Director: David Blue Garcia
Stars: Elsie Fisher, Nell Hudson, Sarah Yarkin
I’m a frequent Texas Chainsaw Massacre apologist, especially when it comes to some of the much-maligned remakes and sequels. I’m ring-fencing Tobe Hooper’s original here. It’s a visceral classic that might just be the ultimate horror film. It’s so inimitable, in fact, that those who’ve tried have often struggled to embarrassing degrees. Hooper reframed his original as a hysteria-driven comedy in 1986 for the first official sequel. After that? Things get (appropriately) choppy. But in amongst what followed there are the giddy delights of the trashtastic Next Generation (featuring before-they-broke-big performances from Matthew McConaughey and Renée Zellweger) and the illogical hucksterism of 2013’s under-appreciated Texas Chainsaw 3D; a film so reprehensibly stupid that I’ve adored it since day dot.
But I have my limits. Marcus Nispel’s nihilistic early ’00s reboot remains a chore (bested by it’s own less-profitable prequel) and I think we’ve all decided that the 2017 Leatherface simply doesn’t exist (easily done; it got buried). But what then for David Blue Garcia’s new offering, which has been dumped onto Netflix by Legendary Pictures in rather inauspicious fashion? Are there enough revs left in this series to make it big on the small screen?
Taking it’s cues from David Gordon Green’s smash Halloween of a couple years back, this one discounts all previous sequels and adopts the mask of being the first ‘true’ follow-up. But by now this is a move that’s almost traditional for TCM. This franchise may even hold the record for it.
Ruth (Nell Hudson), Lila (Elsie Fisher!), her sister Melody (Sarah Yarkin) and Ruth’s boyfriend Dante (Jacob Latimore) dream big of gentrifying the dusty no-horse burg of Harlow, Texas. And, despite having a business plan that wouldn’t even get them a spot on The Apprentice, they’ve arrived with a coachload of investors in tow. Too bad that the locals amount to a hayseed bunch of rednecks, racists and gun-toting loons. Every former inhabitant is supposed to have been runoff by the bank (yay?), but it doesn’t seem like anyone got the memo.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre openly despises the backwards/backwoods values of rural Texas – caricatured here in the broadest of strokes (another series staple) – but it’s often just as contemptuous of it’s city teens with their ‘woke’ agenda and flashy cellphones. The mindset here is a little hard to fathom, then. Or, rather, the film gives the impression that it wasn’t even considered in the first place. Charitably, one might say it’s going the jovial take-no-prisoners route of Craig Zobel’s The Hunt, but it hasn’t been assembled with nearly the prerequisite level of wit.
Our new Leatherface (Mark Burnham) is also a bit of a conundrum. Rather than a confused and terrified human monster hidden from the world on a rural farm, he seems to live in plain sight on the Harlow high street. Texas Chainsaw Massacre seems to mark his gestation into fully-fledged face-wearing freak, ‘triggered’ by the trespassing of our wayward teens. It’s only later that we’re encouraged to believe he’s the same villain from 50 years ago? Boy, can that ol’ timer run! Still, he’s the only one here who remains dutifully committed to wearing a mask, making him an inadvertent champion of caution for our COVID-ridden times.
Often unintentionally funny rather than scary, Garcia’s film manifests the necessary gore and grue, but never does it shock. When the story throws an old, embittered and battle-ready Sally Hardesty (Olwen Fouéré) into the mix, it plays as a blatant grab for a Laurie Strode-style bridge to credibility. Plucky as she was, Sally never quite achieved the same ubiquity as Jamie Lee Curtis’ terrorised babysitter, and recasting her lessens the impact of this fan service also. Maybe it’s for the best though, considering where this movie decides go with it’s legacy character…
So for those with a fondness for the doolally in these sequels, is there anything to recommend? Well, it’s slim pickings. An utterly absurd sequence aboard a kind of… discobus(?)… provides a handful of splatterific highlights, and the chugging motor of the rock soundtrack when Sally strides across the town thoroughfare with her shotgun at least hints are the spirited fun this could have been. But such moments are notably scarce, and the movie is more inclined toward the humdrum, predictable and pedestrian, no matter how many buckets of blood it empties in the process.
Long at 83 minutes, Texas Chainsaw Massacre is the kind of bog-standard bad that doesn’t bode well for it’s future potential as a cult pick. And I can’t picture myself weighing in to justify it’s existence in the cacophony of also-rans this series has produced. It is fleetingly silly, but more often than that it’s just plain old forgettable.
So, the opposite of Hooper’s 1974 picture, then.