A movie so successful and ground-breaking like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) is destined to spread loads of sequels, prequels, remakes and reboots.
The latest of these is Leatherface, the origin story of the titular character, considered one of the most iconic horror villains of all time.
Before proceeding with my review, I want to raise a question: is it always necessary to give great, mysterious characters an origin story? My answer is that such a thing is not only unnecessary, but could also be dangerous, taking away the aura of mystery and uneasiness linked to a beloved character.
Nevertheless, I’m always open (and hopeful) to be surprised and prone to change my mind.
Unfortunately, Leatherface only reinforced my convictions, being one of the worst and most disappointing movies of 2017.
I went into it saving an ounce of hope, since the duo of directors were French die-hard fans of Tobe Hooper’s most influential film. France is one of the few countries in which the TCSM formula has been tried with outstanding results – check out Frontiers (2007) and Calvaire (2004) for reference (I know Calvaire is a Belgian film, but they speak French in it, so I allowed myself to cheat a bit).
Furthermore, the two directors (Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury, who previously came out with the fun, gory Inside, 2007) embraced the project with enthusiasm: “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is the real game-changer… it changed the face of cinema… it’s a masterpiece” (Maury). They were also supervised by Tobe Hooper himself as the executive producer who, sadly, died before the film was released.
Back to the movie: the story is about the dysfunctional Sawyer family that, after murdering the daughter of a local sheriff, sees their youngest son been taken into a mental institution. 10 years after his reclusion, the young Jed (Leatherface in the making) escapes with the help of three deranged patients and nurse, held hostage by the gang. The plotline follows their attempt to reach the Sawyer family, whilst being persecuted by the vindictive sheriff.
Now, this movie is full of flaws, but the biggest one revolves around tone and vibe: other than the first 3 minutes and the last 10, this flick doesn’t look anything like a TCSM film. In terms of locations, none of those utilised in the film remind the viewer of the Texan farms and fields – which makes sense, since it was shot over the course of 27 days (!) in Bulgaria!
Yet, the direction completely forgets about what made the original TCSM a ground-breaking piece of cinema: the gritty realism of the 1974 movie is replaced by over-the-top gore and driven by unlikable, idiotic characters.
Also, in regards to the violence, Leatherface unwisely chooses to keep the most gruesome scenes off-camera, preferring to show two deranged criminals having sex on a corpse and showing signs of necrophilia. Scenes like these are just disgusting and off-putting, which has nothing to do with real horror or uneasiness. Yet, when the violence is actually on camera, who made the film decided to utilise the cheapest shaky-cam effects and shittiest colour scheme to prevent the viewers from enjoying the scenes.
Again, when it comes to the acting, Leatherface delivers us the most one-dimensional characters I have seen in a while, portrayed awfully by the actors – with the exception of Lili Taylor (Jed’s mom) and the titular protagonist (played fairly well by Sam Strike).
Luckily enough, the portrayal of Jed/Leatherface is quite respectful of the character: he’s not downright evil, more so a victim of his background and the events that influenced his life. However, for some incomprehensible reason, the directors or writers of the script decide to focus more on other, useless characters, such as the nurse and a fat, mentally unstable goof who have no part in the TCSM universe.
Towards the end, we come back to the Sawyer family house, in which location and cinematography pay homage to the original 1974 film, which was kind of cool to see. Other than that, though, even the grand finale is downright ridiculous and disappointing.
Before I get to my conclusions, let me just add a complaint about an aspect of the movie that bugged me throughout. The editing is awfully jumpy during the entire runtime (only 84 minutes, luckily) and gives the impression of a product that has been released before being polished and refined. Since Leatherface has been shot over 27 days, which is insane, the only thing I could think of is that they just wanted to get it over with and come out with whatever shipwreck that could achieve in such a limited time. And this is what really pisses me off about a movie, because it shows little interest for audience and even less passion for your profession.
In conclusion, I strongly suggest not to watch Leatherface: if you’re a huge fan of the TCSM universe, this flick would likely let you down. If you’re just looking for some gory, mindless entertainment, instead, just check out something else which may allow you to see what’s going on. Cheers!