LEATHERFACE [FrightFest Review]

PrintE-mail Written by John Higgins

It was the hottest ticket of the weekend and we all had time to reflect on Sunday when it was announced that Tobe Hooper had died the day before.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) is the one film this writer has seen in more formats than any other. Firstly on a full-length Super 8 copy, then VHS in the early 1980s during the video library boom in the UK, then on 35mm, DVD, Blu-Ray and then finally in 4K Digital during Frightfest 2010, when Hooper was the Total Film Icon. We have seen all the sequels, including the two Michael Bay reboots, and were eagerly anticipating the new Leatherface reimaging by Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo.

So, where does the new film fit in in the grand scheme of things (a question somebody posed to the filmmakers in the post-screening Q and A)?

Leatherface opens in 1955 (astute observers will note that, time-wise, this is two years before Wisconsin’s favourite Ed Gein carried out the despicable acts that inspired both Psycho and the original Chainsaw) with the murder of a young woman, lured to a remote farm off the country road by a boy wearing a cow head.

The local police, led by Sheriff Hal Hartman (Stephen Dorff) waste no time in taking the child away from his mother, Verna Sawyer (Lili Taylor) - and commit him to a mental hospital. Ten years later, Verna arrives with a top lawyer in tow, but is rebuked by the head psychologist at the hospital because of the circumstances around her son. Desperate, she seeks her son, and a revolt breaks out, leading to a mutiny and escape by four of the patients, who kidnap nurse Lizzy (Vanessa Grasse).

It isn’t long before Hartman is in pursuit, determined to wreak his own form of vengeance on the escapees….

One of the picks from Frightfest 2017 attendees, Maury and Bustillo have wisely combined the energy of Hooper’s original film with a broad canvas that keeps the legend alive. Lili Taylor is brilliant at Verna Sawyer, encapsulating that mad matriarch performance with the vigour of somebody at home with their craft. Stephen Dorff (who also turned up in Jackals during the festival) remains as watchable as ever with his consistent performance as Sheriff Hartman. A shout out is in order as well for Vanessa Grasse as Lizzy, an attractive actress with a bright future.

We must stress that Leatherface is not going to come up to the level of Hooper’s legendary 1970s iconic classic, partly because this is a prequel to the original film and has been explored in the Michael Bay films. Indeed, there has already been some criticism because it treads a similar path.

However, this is only a minor gripe in the latest addition to the Chainsaw universe. It’s a love letter to the fans – and a fitting tribute to the creator, who received his last ever Executive Producer credit on this film.

LEATHERFACE / CERT: 18 / DIRECTORS: JULIEN MAURY, ALEXANDRE BUSTILLO / SCREENPLAY: SETH M. SHERWOOD / STARRING: STEPHEN DORFF, LILI TAYLOR, VANESSA GRASSE / RELEASE DATE: OFFICIAL UK RELEASE DATE TBA



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