What is it about the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise that leaves Hollywood revival after revival in such a bloody state? Tobe Hooper’s original Texas Chain Saw Massacre is certainly not a flawless movie. It doesn’t even spell “chainsaw” correctly! But what that motley crew of young, independent filmmakers achieved while fumbling around in the grueling summer sun of 1973 has been impossible to replicate. Numerous studios and desperate IP holders proved that when, every few years, they let the movie rights change hands and someone else sends more aspiring filmmakers down to Texas with a bigger budget… all but dooming them to return with another wretched mess that pales by comparison.
Now, it’s Netflix’s turn.
As the third rebooted “direct sequel” to the original 1974 classic inside of a decade, Netflix’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre ignores all the previous continuations and remakes in favor of offering the true follow-up to the Hooper film. Yet right down to its unimaginative title, which just repeats the name of the original movie, this inert legacy sequel from director David Blue Garcia and screenwriter Chris Thomas Devlin—who are working from a story by Fede Alvarez and Rode Sayagues—fails to do anything interesting or original with the material beyond an undercooked setup about blue states versus red states.
The city mouse half of that dichotomy is embodied by fresh-faced Gen-Zers Melody (Sarah Yarkin) and Lila (Eighth Grade’s Elsie Fisher). These hipster sisters are incredulously planning to move deep into central Texas because Melody’s buddy and business partner, chef Dante (Jacob Latimore), has the bad idea of buying an abandoned ghost town and turning it into a southwest Brooklyn for those sick of the rent in actual Brooklyn, or even nearby Austin. However, as indicated by the kids’ befuddlement at noticing a Confederate flag hanging from a second floor window or a good ol’ boy carrying a gun, it seems they didn’t think things through.
Soon enough our band of reverse-gentrifiers has upset the last squatters in town, including an old-timer who still lives in the orphanage down the street. The big lug doesn’t ever give his Christian name to the new neighbors, but his old moniker catches on pretty quickly after he starts wearing folks’ faces and revving up his trusty chainsaw. Thus the sisters and their party bus full of friends’ only hope for survival may be the original movie’s final girl, Sally Hardesty (Olwen Fouréré), who’s grown up and become a Texas Ranger in the last half-century, waiting all this time for another dance with Leatherface.
The inclusion of Sally, and the frankly dubious development of her being both a gunslinger and so obsessed with Leatherface that she even bought the old farmhouse she almost died in five decades ago, is a poor attempt to mimic the success David Gordon Green and Blumhouse Pictures enjoyed by bringing Jamie Lee Curtis back for the 2018 Halloween reboot. And on paper, this makes a certain amount of utilitarian sense. After all, John Carpenter’s original Halloween from 1978 owes more than a little to Leatherface, and turnabout is fair play in the horror genre, no?
Unfortunately, in this case that is a hard no, because the Michael Myers schtick has never worked for Leatherface, which is the first of many mistakes in this otherwise turgid exercise in intellectual property exploitation.
As originally played by Gunnar Hansen in the ’74 film, there is a perverse element of dark comedy and even tragedy about Leatherface, a mama’s boy who is playing the role of mama for his family full of cannibals. He doesn’t want to be killing teenagers—they just keep wandering onto his farm and ruining his Sunday dinner plans! Our hapless power tool enthusiast was never intended to be an immortal embodiment of human evil because that slasher concept hadn’t been invented yet. In fact, there’s something purely, and piteously, human about the original Leatherface.
By returning the first victim who got away to him, Netflix’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre reminds the viewer that we’re watching a geriatric serial killer chasing down victims who could be his grandkids. A smarter movie might have at least had some fun with that idea, but nothing about the reboot is smart; it’s as dumb and lumbering as the new Chainsaw-man, who right down to his new Porky Pig mask has become a self-parody.
And when the killer doesn’t work, all that’s left are those vaguely intriguing early allusions toward political allegory, even if it’s still baffling that kids eager to “cancel” someone would want to move to a part of the country where Confederate monuments are never coming down. Alas, any attempt at social commentary is also quickly abandoned in this movie’s scant 82-minute running time, leaving its “both sides are bad” themes to be as toothless as one of its victims after meeting Leatherface’s mallet.
The most gruesome thing about this movie, however, is a profoundly misjudged attempt to directly connect this movie’s wannabe gorehound thrills to the actual horrors faced by young people today. Indeed, the only hint of a character arc in the piece pivots on Fisher’s Lila being revealed to be the survivor of a school shooting. It’s a desperate and crude grasp at something approaching relevancy that ultimately has no more value than shamelessly juxtaposing memories of real life massacres inside a high school with the movie’s own giddy slaughter as Leatherface butchers a bus full of kidz these days caricatures in a sequence that is clearly meant to elicit high fives from the audience.
It’s an irony then that for a movie which relies on an excess of splatter to make up for its deadened narrative that this wildly tasteless subplot allows 2022’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre to surpass the original in one area: Here at last is a Chainsaw movie that is the nasty trash parents accused the original of being 50 years ago.
By contrast, Hooper’s ’74 movie stands ever taller. The greenness of that original picture’s filmmakers is what gave the movie its raw power. That elusive quality lives somewhere between the grisliness of a seeming snuff film and the inexplicable beauty of Leatherface swinging his chainsaw in the morning sun like it’s his lover. There is an immortality to the grotesquerie. By comparison, Netflix’s knockoff is just ugly, mean, and instantly forgettable—even before the autoplay menu comes up.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre is streaming on Netflix now.