Leatherface (2017)

Leatherface (2017)

Witness the beginning of your end.

Teenager Jed Sawyer escapes from a mental hospital with three other inmates, kidnapping a young nurse and taking her on a road trip from hell, while being pursued by a lawman out for revenge.

 

Did anyone really ask for this? I mean was there a massive clamour for people to get another origin story for one of cinema’s most iconic horror characters? We already had, the admittedly weak, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning which didn’t do a particularly good job of the origin stuff and left a bit of a sour taste in the mouth. Now with eight films in a franchise that has zero continuity, Leatherface comes along to try and shake things up once more.

The last entry in the franchise, Texas Chainsaw 3D, was woeful and pointless enough to exist as it did, so there was no need for yet another film featuring everyone’s favourite face-wearing, chainsaw-wielding psychopath. Serving as a direct prequel to the original 1974 The Texas Chain Saw Massacre rather than any previous sequel or part of the modern remake universe, Leatherface pans out more like a bad road movie, with Leatherface tagging along with some other psychos escaped from a mental hospital, and ending up crossing over into Rob Zombie ‘white trash’ territory with a dash of Natural Born Killers thrown in for good measure. It’s utterly uninspiring and a total wasted opportunity.

For a film that is titled Leatherface and is meant to be about Leatherface, you don’t get to spend much time with him throughout the film. The writers purposely try to keep which of the characters turns into Leatherface a mystery for the audience, but you’d be doing yourself a disservice if you couldn’t spot the obvious from the first time they appear on screen. The focus always seems to be on other characters, though given how poorly Leatherface is presented here, maybe that’s not such a bad thing that they didn’t make him the focal point. Hooper’s version of Leatherface back in 1974 deserved a more twisted, vile origin story than the one we’re presented with here – one has to question whether this was simply designed as a ‘clean sweep’ reboot to kick off a new series of films unshackled by the restraints of previous instalments. However, little of the material we’re presented with over the course of the film gives us any further insight into how Jed becomes Leatherface.

Don’t expect to see the trademark get-up till the end of the film – Leatherface, for the most part here, is a gormless teenager, as far detached from the classic horror icon as he can be. Just like Rob Zombie did with Michael Myers in his version of Halloween by showing us his infant days, and even what George Lucas did to Darth Vader by showing us whiny teenager Anakin Skywalker in the Star Wars prequels, French directing duo Maury and Bustillo kill any sort of integrity and fear factor that Leatherface may still have had by showing us this watered-down pre-mask version. I come to a Texas Chain Saw Massacre film to see fully-grown and angry Leatherface causing carnage; not some depressing silent emo kid version. It’s so easy to forget that this is actually a Texas Chain Saw Massacre film, such is the change in direction it takes the standard franchise narrative. You could give the makers of the film some props for attempting something different instead of just rehashing the same backwoods formula – but you’d only give them those props if this was even half-decent, and it’s not.

The film does pick up steam when Leatherface is ‘born’ and the narrative drifts into familiar territory in the final fifteen minutes, which will no doubt leave you thinking why they just didn’t stick with this approach all the way through. The chainsaw comes into play which finally gives us a couple of trademark gory kills, but it hardly matters by this point. Most of the gruesome moments involve bad taste scenes such a sex sequence on top of a rotting corpse. As the rest of the film exists as an almost unconnected separate entity, you’ve most likely disengaged with the story and are simply going through the motions waiting for it to end.

The older cast members do their bit to keep the film ticking over. Stephen Dorff is a good watch whenever he’s in a snarling, psycho character mode as proven with his great turn back in Blade and he steals the show as the obsessive sheriff, reminding me a lot of Dennis Hopper’s ‘Lefty’ from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. Lily Taylor, as the Sawyer family matriarch, also does what she can to chew the scenery. But they’re not likeable characters and the film has a dearth of people you want to get behind – the main group consisting of the escaped inmates are wholly unlikeable. It’s almost as if the film tries to make the future Leatherface the most sympathetic character here by surrounding him with some of the worst, most despicable kinds of characters imaginable. It doesn’t work to generate any empathy, only confusion and anger that such a notoriously deranged maniac from film lore has been given a free licence purely because he was brought up in a culture of hate and violence.

 

The worst film in the franchise to date (and that’s saying something considering the steaming pile of horse manure that was The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation), Leatherface doesn’t just do a bad job of messing up what should have been a simple and straightforward back story but it also fails on many levels as a standalone horror film. A completely pointless franchise entry which does more harm than good.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

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