Leatherface Movie Review
Written by Joel Harley
Released by Lionsgate Home Entertainment
Directed by Alexandro Bustillo, Julian Maury
Written by Seth M. Sherwood
2017, 84 minutes, Rated 18 (UK)
DVD released on January 8th, 2018
Stephen Dorff as Hal Hartman
Lili Taylor as Verna
Sam Strike as Jackson
Vanessa Grasse as Lizzy
Being the second Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie to be titled Leatherface, and the second prequel to deal with his origins, in a film which disregards every other movie but Tobe Hooper’s original and 2013’s nonsensical 3D effort. Confused yet? The most convoluted horror franchise (suck it, Halloween) gets another muddled entry courtesy of French extremists Alexandre Bustillo and Julian Maury, who take the slasher icon in a brand new direction… the all-American road trip.
While there’s no shaking the feeling that making a straight to DVD franchise movie in a series which is well-past its halcyon days (the last truly good one was 1990’s Leatherface) is below such gore-auteurs as Bustillo and Maury, there’s also no denying that they have the sensibilities for it. Among the Living and Livid, after all, are among the greatest hillbilly horror films you’ll ever see, right there with the best of the Texas Chainsaw sequels (of which, I repeat, there are only two properly good ones). I was eager, then, to see what they would do with my favourite horror franchise of all time.
The result, unfortunately, is a movie that doesn’t feel like much of either – neither a proper Texas Chainsaw movie nor a Bustillo/Maury joint. But was their heart ever in making a ‘proper’ Texas Chainsaw Massacre film in the first place? Aside from its bookending moments, one would think maybe not. There are barely even any chainsaws. Torn from the family bosom by a vengeful lawman (Stephen Dorff!) the youngest member of the Sawyer clan is locked away in a mental institution, renamed and his identity cheekily obscured from the audience. As all hell breaks loose in the institution and four inmates break out with a kidnapped nurse, Leatherface leaves audiences sort-of guessing as to which of the kids will grow up to be the man with the fetish for flayed faces.
Like Texas Chainsaw 3D, it’s an interesting, new direction for the franchise, and that should be applauded. Too often, fans reject entries which dare try anything different, so we should be thankful that this isn’t just another rehash of old ideas and that dinner table scene again (although it does culminate in that dinner table scene again). Unfortunately, the execution here leaves something to be desired, with annoying characters, stupid plot twists and obvious story beats making this road trip something of a non-starter. Rather than feeling like a Bustillo and Maury twist on classic horror characters, this is Devils Rejects-lite, leaving the filmmakers hobbled by franchise obligations and, presumably, their own unfamiliarity with the American language.
The pair’s extremist sensibilities occasionally shine through in some of the most gruesome sequences in the franchise’s history, but the story and characters simply aren’t there to provide the framework. Stephen Dorff is a welcome presence as the vengeful, cruel Ranger Hartman (father of the vengeful, cruel Mayor Burt in Chainsaw 3D), but the character is ridiculous one-note evil, and Dorff sleepwalks through the role. The rest are fine (particularly Angela Bettis as Mama Sawyer), but few of the characters ring true, and Finn Jones is a distraction as the Ranger’s dim deputy. Like Texas Chainsaw 3D, it wants audiences to sympathise with the Sawyers, but it can only do so by making the establishment comically evil and presenting the Sawyers’ actions as morally grey at worst. One misses the days when they’d just give Dennis Hopper a chainsaw or Ken Foree an M16 and let them get on with it.
Were it a film in any other franchise directed by any other people, I might have gone a little easier on Leatherface. It’s a gruesome, often compelling Grindhouse road movie, with authentic crusty visuals and a commitment to its nastiness. Unfortunately, it comes loaded with too much baggage, being a direct prequel to my favourite movie of all time, and the first American movie by a pair of legitimate genre greats. On that basis, it’s a flimsy mess, lacking the jangly surrealism which makes even the weakest of the sequels worthwhile. A straight-faced, humourless gore flick, this bears more in common with the 2003 remake and its prequel, The Beginning – which we’d only just managed to get away from. In spite of its few creative flourishes, this is ultimately a trip in the wrong direction.