Thursday 10 March 2022

Texas Chainsaw Massacre (David Blue Garcia, 2022)

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This is a chance for people to start fresh somewhere without the violence and the madness. Somewhere safe.” The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one of the most iconic horror movie franchises, with Leatherface similarly standing as one of the most legendary mountains of murderous mayhem, and yet, out of all the major slasher series, it's also the one to have suffered the most inconsistency and misfortune. If your tolerance for bullshit is at an all-time rock bottom, then a film featuring the immortal line of direlogue “Do anything and you'll get cancelled, bro” might not be the wisest of viewing choices. However, gluttons for punishment are numerous amongst the horror fan community, so fire up that rusty old buzz-saw and let's head on down to Bulgaria, er, I mean Texas...!

Click “READ MORE” below to continue the review and see more screenshots…

Behold the joys of late stage capitalism.” It goes without saying, but for sake of an amble about the franchise's rocky history, the original 1974 film directed by Tobe Hooper is an all-time classic, not just of the horror genre, but of cinema as a whole. Its 1986 sequel, also directed by Hooper, wisely took a completely different tack by going none-more-1980s than ramping up the gore with Tom Savini, dialling the chaotic dark comedy up to eleven, and getting produced by Cannon Films. The third film in the franchise, however, 1990's Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III, is where the rot began to set-in. Butchered by the MPAA upon its initial release, and plagued with a decidedly jumbled story, it may be messy but it's not without its charms. 1994's TCM: The Next Generation – written and directed by a man who hated writing and directing! – is a notorious clusterfuck of shambolic storytelling and performances from the Tony Montana school of subtlety, but manages to at least be 'so bad it's good'.

All went quiet until the great Hollywood obsession with remaking every horror classic under the sun began with 2003's remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which incredibly turned out to be a solid and slick slice of mainstream slaughter (still not a patch on the original, of course), followed by a less-successful (but still entertaining) prequel in 2006. Once again, silence, until the movies were yet again flirting with the third dimension (and it's inflated ticket prices) with Texas Chainsaw 3D, in which a baby in 1974 grows up FORTY YEARS later to be in her mid-twenties! Plans for more films faltered, so another reboot came with the intriguing but ultimately misguided Leatherface in 2017, the failings of which torpedoed plans for numerous sequels.

Say my name!” And so … we arrive in 2022 with the innovatively-titled Texas Chainsaw Massacre, flogged to Netflix after a tortured production (the original directors were fired and their footage scrapped) and apparently poor test screenings. Initial news suggested the possibility for success with producers Fede Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues (the men behind the surprisingly enjoyable Evil Dead remake and the nerve-jangling Don't Breathe) who also contributed to the story. However, when it became clear that the movie would feature a gaggle of self-important Generation Z snowflakes 'woking it up' about their avacado-fuelled livestreams, the stench of maggot-infested flesh came shooting right back up the collective nostrils of horror fandom. A third bungled attempt seemed to be incoming.

I don't like people telling me what to do. Especially smug, self-righteous, rich, city folk.” The film, directed by David Blue Garcia and written by Chris Thomas Devlin, stumbles into one of its biggest flaws almost immediately: it's protagonists. Within the opening minutes the audience has been battered over the head with a range of zeitgeisty socio-political talking points, belched up by a smattering of what are quite possibly the most detestable 'good guys' to have ever appeared in a slasher movie. Sure, the genre isn't particularly known for deep characterisation or emotionally impactful storytelling, but a basic requirement of a slasher flick is for its cannon fodder to at least be tolerable and, at best, enjoyable to spend time with (by way of example, and as a huge fan of the Friday the 13th franchise, just take a look at the characters in parts 1, 2, 4, and 6). TCM2022, however, introduces the viewer to the likes of Dante (Jacob Latimore), who's surprised to find a Confederate flag in a backwoods shit hole in the deepest depths of the USA's sweltering south, and Melody (Sarah Yarkin), who is quite possibly the most wretchedly awful character to ever go toe-to-toe with Leatherface or any of the big name slice 'n' dicers in horror history.

Buckling under the weight of their own self-professed virtues, they are joined by Melody's meek sister Lily (Elsie Fisher) and the almost non-existent Ruth (Nell Hudson), with the goal of turning the near-dead Texas town of Harlow into a bustling utopia for the terminally triggered to no doubt roll around in cotton wool from artisan vegan bakery to sustainable bamboo furniture store without the fear of the terrors of the real world and, you know, reality, getting in the way of their confoundingly corporate ethical outlooks and the ever-present whiff of their own gentrifying flatulence. Immediately, they don't endear themselves to the town, first of all when Melody instantly resorts to bigging herself up by tearing someone else down, when she resorts to body-shaming cliches and shock at the sight of a gun (in America … in Texas … in a small rural town, no less) holstered on the hip of Richter (Moe Dunford), one of only three non-deadly protagonists who isn't an utter arsehole (the others being a Sheriff and a frail old lady). Their second slip-up is even worse when Dante, fired up over a rotting Confederate flag, and chock full'o certainty, carelessly berates an old woman (who has dedicated her life to caring for orphans) into a heart attack that ends up killing her!

