As horror history has resolutely and repeatedly taught us is that the Texas Chainsaw movies are particularly hard to sequelize so producer Michael Bay chose to take a different route and try to see if a prequel to the 2003 remake would fit Leatherface as snugly as his trademark, bloodied apron.
To be fair, it wasn’t a bad shout as Marcus Nispell’s modernized attempt was entertainingly decent – containing enough cool shit to haul itself over the sizable hurdle of not really having much of it’s own identity – but left it’s villainous cast in a decidedly un-sequel-friendly state by the end credits.
Wisely deciding against fashioning a story around a period where R. Lee Emery’s breakout character Sheriff Hoyt is dead and Leatherface has only one arm we start our tale in an impoverished part of Texas in the year 1939 where a young woman collapses at her workplace at a meat packing plant and squirts a deformed baby all over the floor. The trash is the unfortunate child’s next stop but is picked up by Luda Mae Hewitt (the eventual matriarch of the cannibalistic family) who takes him home and names him Thomas. Skip 30 years later and Thomas has grown into a hulking man mountain who mindlessly hacks meat at the same plant he was born in complete with a leather facial appliance to cover his facial deformities – so much for the origin story then – who snaps and murders his boss with a lump hammer the day the plant shuts down due to bankruptcy. The sheriff is alerted and demands Thomas’ uncle comes to help bring him in but when he’s spotted loping down a deserted country road dragging a Chainsaw with him (the film’s only true iconic image), uncle Hoyt blows the sheriff away with a shotgun, steals his identity and pronounces himself lawmaker of this poverty stricken part of the state. Plus, to help keep him and his family alive, Hoyt insists that they eat the body and that they should continue to prey on people for survival.
While this cheery family meeting is going on, Eric is off to re-enlist in the raging Vietnam conflict and us getting his younger brother Dean to sign up too despite his unspoken misgivings and their respective girlfriends Chrissie and Bailey have similar doubts.
Getting into a serious accident by hitting a cow that bursts like it’s half water balloon, the quartet fall foul of Sheriff Hoyt who uses Dean’s burnt draft card as an excuse to haul them all in save Chrissie (a desperate looking Jordana Brewster who looks like she’s praying that the Fast & Furious franchise is gonna start up again) who was thrown clear in the crash and follows Hoyt’s car to the Hewitt homestead.
What follows is the usual torture porn scenarios interspersed with occasional escape attempts and even a scene where the family itself curiously has their home invaded (it doesn’t last long) but what actually doesn’t transpire is anything that comes close to an origin story and the film instead fills in questions that I don’t remember anyone asking such as how Hoyt lost his teeth, how Uncle Monty lost his legs (hint: chainsaw) and whose face exactly is Leatherface wearing. It also has that weird prequel thing where we’re expected to believe that such life altering experiences such as the ones above all happened over such a compact period of time. Narked that Solo gave Han his gun, co-pilot, and ship in a two week period? Well, be prepared for a scoff overload as everything I just mentioned that befalls the Hewitt clan happens in only one night. Hell of a coincidence, right?
Thankfully skipping over which store Monty got his wheelchair from or how Leatherface settled on what thread to use for his masks, TCSM:TB, like it’s predecessor, is a slick, competent gore flick boasting impressive blood letting (bisection features quite prominently) and yet another satisfyingly harrowing bout of yelling from the late, great Emery, while never one rising above being simply “not shit” for the entirety of it’s run time.
The youthful cast are fine, if utterly inauthentic for people living in the late 60’s with Matt Bomer especially looking way too gorgeous for someone who has apparently weathered two tours in ‘Nam. Everyone screams when they should and dies gloriously when needed, knowing full well it’s the bad guys who people are coming to see and Andrew Bryniarski’s second go-round at Thomas Hewitt, while still leaning too much into the lumbering powerhouse bracket, has a nice line in unspoken, bottled rage.
Director Jonathan Liebesman, who would continue working with Bay for the divisive Ninja Turtle reboot, lays out the carnage nicely and builds to a abrupt, if nicely downbeat ending.
Predictably light years away from the peerless original yet never even coming close to the low points of the diabolical fourth installment, this film (again, like it’s predecessor) ends up merely being a footnote in the franchise in general, progressively coming off as a slightly better film than it actually is with every subsequent bad sequel that is made.
Diverting, but hardly off the hook.