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TEXAS CHAINFLAW

Texas Chainsaw Massacre (18)

Director: David Blue Garcia
Screenplay: Chris Thomas Devlin

Starring: Sarah Yarkin, Jacob Latimore, Elsie Fisher

Review: RJ Bland

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) is undoubtedly one of the greatest horror movies ever made. Director Tobe Hooper's tale of murder and cannibalism in rural Texas is a raw, unrelenting nightmare. Like most of the big hitters in the 70s and 80s (Halloween, A Nightmare On Elm Street, The Exorcist, Friday 13th), TCSM was followed by a host of follow up movies of varying quality, culminating in a truly shambolic fourth entry in 1995 starring Matthew McConaughey and Renee Zellweger. By the mid nineties, just like Freddy Krueger and Michael Myers, Leatherface had become a bit of a joke and he had lost his power to scare too. However, in 2003, Platinum Dunes gave it the remake treatment (along with a host of other classic genre titles) and although the film was far from perfect, it at least put ol' Leatherface back on the map as a villain to take seriously again. The prequel (The Beginning) made three years later was just as nasty, albeit a little pointless. Since then, like the trope of an old car in a horror movie, the series has had a couple of false starts and has failed to get going again. 2013's Texas Chainsaw attempted to reposition Leatherface as some kind of anti-hero and it just didn't work whilst Julian Maury and Alexandre Bustillo's follow up, Leatherface (2017) tried to give us an origin story that none of us ever needed. If Rob Zombie's Halloween experiment taught us anything, it's that most of us don't want to go digging around into the backstories of our favourite boogeymen. But some bad guys are just too iconic to stay down and in 2018, Legendary pictures bought the rights from Lionsgate and quickly installed Fede Alvarez (Evil Dead) to act as an exec producer on a new TCSM project simply titled Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

 

Set nearly fifty years after the events of the original, TCM disregards all following entries and acts as a direct sequel instead – much like the recent iterations of Halloween (and the similarities don't end there either...). Melody (Sarah Yarkin) and Dante (Jacob Latimore) are a couple of young entrepreneurs who, along with Melody's younger sister (Elsie Fisher) and Dante's girlfriend (Nell Hudson), are heading deep into rural Texas to the small town of Harlow, which has been abandoned for a number of years. The pair have bought the entire settlement and the plan is to auction off the old buildings to Gen-Z types – so this dusty echo of the past can be turned into a hipster paradise. Gentrification and all that. However, the gang soon discover that one of the buildings, a run down orphanage, is not empty. An elderly woman called Ginny is still living inside and claims that she still owns the property. The police are called and their efforts to remove the old woman cause her to have a heart attack. She is carried into the back of the police van by a huge looming figure who has been watching the fracas from the top of the stairs. This man rides with Ginny to the hospital but when she dies en-route, something inside the mystery man snaps. Leatherface is back, baby! Oh and just to make things a bit more spicy, we're introduced to sole survivor of the Tobe Hooper original, Sally Hardesty, who has unsuccessfully been trying to track down the man who killed her friends nearly 50 years ago so she can dish out some payback.

 

Whilst remakes and reboots have been the rage for a couple of decades now, recent releases have hinted at a shift in direction for revisiting much-loved genre fare. Nostalgia is apparently what audiences want. Don't wipe the slate clean completely, we want more links to the original and to see some familiar faces/characters! They're called requels or legacy sequels. And whilst the latest Scream movie spelled out the rules for this relatively new brand of horror, there are really three elements that they all include. Legacy characters, increased social commentary and an upping of the gore/violence. TCM ticks all these boxes and just like most of its peers, it unfortunately doesn't necessarily make for great viewing.

 

Truth be told, this isn't a bad movie. There is nothing truly terrible here. If it was a standalone slasher flick then it could perhaps be forgiven a number of its sins. However this is a Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie – and one that seemingly wants to act as a direct sequel to Hooper's masterpiece. The rating parameters are a little different for that very reason. But for the most part, there is very little linking these two films, in terms of both quality and style and it's the adherence to the three pillars of modern requels that ultimately proves the film's undoing.

 

The level of bloodshed and gore will satisfy those just looking for a bloody good time. The film is undeniably brutal and there are a handful of really effective action sequences and kills. However, to reach for those violent heights indicates a failure to realise what made the first film so effective and like Halloween Kills, Director David Blue Garcia opts to forgo suspense and atmosphere for carnage and the results, whilst entertaining at times, are not nearly as affecting. Marc Burnham does a solid job as the masked maniac but again, we just see a bit too much of him and the decision to try and elicit some form of empathy means that he never truly terrifies us. TCM is never scary. It's slick and vicious, but it never gets under your skin. Of course, part of the magic of the original is its low budget authenticity, something that is hard to repeat with a budget of millions. But it would have been nice to have seen some attempt at it. Surely some of the neon and Resident Evil style credit music could have been switched for something a tad grubbier?

 

Whilst David Gordon Green's Halloween gives its legacy character one of the leading roles, the efforts to ape this with the return of Sally Hardesty do not pay dividends unfortunately. She feels shoehorned in and far too reminiscent of Laurie Strode. Her on-screen scenes with her tormentor feel a little flat too. The other central characters are pretty much what you'd expect but there is a sense of the disposable about the vast majority of them and most feel underwritten at best. And as for the bus load of potential investors...

 

Whilst most slasher films entail some level of social or political commentary, TCM's messaging is too blunt and muddled for it to satisfy too. Gentrification may have worked as a theme in Candyman (2021) but it doesn't here – and the choice to include a school shooting in one of the characters' backstories just feels plain odd. Today's climate of course means that there are plenty of big issues for film-makers to sink their teeth into. But a bit more nuance wouldn't go amiss.

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Texas Chainsaw Massacre ticks all the boxes you'd expect of a modern legacy sequel – but that's also where it falls down.
It's mean and bloody but ultimately fails to re-conjure most of what made Hooper's original so great.