I said it in my Scream (2022) review and I’ll say it again; the beginning of the year is a rough time for horror movies. It doesn’t matter if you’re a new IP or the 100th sequel to an established property; this time of the year just doesn’t seem to produce the best content for the horror genre. January and February are commonly referred to as a “dump months”, where critical and commercial success tends to be incredibly low, making it the perfect time to “dump” a movie into theaters just to get it out of there. With streaming becoming more and more popular, it’s now easier than ever to reach those audiences that are hesitant about going out to the movies during this time of the year. But does this really promise better content?
Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the 9th film to bare the same name as the genre defining 70s slasher, had a rough production from the sounds of it. The IP had fallen into the laps of Legendary Pictures after the deal with Lionsgate and Millennium Films expired, preceded by the release of the relatively panned Leatherface origin film. Production on this new film only lasted a week, as the original directors were fired from the project and subsequently replaced, with everything that was shot that week scrapped and reshot. The film was finished and slated for a 2021 release, but rumor has it that test screenings were so negative that those plans were thrown out. It’s not entirely known what happened after that, but the film was eventually sold to Netlfix in what could be seen as the studio cutting its losses. Netflix must not have paid that much for it either, deciding to dump it to their platform in February with little fanfare. No kidding, I watched this the day it released and saw no advertising for it on the homepage or new releases. I had to go as far as to type “TEX” in the search bar before it finally gave me access to the film.
Wild stuff, yet not very surprising, as Texas Chainsaw Massacre is an uninspired mess of a film. It’s not exactly the straight dumpster fire I was expecting, but a few competent aspects aren’t enough to salvage its uninteresting story and half-baked themes that make the script seem like it was written by Twitter itself. The tension, gritty imagery and fear of the unknown that made the original a classic is completely gone, even if the brutality is fairly impressive at times. It’s inclusion of a badass legacy character ala Halloween (2018) and Scream (2022) screams desperation, and I’d be hard press to say the only screaming viewers may be doing along with it will be from anger.
Set 50 years after the events of the original film, we follow a group of young entrepreneurs moving to the Texas ghost town of Harlow in order to create a trendy rendezvous for young adults. Not really sure why a a dessert town in the middle of nowhere is that appealing, but I digress. Business partners Melody and Dante, Melody’s sister Lila and Dante’s girlfriend Ruth all arrive to the displeasure of many locals that see their move as gentrification. Tensions begin to run even higher when Dante and Melody attempt to evict a woman living in a decrepit orphanage, with both claiming to own the property. She suffers a heart attack and dies, eliciting the rage of her last remaining orphan, Leatherface, who has to be at least 70 by now. Old habits resurface as Leatherface once again goes on a killing spree, targeting a bus load of young adults hoping to flip the old and dusty town.
Gone is the terrifying, canabalistic, redneck family from the original film, leaving Leatherface to take on the mute, hulking, masked killer role akin to Jason or Michael. Leatherface is undoubtedly the face of the franchise, but most of what made him interesting came from the relationship he had with the rest of the family. In the original, Leatherface was seen as a tool of the murderous hillbilly clan, a pawn terrified of the outside world that reacted to violence when he believed to be threaten. He had multiple personalities determined by the mask he would wear, acting as a butcher, a housewife or a lovely lady. He also wasn’t invincible (at least in the original), making him much more grounded in reality and giving the stakes more weight. But this time around he’s been relegated to the same lumbering, quiet, otherworldly creature occupied by the aforementioned Michael and Jason. It just feels lazy to rob the character of what made him unique in favor of turning him into a generic force of nature that can’t be stopped no matter what. Leatherface is much more than his chainsaw and masks, but the film doesn’t seem interested in exploring that. The exclusion of the hillbilly family also generates some confusion over its connections to the previous films, which the creators of this film reinforce. It makes the film feel like a soft continuation that acknowledges the events of the past but doesn’t accept them 100%. Either way, the film could have definitely used more variety in it’s antagonists like the original.
