Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022)
The face of madness returns.
There is very little blood in Tobe Hooper’s 1974 horror classic, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. We used to say “surprisingly little,” but every horror fan worth their salt knows that the movie that gave us Leatherface and his cannibal clan mostly relies on implication, misdirection, and a truly queasy, sleazy, diseased tone to communicate its horrors to the audience.
There is an awful lot of blood in this new sequel/reboot/remake currently sitting on Netflix. What Hooper hid, director David Blue Garcia puts right up front. There is a chainsaw, and people get massacred — in a number of inventive ways. If those are your criteria, you’re probably in for a good time. If you’re more concerned with plot, character, theme, and being respectful of the TCM “legacy” — a risky hill on which to stand nine movies deep into a franchise — look elsewhere.
Me, I’m satisfied with this new iteration in much the same way I’m satisfied by Jurassic Park/World sequels — it needed to do a couple of things well and not shit the bed completely in other areas. In 81 minutes, it reintroduced the concept, slaughtered an impressive number of people and employed some great practical effects to do it, and left a sequel hook. The tone wobbles from exploitation nastiness to arch, post-modern irony, the characters are largely unlikeable, and the political themes poorly thought out, but every time I started pulling at one of those threads, Leatherface carved someone up, and I was back to cheering him on. Maybe that doesn’t speak well of me intellectually or ethically, but what can I say? Sometimes I just want to watch young people being separated from their limbs and admire the mise en scène.
The young people in question are a group of wannabe commune-livers who have bought up the largely abandoned town of Harlow, Texas, and are planning on gentrifying the hell out of it and making their own little Austin. There’s young chef Melody (Sarah Yarkin) and her business partner Dante (Jacob Latimore), his girlfriend Ruth (Nell Hudson), and Melody’s sister, Lila (Elsie Fisher).
Lila, it eventuates, has a headful of PTSD from surviving a school shooting and had to be coaxed from the city to this backwater burg, where a bevy of potential investors will be meeting our bright-eyed gang of gentrifiers later. Unfortunately for all concerned — and especially for Lila, who is about to learn all about trauma — there’s a holdout in the form of the elderly Mrs. Ginny Mc (genre legend Alice Krige), who says she still owns the town orphanage outright. The kids disagree — they are sure they bought the joint. Ginny has a heart attack and is ambulanced off, leaving her one remaining charge unattended. Is anyone surprised that he turns out to be a hulking homicidal maniac with an ax to grind, a saw to rev and very particular tastes in facial accessories? And off we go.
Like Halloween (2018), like Scream (2022) and Candyman (2021), and seemingly every second sequel to come along lately, Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one of those legacy franchise deals that takes the name (well, almost in this case) and cultural cache of its original model and posits itself as the “true” follow up, jettisoning years of accreted continuity to give us a fresh taste of the original recipe. But Texas Chainsaw Massacre is the cheapo, exploitation cash-in version, and unlike Halloween et al., who just aspire to “elevated genre” status in places, its charms are much more visceral. The plot doesn’t matter; the people don’t matter — only the pain matters.
And boy, we sure do get a lot of that. For all its excesses, I’ll say this for Texas Chainsaw Massacre: its kills rarely seem throwaway, and its onscreen deaths never look easy — the agony of the mutilations we witness is palpable. While it never hits the heights of its progenitor, there’s a gnarly, sadistic quality to the proceedings that feels out of step with the current climate of commercial horror. You’ll see some shit, and perhaps you’ll even question whether you should be enjoying said shit. The film never comes within a light-year of real nightmare fuel like Martyrs (2008), but there’s a brutal edge to the violence that feels, at its best, genuinely challenging. Old hands at this sort of thing won’t find anything unfamiliar, but those whose horror tastes run to more PG flavors are going to find this one a mouthful.
It falters, however, when it attempts to modernize mess with the tone. The gentrification angle is an interesting one. I dig the idea of a passel of cashed-up and idealistic entrepreneurs getting minced because their grand dreams of cheap real estate and village living don’t take into account the feelings and needs of the community they’re trying to insert themselves into. However, a gag about “canceling” Leatherface marks a turn for the absurd that the film never quite recovers from. Similarly, making Lila a school shooting survivor feels a little on the nose like the filmmakers are milking real-world tragedies to make up for thin characterization (all the characterization is thin, mind you). But if we’re gonna damn them for that, maybe we should hold Tobe Hooper to account for invoking the Vietnam War back in the day?
I’m not interested in doing either. I’m also not interested in whether this Massacre is a worthy Massacre — it’s easily in the top 50% of a franchise whose artistic ambitions have always been dubious at best. What I am interested in is this: Is there a massacre? With a chainsaw? Does it happen in Texas? Cool, three stars — everything else is gravy.
3 / 5 – Good
Reviewed by Travis Johnson