Leatherface: Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury’s full-throttle reboot is the best Texas Chainsaw Massacre film since the first
While it’s unfortunate and tragic that director Tobe Hooper’s passing comes at the heels of a brand-new film set in the world and with characters Hooper created in his signature film, 1974’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, there are an interesting set of questions that come along with Inside co-directors Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury’s Leatherface. Would the film be yet another entry into one of the most disjointed horror franchises around or would it stand on its own? Do we really need yet another horror icon origin story and if so, would the explanation be anything we haven’t seen before? The answers to these questions are quite refreshing, with Leatherface being not only one of the most entertaining franchise horror films in a long time, but without a doubt, the best Texas Chainsaw film since the original.
Bypassing more of the same in favor of a rough and tumble approach closer to something like a blood soaked version of Badlands, what Leatherface does right from the beginning is acknowledge what came before it without ever seeming like a wink-wink to the previous films in the series. An origin story that finally feels like something we’d LOVE to see, the film begins with a young woman who is killed due to some circumstances that a young boy and his family (want to guess which family I’m referring to?) are most definitely responsible for, causing Texas Ranger Hal Hartman (Stephen Dorff, also in the recently released and equally entertaining Jackals), the girl’s father, to bring his wrath upon the family. Led by matriarch Verna Sawyer (Lili Taylor), the family has each other’s backs to the end, but with the loss of his daughter, Hartman wants to make the family suffer and does what he can to do just that: take the family’s youngest, Jed and giving Verna an epic “Take one of mine, I’ll take all of yours” line while placing the child in a hospital for child endangerment.
That setup is where Leatherface begins to really succeed, what we’re given then isn’t your typical slasher or franchise film. Years, later, we don’t know who “Jed” is anymore. While the film does an excellent job of giving its audience quite a few red herrings, what we’re given is for the first time in the series, a really great mystery involving a group of patients escaping from the hospital and kidnapping a nurse while doing so. Jackson (Sam Strike), Bud (Sam Coleman), Ike (James Bloor) and Clarice (Jessican Madsen) all give great performances as deeply troubled individuals who subject their kidnapped victim to a horrible road trip from hell, feeling like a cross between the aforementioned Badlands and The Devil’s Rejects, all seen through the eyes of two directors who know how to film violence in an artistically and aesthetically pleasing way. Bodies are left in their wake and soon after, the angry and vendetta-driven Texas Ranger Hartman is on the group’s trailer, ready to put an end to them all. It’s a constant battle between Dorff’s Hartman character and that of Taylor’s Verna, butting heads right until the very end, putting Jed’s family again the Texas Ranger in a very pleasing way.
Driven by revenge, a solid as hell mystery, blood all over the walls (and each other), Leatherface does a great job at showing a series of horrific events that could cause someone to completely lose their mind, pushing them into becoming the confused, scared and violent character that Hooper brought to our nightmares, with his 1974 classic. Seth Sherwood’s script for Leatherface does such a great job giving viewers something other than what we got with Rob Zombie’s attempt at the same thing, with his 2007 Halloween remake/origin. With Leatherface, we don’t get a bratty Kiss fan killing his family due to pouting about not being able to go Trick R Treating. No, instead we get a solid story about the loss on one’s mind, all due to enough emotional and physical trauma to cause anyone to break. When the break comes, it makes sense why the then revealed character would become the Leatherface we all know and we’re given a very pleasing showdown between the always excellent Dorff and our antagonist. It’s a beautifully grim and shocking film, one that like other successful entries into already established franchises, pays respect to what we all love about the series, but at the same time, doing something completely original and VERY entertaining. Bustillo and Maury knows how to shoot a film and they know how to shock their audience with realistically grim violence and combining those talents with one hell of a screenplay gives us again, the most entertaining and pleasing TCM film since 1974’s classic.
Leatherface is a roller coaster of blood, mystery and gives us fans an origin that absolutely works. As a longtime fan of the series, this is one explanation that gave this writer a smile that only comes from a film that finally revels in the “Saw is Family” belief, without ever feeling cheesy or overdone. It’s a shocking and brutally significant horror film, one that sits next to Hooper’s original like the perfect companion piece.
Leatherface will be released on DIRECTV on September 21, with a limited theatrical run and VOD release following on October 20.