Leatherface is the brand new prequel to a brutal slasher franchise spawned by a little film called The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. The original, from filmmaker Tobe Hooper was a revolutionary addition to Horror when released in 1974. The wildly successful performance at the box office inspired a long legacy of 7 films prior to Leatherface‘s release; all circling around a lumbering, chainsaw wielding killer and his quirky, cannibalistic family.
It should be said that I am typically not a sequel/prequel fan. I tend to have some leniency for slasher films, as their late-night, B-movie quality seems to only enhance enjoyment as the films get subsequently worse and the plots more wild. And, I will admit that I have not always been a fan of the Texas Chain Saw Massacre franchise. I originally chalked the series up as too gritty and raw for my taste. It wasn’t until a recent re-watch for an episode of the podcast, that I gained a new appreciation for the film. (You can listen to our thoughts on the original film here). I have yet to re-visit all of the films in the franchise.
But still, despite not being entirely familiar with the escapades of the Sawyer family -and not a huge fan of endless sagas, I was excited for this film. When news broke during development that filmmaking duo Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo had been signed on direct Leatherface, I also signed on to seeing it.
The two french filmmakers are behind some of the darkest films of recent years. Notably, 2007’s Inside, a twisted home invasion film in which a pregnant women must defend her uterus from a baby-snatching assailant. Yes. Her uterus. The film is also subject to an ‘Americanization’ with an English remake currently in production. Other notable horror contributions are 2011’s haunted house film Livid, and 2014’s creepy coming-of-age tale Among the Living.
All of Maury and Bustillo’s films dare to display the depravity of a darker humanity, and don’t shy away from uncomfortable gore and violence. Who better to direct a movie about one of the most brutal slasher villains of all time? Beware the squeamish, we’re in for a gory ride with Leatherface.
In the opening scene of Leatherface, we learn very quickly that the Sawyers have always been a violent, malevolent bunch. Little Jed Sawyer, the boy behind the chainsaw, isn’t like quite like his family. Yet.
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A guest has joined them at the dinner table, but he is not an honored one. Verna Sawyer (Lili Taylor), accuses the man, who is tied up, of stealing the family’s pigs. Her and the rest of the family goad little Jed into killing the trespasser. Conveniently, they’ve just gifted him a shiny new chainsaw for which to do the deed. But, despite his family’s persistent provoking, he refuses. He discards the chainsaw, which skitters away on its sharp, unused blades.
But Jed isn’t all protagonist. Donning a creepy (goat? sheep?) mask, he leads a teenage girl to her violent death inside the family’s barn, at the hands of an older, more sinister Sawyer. When the police arrive, we learn the girl was the daughter of the volatile sheriff (Stephen Dorff). Without any evidence to tie the family to crime (apart from.. you know.. the entire barn and all the creepy skeletons inside it), the officer chooses to take from the Sawyers what has been taken from him. He gets Verna for Child Endangerment, taking all of her children away who are not yet of legal age.
We then flash forward 10 years, to a mental facility for the criminally Insane. But because this is like, the 60’s.. it’s a prison. A prison for children. We aren’t immediately introduced to teenage Jed, instead, we follow budding young nurse Lizzy (Vanessa Grasse) on her rounds. We meet a few of the troubled teens; Ike (James Bloor) the violent sociopath, his maybe-girlfriend Tammy (Nicole Andrews), Bud (Sam Coleman) the lumbering silent-type, and do-gooder Jackson (Sam Strike).
Still no Jed. It isn’t until Verna re-appears, appealing to the warden to see her son, that we learn all of the children’s names have been changed, forcing her through more legal hoops to see Jed. When being escorted out of the building, she sneaks away, punching a nurse in the face and sneaking through locked doors in an attempt to find him. All this does is cause a full-on riot at the facility. Kids escape their beds, opting for violence and debauchery instead of tucking in for the night.
During the chaos, our bunch of teens escape, taking the Nurse along as a semi hostage. What follows is essentially a violent spree, led by the two sociopathic lovebirds and their tag-alongs. All the while, we the audience wonder- How is this an origin story?
After a massacre at a Texas diner (sorry no chainsaws involved), a manhunt ensues for the escaped teens. The sheriff is on the case, and will stop at nothing to hunt them down. At some point, some stuff happens and we end up with a movie about Leatherface. Somehow.
Overall, the plot is strangely muddled. It works out in the end, but you’ll definitely be questioning whether you’re watching the right movie for at least 30 minutes. Instead of revolving the plot around our titular Leatherface, for the majority of the film we setup a crime spree for our young Bonnie and Clyde. Opting instead to recreate a miss-adventure similar to From Dusk till Dawn, Natural Born Killers or The Devil’s Rejects.
The film does deliver on the violence, even if the majority of it isn’t at the hand of The Sawyer family. There are several gory moments that will turn even the most iron of stomachs to mush (Hint: keep your barf bags handy for any scenes in a trailer).
Fans of directing duo Maury and Bustillo will appreciate the film’s creative shots and close-ups, even if they may not be entirely inline with the initial styling of the Tobe Hooper classic. But, there are nods and easter eggs to be found for fans of the Texas Chain Saw Massacre. That said, fans may be disappointed at how little Leatherface is in the Leatherface movie.
Leatherface was released in select theaters and on VOD October 20th. Those wanting a physical copy to add to their collections can pre-order the film on iTunes.