Many horror films – be they classic (Halloween) or cult (Puppet Master) – have inspired a franchise, some are forgettable, some are fun and some are just at the point of sheer madness. The lineage of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre can most certainly be placed under the latter description. Tobe Hooper’s 1974 horror milestone is a peak that has arguably never been bettered in terms of the depraved lengths it went, the terrifying low-budget impact and the visual grot that coated its survival story and warped characters. It remains, to this very day, a film that is the very definition of horror but the series it has inspired is, shall we say, debateable.
Hooper’s vastly differently toned sequel in 1986 was a cult gem but after that darkly comic sequel, the rest of the franchise has grown either more convoluted, seedy, drab or downright stupid (although this writer would controversially argue a case for 2013’s much-hated Texas Chainsaw 3D, which was a bit messy but mostly enjoyable). However, we now are going back in time (again) for Leatherface, which tells the story of how the transvestite, skin-wearing, chainsaw-wielding, cannibal came to be…well kind of.
This prequel opens with the sinister Sawyer family getting young Jedidiah clued up on the family business of butchery, however when a Texas Ranger’s daughter becomes a casualty of these twisted initiations, he confiscates young Jedidiah from the family and puts him into a mental institution. Years later, a group of inmates from the oppressive institution, alongside a kidnapped nurse, break free and go on the run, as the vengeful Ranger goes to hunt down the group, but is one of them Jedidiah Sawyer?
You have to praise Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo (best known as the directors of Inside) for approaching the mythos from a different slant but in their attempts to recapture the original’s gruesome grot and heart-stopping shocks they pull all manner of gory tricks out of the bag. Sadly, the end result is a film that feels more desperate (see: necrophilia) than coherent or necessary and is another misfiring attempt at matching Hooper’s original achievement. Admittedly, it is not as dreadful as the likes of the repellent Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning or Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation but it is an unsatisfying origin to an icon of the genre.
Despite the best efforts of Stephen Dorff as Ranger Hartman and Lili Taylor as Sawyer family matriarch Verna, who are both excellent here, and some grisly moments of promise, Leatherface just feels unsure. The plot’s re-invention of Jedidiah over complicates matters and come the – quite guessable – twist, the film shifts so spontaneously into action for the finale that there is no real explanation for why Jed is as he is. An initially sympathetic tone bizarrely comes to be entirely flipped and it is as though pieces of vital information are missing from the screen and when all is said and done, all the film expresses is that a monster is born as a result of a nasty cut on his cheek and a limp.
Leatherface bares little resemblance to what inspired it and while the intention to be different was certainly there, the story was not and fans will likely forget it as soon as the credits roll. Sadly, Leatherface is another iffy entry into the increasingly dicey franchise.
LEATHERFACE / CERT: 18 / DIRECTORS: JULIEN MAURY, ALEXANDRE BUSTILLO / SCREENPLAY: SETH M. SHERWOOD / STARRING: STEPHEN DORFF, LILI TAYLOR, SAM STRIKE / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW