A teenage Leatherface escapes from a mental hospital with three other inmates, kidnapping a young nurse and taking her on a road trip from hell while being pursued by an equally deranged lawman out for revenge.
September 21st, 2017 (DirectTV)
October 20th, 2017 (Theatrical / VOD)
Seth M. Sherwood
But before we answer that burning query, let’s first do a quick recap.
The original The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It’s terrifying. It’s raw and it’s a classic.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2. It’s a gem, with strong performances, gore and a whack-job sense of humor.
Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part III. Not great, but it has its moments.
And here’s where my Chainsaw-education begins to go awry. I’ve never seen Texas Chainsaw: The Next Generation. I greatly despised the 2003 Nispel remake. And from there on out – I can barely tell you what has come since then. Something or other 3-D and wasn’t there one to do with “the beginning”? So a prequel if you will?
Well, the latest in the franchise, simply titled Leatherface – is scheduled for exclusive release to DirectTV on September 21st, 2017 and then a theatrical release (and VOD) on October 20th, 2017.
And it’s another prequel, focusing on the youth and teenaged years of our beloved Leatherface.
The youngest child of the famed Sawyer clan (headed by mother Verna – played by Lili Taylor) is taken away from his family at an early age – when they are deemed unfit in light of several suspicious disappearances in and around the Sawyer home. One of the disappearances/murders is of the daughter of a local Texas Ranger; Hal Hartman (played by Stephen Dorff). Years later, in a mental home for unstable children, the Sawyer child has grown up. There’s a riot in the home, where chaotic violence ensues as well as a mass exodus of the child patients. The Sawyer child escapes with three other teenagers, and with a young nurse in tow (Vanessa Grasse) as their captive. It becomes a chase through the wilds of Texas, with Ranger Hartman and his men in hot pursuit – all as the Sawyer child hopes to find his family and the farm he once called home.
I will simply call Leatherface a gore-lover’s dream. And in amongst a few other positives – this is the highlight. While the original really doesn’t show much in the way of gore, this latest entry is chock-full of bloody nastiness. And it’s all done exceptionally well. It takes a lot to gross this old horror warhorse out, but there were a few “ughs” as well as a few cheers to be had here. Of note is a call-out to a scene in American History X and also a particularly gruesome gunshot wound. I’ll leave it up to you to decipher these faint hints when you see the film for yourself.
There is some wonderfully effective misleading going on by the script and the filmmakers (which is why I only refer to “the Sawyer child” in the above synopsis). I won’t spoil it of course, but it was one of the biggest positives in what is otherwise a pretty boring, run-of-the-mill horror exercise.
There’s no soul behind this piece – and it feels very vanilla with CW-infused attempts to appease a young audience. Leatherface and his family eat flesh and wear human skin. They decorate their home with skulls and femurs. Making this film kind of “teenager-friendly” doesn’t cut it in my book.
It’s an old saying, but “lightning in a bottle” is 99% of the time true. The original can never be duplicated, no matter how much a new film brings back specific character names (Sawyer, Hardesty) to help tie this prequel into its originator. But I will say this – for the die-hards of the franchise, it is kinda fun to say, “Oh, so that person is related to so-n-so from the other films! That’s nifty!” Not a massive spoiler of any kind, but the introduction of “Nubbins Sawyer” actually tickled me. Fans of 1986’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 will know why. “Where’s that old fuck you, Charlie?” Exactly.
The big problem here is that the film is not scary. Gruesome? Yes. Engaging and suspenseful? No. Well-drawn characters with whom you want to spend 90 minutes? Not really. When you have a ground-breaking film like the original as your precursor – admittedly, it’s going to be hard to fill those shoes. But without one ounce of the grit and realism of that original film – and seemingly no attempt to capture that magic (which we know is impossible, but you still try) – it’s severely lacking.
That’s not to say that the film is all bad. It looks pretty good – as far as locations and sets and camerawork. But even with all of the nice visuals, it’s missing the graininess and almost documentary film feel of the original.
But I will be honest – when an iconic dwelling from the 1974 classic appears, I was cheering.
Stephen Dorff felt horribly miscast. He’s taken on a Texas Ranger-role similar to Dennis Hopper’s “Lefty” in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2. But his character is brutal and heartless, whereas Lefty was simply vengeful and grief-stricken. It also feels that anyone could have played this role. Dorff isn’t given much to do – and frankly I found some of his uber-nastiness almost bled over into plain old scenery-chewing.
The addition of Lili Taylor to the cast (whom I believe can do no wrong when she’s acting) is a big plus. Her best scene comes as Mrs. Sawyer breaks into the mental home to find her incarcerated child. Her desperation and determination is something to behold. But Taylor’s presence feels a bit out of place. She’s such a quality actor and does her damnedest even for a film like this – but it feels like she’s a bit too good for this film. I’m just being honest here, folks.
Leatherface does nothing new for the franchise, other than connect some interesting dots and call out to vivid details of the beloved first film. In that, it can be a fun ride. Story and dialogue-wise – it’s all pretty flimsy and boring. Why even the tinges of necrophilia present in the film failed to wow or disgust. All it did for me was to show that the filmmakers were attempting to show off with, “look how gross these people are and we’re going to show it.” Nope.
But again, the twist is carried off with great aplomb and that alone might be enough to recommend this slightly. And of course, the top-notch gore effects were quite nifty as well.
But even with several positives – as I’ve said before – it all has to start on the page. If the concept isn’t ideal and the script isn’t inspired – no amount of great locations, decent acting and fun curve-balls can save a film. That’s the case with Leatherface. It’s best you just skip this one and take an always worthwhile revisit with the original Sawyer clan and the Hardesty siblings.
It all comes around to the fact that the film doesn’t succeed on its own. It simply brings up the memories and nostalgia and love of the first two films. Making the audience remember something better? Sure, it’s nice, but it doesn’t win us over. And it doesn’t sell your new film, just because we took a trip down memory lane.
Tobe Hooper (the late, great director of the original film) served as executive producer here.
And to finally and properly answer the question I posed at the review’s outset: “Is the buzz back?”
Sadly, no. No it is not.
Leatherface will be released by Lionsgate.