Leatherface is a name that would cause even the most die-hard horror fans to quake in their boots! Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre requires no introduction and remains one of the all-time genre greats. The 1974 classic is a study in ordeal horror at its most harrowing with the late Gunnar Hansen’s timeless performance forever engrained into all our nightmares. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre served as my first pure endurance movie experience and is a film that has left a lifelong lasting impression.
In 2017 Leatherface has kept his status as one of horror’s juggernauts of terror and wields his chainsaw proudly next to the likes of Freddy, Jason and Michael. Following the Box Office success of Texas Chainsaw (3D) (2013), Lionsgate had a goldmine on their hands and therefore commissioned another chapter to be told in the Sawyer Family legacy. Leatherface marks the eighth instalment in an already inconsistent franchise that has combined tones of bleakness, dark comedy and strangeness across its succession of entries.
Leatherface is directed by Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo who are best known for their contributions to extreme, foreign language cinema, notably Inside (2007). This instalment is their first outing with the titular movie maniac however they are no strangers to being attached to high profile Hollywood reboots. Maury and Bustillo were separately linked to Rob Zombie’s Halloween II (2009) as well as the long awaited if unwanted remake of Clive Barker’s Hellraiser
This latest Lionsgate bloodbath takes the nominal villain’s story back to the beginning and predates the events of the 2006 prequel, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning. We are presented with Leatherface in childhood when he was known to his loving (I mean, loony) family as Jed. The film opens with Jed being forced into a grizzly rite of passage by the sadistic Sawyers which does not meet their savage standards. Then the inciting incident takes place which sees the young boy torn away from his family by a vengeful Texan Sheriff and confined to an asylum for the rest of his days. A few years pass by and the film transports us to the 1950’s where a teenage Leatherface and his gang of disturbed ‘friends’ make a break for freedom leaving a trail of murderous mayhem in their wake.
Most reboots and remakes in modern horror, namely classic films from the 1970’s and 1980’s evoke this trend of attempting to humanize horror’s most unrelenting killers. Rob Zombie’s Halloween (2007) dissolved the enigma behind Michael Myers and provided him with a back story of being a troubled kid, growing up in a broken home. Zombie dismissed the fact that Myers terrorised and slaughtered several harmless teenagers including his elder sister. It appears that as an audience we are required to empathize and understand their motivations because they are ‘rejects’ of society.
As franchises, such as Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street expanded and flooded the horror market with sequel after sequel during the late 80’s and early 90’s, it became more about rooting for the antagonists with the death scenes providing visual gore spectacles rather than bearing empathy for the victims. More “how they did it” than “whodunit”! It’s as if modern Hollywood filmmakers have taken this trope as literal but what it does is removes all the elements that made their audiences fear these killers in the first place. Leatherface is guilty of utilizing this trope but doesn’t execute it well enough in its characterisation.
Why should we root for this maniac just because he displays glimpses of humanity? Or because he was brutalised by others? All it confirms is that Leatherface is just as evil and becomes a worse incarnation of those who terrorized him. The characters are portrayed on a surface level, there’s a lack of depth that just conjures a sense of indifference rather than anything stronger.
Taking away its association with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre; Leatherface is not bad by a long shot. It’s pretty much an average horror flick that sticks close to an overused formula. At several points, it comes off as highly cheesy especially in the dialogue itself and in the narrative directions it takes. On the positive side, it features some satisfyingly nasty kills and a blood curdling sound design. It expresses an underlying sense of discomfort and to its credit, has a clever twist that elevates the movie from mediocre to relatively interesting.
While its unlikely to whet the appetite of avid horror fans, it surely has a place amongst casual horror movie watchers. Did it provide any enlightenment within the Leatherface canon? Not really. On the whole, it’s incredibly generic but innocuous. Reboots and remakes are what they are, they won’t be for everyone, are devised to place bums on cinema seats and rarely cater to the tastes of fans of the originals. It doesn’t compare to the terrifying 1974 masterpiece nor does it profess to but it’s not awful either. There is just something about Leatherface that doesn’t have enough scope to irritate or garner a strong reaction.