Even during this impossibly fertile period of horror legacy sequels in which Michael Myers, Ghostface, Chucky and Candyman all got polished, new adventures, never did I ever think we’d get a new installment of Texas Chainsaw Massacre. After all, the previous entries (2013’s ludicrous Texas Chainsaw 3D and 2017’s forgettable Leatherface) hardly reved the franchise’s motor much and of all the horror icons, Leatherface seems toughest to sequelize while still maintaining the unrelenting tension of Tobe Hooper’s peerless 1974 original.
Well, producer Fede Álvarez (director of Don’t Breathe and the Evil Dead remake) is next in line to try and fire up the saw and along with director David Blue Garcia, he’s bringing everyone’s favourite skin-wearing berserker to Netflix where blood won’t be the only thing that’s streaming profusely…
Young entrepreneurs Melody and Dante are making the arduous, seven hour drive to the abandoned Texan town of Harlow in order to auction off properties to create a gentrified space for other, trendy influencers such as themselves. Joining them on their trip to hopefully create a new Eden for Tiktokers is Dante’s fiancee and Melody’s sister Lila, who is still trying to process the trauma of being wounded in a school shooting and matters get off to a shaky start when they discover an old woman living at the local orphanage and her hulking, silent companion who claims that she still owns the deed to the place. After an argument with Dante (who may not exactly be on the up and up) causes the old bird to have a long overdue heart attack, she’s rushed away with her giant, middle-aged ward in tow, but when she croaks on route to the hospital, it causes something to pop in the brain of the gargantuan gentleman that’s going to cause a world of hurt for the coach full of smug investors lining up to open places with names like “Brady’s Brunch”. You see, this isn’t you average towering lunatic, this is a retired maniac dubbed Leatherface who, along with his cannibal family, was responsible for multiple murders back in the 70’s and subsequently went into hiding after one of their victims got away.
After getting back in the game by carving himself a brand new face covering and reaquainting himself with his trusty chainsaw, Leatherface tools up to show these interlopers exactly who they’re dealing with, but as he starts racking up some spectacularly gruesome kills, someone has been waiting patiently for him to resurface. That person is Sally Hardesty, the sole survior of Leatherface’s last massacre, who since has gone from tortured hippie to retired Texas ranger and has a huge bone to pick with her Chainsaw swinging nemesis.
Over many years – and many victims – Leatherface has amassed a franchise that has just about as many different timelines than Michael Myers, so it’s fitting that the Texan terror take a page from the Shape’s most recent spree by having both the antagonist and their opposite number both shake off their advanced years for one final showdown. However, Leatherface has actually been down this road before back in 2017 which had a similar “Old Man Leatherface” plot, but where Texas Chainsaw 3D was a ludicrous farce, this shiny, new 2022 edition is slightly more easier to shallow – sort of.
You see, despite some truly outstanding gore, Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s brief run time is loaded with the sort of silly decision making that the cast of a Scream movie would relentlessly take the piss out of. Characters run off on their own, trespass in creepy houses whenever they can and seem weirdly unfazed when presented with the sight of an obese, blood soaked, stranger with a chainsaw and the result is that’s its virtually impossible to give a crap about a single one of these people.
The script gives us some haphazard character motivations too, which leave you a little confused about what the movie is actually trying to say; for someone freaked out after her past ordeal, Lila seems oddly fascinated by firearms despite the audience being told that she’s terrified of them and the fact that the whole bloody mess is kicked of by someone demanding to take down a southern flag creates some frustratingly mixed messages. Are the noticably annoying influencers wrong to take the flag (read: controversial statues) down to the extent that it deserves to cause a vicious bloodbath, or are we supposed to take Leatherface’s retaliation as a clumbsy metaphor as some kind of far right overreaction? Or neither? The Texas Chainsaw Massacre had it’s fair share of social commentary (mostly about hippies and Vietnam), while even the macabre, black comedy of Tobe Hooper’s Part 2 took aim at Regan’s America and yuppies, but this ninth film seems to be all over the place.
Still, it’s darkly satisfying to see our loping anti-hero come face to leatherface with a small army of cell phones as he and his roaring saw are threatened with being cancelled, only to retaliate with an impressive, frenzied bloodbath. It here where David Blue Garcia’s movie finally finds its feet with some handsomely staged violence that contains all the skull cracking and body sawing a gleeful gorehound could possibly hope for with an early moment involving one poor bastard having his wrist snapped and having the jagged bone pushed into his throat being especially memorable.
Also working well is Mark Burnham’s hugely physical performance as Leatherface himself that does right by the late Gunnar Hansen, and should Netflix and Legendary manage to produce further adventures of our southern saw slaughterer, then the man should surely be a shoo-in to don Leatherface’s questionable head gear in the future.
However, in such an event, the filmmakers had better get their act together a Iittle better than this. While gorgeously shot (Leatherface peeking over a horde of rotting sunflowers is a keeper) and relentlessly bloody, the original was actually gritty and virtually bloodless and the much ballyhooed return of Sally Hardesty (Mandy’s Olwen Fouéré filling in for the late Marilyn Burns) ends up being something of a non-event.
While a moderate step up from the last couple of installments, Texas Chainsaw Massacre covers barely any new ground at all and relies chiefly on it’s extreme bloodletting to carry it on through.
Been there, sawed that.