The Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise has been pretty brutal as a whole, and I’m not talking about the films’ violent content. Ever since the 1974 original from Tobe Hooper, there has been a major struggle with creating sequels, remakes, and reboots that not only accurately recapture the spirit of the original, but also simply scratch the surface of watchability. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is perhaps the only real sequel that finds any sort of success as Hooper returned to direct, but rather took a more satirical approach to the material. Its 2003 remake, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, while rough around the edges, is generally successful in recreating the brutal, oppressive tone of the first. Every other film in the franchise, however, has passed between many studios and has had enough retcons and reboots to power a small city. After the universally panned Texas Chainsaw 3D and less seen prequel Leatherface, Millennium Films, the rights holders at the time, lost the rights to the franchise which was then picked up by the likes of Dune studio Legendary Pictures, with Fede Álvarez of Evil Dead and Don’t Breathe fame producing and receiving story credit on the film. While shooting was troubled with the original two directors (Ryan and Andy Tohill) being fired well into production and shooting starting over with David Blue Garcia in the director’s chair, there was hope with the promise of a proven studio and producers behind the project to finally get the franchise back on its feet.
And, as Elisabeth Shaw from the Ridley Scott film Prometheus once said, “We were wrong. We were so, so wrong.”
Melody (Sarah Yarkin) is a young influencer traveling with her sister Lila (Elsie Fisher), business partner Dante (Jacob Latimore), and Dante’s fiancée, Catherine (Jessica Allain), from Austin to Harlow, Texas, to begin work on buying the town’s property, and gentrifying it for a hip small-town crowd. When disruptions with the local townspeople end in tragedy for an elderly lifelong resident of Harlow, the son of said resident, the eponymous Leatherface, takes up arms against the gentrifiers descending upon the town, and, after 48 years, survivor of the original film, Sally Hardesty (Olwen Fouéré) arrives to exact her revenge against Leatherface.
Where do I even begin with this exercise in incompetence? I’m not necessarily one to believe that when a film has a troubled production, it’s bound to be a disappointing final product, but maybe I should believe that because there is not a single second of this movie where it feels like anyone had any grasp of what was going on at a basic level. This is a bafflingly inept slasher film, even by Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise standards, because even some of the worst entries in this series can either provide a level of brutal nastiness, or at least a level of unintentional laughs that provides its own form of entertainment. This, does none of the sort. It’s the type of film that is somehow incredibly lazy while also taking itself very seriously to try to compete with the likes of David Gordon Green’s Halloween reboot series or Radio Silence’s Scream.
And I genuinely think that the Texas Chainsaw Massacre series is one that shouldn’t be that hard to succeed with. No one is asking anyone to reinvent the wheel here, and a big dude with a chainsaw terrorizing piece-of-shit teenagers doesn’t require Denis Villeneuve-levels of filmmaking prowess (even if it did, Legendary Pictures knows how to produce that kind of spectacle). I don’t need subplots about gentrification or school massacres, I don’t need legacy characters showing their faces simply for the sake of it, I don’t need any of this. I need a big dude with a skin mask ripping teenagers apart with his scary family, and I truly don’t think I’m asking for that much here.
While making characters unlikable can occasionally be a good way to hype an audience up for the inevitable moments that they bite the dust in horrible ways, Texas Chainsaw Massacre has characters so entirely unredeemable that I struggled to even make it to the first kill before completely checking out of whatever story they were going for here. They are empty, mean-spirited caricatures of how Baby Boomers and Gen-X view Millennials and Gen-Z people to be. You need at least one line of goodness in a cast of characters to build suspense, to actually root for, as things get down to the nitty gritty. Without that, a horror film is simply left with an annoying group of people that it’s tough spending even 75 minutes with (did I mention this film is only 75 minutes long?). Add to that a complete disrespect of the character of Sally Hardesty in a very obviously last-minute addition to the story, as well as wasting the great Alice Krige in a do-nothing role and it’s all pretty inexcusable. Even worse is that they somehow roped Eighth Grade breakout star Elsie Fisher into this! She has done nothing to deserve this disrespect.
Okay, but if the characters all suck, then that must make the titular massacre at hand a lot more enjoyable to watch as we relish in their gruesome deaths, correct? Wrong. That would imply that Texas Chainsaw Massacre is well-directed enough to actually pull off a kill scene with any semblance of skill, and I refuse to give this film that much credit. For a film series so famous for its violence and gore, Texas Chainsaw Massacre seems very keen on cutting away right at the point where things are getting interesting. Whether it’s a door blocking the view, or the camera simply turning back around to Leatherface as he brutalizes some douchebag, there are very few points in the film where we got the goods, the things that could’ve somewhat excused everything I’ve mentioned up to this point had it just fulfilled its baseline promise of being a chainsaw massacre that happens in Texas. And yet…Leatherface doesn’t even pick up his eponymous chainsaw until about two-thirds of the way through the film, so it can’t even keep the promise of its title.
There is only one thing about Texas Chainsaw Massacre I liked, and that was its end credits sequence. While resembling Álvarez’s Evil Dead credits sequence, it’s stylish and unique and features a great track from composer Colin Stetson. It’s also great because it signifies that this absolutely terrible film is over. I really can’t pinpoint where everything with Texas Chainsaw Massacre went wrong, because every single thing about it is so steeped in cinematic incompetence that I can’t figure out what they were even going for here. It’s truly one of the more bewildering franchise films I’ve ever seen, and I truly mean that as a derogatory statement. Its “statement” on gentrification makes Nia DaCosta’s Candyman feel like a doctoral dissertation, its sub-plot with a character using rage from surviving a school shooting to fight Leatherface is gross and tasteless, and it doesn’t even fulfill the requirements of being thrilling, violent, or fun. Being better than Texas Chainsaw 3D is not a high bar to clear, but at least that film had the “Do your thing, cuz!” line that changed the trajectory of my life forever and added a little humor to the whole thing, of which this has none. No thrill, no humor, no soul — this is as DOA of a franchise entry as you can possibly find.
Available on Netflix February 18th, 2022.
Final score: 0.5 out of 5.