Leatherface is back but don’t worry! He’s mostly just killing hipsters.
The newest version of Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a direct sequel to the classic 1975 film. 50 years after the murders the shocked the world, Leatherface is still missing. True crime shows still do specials about the massacre at Harlow, Texas and the mysterious murderer who were a mask made out of human skin. The only survivor of that massacre, Sally Hardestry (Olwen Fouéré, taking over the role from the late Marilyn Burns), went from being a half-crazed hippie to being a Texas Ranger. She spent decades searching for Leatherface but she never found him.
I can only assume this means that Sally was terrible at her job because this film reveals that Leatherface is still living in the small rural town of Harlow, Texas. Harlow has been largely abandoned since the original massacre. But Mrs. Mc (Alice Krige) still owns the orphanage where Leatherface apparently grew up and Leatherface still lives with her, which is weird since Leatherface had a very tight-knit family in the first film and all of the subsequent sequels. (As opposed to what David Gordon Green did with his Halloween reboot, the new Texas Chainsaw Massacre does not go out if its way to specifically deny the canonicity of the other Chainsaw films. I, for one, appreciated that. Regardless to what the critics may say, there’s always been a rather appalling smugness to the way that Green’s Halloween franchise casually wiped out everything that came after Carpenter’s original film.) Unfortunately, the bank has foreclosed on most of Harlow and the town has been bought by a bunch of Austin hipsters, who are planning on turning the town into a Marfa-style artist’s colony. I guess the idea is that artists will be attracted to the town by its cannibalistic history, just as some are attracted to Marfa’s frequent UFO spottings. Of course, the Marfa Lights have never killed anyone but who knows? Austin’s weird.
When the main hipster and the sheriff order Mrs. Mc to leave the orphanage, she has a heart attack. Leatherface accompanies her in the ambulance because, apparently, no one finds it odd that there’s a silent, hulking man wandering around in the same location where a silent, hulking man previously killed a lot of people. About halfway to the hospital, Mrs. Mc dies and Leatherface decides that it’s time to retrieve his tools and go hipster hunting.
The new Texas Chainsaw Massacre isn’t terrible as much as its just generic. Everything about it feels like it’s been lifted from other recent horror revivals. The film opens with some stabs at modern relevance, with scary rednecks glaring at the Yankee invaders and Dante (Jacob Latimore) declaring the Harlow represents the “joys of late stage capitalism.” Lila (Elsie Fisher, who previously starred in Eighth Grade and who gives a good performance here, despite getting stuck with a poorly written character) is a survivor of a school shooting and she gets upset when she sees that the local mechanic owns an AR-15. The film then turns, very briefly, into a social satire when the smug hipsters are revealed to be just as greedy and superficial as the people that they’re looking down on. However, once Leatherface grabs his chainsaw, it turns into just another slasher film. Sally does eventually show up and calls Leatherface a “motherfucker” while pointing a rifle at him but that moment feels a bit too derivative of the recent Halloween films. Perhaps if Marilyn Burns were still alive and had returned to play the role, Sally vs. Leatherface would have been the iconic horror moment that it was obviously meant to be but, with a new actress who doesn’t even have a Texas accent, it just feels a bit forced. The problem with this slasher film being generic is that it’s called Texas Chainsaw Massacre. That’s quite a legacy to live up to and, for a lot of horror fans, generic simply won’t cut it.
Indeed, as I watched this latest version, I couldn’t help but think about what made the original version a classic. The original version used its low budget to its advantage. It had a rough, raw feel to it, one that made you feel as if you were watching real people as opposed to local actors. It also had very little gore, leaving it to the audience to imagine what horror truly went on inside of Leatherface’s kitchen. (Needless to say, the imagination can always come up with something far more disturbing than anything that could actually be captured on film.) This new version takes the opposite approach. If the original worked because it haunted you after the final frame, the new version is all on the surface. There’s a lack of authenticity to this new version of Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The first film was made by Texans and it was filmed in Texas. You could look at any scene in the original and feel the heat and the humidity. This new version was filmed in Bulgaria. Texas may be in the title but it’s nowhere in the film.
(Indeed, one of the main reasons why the original film was a success was because it was identified as taking place in Texas, a state that scared a lot of people when the film was originally released and a state that, admittedly, probably still scare scares a lot of people, even though we’re all pretty nice down here. People would laugh off a Vermont Chainsaw Massacre.)
There’s also no family dynamic in this new version. There’s no sign of Leatherface’s brothers or their ancient grandpa. Once Mrs. Mc dies, it’s pretty much just Leatherface and no one, not even Sally, comments on the fact that Leatherface didn’t work alone in the first film. Without his family around, Leatherface just becomes another silent serial killer. There were times, in the sequel, where he seemed like he had more in common with Rob Zombie’s version of Michael Myers than with the overwhelmed but hard-working Leatherface of the original film.
That said, on the positive side, I did appreciate the remake’s final scene. It was a bit predictable but it still managed to be enjoyably chaotic. What’s more annoying? Leatherface or a self-driving car?