I wasn’t entirely sure if the film was trying to critique millennials or not, but it’s main cast falls victim to poor writing and character design. It’s a shame, because most of the performances are decent. I knew Elsie Fischer was talented ever since I saw Eight Grade, and while she gives one of the better performances, she’s stuck in an uphill battle trying to add depth to a bland character. A survivor of a school shooting, Fischer’s Lila never brings this past trauma to fruitful fruition aside from being forced to use a gun in a life or death situation. Survivor’s guilt and aversion to the gun-loving culture commonly found in the south is used as nothing more than window dressing, adding no real depth to the characters despite the film telling you it does by using such heavy subject matter. The rest of the main cast is decently acted, but again fall into shallow personifications of millennial culture. The cast of the original film weren’t exactly Shakespearean, but at least they were fun to follow. Here, they just managed to border on insufferable, making the thought of their potential demise more of a hope than a fear. And the side characters…lets just say one threatens to “cancel” Leatherface. That’s the kind of in-tune writing we’re dealing with here. The only character really left to mention is Sally, the only survivor of Leatherface’s original killing spree. Basically filling in the role of Laurie Strode or Sydney Prescott, Sally is another victim turned badass that returns to take on Leatherface, but her presence is so unsatisfying and unneeded that it becomes obvious the film was just trying to capitalize on the newer horror sequels nostalgia pulls. However, with the original actress tragically gone too soon and the character of Sally not being nearly as popular as some of the other final girls, this legacy return just feels tiresome.
If I can compliment the film on one thing, it’s the gore. I’m actually surprised they didn’t try to tame the violence, as there are quite a few moments that got a genuine visceral reaction out of me. The original film wasn’t exactly a bloodbath, but I’ve never been opposed to a film fully utilizing its brutal potential. From bone snapping to full on decapitation, the film uses a blend of practical and subtle computer effects to pull off some decently realized kill sequences, with one moment in particular really putting the “massacre” in Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Even though I enjoyed these moments, I did feel like they clashed a bit with the film’s presentation. Everything looks a bit too sleek and clean, and could have really benefitted from being shot on film to harness that grainy, snuff-footage feel of the original. I don’t know, something about seeing Leatherface enveloped in blue neon light just felt weird to me.
While the killing is fun for the most part, it still can’t save the film from being a tonal and structural mess. The biggest saving grace here is truthfully the very short run time, clocking in at barely 80 minutes. It’s quick to get things started and thankfully keeps an energetic pace throughout, but the narrative just isn’t tight enough to match. Whether it be logical inconsistencies or timeline confusion, the film struggles to both stand on its own and nestle itself in the established cannon. It’s themes never connect in a meaningful way, and its emotional moments implemented to elevate the genre simply fall flat. The big, fat cherry on top of this half-melted sundae has to be the ending, with an absolutely shameless, ridiculous, unintentionally laugh inducing final shot, perfectly and simultaneously encapsulating everything this movie is and everything it isn’t. Truly has to be seen to be believed.
The hilarious irony in this hobby of mine is I occasionally create a drink that’s really good, but it’s linked to a movie I didn’t enjoy. You could call it turning a negative into a positive, where if my inane rambling about movies doesn’t stick with you, then the fun cocktails will.
Truthfully I’ve been wanting to do a Leatherface cocktail since Halloween of 2020, but couldn’t figure out how to land the aesthetic of the famous killer and the his dusty home. Now, years later, I think I found a cocktail that not only connects well to the character, but is also incredibly delicious. Think of this as a merger of an Old Fashioned and a Manhattan, but with a few special twists, namely, the chili pepper simple syrup. This addition brings sweet heat into the mix, tasting like it came straight from the Texas deserts (but in a good way). To take it one step forward, I’ve also implemented smoking the cocktail to further give it that down south, human barbeque taste. Garnished with a human face carved into an orange peel, the Leatherface is perfect for whiskey fans, but has enough of a varied flavor profile to keep from alienating those who don’t always enjoy the taste of liquor in their drinks.
- 2oz rye whiskey
- 1/2oz sweet vermouth
- 1/2oz chili syrup
- 2 dashes angostura bitters
- 2 dashes orange bitters
- Garnish: Orange peel
- EXTRA: Flavored wood chips (I used oak)
(NOTE: Process may vary depending on your method of smoking.)
- In a rocks glass, add your ingredients.
- Carefully cut a “face” design out of the orange peel to mimic a Leatherface mask.
- Using a smoking method of your choice, burn the woodchips and capture/pump the smoke in the glass. Cover and let sit for a minute.
- Uncover, add a large ice cube, and stir to chill.