The baffling sequel–how old is Leatherface supposed to be, anyway?–offers equal amounts gore & awful “these kids today” gags
Try as they may (as of today we’re up to the ninth film in the series), no other film in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise has come close to the original. Oh, a few of them have been entertaining in their own bananas way, like part 2, but no sequel, remake, or origin story can recreate the bleak grittiness of the first film, no matter how many new members of the cannibalistic Sawyer family they add to it.
Though John Larroquette returns to once again narrate the beginning, David Blue Garcia’s take on a sequel, simply called Texas Chainsaw Massacre, falls apart almost from the start. Mirroring some of the worst aspects of Halloween Kills, right down to bringing back a familiar character and allowing her to do almost nothing, the stale out of touch hipster jokes reflect how long it was kicked around before being unceremoniously released on Netflix, with almost no promotion.
Ostensibly a direct sequel to the 1974 film, it opens once again with a carload of young people out in the vast middle of nowhere in Texas, seven hours away from civilization. But rather than just a bunch of ordinary folks on a road trip, these people are big city snobs with dollar signs in their eyes. Dante (Jacob Latimore) and Melody (Sarah Yarkin) are business partners, traveling with Dante’s girlfriend, who doesn’t get a name, and Melody’s younger sister, Lila (Elsie Fisher), a school shooting survivor. This is irrelevant to the plot, and does little else, along with the embarrassing line about threatening Leatherface with cancellation, except to place the events in a distinctly contemporary setting.
Dante and Melody have bought an entire abandoned town, a town they apparently have never set foot in (or made sure was really abandoned) until that very day. “We’re idealistic individuals who want to build a better world,” one of them explains to a skeptical local, but naturally what they’re really looking to do is flip every property in the town and resell them to other predatory rich people, following shortly behind in a party bus. We know what kind of people these are, because they say stuff like “I love brunch,” and show up in the middle of a desert with a sweater thrown over their shoulders.
The very first home Dante and Melody enter is still occupied by its previous owner, Mrs. Mc (Alice Krige), and she’s so upset by being evicted that she drops dead. This activates a kill switch in the other person living in her home, Leatherface himself (Mark Burnham), now presumably a senior citizen but still swinging sledgehammers and slicing off faces like a teenager. He makes short work of the obnoxious interlopers who’ve interfered with his privacy, and you know what? Good for him, all of them, save maybe for Lila, deserve it.
And there lies the problem with Texas Chainsaw Massacre A.D. 2022. The original, as with Halloween a few years later, worked because of the randomness of the attack. Sally Hardesty and her friends mean no harm when they show up at Leatherface’s home, they just sort of end up there, looking for gas. Here, Melody and the others are intruders, who are there to take and destroy what once belonged to people they perceive as beneath them, and the deaths that ensue aren’t so much scary as meant to be satisfying, which is about as far from the spirit of the original as possible.
The stale out of touch hipster jokes reflect how long it was kicked around before being unceremoniously released on Netflix, with almost no promotion.
Speaking of Sally Hardesty, she’s still around too, though now played by Olwen Fouéré. Like her sister in final girlhood Laurie Strode, Sally has spent the decades following her traumatic experience right near where it happened, plotting revenge instead of trying to move on with her life. Her primary purpose seems to be so that the audience can cheer for a legacy character (briefly) showing up, but the fact that she’s played by a completely different actor (Marilyn Burns, the original Sally, died in 2014) considerably mutes that. Like the hipster jokes and a decrepit “everybody’s too busy taking pictures with their smartphones to realize they’re in imminent danger” gag, Sally seems to be a victim of how long Texas Chainsaw Massacre was in development, and how many rewrites and edits it went through. She seems like she might have had a more relevant role in the plot at some point, until it was whittled down to superfluousness. Sally deserved better.
The closest it comes to looking like the original is that the daytime scenes are filmed through a brownish haze that looks like nothing if not an Instagram filter. It’s more than halfway through the movie before a chainsaw (reportedly the same chainsaw from the original, not that anyone but the most eagle-eyed horror fan would notice) is picked up. That being said, it does meet the bare minimum one should expect from a slasher movie, in that the kills are nicely gruesome. As opposed to the original, when the viewer is fooled into thinking they see more than they actually do, blood, brains, severed limbs and guts are plentiful here. But again, it makes it feel less like a sequel than merely a movie that shares the same title.
A genuine Texas chainsaw massacre takes place on the aforementioned party bus, in which no one seems to notice that anything weird is going on until Leatherface is literally on board. Though it’s a goofy setting for such a thing, it seems to make every dumb thing that’s happened up to that point worthwhile, until that godawful “You try anything and you’re canceled, bro” line from the trailer, which somehow did not end up on the cutting room floor. It’s the kind of flippant, winking bit of dialogue written by people who aren’t really interested in making a sequel that honors a classic horror film. Like its characters, Texas Chainsaw Massacre is just looking to cash in.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre is now available on Netflix.