We all know Leatherface is a monstrous killing machine, but what this movie presupposes is… what if it wasn’t his fault?
Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a horror classic, in part, because it’s harrowing, raw, and terrifying. It also never feels the need to explain the madness behind the chainsaw-wielding Leatherface and his like-minded clan of murderous wackos. Three sequels followed, and while they added humor, gore, and soon-to-be stars (Matthew McConaughey, Renée Zellweger, Viggo Mortensen) they too avoiding looking into the past. The next three, though, lost the laughs, kept the bloody bits, and chose instead to explore the family history in varying degrees of detail.
The seventh film in the franchise, simply titled Leatherface, continues that trend in the form of a prequel — not to be confused with 1990’s Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III or the other prequel, 2006’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning — and while some moments stand out it’s mostly an exercise in the unnecessary.
People have been disappearing in an otherwise quiet part of rural Texas, and while the authorities suspect various members of the Sawyer family the lack of evidence has left the clan untouched by the law. That changes, though, when the latest apparent victim turns out to be the daughter of local lawman Hal Hartman (Stephen Dorff). Enraged and empowered he lashes out against the family and their matriarch, Verna (Lili Taylor), by taking her underage child into state custody.
Years later the facility sees a violent riot erupt that leaves scores dead and a foursome of escapees — three young men and a young woman — on the run with a nurse hostage. Verna’s now-grown son is among them, and as the murderous group cuts a bloody swathe across the state they’re pursued relentlessly by Hartman and his fellow peacekeepers. Bodies hit the ground, blood splashes the soil, and a legend is ultimately born.
Leatherface brings nothing new to the table, and it seems unlikely to satisfy anyone but die-hard franchise fans and gore hounds. For the latter, directors Alexandre Bustillo & Julien Maury bring the exact degree of graphic and gory bloodletting as you’d expect from the filmmakers behind the likes of Inside. Unfortunately, it lacks the violent wit of that film as well as the more interesting story elements of the duo’s Livid or Among the Living.
Writer Seth M. Sherwood says the film exists in continuity only with Hooper’s original and 2013’s Texas Chainsaw 3D, and to that end Leatherface sets up the family unit and the masked, chainsaw-loving killer alongside the community’s animosity towards them.
The problem, and I say this with utmost respect for the filmmakers, is who ultimately gives a shit?
There’s nothing revelatory here, and instead it simply brings us to a starting point we already know by heart. As with any movie villain outside of possibly Frankenstein’s monster, the origin story — the explanation of how they became the villain — is never anywhere near as interesting or engaging as their actual reign of terror. Worse, while some prequels (and insecure reboots) settle for adding background for filler or to feel “new” others try to understand or find the humanity within the “monster,” sometimes to the point of showing how other people made them this way. Leatherface falls into that latter category as not only do we see the young boy fully immersed in a family life encouraging torture, abduction, murder, and worse, but we’re also given a lawman portrayed as his own brand of villainy.
Dorff certainly plays Hartman like a vicious deputy with little regard for the law, but the guy’s daughter was abducted, tortured, and killed by this family. The other inmates who escape with the young Sawyer are every bit as cruel, murderous, and deranged, so while the movie clearly wants viewers to see this at best as a “both sides are bad” situation it’s impossible to do so with any degree of honesty. In any other movie he’d be a cop driven to extremes and played by Charles Bronson or Jan-Michael Vincent, but here he’s framed as the bad guy… and maybe even as the worse guy.
Leatherface features some strong gore effects work, and Sherwood’s script does a good job with a certain curve ball, but it’s ultimately another forgettable link in the chain(saw).