Listen, some of us were born here, you know. Saw it in its prime. So please, be respectful for the town.” Unfortunately for these ever-so-caring phone-fiddlers, she was the caretaker of the orphanage's only resident: a hulking figure with a penchant for tree-felling tools. Indeed, the film's greatest twist is making Leatherface, a ghoulish serial killer with a penchant for cutting off people's faces and wearing them (when he's not busy indulging in cannibalism), the righteously aggrieved victim. The protagonists are the villains, and the villain is the hero. Erm, okay … but, well, considering just how catastrophically repulsive the majority of the protagonists are, it's no surprise that the audience is going to end up on the side of the chainsaw-wielding maniac! However, even though horror fans often root for, or even identify with the masked killer (Jason Voorhees is often a stand-in for outsiders and victims of bullying), said dispenser of exsanguinating expiration must remain the villain.

Despite the film's almost total failure in the characterisation department, Mark Burnham nonetheless does a solid job in the role of Leatherface, even if the physical feats performed by the supernaturally imperishable psycho – such as flinging an adult half-way across a rather wide street – ring less than true for a character who's at least in his late sixties. The film's main success is the bloodletting, of which there is plenty throughout the film's meagre 75 minute run-time (there's 8 minutes of end credits with a brief scene tacked on the very end), but dreaming up gruesome kills is the easiest part of constructing a slasher flick. A man's protruding arm bone is used as a stabbing weapon, a face is slashed wide open to jaw-flapping results, and a literal bus load of livestreaming douchebags get sawed-the-fuck-up in the film's main set piece. Despite the glee in seeing a veritable orgy of gore-drenched death-dealing befall a group of intolerably awful people, the whole phone-raising moment with the line about 'getting cancelled' is top tier cringe. It's quite likely that Devlin is intentionally mocking these people, but the problem with making them your protagonists is that the viewer hates every minute spent with them, counting every single drawn-out second until our trusty face-lifting professional shows up and bisects them with a chainsaw.

Sorry if a big gun makes you uncomfortable.” There are some other positives, such as the cinematography and certain choice details – like blood gushing under a door, or the sounds of Leatherface servicing his long-silent chainsaw in another room (although, how does it make any kind of sense that it was stashed behind the bedroom wall of the orphanage's owner?), or Leatherface emerging from a field of dead sunflowers with his new blood-dripping mask hanging from his face. So it looks good, the kills deliver, and Leatherface is enjoyably brutal (even though the character works best as part of a family, not as a sole entity - 'the saw is family', after all) ... however, there is one part of the film that is particularly egregious: the return of Sally Hardesty. Ripping-off the 'decades later direct sequel' schtick of 2018's Halloween, in which Jamie Lee Curtis' Laurie Strode returned as a beleaguered senior citizen with a plan to kill her tormentor, TCM2022 similarly brings back the survivor who broke through a window in Hell in 1974. Unfortunately, Marilyn Burns – who played Sally in the original film – passed away in 2014, so Olwen Fouéré is tasked with tackling the material. She's a very good actor indeed, but there's no navigating the fumblefest that was set before her.

The following contains spoilers, so if you don't want to know what happens during Sally's story, skip to the next paragraph.

She became a Ranger here in Texas. She must have looked for that maniac for more than thirty, forty years.” Not only has Sally survived an extraordinarily traumatic event that saw all of her friends murdered, but she has gone on to become a Texas Ranger (hint: they're not wimps!) and has been hunting Leatherface for decades. Sure, he was wearing a mask, but can it really be that hard to find a male (so that cuts out half the population right there) of hulking size with clear mental deficiency in an area that is about as far removed from a metropolis as one could get? Apparently, so. Still, by sheer luck she's listening to the CB radio when a call comes in, and off she rides to save the day … or something like that … actually nothing like that. With Leatherface sedentary and square in her shotgun sights, this tough as nails survivor utterly fails to take her golden opportunity because of her own fragile ego. What the actual fuck? So Leatherface doesn't know your name … and? He didn't know anyone's name from his stack of victims in 1974. Indeed, that day may have been the defining moment in Sally's life, but to Leatherface it was just another day of the week, a day of the week which happened nearly FIFTY YEARS ago! As if that wasn't bad enough, having barely sniffed a few minutes of screen time, Leatherface shoves his chainsaw through Sally's gut and quite literally throws her into a pile of garbage. Bold move, Mr Devlin, but for all the wrong reasons. Many a Star Wars fan wasn't keen on the use of Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi, to say the least, but they can at least say he wasn't literally, very literally, flung into a pile of trash! Not only is Sally's story a considerably undercooked rush job, but it spits on the name of one of the slasher genre's first 'final girls', a true trendsetter.

Spoilers end here.

Newsflash, we're in deep Texas.” Toss in the world's slowest getaway – in a self-driving Tesla, no less (cringe levels intensifying) – and too many more scenes with the horrifically unlikeable Melody, and TCM2022 stumbles to the finish line in a blood soaked heap. The story has a few interesting ideas, but the execution is messier than one of Leatherface's myriad kills and is weighed-down by incomparably dreadful protagonists. There is some fun to be had amidst the wreckage, and it may be – over-the-piece – the best of the three most recent attempts at rebooting the franchise, but that's certainly not saying much. Can it really be so hard to do the saw justice?

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