Review: Texas Chainsaw Massacre Picks Up Where the 1974 Version Left Off, For Better or Worse

Thankfully not a reboot or remake, this Texas Chainsaw Massacre serves as a direct (albeit 50-years-later) sequel to the events of Tobe Hooper’s 1974 landmark work The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (so technically, not the same title), which detailed the infamous 1973 massacre that left a single survivor named Sally Hardesty. In this universe, the Texas town near where the original killings took place has turned into something of a tourist attraction, and even the Hooper film exists as something of a fictional document of the real-life events. But for all the world knows, the killer known as Leatherface was never seen again after the incident, which leads us to this new film from cinematographer-turned-director David Blue Garcia (Tejano) and produced by Evil Dead (remake) and Don’t Breathe director Fede Álvarez.

The modern story starts with a group of 20-somethings from Austin who are tired of feeling priced out in that city and have invested heavily into buying up the small, remote town of Harlow, which has effectively been abandoned. On hand, we have the ringleaders of the group, Melody (Sarah Yarkin) and Dante (Jacob Latimore, The Chi), as well as her sister Lila (Elsie Fisher, Eighth Grade), and his significant other, Ruth (Nell Hudson). They are here to finalize plans in advance of a busload of potential investors arriving later the same day, all of whom will be buying up buildings at an auction. They meet up with their locally based contractor Richter (Moe Dunford), who is somewhat distrustful of these outsiders. But he also likes getting paid, since jobs have been scarce before this group moved in.

As they go door to door to check on the state of things in each building, they come across an elderly woman (Alice Krige), who was the head of the local orphanage and believes she’s squared things with the bank to stay right where she is. But when the local authorities come to take her away, her sole last “orphan” makes a shadowy appearance at the top of the stairs. We never see his face (although he’s played by the great character actor Mark Burnham, Low Life), and when the old woman collapses while being arrested, this hulking figure jumps in the awaiting van to go to the hospital with her. Of course, she dies along the way, sparking the murderous rage of the man traveling with her, who turns out to be Leatherface, in hiding and kept dormant as a killer under her care for the last 50 years.

The rest of the film is a bit easier to predict, but I will tell you it involves a chainsaw. Nothing about this version of Texas Chainsaw Massacre resembles or attempts to mimic or pay tribute to Hooper’s film, and that’s probably for the best. Not only does it feel entirely slick and modern, it’s pretty clear a certain amount of CG is involved in some of the kills. I will give the film credit for some fairly original and outrageous deaths by chainsaw. I’d always considered the chainsaw a fairly blunt instrument when it comes to cutting into something, but apparently it’s practically a surgical instrument in terms of its sharpness and precise cutting abilities. The film is a bit of a throwback to classic slasher films, so the blood and guts flow freely, as it should be in a film with this title (even though the original movie was surprisingly light on extreme gore).

A couple other strange elements to this movie. Lila’s defining character trait is that she’s the survivor of a high school shooting. She was one of many victims, and even though her wounds were serious, she didn’t die. So sensing a similar type of mass murderer in her sphere once again sends her into a tailspin that she must break free of in order to survive once again. Being some of the last survivors of Leatherface, the sisters are aided by none other than Sally Hardesty (now played by Olwen Fouere), who went on to become a Texas Ranger and spent her life hunting down Leatherface unsuccessfully (until now). She’s retired now, but still keeps her ears on the police scanner for any signs of her tormenter and has an arsenal of weapons at the ready.

Make no mistake, the film (with a screenplay by Chris Thomas Devlin) isn’t particularly inspired, especially since it kind of sees Leatherface’s rampage as somewhat justified, particularly after we discover the old woman taking care of him may have been right about still owning her orphanage and these young punks were taking advantage of the situation. Also, the survivor’s story angle just doesn’t work, through no fault of Fisher’s. She’s just been handed a badly conceived part, even though I see what they were trying (and failing) to do. It’s far from classic horror, but it’s trying something a little different from many sequels I see, and many of the kills are pretty spectacular. That still has to count for something in this crazy world.

The film is now streaming on Netflix.

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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet
Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for
Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and
filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a
frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine.
He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently
owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for
the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer
for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the
city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.

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