The Texas Chainsaw franchise got yet another prequel in 2017 as we saw a teenage Leatherface escape from a mental hospital with three other inmates, kidnap a young nurse while being pursued by an equally deranged lawman who was out for revenge…..But was it any good?
Out of all the bogeymen that have terrorised the horror genre, poor Leatherface has been left somewhat, wanting within his own franchise. Many poor sequels/remakes have left a sour taste for many who probably and quite rightly have given up on the series, especially after the dire Texas Chainsaw 3D that insulted not just die-hard fans, but also the newcomers who probably sat there thinking “How has there been so many of these shit films?”.
Many people look at the original 1974 film has a horror masterpiece. A film that led the way for a wave of similar films. Even the title, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, brings a chill to the bone, that’s even before the fake “True Story” caption that fooled many back then to believe that Leatherface was real and there was indeed a maniac running around somewhere with a blood soaked chainsaw.
Even those who refuse to watch the film will no doubt have an opinion. Its such a strong title that they’ll be picturing a horror movie where blood flows, limbs fly towards the screen and a chainsaw vastly overworked for the majority of the running time. But fans will tell you and maybe some have forgotten that while there are some unsettling and downright scary moments, like the first time we meet Leatherface as he puts an hammer to poor Kirk, which was such a simple and effective scene that everyone remembers, but just how much blood was shown? Another example is the meat hook scene that poor Pam gets impaled on, its again a moment that all horror fans relish, but compared to the many films that followed, how graphic was it?
Like the original Halloween, that kept Michael Myers in the shadows, a notion every single slasher film afterwards ignored, the original TCM hardly shown any blood or had scenes of tremendous gore that the modern fan brought up on the likes of Hostel who are watching for the first time, will probably questioning why this film has got such a bad reputation?.
The reason why the film is so memorable for many is because it comes across so realistically raw that it leaves such a print in the mind of everyone watching. Its a 1974 film that will forever stand the test of time, because its horrifying and powerful. Its a movie that brings out the fear of your own imagination and for that it should be applauded and cherished and its the reason why its quite rightly always in the Top Five horror films of all time.
Which brings me too Leatherface, yet another origin prequel (didn’t we do this already a few years back?), that shows how a young boy actually became one of the most notorious bogeymen to ever grace the horror world. Do we need this tale? Not really, it never worked for Michael and every fan will tell you, the more you explain the reasons why an iconic slash killer has the need to kill, the more power you take away from him. Sometimes a “no motive” is the scarest notion of all.
All those looking for the simplistic approach of the first film will no doubt give out a huge sign of frustration as the opening 10 minutes contains one gruesome kill and another horrific death that displays more blood and carnage than perhaps all three of the first entries of the franchise. I know its not 1974 anymore and the likes of Saw have changed the genre for ever, but as always, a less is more approach would have helped massively in this favour, but shock horror and this is where this review sorts of get confusing for long time HCF readers, Leatherface works for the majority of its running time.
Influenced by the wave of French films that hit the horror genre in the noughties, which is not surprising as its directed by Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury who broke through with the quite stunning 2007 hit Inside, Leatherface is at times a nasty and vicious horror that owes its thanks to the likes of Rob Zombie’s Halloween remake, which as you know, I’ve hardly got anytime for but for some strange and bizarre reason, this nasty tone works quite well for this particular film, especially as its about the sick and twisted Sawyer family.
I know it sounds like a massive contradiction from myself as how can it work for one franchise and not the other? but as I love Halloween, I always believe that Michael is more powerful when he is just a shape, a mystery force that doesn’t need to be surround by an obnoxious family to prove his point. Here, its more understanding and a bit more realistic. This is a child who doesn’t just snap because he can’t go trick or treating on Halloween night, death and murder has surrounded him from such a young age and the beauty of this film, is what makes him get to the next level and become the famed killer Leatherface?
The journey is something many horror fans will love!
After two murders at the beginning of the film, Texas Ranger, Hal Hartman (Stephen Dorff) gets revenge on the Sawyer family by placing their young son Jed into a mental Asylum, much to the distress of the family head Verna Sawyer (Lili Taylor).
A few years later and after Verna causes a riot at the Asylum, there is a massive breakout and the film follows four escapees, Jackson (Sam Strike), Bud (Sam Coleman), Ike (James Bloor) and Clarice (Jessican Madsen) who kidnap a poor nurse Lizzy (Vanessa Grasse) as hostage and hit the road. What follows is a kind of sick and twisted road trip with the added element of a Scream subplot. We know one of the boys are Jed, but which one will grow into a demented psycho chainsaw killer? To be honest, this aspect is the most weakest of the entire film as while I don’t want to spoil it for you, I hope you’ll have a better time than I did with this part, because I guessed about 20 minutes into the film, something I presume 90% of you will as well.
Thankfully that did not spoil my enjoyment though. There is something quite vicious about this film. There is a diner scene that comes across like a twisted Pulp Fiction homage that thrills -or maybe sickens-your horror bones and while some aspects of the film don’t work, like a sex scene on a dead corpse that comes across so pointless that it feels tacked on just for the sake of it, there is much to enjoy in this fine prequel.
The film helps massively thanks to the talent behind the camera who manage to capture a quite stunning image of depravity and violence that at times, like the original itself, its hard to look. The artistic tone paints a world that not one viewer will want to be in and the film manages to do something that none of the other sequels managed and that is bring fear back to franchise.
As the film gets closer to that infamous farm, you get a much needed sense of dread that the Sawyer family are waiting and the last fifteen minutes is a wonderful trip down memory lane that makes you feel like you are watching an actual prequel for events to come.
Things are not perfect! Why the need for Hollywood to give all their iconic bogeymen motives is beyond me and the reason why Jed finally snaps and becomes Leatherface will require a certain amount of disbelief, but once we in that house of horrors, with the stench of death oozing from the walls, I guess most horror fans will be on-board at what they seeing. I actually had a sense of disappointment that the film ended where it did, as I found myself wanting to see what happened next, but I guess I’ll only have to watch the 2003 film The Beginning again to remind myself of that!
The main compliment that I can give Leatherface is that it doesn’t once harm the series or its roots. For a franchise that has some horrendous entries, it feels for the first time in a long while that we are back in the world that the late Tobe Hooper created. It somehow strikes the balance of the new modern gore trend but at the same time keep the essence that fans of old appreciated.
Its not ground-breaking by any means as the formula itself has been so overused, but when you look back and see a previous sequel that borrowed a Star Trek title and had Matthew McConaughey and Renne Zellweger looking embarrassed through out, you just be thankful that this not an awful film for The Next Generation, but a call back to when the name Leatherface meant something!
The woods are alive with the sound of a chainsaw buzzing and for this horror fan, its a much welcome noise……