For better or worse it’d be impossible to make The Texas Chainsaw Massacre the way it was made in 1974. Almost every factor, from the independent film scene to Mafia bootlegging, has changed since the early 70s. The original film was made during a thick, cloying heatwave. The production crew couldn’t afford fake body parts and blood, let alone afford to replace the animal parts and cow’s blood they used instead – meaning the set was filled with the stench of rotting meat for most of its month-long shoot. That’s all without mentioning all those near-misses with the chainsaw. So yeah, it’d be impossible to make The Texas Chainsaw Massacre the way it was made in 1974, but you can make sequels to it, eight in fact, the latest of which is now streaming on Netflix.
Entrepreneur Melody (Sarah Yarkin) and her like-minded friend Dante (Jacob Latimore), his fiancé Ruth (Nell Hudson) and Melody’s reluctant, traumatized younger sister Lila (Elsie Fisher) arrive in the abandoned town of Harlow hoping to turn it from backwater burg into a Zoomer’s paradise “away from all the violence and the madness,” as Melody says. While auctioning off the properties, these teens in tight jeans run across good ol’ boy Richter (Moe Dunford), sole survivor of the ‘74 massacre Sarah Hardesty (Olwyn Fouéré) and the perpetrator of that same massacre, Leatherface (Mark Burnham). Murderous hijinks ensue.
Horror is a reactionary genre at heart and has been since Count Orlok first strutted up that staircase. So it’s no surprise that Leatherface is murdering a group of socially aware young adults in the dirt fields of Texas. The movie is not one for subtlety in its commentary or its kills, and frankly if you’re looking for subtlety in a slasher film – let alone a slasher franchise like TCM – you’re in the wrong ball park, buddy. Melody is overbearing because of Lila’s status as a school shooting survivor. Lila just wants to be left alone and is a far more realistic if, again, not subtle character because of it. All four of the main cast are hyper-aware of things like the Black Lives Matter movement, openly scoff at gun culture and react in horror at the sight of a Confederate flag.
The problem with Texas Chainsaw Massacre is that it doesn’t have an original idea in its head. Elsie Fisher wrings what pathos she can out of Lila’s underwritten role, and the movie is better served with her presence. The rest of the cast often feel like placeholders, filling a role before their gory demise at the blunt end of a hammer or spinning teeth of a chainsaw. Irish stalwarts Dunford and Fouéré make meals out of scraps, but the likes of Latimore and Hudson don’t even get a funny line or a good death compared to the glorified extras that spend all their time getting dismembered, decapitated and disembowelled.
Part of the problem is the 2018 Halloween. That sequel managed to be respectful of the film’s legacy and try a couple of new things as well. Chris Thomas Devlin’s script for Texas Chainsaw Massacre feels like its treading ground that was already worn down by the time the 2018 Halloween came out. Aside from some pretty gnarly practical gore clearly inspired by producer Fede Alvarez’s Evil Dead remake, David Blue Garcia’s direction never rises above pastiche. Back in the 90s, the likes of Halloween H20, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare and, of course, Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation had already paved the way. This is not new ground; it’s a cheap, thin cover and the cracks are showing.
I don’t think Texas Chainsaw Massacre will inspire newcomers to go looking for the 1974 original, but it was likely never designed to do that considering Netflix – in Ireland at least – couldn’t be bothered licensing the original. It’s a shame, as newcomers will likely want to see it before viewing this and more experienced viewers will likely want to seek out Tobe Hooper’s original after being disappointed here. Still, those looking for a sub-ninety minute thrill ride might find something to enjoy here.