When it comes to horror, the 1974 Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one of the most relentless and effective horror films in history. As a series, the franchise is nothing short of a jumbled mess, lacking any sort of unifying vision. There have been some decent sequels, like the oddly comedic 2nd film and the surprisingly effective remake, and others that were beyond horrible such as the unbelievably bad 4th film or the surprisingly awful Chainsaw 3D. Since the series has been such a mish-mash of ideas, I didn’t go into the latest Texas Chainsaw Massacre with high expectations. This in some ways made the movie worse, because what started off as a pleasant surprise turned into another disappointment.
The new film has an interesting setup. A group of social media influencers Melody (Sarah Yerkin), Dante (Jacob Latimore), Ruth (Nell Hudson) and Melody’s sister Lila (Elsie Fisher) who have purchased a home in the run-down ghost town of Harlow, Texas in the hopes of renovating it as an event for their platform. They run into trouble when one of the town’s residents Mrs. Mc (Alice Krige) is kicked out of her home as a result of their arrival, enraging a mysterious mountain of a man in her care who turns out to be none other than Leatherface from the 1974 original. As the bodies pile on, this catches the attention of retired Texas Ranger Sally Hardesty (Olwen Fouere), who survived the original and is now looking for some payback.
Though this new iteration of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre will no doubt receive a lot of negative attention, it actually starts very strong. As far as recent horror films go, this is one of the most to-the-point entries we’ve seen in a while, and the sleek runtime of 73 minutes also helps quicken the pace. When it comes to Chainsaw 2022, there are not a lot of dead spots to be found. The film also has some of the better characters we’ve seen in a while. Most of the characters are not very likable and are so very focused on their social media presence that they spend the better part of the film badmouthing locals and not properly checking their claims to certain properties. The two leads, Melody and Lila, are very memorable. Lila has recently survived a school shooting, leaving Melody feeling very protective of her. This is much to Lila’s chagrin, who wants nothing more than to re-establish her independence. Melody also shows signs of doubt about their plan as the movie goes on, and shows a genuine concern for Mrs. Mc following her eviction, a sharp contrast to her internet-obsessed compatriots.
One of the pleasures of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre was it showed violence can be raw and real without any gore, something none of the sequels have tried to replicate. Thankfully, the gory set pieces here do push the envelope, creating some memorable deaths for its diverse cast of characters. Gorehounds rest assured. There are disembowelments, hammerings, jaws being split open with cleavers and plenty of uses for a chainsaw. Things come to a head when Leatherface finds his way onto a teen crowded party bus and proceeds to cut his way through the nameless ensemble with bloody fervor, while the film’s heroes try to find a way to escape from the enclosed space alive. This scene, vastly different from the grit I look for in a Chainsaw film, was surprisingly well done, and recalled the train attacks in films like Train to Busan or Predator 2.
However, Texas Chainsaw really shines in its ability to build suspense. An oft-forgotten part of slasher films is how the build-up to the killing is sometimes more impactful than the killing itself, and here, it’s the buildup that takes up the best parts of the show. One character is stuck in a van for several minutes watching Leatherface craft a new mask, unable to escape as the killer slowly makes their way up to them. Another character is strapped in the killer’s home for the better part of half an hour while their friends are just outside, unaware of their predicament. This exciting cat and mouse set piece was not only the best scene in the film, but one of the best scenes in the franchise as a whole, showing how quiet suspense and threat of death trump gore any day.
Sounds good, right? So far yes, but now we’re getting into problem territory.
The film has problems in how it presented Leatherface. Given the character’s reputation, it’s easy to forget that the character is subordinate to his relatives in the original. He’s so frightened and submissive to his relatives that he doesn’t fight back the numerous times he’s subject to verbal and physical abuse from his brothers. More unusually, he shows fear and surprise when people unexpectedly show up. One of the most memorable scenes in the original Texas Chainsaw was of Leatherface starting to panic after a third teenager surprises him in his own house. This panicky, submissive side doesn’t make Leatherface less monstrous, but it does make him more interesting and sets him apart from many other slasher villains. As in most of the sequels, Leatherface here is portrayed as nothing more than a sadistic brute, with none of the energy or tendency to panic that we saw in the original.
But even with that problem, Texas is still one of the better sequels out there, right? It is for the first two-thirds. Where it fails is that final third. One of the biggest lessons any storyteller must remember is no matter what, you need to make sure your story ends strong. No matter how effective what came before is, if they leave with a bad taste in their mouths, you’ve failed. For this film, it falls apart once Sally from the original arrives. Following on the heels of the 2018 Halloween, filmmakers attempted to have the original’s Sally also take on an obsessed survivalist role. It’s something that could have worked very well, but some missteps with the character ultimately start draining away the good graces the film had built up to this point.
In order to explain why this doesn’t work, we’ll need to get into some spoilers, so if you don’t want to have the film ruined, feel free to skip through the following section.
The first sign of trouble came when Sally arrived in town and, obsessed with her revenge on Leatherface, ends up locking the surviving characters in her car, putting their lives in danger for the sake of her vendetta. Obviously, Sally would have been changed and perhaps hardened by her experiences, but myself and another fan couldn’t help but groan when this happened, seeing it as nothing more than a convenience to keep the young leads in the story while Sally and Leatherface duked it out.
Their fight builds to an anticlimax, with Sally getting chainsawed to the belly mere minutes after coming to face her nemesis. After seeing this character for the first time since the original, I have to say as a fan that Sally was done some serious wrong here. In perhaps the film’s silliest moment, Sally manages to survive her attack for a few minutes, giving some advice to the young leads before she ultimately passes on. After that, the film never quite recovers.
Most horror films feel the need to end with a jump, even when it’s not called for. It’s a trend popularized by films like Carrie and Friday the 13th, and has become something of a proud genre tradition. Here the filmmakers forced it, having one of the two films heroes beheaded while the other watches from their car, unable to help as the vehicle autopilots away. To see a character go through so much only to be killed in the closing seconds may not be new for the genre, but for some reason here it elicited a groan from me. The ending didn’t feel earned like the downbeat endings in movies like The Thing or The Omen. This felt like a cheap attempt to shock the audience, and was the final nail in the coffin for a film that actually managed to bring a little bit of craftsmanship to the long suffering Chainsaw series.
The original Texas Chainsaw is one of my all time favorites, and after all these years still has the ability to wear down its audience with a relentless assault on the senses. No sequel has ever tried to replicate that, and maybe it will be impossible to ever capture that feeling again. This film tried to do something a little different, mixing raw brutality with quiet suspense to create what started as a refreshing and fast paced splatter film. For that, I hesitate to give this film a D. But once that final act began, it became frustrating. It wasn’t because of fan anger. It was just disappointing to see what began as a pleasant surprise turn into exactly what I went in expecting.
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