(Texas Chainsaw Massacre is out today on Netflix)
It’s hard to imagine, but the original The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is an almost bloodless film. Despite its gruesome reputation, including bans worldwide, it features almost no on-screen violence. All gore remains implied. The terror lurks just off the edge of the frame. Our mind fills in the rest.
Throughout the years, the extremely low-budget horror film has gone through several re-evaluations and interpretations. Most notably by Carol J. Clover in her book, Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film.
In it, Clover argues for the “Final Girl” theory, popularized by Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween, which both feature the one last female survivor. Over the years, the theory itself has turned into a trope, where female roles in horror films are commoditized into a cheap guessing game. Effectively turning characters into meat for a grinder. (Which, in turn, became a source of parody itself.)
It warrants mentioning because good horror isn’t just about experiencing nightmares safely. At its best, horror can critique societal issues, raise awareness, or even dissect cultural anxiety.
But what happens when you give an iconic and important horror masterpiece in the hands of someone who doesn’t comprehend or care what they’re putting on screen? What kind of a result comes from sneering nostalgia bait that pretends to be above the material it builds itself on?
You get Texas Chainsaw Massacre. A witless bore so misguided and genre-illiterate it stands out as one of the very worst horror films in years.
Set in Harlow, Texas, (though filmed in Bulgaria), Texas Chainsaw Massacre is the most baffling kind of sequel. One that rides the nostalgia of its predecessor as hard as it can, while still belittling everything that came before it.
Right off the bat, Texas Chainsaw Massacre mistakes fanservice for revival. Like the atrocious Ghostbusters Afterlife, it childishly repeats the iconography of the original without anything to say for itself. So Leatherface’s human-skin mask and chainsaw both get loving introductory hero shots as if they were ever the main point of the original.
We learn that Sally Hardesty, a survivor of the original film, is now a Texas Ranger who has spent decades hunting down Leatherface. Apparently, this is the big showdown fans have been wanting? By the time Sally actually shows up in the film, it’s as the kind of cheap Sarah Connor knock-off you’d expect from a film that has no understanding of what made its predecessor so effective.
But by far the strangest, most baffling take the movie has in store is making Leatherface the hero of the film. By now, we’re so far removed from the nightmarish Ed Gein-inspired monster from the original, that I kept waiting for Freddy and Jason to show up for a three-way match at any point.
The barebones plot sees a group of douchey influencers buy up a bankrupt town in the middle of the desert, where Leatherface lives with his foster mother in a decrepit orphanage. As the snotty Millenials drive them from their home, Leatherface has no choice but to go on another rampage to protect his town.
It’s here that Texas Chainsaw Massacre reveals itself as not just cynical, but pointlessly mean and misguided. In a scene glimpsed in the trailer, Leatherface executes a bunch of Millenials in a cramped bus. Instantly before, said influencers point their phones lamely at the killer, threatening him with cancellation if he tries anything.
Meanwhile, one character is a survivor of a school shooting, which the director contrasts directly with the massacre she’s experiencing now at the hands of a fictional boogeyman. Nothing is done with it otherwise. Racism and Union Jack flags receive the same flippant lip service. As if the filmmakers just threw darts at a board, hoping that pointing a camera at a thing gives their film context.
But Texas Chainsaw Massacre is so shallow and meaningless that any subtext is impossible. It just wants to get to the killing, and it doesn’t care what it has to do to get there.
Luckily it’s only just over 90 minutes, so you don’t have to suffer too much with it. But when the original has barely aged in the last fifty years, why bother with such a cheap knock-off? Because in five years, people will still talk about how unnerving that first film is, while this one will barely register.