With underlying themes of gentrification, school shootings, and the overarching desire to find a safe place to live, director David Blue Garcia’s unflinching new vision of Texas Chainsaw Massacre (TCM) brings masked killer Leatherface into modern times with style, grit, and a veritable tanker truck full of blood.
The first entry into the series since 2017, TCM 2022 unleashes Leatherface on a group of young adults that have bought property in a small Texas town called Harlow. Their hope, as a busload of investors arrives, is to auction off the buildings and revitalize Harlow with brunch restaurants, art galleries, and music venues. As one character describes the Harlow concept, “We are idealistic individuals who want to build a better world.” There is always a variable in those situations and, in this case, it’s Leatherface. After witnessing the death of his caretaker, the mayhem begins.
Tobe Hooper’s original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, released in 1974, was initially described as grotesque and gruesome. In reality, there was little on-screen blood in Hooper’s movie. Many of the harrowing scenes were created by clever camera angles that forced the viewer into completing the gory tableau in the imaginations. We know Leatherface hung that one girl from the meathook, but did we really see the steel puncture her flesh?
Garcia’s film rests on a far different cinematic philosophy. Blood flows like craft beer in Harlow as Leatherface goes a-cuttin’ leaving a trail of bodies in his wake. Little, if anything, is left to the imagination. Many of the kills are shocking and creative, enough that even some jaded horror fans may be taken aback. The ramping-up of bloodshed makes sense within the modern setting of TCM 2022. Anyone with the hankering to watch people actually die can find such footage with a few taps on their phone screens.
One understands that is the kind of world the young protagonists grew up in. Lila (Elsie Fisher), one of the main characters, survived a high school mass shooting. All of the characters under the age of 30 in TCM 2022 are social media savvy. They’re connected and intelligent, a gaggle of influencers. Their earnestness and fervent belief in creating a place where nothing can harm their Bohemian dream shows their naivete and makes them, frankly, a little annoying. They are unprepared for the appearance of a violent, destructive force like Leatherface and all the handheld technology in the world cannot protect them.
In the best TCM films, that has been the role Leatherface has inhabited. He is the Berserker, the raging thunderstorm that blows in from the south on a bright cloudless day. His mask, no matter whose skin he wears, obscures his true identity allowing him to be anyone or anything. Whatever brand of symbolism you want to throw onto Leatherface, he’ll absorb and become it.
Is he a rampaging boomer dispatching those avocado toast eating Millenials in a way the law won’t allow? Sure, why not? Is he a traditionalist who longs for the old ways and employs violence to ensure they are preserved? Yeah, okay. Is he a submissive man-child trained to follow the whims of his family, someone to be pitied for his lack of boundaries and desire to please those who will never love him? That also seems plausible.
Perhaps the true horror of Leatherface is his lack of a name. We know Michael Myers. We know Freddy Kreuger. Although we are repulsed by their acts, we understand their humanity because we can call them by their names. With Leatherface, we don’t get that luxury. His identity is reduced to something akin to a brand name.
It is telling that TCM 2022 avoids showing us Leatherface’s family. Mostly-dead Grandpa and his shocking lack of hand strength is not here, nor is the cowardly gas station owner or the portwine-stained hitchhiker. Leatherface is unbound in TCM 2022 and the graphic violence in the movie reflects that.
Gone is the goofiness of a majority of the past TCM movies. Chop Top isn’t bouncing around trying to steal the show. There’s no kitchen drawer filled with garage door openers. No youngster show up to tell his name is Jedidiah in a languorous affected drawl. TCM 2022 is dark and grim, with only a couple of moments of humor to alleviate the atmosphere.
The main characters can be described as “woke.” One character, phone camera raised in one hand, threatens to cancel Leatherface if he tries to disrupt the Harlow auction afterparty. Some viewers may be turned off by that prevailing attitude, but in essence, TCM 2020 doesn’t veer too far from the original.
Hooper’s original victims were young people on the tail end of the Flower Power generation, riding around in a van and reading dime-store astrology magazines. It was all peace, love, and country-rock until the kids arrogantly stormed into Leatherface’s house without being invited. In TCM 2022, the ones attempting to make Harlow a modern Utopia also came uninvited, bearing nothing but a self-driving car and venture capital funds. It was all vodka, snark, and electronic dance music until the kids disrupted Leatherface’s life and tried to snatch his town out from under him.
While some liberties are taken with the classic story and characters (what the hell is Sally Hardesty doing here?), TCM 2022 fits snugly into the Leatherface canon. One could ignore all the other films in the series and view TCM 2022 as a direct sequel to Hooper’s 1974 classic. Garcia’s movie relies a bit too much on being “ripped from today’s headlines,” but its current events slant is a major part of what makes TCM 2022 work. It feels less like a horror fantasy, as some of the sequels do, and more like a horrifying event that would hold sway on cable news networks for three days before being quietly swept out of the cycle.
Firmly-held beliefs and political divisions between humans may be the order of the 21st century so far, just as they were during the 1970s, but none of that matters at the business end of a chainsaw.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre is currently streaming on Netflix.