David Blue Garcia’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022) picks up decades later where the original film left off with a new batch of lambs for the slaughter, in the latest addition to a clique of barely successful horror classic ‘requels’.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre is the latest in a series of horror classic reboots that have more in common with each other than they do with the films that they profit off. Halloween (2018), Halloween Kills (2021), Candyman (2021), Scream (2022), and now Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022) signal the dawn of an age of horror ‘re-quels’ (half reboot, half sequel) that attempt to wipe the slate clean and reinvigorate the franchise, dredging up the original legacy characters to support a younger, fresher cast, and naming themselves after the originals for an air of credibility.
David Blue Garcea’s take on the classic story disregards the other seven sequels, prequels, and 3D re-imaginings, and picks up where the original film left off. It attempts to update the plot of Tobe Hooper’s 70s story, in which a group of teenagers run out of gas in rural Texas and are butchered by the cannibalistic Sawyer family, including the infamous Leatherface. Decades after the events of the first movie, a group of gentrifying gen z zoomers arrive in their Tesla to the Texan ghost-town of Harlow. They’re here to pawn the buildings off to those escaping the hustle and bustle of busy Austin. But when they evict the innocent matron of a run-down orphanage, her last remaining charge (guess who?) takes offence, and dusts off his chainsaw for some good ol’ fashioned massacrin’.
Die-hard fans will have been apprehensive about this newest horror requel after the bad press the film suffered last year. Producer Fede Álvarez made an ill-fated comment about Leatherface hiding out and “trying to be a good person”—a strange take on a killing machine who has been the epitome of evil at worst and horny at the very best (here’s looking at you, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2). Casting Leatherface as a working class hero is bizarre—and the heavy social theme of gentrification feels like a clumsy stab at the current trend for political horror started by Jordan Peele’s ground-breaking social commentaries on race and class in Get Out and Us. Issues of class, race, and school shootings (one of our heroines, Lila, played by the wonderful Elsie Fisher, is a survivor) are all underdeveloped and jammed in to Texas Chainsaw Massacre as a second thought, before being immediately and brazenly tossed aside without any meaningful commentary being made on the themes.
To give credit where it’s due, Texas Chainsaw Massacre is slightly more entertaining than its premise would suggest. Fischer is convincing as a sympathetic protagonist; the violence is gory, generous, and well-done; and the pacing is tight and tidy. It’s absolutely a horror film of the moment, slick and beautiful; featuring gorgeous shallow focus shots, a warm, carefully chosen colour pallet, artfully flickering lights, and pretty lens flares. As pleasing as this is, it feels rather more like a music video than a horror film; and barely holds a candle to the tangible grime, terror, and claustrophobia that radiates from the original Chainsaw, which was shot during long hours on a shoestring budget in the sweltering heat of a truly hellish Texas summer. The desolate, isolated, frightening Texan hellscape of the classic is now replaced in glossy Netflix style by a gorgeous rolling sunflower-clad countryside.
But it doesn’t matter how different Garcia’s film is from the original. Directors don’t need to be sequel purists. Tobe Hooper certainly wasn’t. His own follow-up to Chain Saw was campy, satirical, over the top and absurd – entirely different to his original film. The best sequels don’t take the classics too seriously. But Texas Chainsaw Massacre invites the comparison through its forced, begrudging references to the original. And it doesn’t even begin to compare. The soundtrack is nothing unique, the aesthetic is pretty instead of dirty, the horror is messy instead of frightening, and it lacks the unhinged chaos of the other films by focusing on Leatherface instead of the entire Sawyer cannibal clan.
Worst of all is the film’s lazy attempt to reintroduce Sally Hardesty, the original film’s final girl, in a blatant mimicry of David Gordon Green’s resurrection of Laurie Strode for his more successful Halloween reboots. The film doesn’t do Sally justice at all. She was a survivor in the original, but in 2022 she’s a gung-ho cowboy running straight into danger and out for revenge—and she’s bad at it. Texas Chainsaw Massacre could have been a great story in its own right; but sabotages itself when it tries to conjure up nostalgia for the original film and falls flat on its face.
It’s not without its strong points. Texas Chainsaw boasts polished cinematography, suspenseful moments, and a really promising cast of characters that unfortunately we never get familiar with. Who knows what Blue Garcia might be capable of if Hollywood and audiences alike were brave enough to trust in new ideas instead of feeding our never-ending thirst for inevitably disappointing sequels.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a fun if predictable splatter-fest, and looks beauitful too; but sadly it tries too hard to pay homage to the classic film without updating the story in original ways. And, in case it wasn’t clear, having Gen-Z kids threaten to cancel Leatherface on Instagram Live doesn’t count. Sorry.
Words by Eli Dolliver
Texas Chainsaw Massacre is on Netflix now
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