New in select theaters & On Demand from Lionsgate!
aka TEXAS CHAINSAW 4
Directed by Alexandre Bustillo, Julien Maury
Written by Seth M. Sherwood (screenplay)
Starring Stephen Dorff, Lili Taylor, Finn Jones, Sam Strike, Nicole Andrews, James Bloor, Sam Coleman, Vanessa Grasse, Jessica Madsen, Christopher Adamson, Boris Kabakchiev, Julian Kostov, Ian Fisher, Velizar Peev, Dejan Angelov, Nathan Cooper, Lorina Kamburova
It is just inevitable, people are going to hate LEATHERFACE. They already do and a lot of folks will continue to do so without even seeing it. Word of mouth will be bad because—let’s face it, critics aren’t going to like it, mainly because it dares try to add to the original mythos, it will never live up to the horror of TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE, and with the death of Tobe Hooper still fresh, anything massacring from Texas with a chainsaw just isn’t going to live up to what Hooper did with it. Still, Hooper remains an executive producer of these films, along with TCM co-creator Kim Henkel, so if Hooper was ok with putting his name on it, I think the fans can give it a chance too.
I also understand that there is a stigma put on this film because it is an origin story and explaining the dark unknown is never as powerful as the darkness one’s own imagination can conjure up. We don’t need to see young Jed Sawyer kill animals, wear their heads, and pick up his first chainsaw. But in this age of demystifying everything and over-explanation, Hollywood has milked the TCM story do much the teats have gone dry and instead of moving forward, moving backwards seems the only way to go.
No, LEATHERFACE isn’t the TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE we asked for, but it is the film we got and while it may not be the best TCM movie, it turns out it’s not a horrible movie in the end. Filmmakers Alexandre Bustillo & Julien Maury were behind the visceral and gory films LIVIDE and INSIDE, so I knew that despite my reservations, we might just get a film that was able to get under our skin. And that it does. LEATHERFACE is not TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE, but who really wants a retread of the same old story? How many times do we have to have a screaming woman bound to a skeleton chair with the whole family sitting around it and Grandpa whacking away with a mallet? We’ve seen that before and for the fans, we get a truncated version of that in the opening sequence, but it no longer is the centerpiece of the film, which for me, is ok, because I’ve seen that film before.
Now, I know I will discredit myself by saying that I liked TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D for the same reason. That film tried something new and the fans hated it. I didn’t because it dared tell a different story rather than retread the original as part 2, 3, NEXT GENERATION, and both Michael Bay films did. It dared tell a story of family tradition. It wasn’t a perfect film, but it kept the essence of family—a horrific family, but family none the less. LEATHERFACE as well keeps that theme going by introducing us to Lily Taylor who, as Verna Sawyer, fights to keep family tradition and family unity going despite the local establishment, lead by Texas Ranger Hal Hartman (Stephen Dorff), trying their best to tear it apart. When Hartman’s daughter goes missing, he immediately points the finger at the local weirdos, the Sawyers and uses this authority to tear all of Verna’s kids from her. Flash forward ten years and we arrive at an asylum where we are introduced to a few characters who could be Jed Sawyer, the teen who would become Leatherface. Is it Ike (James Bloor) a psychopathic bully, Jackson (Sam Strike) a manic but good natured nutjob, or is it the monosyllabic Bud (Sam Coleman) who has the looks of what Leatherface becomes in the future? Because the kids were given new names upon arrival to the facility, any of them could be our favorite flesh faced killer. But when a new nurse named Lizzy (Vanessa Grasse) arrives at the facility on the same day Verna decides to pay a visit and try to retrieve her son, chaos erupts and the three psychos, plus a female sociopath named Tammy (Nicole Andrews) escape with Nurse Lizzy as hostage. After he gets wind of the escape, Hartman is enraged and tears across Texas to find the group before they make it to the Mexican border. A bloody and morbid road chase ensues.
I’m here to tell you that if you go in expecting a film like other films in this franchise, you’re going to be disappointed. But if you go in with less expectation and less embedded ire shouting “PART THREE WAS NAMED LEATHERFACE, DAMMIT!” or “Where’s the sliding door scene?” or “Where’s the skin mask?”—you might actually enjoy yourself. I’m not saying this is a perfect movie, but it is a fast paced, well acted, and gratuitously gory little number more in the vein of a grimy Peckinpah grindhouser than a TCM retread. Dorff is better here as the fire-spitting lawman who will stop at nothing to find the person he blames for the death of his daughter. Taylor gives her all in this role as a mother who simply wants her deranged brood back and will stop at nothing to do it. And there are moments from the younger cast that really make you root for these guys to make it to Mexico and a promise for a new life.
That doesn’t mean this is a perfect film that fits seamlessly into continuity established in the series. The biggest blunder lays with Drayton Sawyer, who is shown in the first scene and while he “never really had the stomach fer killin’” in TCM as well as its original sequel, he certainly has no trouble doing it here. Handing an eight year old a chainsaw as big as him seems to be a pretty dumb idea since he can’t even lift it. But that’s what Verna encourages him to do in the opening scene. A mallet would have been more efficient. And while the kid who ends up being Leatherface says that sometimes he wishes he could be someone else, there is no gender confusion or transvestism to be seen. Granted, this theme is something we haven’t seen in the character since THE NEXT GENERATION, as I guess, dressing as a woman is less acceptable than cannibalism to the studios and mass audiences. Also, while there is a reason for Jed to finally cover his face with the skin of others, it’s not a strong one and feels like an afterthought rushed in there before the credits.
Imperfect as it is, I love revisiting the Sawyer family and while I hope one day we can have a film revolving around the lives of the family rather than the same old plot—maybe a Sawyer family vacation? A family reunion? A birthday for Grandpa?—this one tried something new and as a grimy and exciting road movie, it worked for me. I loved it that we get to see Nubbins as a grubby, giggling kid (no Chop-Top though, for shame). I liked the tiny bit with Grandpa, a little more limber with that mallet than we are used to. Taylor and Dorff aren’t down-snouting their roles here. They’re playing their parts more genuinely than Hopper’s scene-chomping role in TCM2. Because of that, I recommend this film and even praise it for daring doing something different. Yes, it humanizes the monster, making him sympathetic, but Hooper did that in the original as Leatherface, despite his tendency to flip out, was always the put upon infant of the family, pressured by his older siblings in TCM. There’s a scene in the original that shows Leatherface slapping his head and trying to calm himself after his first two onscreen kills. That’s humanity we don’t see in typical slashers, but we got it from the original. LEATHERFACE expands on that humanization and it’s all the more odd because of it.
And finally…here’s another animated short film from the mad mind of micro-budget filmmaker Sonny Fernandez. This one follows our favorite flesh-masked maniac as he chainsaws his way through more bodies. It’s called HEAD CHEESE and it’s more proof that Fernandez not only knows his horror, but he knows his horror icons. Enjoy HEAD CHEESE! Find out more about Sonny Fernandez’s films and animations here!