You might not realize it unless you’re already a fan, but there are currently eight movies in the franchise that kicked off with Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974). A ninth has just premiered on Netflix, creatively titled Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and it’s a direct sequel to the original revealing where Leatherface has been hiding for the past fifty years. You guessed it — he’s still in Texas, he still has his chainsaw, and some social media influencers are about to nudge him in the direction of a whole new massacre. The themes are a bit of a mess as it tries to cram too much into its eighty-minute running-time, but it brings the gory goods for an entertainingly bloody time.
A documentary plays on a gas station television recounting the slaughter of four friends back in 1973 at the hands of a man wearing someone else’s face, and while he was never found we learn what happened to the sole survivor. It seems Sally Hardesty (played here by Olwen Fouéré) became a Texas Ranger and spent decades searching for Leatherface before settling down to slaughter pigs of her own. (Unlikely, but no judgement.) Teenager Lila (Elsie Fisher) is intrigued, but she has her own memories of carnage she’s hoping to put behind her as a survivor of a recent school shooting. Her older sister Melody (Sarah Yarkin) and her business partner, fellow chef and Instagram celeb Dante (Jacob Latimore), have brought Lila and Dante’s girlfriend (Nell Hudson) to the near ghost town of Harlow to start an idealistic movement of some sort involving gentrification and food trucks (?). Unfortunately for them, Leatherface got there first.
As horror franchises go, Hooper’s creation is fairly limited. Michael Myers has a mythology, Elm Street has an active imagination, Chucky is small enough that he can pretty much go anywhere — but the Chainsaw films are limited by their very titles in the where, the how, and the what. The result has been a series of films that are for the most part interchangeable in their narrative beats and carnage. Yes, there are exceptions including Hooper’s own 1986 sequel that takes a goofy approach to chasing his intense original, but otherwise? Texas. Chainsaw. Massacre. Which brings us to 2022’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre and its slight attempt at infusing the old with the new. It still can’t touch the 1974 film, but director David Blue Garcia has fun with the very elements we watch these films for in the first place even as it takes stabs at trauma, social media, and gun culture.
After a brief first act introducing the characters and doing a poor job of explaining exactly what these youths are hoping to achieve here — Harlow is basically abandoned and five hours outside of civilization, so the idea that they can turn it into a booming business opportunity is inane — an angry Leatherface (Mark Burnham) introduces himself. These intruders (“idealistic individuals hoping to build a better world!”) are here to change things up, but after his caretaker dies due to a misunderstanding, Leatherface shows them all his own form of gentrification. Garcia revels in letting him cut loose (and cut flesh), and he’s not afraid to run after his prey when necessary.
Bones are snapped and stabbed into their owner’s neck, limbs and heads are lopped off, entrails spill onto the pavement, heads are mashed, and of course, a face is skinned for the purpose of adornment. We also get a wonderfully gnarly scene aboard a party bus that should leave gorehounds very happy indeed (even if it leaves you wondering why these fools don’t know how to get off a bus). The effects in Texas Chainsaw Massacre are a mix of the practical and cg, and happily the latter never crosses over into obnoxiousness meaning the kills impress and thrill rather than annoy. Leatherface has clearly spent some of the past half-century practicing with his chainsaw too as he throws it a few times to killer effect. Burnham is a menacing figure, and the film’s sound design smartly captures his imposing presence with creaking floorboards while cinematographer Ricardo Diaz finds an arguable beauty in setting the grisly killer against sun-dappled sunflowers and neon lighting.
Chris Thomas Devlin‘s script cuts to the chase soon enough, but there’s an attempt at tapping into themes of trauma that’s interesting even if it doesn’t ultimately work. We see glimpses of Lila’s school shooting, her bloodied on the ground surrounded by dead teens, but to what end? The gun troubles that plague Texas (and the rest of the country) are in no way comparable to a dude with a chainsaw, and Lila’s attempt at fighting back here with a gun send something of a mixed message anyway.
More interesting, but still severely flawed, is the return of Sally who’s lost her life due to an inability to move forward. “Don’t run,” she tells Lila. “If you run, he’ll never stop haunting you.” Her lifetime of planning for this very moment echoes Laurie Strode’s in 2018’s Halloween and its sequel, but at least here that ineptitude is treated appropriately and not championed (ie milked) across multiple films. Texas Chainsaw Massacre is giving Blumhouse’s cash cow the middle finger on that count, and it’s nice to see even in such fleeting form.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre probably won’t bring new fans into the fold, but it’s easily the best of the franchise offerings since Marcus Nispel’s grim and grisly 2003 reboot. It’s gory, suitably dumb, and never overstays its welcome, and honestly, that’s more than enough.