‘s biggest weakness is that it never once feels “real”, like it’s actually happening. I can’t stress this enough, it’s impossible to replicate the effect of an indie shocker on a $20 million budget. TCM22 is nothing more than a creatively bankrupt nostalgia cash-grab attempting to capitalize on the success of the new Halloween movies that somehow gets every single fucking thing wrong about Tobe Hooper’s original. The idiots even put a VHS filter over the end credits despite the original being shot on film before VHS was available and this latest bastardization being shot on digital. The only way the filter makes sense is if it was thrown in to pop the generation that grew up renting the good one on VHS. In short, this franchise is cooked, like Drayton’s award-winning chili.
Reviews of the original often contain vague allusions to “social commentary”, but fail to expand beyond that. I’ve always assumed it was simply a response to the graphic news coverage of the Vietnam War and general uptick in violence across the US of A. In addition to being hot garbage, TCM22 seems compelled to be socially conscious, half-assedly touching on issues such as gentrification and gun control. However, it comes off as pro-gun, which strikes me as odd. It also repeatedly dunks on millennials, its best hope for acceptance. Who else but ignorant teenagers passingly familiar with the title from their parents or grandparents could possibly enjoy this?
The quality of the movie, combined with the fact that we’re sitting at three consecutive entries filmed outside Texas, reaffirms my belief that Hollywood doesn’t “get it” when it comes to horror. This isn’t a hot take. Myself and I’m sure millions of others have felt this way since at least the 2000s when the number of remakes ramped up dramatically. They just can’t leave well enough alone. They milk their cash cows to death, throwing money at remakes without understanding what makes the originals work or caring what fans want. The sad thing is, as long as they profit, the situation will never improve.
Movies used to go twenty-five to thirty years before getting remakes. That number is rapidly shrinking. There were only fourteen years between Cabin Fevers, eleven between the most recent Carries, and nine between the most recent Chainsaw reboots. What a sorry state of affairs.
1. Netflix Film Club. “All The Easter Eggs In Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” Online video clip. YouTube. February 20th, 2022. Web. Access date.
2. Squires, John. “Texas Chainsaw Massacre: Fede Alvarez Confirms the New Movie is a Sequel With ‘Old Man Leatherface'” Bloody Disgusting. March 16th, 2021. Web.