Writer: Seth M. Sherwood
Cast: Sam Strike, Vanessa Grasse, James Bloor, Jessica Madsen, Sam Coleman, Stephen Dorff, Lili Taylor, Finn Jones
Running time: 97mins
What’s the story: 1960s Texas. The young Jed Sawyer is taken from his murderous family and placed in a mental institution. Years later, a gang of inmates escape and a bloody road trip begins.
What’s the verdict: Having reached film number four, we predict directing duo Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury will never match their astonishing 2007 debut feature Inside.
That film carried the same ferocity as Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. The duo’s last film, Among the Living, owed a debt to the 1974 horror classic in its hillbilly vengeance plot. Fitting then for the pair to helm the latest instalment in the TCM (or should that be TCSM?) franchise.
A franchise that has quietly chugged along and amassed eight films up to and including Leatherface. That’s only one behind Freddy’s filmic output and two behind Michael Myers.
In the series’ own chronology, this movie usurps 2006’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning. No bad thing this: Bustillo and Maury have not delivered a masterpiece, but Jonathan Liebsman’s prequel is the worst Chainsaw flick.
Leatherface announces its intentions from the opening scene. Remixing the original’s infamous climax, this has the Sawyer clan torturing a hapless individual at the dinner table. Played as a murderous “coming out” party for Jed, the runt of the family, it’s darkly comic and grimly gory. In a wry aside, Grandpa is permitted to show off those hammer skills feted in Tobe Hooper’s movie.
After the local Sheriff (Dorff) endures tragedy at the Sawyers’ hands, he puts Jed into care. Flash forward and young nurse Lizzy is starting work at local mental institution, Gorman House. There she takes a shine to the sensitive Jackson (Strike) and the lumbering man-child Bud (Coleman).
During a riot, Jackson and Bud break out along with psychopathic couple Ike (Bloor) and Clarice (Madsen). Ike and Clarice take Jackson, Bud and Lizzy hostage, embarking on a good ol’ fashioned Texan killing spree. But, the law’s close behind. And doesn’t Bud remind you of someone…?
Mixing The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Gun Crazy, Natural Born Killers and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest make for a heady movie brew. A diner massacre and a spot of necrophilia are well-staged moments of extreme cinema. But, while Leatherface delivers the gruey goods, it’s missing the mind-twisting terror that keeps the original effective over 40 years on (with a lot less red stuff on display).
Dorff has fun paying homage to Dennis Hopper’s unhinged lawman from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre 2, and the film is given a shot of class by landing Lili Taylor in an extended cameo as fearsome matriarch Verna Sawyer.
In 2013’s Texas Chain Saw: 3D Verna was played by Marilyn Burns, the final girl from the original movie. In a nice bit of casting here, Dimo Alexiev was presumably hired to play murderous Sawyer son Drayton because he’s a dead ringer for Matthew McConaughey, who appeared in Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation. Although Oscar winner McConaughey essayed the role of a cyborg-legged nut in the 1994 movie, lest we forget…
Elsewhere, the cast is a curiously British affair. Strike, Bloor, Coleman (Game of Thrones’ young Hodor) and Madsen all herald from the UK. As does Iron Fist’s Finn Jones, here Dorff’s reluctant deputy. Perhaps this is a wry nod to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre’s suppression in this country by the BBFC until 1999. More likely, it was cheaper to fly Brits to Bulgaria (efficiently doubling for a 1960s Texas) than an army of Americans.
Shame Bustillo and Maury could not find space for Beatrice Dalle in the cast, making this their first outing not to feature the irascible French screen queen.
A late twist will surprise no-one who has been paying attention, but Leatherface is another slickly made shocker from the deadly duo. You just wish their Saw had slightly sharper teeth.