Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a very strange movie. Of course, it’s a horror film so wacky and sinister things are expected. Yet this sequel is strange in a different sort of way. You can’t tell if the filmmakers –director David Blue Garcia and screenwriter Chris Thomas Devlin– are deliberately going for a goofy, self-aware vibe or not, but that’s what comes across in this 9th film in the franchise. It’s almost as if they’d rather give us fan service than give us original content.
The film, like its predecessors, follows the antics of serial killer Leatherface (Mark Burham). Hiding in a shack in Texas, he doesn’t seem to be doing much harm until a group of 20-somethings arrive with their rap music and Solo party cups. After they set up shop in Harlow, a ghost town-turned-hippie commune, homages to 1974’s original Massacre begin. Remember that scene at the gas station? It’s here. Remember that run-in with the sheriff? It’s here. We even see our heroine, Melody (Sarah Yarkin), open a beer bottle with a chainsaw.
Melody and her sister, Lila (Elsie Fischer), have just moved to town with their friend Ruth (Nell Hudson), and her boyfriend, Dante (Jacob Latimore). In Harlow, they live miles away from society, government and everyday people. Their only obligation is to kick an elderly woman out of her house, which was supposed to be evacuated weeks ago, but is still full of books and pictures, knives and chainsaws. Soon, the group discovers that Leatherface is upstairs, and they are off and running, with little access to protection or shelter.
Burham embodies the dread that stands in opposition to Melody and her friends. There are many ominous things about Leatherface, a man, lunatic and legend of sorts in the monster cannon. He’s controlling, wears crusty, leather-skin masks, has a bunch of bones with blood on them, and seriously, what is up with his mom? Garcia stirs and stirs this harbinger of domestic menace and suspense, creating an intense energy that promises to explode off the screen, but merely fizzles out when the killing starts.
Like the recent string of horror sequels, Scream, Candyman, Ghostbusters and Halloween Kills, the elements are here to help the movie appeal to a younger audience. There’s the compelling cast, including up-and-coming stars Fischer, Yarkin, Hudson and Latimore. There’s the modern update on the material that aims to dig into the issue of gun violence in Texas. There’s also a requisite connection to the original film. Everything hums along until it abruptly crashes and burns, and one can’t help but wonder if the film was conceived more as a piece of nostalgia than a piece of art.
One of the things that sparked The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was its creativity. It was a timely examination of societal change –a’la Performance and Vanishing Point– that put a knife in the back of hippie culture. It was unlike anything else out there. Unfortunately, the new installment is merely a homage to the 70’s classic’s ideas.