Catch me on the right day and I’ll tell you that Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is my favorite horror movie. It jostles around with a few other notables, but it will likely never leave my top three.
The Fede Alvarez-produced, David Blue Garcia-directed Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022) could be compared to the 1974 masterpiece with which it shares a title (sans definite article). Not just because it shares a villain, but also because it adopts a similar thinness of plot and character and dialogue. That said, I am not about to tell you that this year’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre is among my top three all-time horror favorites.
Let me tell you why. Oh, let me count the ways…
For starters, and I make similar mention of this in my review of the last awful Chainsaw installment, no sequel, prequel, nor reboot of Hooper’s original film can hope to do anything remotely as effective simply for the reason that what that film did in 1974 had never been done before. The reveal of the hulking, human skin-wearing Leatherface in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is one of the greatest jump scares of all time. To present-day audiences, perhaps the effect is lost somewhat. The character’s image has grown iconic. But in the 1970s, to unsuspecting audiences, that image must have carried a shock that I cannot imagine.
That scene, and most every scene of the film, is electrifying in its abjection and terror. The film’s stark, final shot—an image of hopelessness despite the character’s successful escape from mortal danger—distills the power of the film into one perfect portrait. The last shot of Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022)? Well, I won’t spoil it…more of a hokey comedy beat than anything else.
The bareness of the 1974 film’s plot and character construction is by design. It is relentless because it does not bother establishing its characters with meaningful backstories which will come back at just the right moment in the script. It instead gives them personalities — not always flattering ones, but personalities nonetheless. And then it drops these characters into a waking nightmare, a waking nightmare we feel because the sun-soaked atmosphere and blunt story beats provide a tactile experience.
This new film’s script, from Chris Thomas Devlin, tosses out interesting characters in favor of a literal busload of gentrifying hipsters. Melody (Sarah Yarkin) and Dante (Jacob Lattimore) have invested in the deeds to a rural Texas town, to the disdain of the locals. But not everyone moved out after the properties were seized by the bank. You can’t just evict Leatherface, I suppose.
And the script does give a character here and there that special bit of backstory. The most prominent is one character’s PTSD over her experience surviving a school shooting (because this slasher film needs jokes about social media and depictions of trauma with razor-thin depth). In a rendition of the Texas Chainsaw mythos which is going for an overtly humorous level of hyper-violent splatter, this bit of character work comes off ugly in its lack of sensitivity. The tones simply cannot hope to mesh.
As for the splatter, it does a lot of legwork in the hopes that audiences will revel in the bloodshed that the original film lacks. Its a fine idea; in a better film, the gruesome scenes may actually be fun.
Here, though, it does not mix with the somberness by which the film introduces its characters and setting. Issues of gentrification, racism, class divide, houselessness, trauma, etc. are all rendered moot points when someone gets uppercut sucker-punched by the edge of a chainsaw. The themes introduced are seemingly arbitrary set dressing, meaningless identifiers meant to be pointed to so as if to say, this film has things on its mind. Only, it really doesn’t.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre desires so badly to do for its franchise what David Gordon Green’s Halloween did for John Carpenter’s franchise. It wants to meditate on the ever-lingering trauma of its survivors, while also providing grand Guignol gore in equal measure. Truth is, Chainsaw seems to have no clue what makes Green’s Halloween work (to the extent that it does work).
Both films liberally reinterpret the source material, yet Halloween (2018) cares about the history of Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis). At least, it cares enough to give her dialogue in the first hour of the film. Chainsaw can barely say the same for its final girl. Devlin all but lifts Laurie Strode in 2018’s sequel and drops her into this film. A character from a previous Chainsaw film returns, poised to trap and kill Leatherface. This character has been waiting decades for this moment (what moment, I’m not too sure, as Leatherface appears to have been sitting in a chair staring out a window in the same town for 50 years). She has been planning, training, paranoid that he will return to kill again.
It’s the exact same character. Except…Devlin strips this character of any history, personality, and voice. Her presence within the film is largely superfluous, and there is never a moment where it feels like her and her former pursuer share a history.
Even if you could say it is good for some gory fun (I’m hesitant to even extend that olive branch), Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a dismal experience. Even if you eliminate any comparisons to the original film (which I admit is always a recipe for disappointment), this is a gaudy and shoddily-written slasher. It lacks both grit and heart, opting for poorly-conceived sight gags and a weightless body count instead. It is bad enough that the film feels like it is jumping on the trend of selectively revising the slasher franchise. It is worse that it does that so lifelessly.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre: D-
As always, thanks for reading!