Since Tobe Hooper‘s original classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 39 years ago, the name has entered the ranks as one of the most recognisable and iconic figureheads in modern horror alongside Freddy, Michael and Jason, and as such has inspired not one but two series of sequels over seven films in total. This year Leatherface is back for the eighth time with another makeover in Texas Chainsaw (minus the word Massacre from the title this time) and a new continuation of the original story. Try and keep up, this may get a touch confusing…
The film opens with scenes cut from the finale of Hooper’s benchmark and the culmination of horrible events surrounding a group of youngsters who found themselves trapped in an old house with the twisted Sawyer family, until only one lucky soul (Marilyn Burns) managed to escape from the clutches of young Leatherface (once known as Bubba, now for some reason changed to Jed, short for Jedediah) and his twisted, inbred family. Carrying on immediately from these events on August 19th, 1974, we discover that the police and locals have been more than aware of the full extent of the Sawyer family’s atrocities and launch a full frontal assault on their homestead to take their revenge, setting the place alight and shooting all survivors, apart from an abandoned baby….
Fastforward to the present day, 39 years and a few hundred miles later, and little baby Heather has amazingly become a hottie in her mid-twenties (Alexandra Dadarrio– the Percy Jackson series, Hall Pass) first seen eagerly pulling her boyfriend Ryan’s pants down (Tremaine ‘Trey Songz’ Neverson – Step Up 2 The Streets, Step Up 3D) suggesting she isn’t the virginal “final girl” as expected of many a slasher trope, who not only discovers from her foster parents that her hereditary grandmother has just passed away and bequeathed Heather her family home, but also that until that point she didn’t realise she’d been fostered or in fact came from Texas. So Heather sees a good excuse for a road trip with her wayward beau, her “best friend” Nikki (Tanya Raymonde – Death Valley, Chillerama) and Ryan’s geeky pal Kenny (Keram Malicki-Sanchez – True Blood, Punisher Warzone).
After picking up the customary hitchhiker, this time in the guise of handsome young drifter Darryl (Shaun Sipos – Hick, Rampage) she discovers that her inherited abode is a splendid mansion within a large, gated estate.
Deciding to ignore her lawyer’s advice to read her grandmother’s letter first, she takes a trip into town for supplies with her friends, except Darryl who for some reason they trust enough to stay in her new dwellings on his own.
After getting short shrift from the locals, they come back to discover Darryl’s disappeared as well as finding some extra rooms in the mansion’s labyrinthine cellars, and soon, once the body count rises, Heather finds out exactly what she’s inherited.
To make a wholly original entry in the T.C.M. canon is a tall order; after the first franchise finished in 1994 with no.4, the unsuccessful Matthew McConaughey starrer Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation, the series lay dormant until 2003 when Platinum Dunes took over the reins by rebooting the original, followed by a prequel, The Beginning, in 2006.
Director John Leussenhop (Takers) has obviously made a great effort to steer the course of this continuation in its own direction and despite some confusing time-framing he has at least succeeded in bringing back the fast and heavy brutality found in Hooper’s original, eschewing the standard slasher and torture porn sequences from previous entries and splitting the tale into two parts: halfway thru the film there seems to be a lack of bodies to continue in the direction the modern day story has been leading to, and it’s then that Heather decides to read Grandmother’s letter which turns the tables somewhat, as well as bringing the locals back into the mystery, none of whom have aged that much in almost 40 years.
In fact, the producers themselves must be aware how haywire the tale’s history is developed as the gravestones and even newspapers have, for some reason, missed the years from all printed dates. All that needed to be done was set adult Heather’s narrative twenty or so years later and there would have been no perplexity, until a scene where a police officer decides to use FaceTime on his iphone to follow the blood trails in the basement.
Despite the aforementioned canon defying timeline, the plotting actually makes sense for the story it succeeds in telling; Heather’s character developing quite logically considering the way she’s treated by many, and the casting of the younger characters is done well, the roles well played. To add to the fan appeal, Gunnar Hansen (1974’s Leatherface), Marilyn Burns, John Dugan and Bill Mosely, who each appeared in previous installments of the franchise, pop up in recast cameos but are rather non-descript and obviously there to bolster interest.
After the tedium of recent entries however, Texas Chainsaw is capably put together, well shot with some excellent practical effects and produces the expected level of head bashing, mutilation and bodies on meat hooks, it’s just a shame a little more sense wasn’t evident.