Obviously, the system of titling for sequels is broken. This is an entry in a franchise that has already yielded films called The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1973), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003) and Texas Chainsaw (aka Texas Chainsaw 3D) – and really doesn’t need to have Texas Chainsaw Massacre added to the mess of the filmography. It’s one of those pretend-all-films-since-the-original-don’t-exist sequels we’ve seen a lot of lately … though, so far as I can tell, everything since The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 has taken that approach (with the exception of Texas Chainsaw Massacre The Beginning, a prequel to the remake, and the possibility that Leatherface is a prequel to Texas Chainsaw). A good reason for this is that none of the sequels to date are films anyone would want to make a follow-up to – and this one doesn’t do anything to go against that tradition.
Like Leatherface, this was made in Bulgaria with all the Texan flavour you’d expect from faking it in another country. It was directed by David Blue Garcia (who replaced Ryan and Andy Tohill a week into production), from a script by Chris Thomas Devlin based on a story by Evil Dead remake/Don’t Breathe team Fede Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues. Brief enough (83 minutes with a slow end crawl and a meh post-credits blip) to warrant accusations of short measure, it offers a deal of explicit bloodletting but little suspense, horror or (let’s face it) point beyond keeping someone’s IP active. Like the David Gordon Green Halloweens, it tries to ground itself in the original – John Larroquette is back as narrator, here talking over Tobe Hooper footage passed off as a documentary about the unsolved murders. A polaroid of the original cast is frequently looked at by the distinctive Olwen Fouéré, who plays an older, white-haired version of 1973 survivor Sally Hardesty, now a retired Texas Ranger who never did track down the hulking killer of her friends (though it turns out he lives one town over from her). Ever since Leatherface Texas Chainsaw 3, various creatives have oddly insisted on reimagining Leatherface as a single Jason-Freddy-Michael bogeyman rather than the low man on a killer family totem pole.
The set-up taps into current American culture wars, but you’re more likely to squirm at the weird emphases and mixed signals than feel the biting relevance. Lila (Elsie Fisher), survivor of a school shooting, understandably hates guns but eventually needs to use one (not that it does much good). Hipster assholes from Austin (Tobe Hooper’s hometown) sneer high-handedly at rural gun-toters, polluting trucks and Confederate flags (though they don’t mention the statue). They’re all so smug we’re supposed to think they deserve to be carved up, but it’s especially uncomfortable that a couple of these doomed idiots are black or Asian – we’re expected to empathise with the pain of bypassed backwoods types but think a black guy who wants to tear down a rebel flag is a dick. It’s the outsiders’ fault Leatherface (Mark Burnham), who has been peaceable all these years, starts killing again. Melody (Sarah Yarkin) and Dante (Jacob Latimore) want to turn the ghost town of Harlow into an artisanal mall or something equally trivial and have bought up all the property. They mistakenly evict an old lady (Alice Krige, latest of the embarrassingly distinguished TCM alumni association which includes Renee Zellweger, Viggo Mortenson, Matthew McConaughey and Lili Taylor) from the former orphanage where she’s been caring for the big lug. The matriarch has a seizure while being hauled off her property and dies in the ambulance, whereupon her charge cuts off her face and wears it as a mask, then heads back to town to slaughter everyone.
The fuss attracts Sally, who shows up with guns but is a lot less handy with them than the present incarnation of Laurie Strode. Sisters Lila and Melody are set up to be final girls, but this isn’t a franchise about survivors – and the filmmakers deliver a callous punchline that doesn’t really shock because this is a movie that unreels rather than involves. There are tiny okayish moments – the store selling souvenirs of the local murders isn’t just a throwaway but set-up – but it’s all pretty disposable. I’m starting to appreciate the legacy of one-and-done unsequelised 1970s horror films … Messiah of Evil, Daughters of Darkness, Death Line, Let’s Scare Jessica to Death, Race with the Devil, Grave of the Vampire, The Brotherhood of Satan, Frogs. That these old dogs stand alone, untarnished by ten or so yapping puppies shitting themselves to death over the next fifty years, makes them seem all the more admirable now.