Note the lack of a “the” at the start of this revised title; the definite article added to titles like The Batman or removed from Joker seems to have been shorn from this sequel to the infamous 1974 shocker. That’s perhaps not the most alarming thing about David Blue Garcia’s gnarly horror flick, but the ninth entry in a ‘who-cares?’ franchise contents itself by depicting what must be just one of a number of on-going Texas Chainsaw Massacres, it’s hard to keep track. There’s the Tobe Hooper original, a famously wayward 1986 Dennis Hopper comedy sequel, and even a reboot with rom-com stars Matthew McConaughey and Renee Zellweger; congrats to anyone hardy enough to stay this particular bloody course.
The original film was banned in the UK when I was a teenager; on a trip to Troutdale, Portland, I rented a VHS from my local store and sat down to watch it. ‘It’s not really got started yet,’ I explained to a passing flatmate who squinted at the screen and replied ‘No, that looks like the last ten minutes.’ And indeed it was; supposedly the most terrifying film ever made was unfolding without much evidence of skill or finesse. The sole twist that I could discern was that the maniac pictured on the film’s poster was just one of a family of cannibal butchers praying on the unwary, an angle largely missing from this slick, sick reboot.
Treating the events of the first film only as canon, we join a group of present-day gentrifiers, influencers, or possibly just annoying young people who travel to the ghost town of Harlow which they’ve unwisely bought the deeds to. The social media obsessed party-animals evict an old woman from her own grizzly home, unaware that she still has a legal deed that allows her to stay there, and she promptly dies of heart failure in the back of a sheriff’s car. Her grieving son is a big, nasty-ass man who starts removing the faces of pretty much everyone he meets, and starts methodically working his way through cops, partygoers and anyone unfortunate enough to cross his path.
‘Try anything and you’re cancelled, bro’ is the idle threat made by one partygoer as he live-streams an encroaching Leatherface; needless to say, our monster is not swayed by anxieties about social media embarrassment and promptly makes a busload of teens pop like a tomato in a microwave. Leatherface doesn’t say much, if anything at all, so there’s plenty of room to shoe-horn in such modern hot-button topics as gentrification, social media and high-school shootings; this last element is artlessly resolved when a school-shooting victim finally picks up a gun to defend herself. In a cast best left unidentified, Irish actress Olwen Fouere is the only one to make an impression as a cop, sheriff or possibly ranger who returns to Harlow to confront her tormentor.
As brutish and truncated as the title suggests, Texas Chainsaw Massacre is some lowest common denominator horror that lets loose with fountains of gore from the halfway point onwards, but whatever tension or energy the original film had is replaced with grim foreboding; you’ll be reaching for your phone to find light relief. Netflix is becoming the natural home of busted cinema movies that no-one wants to distribute; this lazy, ugly Texas Chainsaw Massacre follows a similar path to the Halloween franchise, but is likely to satisfy only the most easily-scared genre fans.