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  • Evan Laslo

Texas Chainsaw Massacre: Let Leatherface Die, by Bryce Forren

Four years before residential slasher Michael Myers crept onto the murder scene in John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978), Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) introduced audiences to a family of lone-star cannibalistic butchers releasing their anger towardslate-stage capitalism on unsuspecting groups of city folk. The film’s documentary-style grit, including an opening crawl that falsely implies its basis in reality, established it alongside contemporaries like Rosemary’s Baby (1968) as completely severed from a genre tradition whose fear factor was often foreign rather than domestic. Rather than focus on Easter-European bloodsuckers or killer bugs from space, Hooper and screenwriter Kim Henkel interrogated the repressed horror of their own nation–one disillusioned by war, mass media and class disparity–by placing their cameras in the heart of the country.

In part because of its fierce originality, and in another because of the iconography of Leatherface, studio executives have spent the last four decades persistently barging into the distorted family home much in the same way that protagonist Sally Hardesty and her friends did in Hooper’s original. Although David Blue Garcia’s 2022 take on an aging Leatherface misses the mark in many ways, it’s at least comfortably consistent with the vapid and uninspired storytelling that can be found in many of the franchise’s sequels

Lila (Eighth Grade’s Elsie Fisher) accompanies her sister Melody (Sarah Yarkin) to a remote Texas town to, as the movie suggests with no regard for subtlety, gentrify it into a bohemian paradise with Melody’s yuppie business partners. The rustic wear of the houses should be very appealing for investors, they recite as if tempted to yell it into a hovering boom mic. Alas, one of the houses they intend to auction off is, unbeknownst to them, occupied by an unhappy Leatherface (Mark Burnham) and his caretaker (Alice Krige).

In the brief instances where the film is lit to properly show the actor’s faces, their portraits are a faulty likeness of a Generation Z narcissism that many filmmakers are trying desperately to convey. Although Tobe Hooper’s own 1986 sequel toyed with satire in its own right by poking fun at genre tropes and popular culture, seeing one of this film’s only unobscured images of Leatherface through an Instagram Live analogue falls uncomfortably flat in its attempt to infuse humor into the inorganic themes it worked to develop.

Michael Myers was nearing the age of social security benefits in David Gordon Green’s 2018 revival of Halloween. In the subsequent Halloween Kills (2021), four decades and countless franchise installments since “the night he came home,” Myers’ haunting silence reads more as stubborn resentment, a plea to the crew to finally let him retire. Leatherface, who was revving his chainsaw long before Michael Myers had picked up a butcher knife, hobbles around in a similar contemplative annoyance.

Unlike the predatory agency of Myers in Green’s Halloween efforts, however, Leatherface is explicitly imposed upon by his victims-to-be, initially comfortable and presumably harmless in a space that is ultimately invaded. He is forced to play defense in the only way he knows how, but not without a consistent underlying impression that he’s getting too old for it. It’s a fitting metaphor for the project’s development, in which an out-of-touch crew woke a sleeping giant and suffered the harmful consequences because of fundamental misunderstandings. Garcia’s latest entry into a franchise that may never find peace gentrifies the raw nerve of the 1974 film into a plastic and forgettable Netflix Original.

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