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Brutally Massacring the Poor Chainsaws
A hideous reboot, but in the wrong way.
Tobe Hooper’s 1974 The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one of the most original and disturbing films in the slasher genre. David Blue Garcia’s goal in his reboot/sequel seems to be to cut away everything that made the original a classic, and cobble together a much more conventional, and much less compelling, meat puppet.
The 2022 movie is set in present day, 50 years after the skin-mask wearing, chainsaw-wielding Leatherface (Mark Burnham) murdered a carful of city teenagers slumming in rural Texas. A bunch of Austin foodies buy a small town to set up a hipster enclave. Little do they know that one of the people they’re displacing is Leatherface’s foster mom. Predictable carnage ensues, compounded when Sally Hardesty (Olwen Fouéré), the one person who survived Leatherface’s original murder spree, shows up for revenge.
The themes of rural/urban conflict and gentrification are more or less intact in the sequel. But the dynamic is substantially changed by making Leatherface a singular antagonist. In the original, he was part of a family of murderous cannibals, forced to eat human meat when they lost their jobs at a slaughterhouse.
In Hooper’s film, the carnivalesque, macabre nuclear unit built around grotesque consumption served as a mirror image of the ravenous capitalism that destroyed the clan’s livelihood. In comparison to the family’s flamboyant charismatic monstrosity, the city folk were relatively drab and uninteresting; they were mostly memorable in death. The final image, of Leatherface standing in the road, pulled back and forth by his chainsaw, is gruesome but also weirdly poignant. That’s because the impoverished outcast loser is losing again. But it’s also because the viewer’s own drive to consume carnage and film and narrative is thwarted.
There’s none of this disturbing subtlety or depth in the remake. Leatherface becomes a singular, elemental antagonist, like Jason or Michael Myers. There are also hints of slasher transphobia past; Leatherface wears his step-mother’s face, and in one scene applies make-up to the mask, in a nod to Norman Bates and Buffalo Bill.
Garcia provides a lot more, and a lot more explicit, kills than in the original. But that just diminishes their impact. Hooper was a master of cutting away from a scene so you had to imagine the worst. He forced you to be an active participant in the violence you were devouring.
In contrast, Garcia just ladles on the blood and guts and gore. To get viewers involved, he defaults to revenge and empowerment tropes. In the original, everyone pretty much just ran away as fast as they could. In the sequel, people keep trying to kill Leatherface. It feels more like an action movie than a nightmare.
In an effort to inject some interest into what has turned into a third-rate Friday the 13th sequel, Garcia thrashes around helplessly for relevance. Social media is mocked. One of the main protagonists, Lila (Elsie Fisher) was in a school shooting as a child, and there’s some back and forth about Texas gun culture. A Confederate flag makes an appearance, along with an abbreviated conversation about Southern heritage vs. Southern racism. Several of the wealthy hipsters from Austin are Black. This is supposed to add complexity, but the insistence, against all real-world evidence, that Black people are elites and the only marginalized folks are white comes across as fairly typical Hollywood racism.
Part of the problem with the movie is that Garcia seems less interested in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre than he is in a more recent slasher hit. In many ways, Texas Chainsaw Massacre ’22 isn’t a sequel to Texas Chainsaw Massacre ‘74, but to Blumhouse’s 2018 Halloween remake.
That movie was a critical and commercial success, and its influence on Garcia’s film is obvious. The reboot sequel structure—erasing all films from continuity except the original—is from there. So is the character of the lone survivor of the original massacre obsessed with the murderer.
Garcia also toys with themes of feminist community; Lila’s sister, Melody (Sarah Yarkin), is the film’s other main character. A family of women banding together was at the core of Halloween. But just as Garcia fails to cut to the heart of Hooper’s film, so his imitation of the 2018 Halloween is perfunctory: half homage, half mockery, half cash grab.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a movie that tries to construct its own face from the skin of other, better films. The result, unfortunately, is not frightening. It’s just familiar and poorly put together.
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