Producers: Fede Álvarez, Herbert W. Gains, Kim Henkel, Ian Henkel and Pat Cassidy Director: David Blue Garcia Screenplay: Chris Thomas Devlin Cast: Sarah Yarkin, Elsie Fisher, Mark Burnham, Moe Dunford, Neil Hudson, Jessica Allain, Olwen Fouéré, Jacob Latimore, Alice Krige, William Hope, Jolyon Coy, Sam Douglas and John Larroquette Distributor: Netflix
Like their murderous villains, horror franchises never really die; they just lie dormant until someone has the not-so-bright notion of resurrecting them. So has it been with “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” ever since Tobe Hooper unveiled Leatherface in 1974. Periodically the property has been taken out of the closet in the form of a sequel, prequel, remake, reboot or combination of some or all of the above. The latest entry, the ninth in the series, distinguishes itself from the original simply by dropping the “The” from the title, and comes streaming and dripping with gore on Netflix.
The premise of first-timer Chris Thomas Devlin’s script is that a couple of yuppies from Austin, a chef named Dante (Jacob Lattimore) and his business partner Melody (Sarah Yarkin), have taken a lease on Harlow, a ghost town outside the liberal Texas capital, with the intent of turning it into a destination for tourists by selling off its refurbished buildings to investors who will turn them into comic book shops, galleries, boutiques and the like, all congregated around Dante’s restaurant. Its name should probably be Dante’s Inferno, given what happens when they visit with his girlfriend Ruth (Nell Hudson) and Melody’s Lila (Elsie Fisher) and a busload of potential investors to look the place over. For viewers, however, purgatory might be more apt.
The locals—including the sheriff (William Hope), his deputy (Jolyon Coy) and a gas station owner (Sam Douglas) whose place is festooned with memorabilia of the original Leatherface killings and even a documentary about them narrated by John Larroquette (a returnee from the first movie)—are unenthusiastic about possible gentrification, and Richter (Moe Dunford), the rough but hunky handyman Dante’s hired to fix the town up, is no more welcoming, though he appreciates the pay.
More problematic is the Confederate flag flying in front of the old orphanage, which to their horror Dante and Melody find is still occupied by elderly, ill Ginny (Alice Krige) and the beefy fellow she describes as her last “boy” (Mark Burnham)—who is, of course, the long-missing Leatherface. When they call the sheriff to cart her off to a home, she has a seizure and dies on the way, enraging Leatherface, who’s riding along and goes berserk, killing the lawmen and one of the newcomers.
That gruesome sequence is but the first of a predictable series. Leatherface returns to Harlow and, with some justification the screenplay suggests, methodically makes mincemeat of whoever comes within reach. Most of the individual death scenes are bloody enough to satisfy fans of such stuff, but none is staged with any special élan by director David Blue Garcia, cinematographer Ricardo Diaz and editor Christopher S. Capp. The only one that shows any imagination at all is a group slaughter aboard the bus, to which all the potential investors have retreated literally to get out of the rain. When Leatherface shows up there, they confront him with their smartphones, with as little effect as you might imagine, and an orgy of bloodletting ensues, shot in a bluish light that’s moodily unsettling. But even that sequence is hardly as memorable as any of the killings in Hooper’s original which, though frightening, was largely bloodless.
That first film is brought back to center stage with the arrival on the scene of Sally Hardesty (Olwen Fouéré, replacing Marilyn Burns), the “last girl standing” from 1974, who became a Texas Ranger and has been seeking Leatherface for fifty years to avenge her dead friends. (There are obvious comparisons to be drawn between her return and that of Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode in David Gordon Green’s 2018 revival of “Halloween,” which like this flick ignores all the intervening sequels.) Will she be the last hag standing this time around, or will one of the younger women fill the obligatory role? The final confrontation—or series of confrontations, really—reveal the answer, but if you’re a fan don’t switch the final credits off midway; there’s an added scene following them designed to whet your appetite for more carnage to come.
None of the performances are particularly good, of course, with Fisher—whose character supposedly remains traumatized from surviving a school shooting—coming across as particularly wan. That’s pretty much par for the course. The movie’s Lone Star ambience, incidentally, comes courtesy of the great state of Bulgaria, where production designer Michael T. Perry built the rickety buildings of Harlow. A more persuasive Texas connection comes with the name of composer Colin Stetson, who perhaps contributed not only the typically frantic score but the cowboy hats.
In sum, this new “Massacre” isn’t appreciably worse than the other seven pictures that followed from Hooper’s genuinely scary original. Of course they were all terrible.