Directed by Alexandre Bustillo & Julien Maury.
Starring Stephen Dorff, Lili Taylor, Sam Strike, Vanessa Grasse, Sam Coleman, James Bloor, Christopher Adamson, Jessica Madsen, and Dimo Alexiev.
Prequel to Tobe Hooper’s classic The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, detailing how demented killer Leatherface came to be… again.
Of all the major horror franchises, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre has been pretty poorly served despite being eight films in, and still filmmakers and studios cannot move away from trying to give a definitive background on main antagonist Leatherface, a fact given credence by the eponymous title which, in any other franchise, would be seen as being definitive but this being the schizophrenic series that it is, this is the second movie in it to bear this title, the other being 1990s Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III. And far from being definitive, the creative minds behind Leatherface have merely stitched together pieces of the mythology we already know into a story that has less to do with The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and more to do with the Wrong Turn series and its increasingly odd sequels.
So what do we have here then? Well, it’s 1955 and we join the Sawyer family living on their remote Texas (or Bulgarian) farm and celebrating the birthday of young Jedidiah by giving him his first chainsaw so he can hack off the leg of a thief trying to steal from the family, but Jed doesn’t seem to want to use his new toy, prompting his siblings Nubbins and Drayton to do the job for him. In the aftermath of this a young girl is killed by Drayton (Dimo Alexiev) and her cop father Hal Hartman (Stephen Dorff – Blade) shows up and takes Jed away from his domineering mother Verna (Lili Taylor – The Conjuring) and into ‘protective custody’.
With it so far? Fast forward 10 years and new nurse Lizzy (Vanessa Grasse – It Came From the Desert) is getting to meet the kids locked away in the Gorman House Youth Reformery. She initially takes a shine to mute Bud (Sam Coleman – Game of Thrones) and his friend Jackson (Sam Strike – Eastenders) but institution boss Dr. Lang (Christopher Adamson – Razor Blade Smile) isn’t so keen; in fact, he doesn’t like any of the patients and takes great delight in giving them electrocution therapy just for kicks. He also refuses to let Verna visit Jed, and because it has been a decade since she last saw him and she isn’t quite sure what he looks like now she decides to tamper with the security system, instigating a riot and enabling the inmates to escape, including Jackson, Bud, the clearly insane Ike (James Bloor) and his equally crazed girlfriend Clarice (Jessica Madsen), who kidnap Lizzy and take her along for the ride as they try to escape the authorities.
And thus begins a road movie as the four escapees and their hostage hit the dusty Texan (Bulgarian) highway, only Sheriff Hartman is in hot pursuit as the bodies start to mount up. Wasn’t there supposed to be a Texas Chainsaw connection? Oh yeah, Hartman knows that one of the escaped inmates is young Jedidiah Sawyer under an assumed name and is desperate to bring him in before the now-teenage boy can make contact with his family and pick up that chainsaw once again.
So it is a fairly long plot description for what is essentially a road movie with the inevitable chainsaw getting revved up by the end but that is what this franchise has become – tenuous and contrived plot points to try and tie in to something that already exists. Regardless that this is a prequel so we know that Leatherface is going to survive and therefore lacks any suspense at all, as a movie Leatherface is all over the place with references to what comes later shoehorned in – like the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance of Grandpa in the opening scenes and the character of Hartman (the unscrupulous Mayor in Texas Chainsaw 3D was called Hartman, in case you’d forgotten) – and details that just don’t make sense, such as Drayton being portrayed as a psychopathic killer but yet in Tobe Hooper’s original movie he “takes no pleasure in killing”, and three people climbing into a cow’s carcass to hide from the police which looks as dumb as it sounds.
In a step up from previous entries, the acting in Leatherface isn’t too bad. Stephen Dorff and Lili Taylor are the obvious ‘big’ names in the cast and they do give the best performances, even with the limitations of the material, and the younger cast members fare quite well too, especially Vanessa Grasse, who has popped up in a few things recently and could well be a face to look out for in future genre movies, but considering that this movie was directed by the team that made the brilliant French bloodbath Inside a decade ago there is very little else going on to mark it out as anything other than the direct-to-streaming services horror movie that it is. There is blood and gore here but it looks the wrong shade of red, a bit like the painted-on blood that was carefully placed on Chloë Grace Moretz in Carrie’s key scene, and when one character gets a chainsaw to the guts there is no reaction whatsoever – no screaming despite the fountains of blood spraying everywhere, and the actor involved is barely even convulsing, and apparently that was deemed good enough to use in the final cut?
But despite the dubious directorial choices it all boils down to the fact that Leatherface as a character does not need an origin story as it is simply more terrifying to know that those types of people are out there rather than trying to give an explanation for their bizarre behaviour. What makes things worse is that Leatherface as a movie has very little to do with Tobe Hooper’s original or the belated alternate sequel Texas Chainsaw 3D, which this movie will eventually lead to. Tonally it is a better fit with the 2003 Platinum Dunes The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake but that movie already has a prequel which, like Leatherface, has a paper-thin plot, doesn’t really go into any details about the character’s childhood and is largely pointless but at least it fits with the film that went before it, whereas this doesn’t sit comfortably with any of the other movies from the same timeline. In an interview with one of the producers on the Texas Chainsaw 3D disc he states that the production team have the rights for six Texas Chainsaw movies but considering the lukewarm reception to that movie and the overall quality of Leatherface and its thinly-stretched relevance to the franchise it is hard to see where they go from here for one more movie, let alone another four. If there is one thing we can take away from Leatherface, though, it is this – at least Kim Henkel’s 1994 so-bad-it’s-good Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation is not the worst of the series anymore.
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Flickering Myth Rating – Film ★ / Movie ★ ★