A new entry into the Texas Chain Saw Massacre series – reboot, reimagining, call it what you will – lands on screens at a poignant moment; just as genre star and creator of the Chain Saw series Tobe Hooper passes away. Hooper’s original movie is a high water mark of the horror genre and remains celebrated for its unflinching visual style and relentless sound design. The follow-up movies have really been a series of diminishing returns, though, and it seems like the franchise has twisted itself in knots rebooting itself every few years, without creating much in the way of impact or presenting anything particularly original.
Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo, known for their contributions to New French Extremity and aborted attempts to reboot other well-known horror properties Halloween and Hellraiser, take the reins here. It many respects, it’s pretty much a case of “more of the same” with Leatherface, a respectful and stylish, but not enormously original reboot-cum-prequel to the first Hooper movie.
Kicking off with a prequel in 1950’s rural Texas, a psychotic family holds a bizarre interpretation of a birthday party and a young boy is gifted a chainsaw and invited to dismember a hostage.
Flash-forward via the murder of the sheriff’s daughter and the youngest son has been removed from the family and now resides in a facility for mentally disturbed youngsters. Vanessa Grasse’s nurse pitches up for her first day on the job just as the lunatics begin, literally, to take over the asylum; and, following a break-out, Leatherface settles into gear as a violent road movie with Grasse dragged along by the newly free patients for the ride and with the previously wronged Sheriff in hot pursuit.
It’s this road movie element, playing out like a massively gruesome Bonnie & Clyde, mad love jaunt, that gives Leatherface most of its, admittedly limited, charm. Narratively, Leatherface avoids pitching itself as a simple repeat of previous films, although it does blend elements – the manic lawman and the cross-country trip – from previous sequels. The odd narrative curveball keeps you guessing to some extent, so it’s admirably better and more interesting, than it could have been.
You do, however, still come away with something of a sense of replication. For all its welcome murders-on-the-run twist, there’s a sense that old ground is still being re-tread. The eighth Chain Saw movie has a couple of surprises to pull, but probably not nearly enough to make you feel truly pleased that Lionsgate has decided to mine this franchise once again.
Maury and Bustillo introduced the movie with a mention of the now-departed godfather of the series, Hooper. They pointed out that his Executive Producer credit was no more than a courtesy and that he “didn’t give a shit” about the new movie. Perhaps that withering lack of approval sums up the whole experience. It’s slick, with the requisite number of nods and throwbacks, and a couple of slivers of originality; but Leatherface still feels a touch like the movie equivalent of the shrugging of the shoulders.
Dir: Julien Maury, Alexandre Bustillo
Scr: Seth M. Sherwood
Starring: Stephen Dorff, Lili Taylor, Finn Jones, Vanessa Grasse, Sam Strike,
Prd: Christa Campbell, Lati Grobman, Carl Mazzocone, Les Weldon
DOP: Antoine Sanier
Music: John Frizzell
Runtime: 90 minutes