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Review: Leatherface (2017)

Leatherface (2017)

Directed by: Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury

Premise: A prequel to 1974’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The teenage sons of the Sawyer family are removed from their home by social services and placed in a mental institution. They escape and go on the run from the law with a nurse in tow. 

What Works: Leatherface is pretty well shot. The movie has the washed out color palate that has become quite popular in the horror genre but that look generally works for this film. Stylistically, Leatherface is quite reminiscent of 1990’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III. It has a dark and tactile visual style that’s in keeping with the subject matter while it also captures the landscape in a way that is forbidding. This gives the movie a gothic atmosphere. Taken as a story unto itself, Leatherface has some interesting things going for it. Disturbed young people breaking out of an abusive mental hospital is an interesting idea and the riot and escape sequence is well executed. To their credit, the filmmakers try to provide a new Texas Chainsaw Massacre experience that is distinctly different from any previous film in this franchise.

What Doesn’t: There have been a lot of prequels and sequels to the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Leatherface may not be the worst of them (that title still goes to 2013’s Texas Chainsaw 3D) but this movie bears the least resemblance to the original picture. And that’s odd because this installment is intended to be a direct prequel to the 1974 film. The story includes some of the characters from the original movie with the intention of providing the backstory and showing how a young man became the chainsaw-wielding masked killer. There are two problems with this. First, the premise is just not interesting. Prequels rarely work and when they do it is because the filmmakers reveal something unexpected about the origin of familiar characters and deepen or reshape our understanding of the original film. Leatherface doesn’t do that. Making a prequel to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a bad idea from the outset because what is frightening about Leatherface and his family is their mystery. This movie dispels all of that without replacing the mystery with compelling characters. That leads to the other major flaw of Leatherface: it doesn’t appear as though the filmmakers understood the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The new film borrows a page from Psycho by suggesting that Leatherface’s mother was the dominant figure in the Sawyer household while in the original movie the Sawyer home is an exclusively male space. The 1974 film already provided hints of a backstory to the Sawyer family, implying that they were slaughterhouse workers put out of business by automation. There is none of that in the new movie. In fact, Leatherface has almost nothing to do with the original film. This version of the title character doesn’t resemble who he is in the original picture nor does his family. The earlier film and its immediate sequel also had a distinctly Texan flavor, perhaps owing to the fact that they were shot in Texas by a filmmaker with local ties. Leatherface was shot in Bulgaria and the absence of a Texan feel is evident throughout the picture. Leatherface doesn’t feel like a Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie. If anything, Leatherface seems more influenced by Rob Zombie’s The Devil’s Rejects than by Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre and it rips off the 2005 film but without replicating the intensity or colorful characters that Zombie’s movie did so well.

Bottom Line: Leatherface is a bland and poorly conceived prequel. Like most of the films in this franchise, it rides the coattails of 1974’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre without much understanding for what made that movie work.

Episode: #671 (October 29, 2017)