Let’s Visit Texas, Part 8 (Leatherface, 2017)

Leatherface_2017_PosterLike 2013’s Texas Chainsaw 3D, this film sets itself within the universe of the original film.  This time around, we are learning the origins of Leatherface.  We meet young Jed with the creepy Sawyer clan on his birthday.  As a right of passage, the family wants the young boy (eight to ten years old?) to kill a man they believe has stolen some of their pigs.  It turns out Jed does not have the guts for this, at least, not yet.  I mean, we know he eventually will.

Not long after, his brothers (cousins) kill a young woman, who just happens to be the daughter of the local Sheriff.  They cannot prove it was murder, but the Sheriff is able to have Jed institutionalized to protect him from his family.  His mother tries to visit repeatedly, but is blocked at every turn.  When Jed and a couple other patients kidnap a young nurse and go on the run, things get very bloody.

The film actually sets it up so that you have no idea who Jed is. He is older, and none of the escapees are named Jed because apparently they changed his name in an attempt to disassociate him from his family. Meanwhile, there is a romance brewing between the terrified nurse and one of the patients, while others just want to kill her and go on their murder spree to Mexico.

They are tracked by the Sheriff who put Jed away, and he is seeking vengeance for his daughter.  This is a prequel, so you know things won’t end well for him.

When it comes down to it, this film reveals nothing we could not put together ourselves from simply watching the first film.  I mean, he grew up in an isolated and depraved family.  It is not a stretch to figure out how he became a chainsaw wielding murderer.

The film also suffers the same issues as the 2013 film.  It makes Leatherface incredibly sympathetic.  Yeah, you get why the Sheriff is obsessed with vengeance against the Sawyer clan, but he is so cruel and and willing to bend the law, he gets other people killed. Jed was forcefully institutionalized by a cruel doctor who indulged brutal treatments and allowed guards to be rough with the prisoners.  He also bends the law. Leatherface is a brutal killer and should not have the audience rooting for his success, and yet this film casts him as a victim of people who seem even more terrible than he.

What we are left with is a film that works against the purpose of giving a terrifying background to a horror icon.  We do not need insight into the psychotic killer, no more than we already had and this film adds nothing of value to the canon.

Let’s Visit Texas Part 7 (Texas Chainsaw 3D, 2013)

texas_chainsaw_3d_posterPicking right up where the original film ended, Texas Chainsaw opens with a recap of the original Massacre.  This is one of the best parts of the film as the remastering on the original film’s footage is really nice.  The film starts it’s own story with the town sheriff driving out to the Sawyer clan’s house.  He confronts the family, but a lynch mob shows up.  A fire is started and the mob celebrates the Sawyer family demise.  One of the mob discovers a mother and her baby, he kills the mother and he and his wife raise the baby as their own, naming her Heather.

40 years later, Heather is about 24 years old.  Yes, the film starts in 1974 and picks up in 2012.  Yes the young woman is clearly in her twenties.

 

Anyways, Heather gets a special delivery package telling her that her biological mother has died.  Her friends pack up a van (what is it the Texas Chainsaw Massacres and vans?) and head down to Texas for her inheritance.  She finds out she has inherited a very large house.  She also finds that her grandmother was not particularly liked by the local townsfolk…what with her being related to the Sawyer clan and all.  The mob ringleader Burt is now the mayor, and he offers to buy the property.  Heather politely declines.  While partying at the mansion, Heather’s friends start getting picked off by Leatherface (who apparently ages at the same rate as Heather).  She manages to reach town, which alerts Burt and the others that Leatherface is not dad as previously assumed.  And this is when Heather discovers that the townsfolk are as much a threat to her as Leatherface.

And herein lies the biggest problem film.  It makes Leatherface more sympathetic and less of a villain than other characters in the film.  He is more sympathetic than Burt and his cronies, to the point that the Sheriff refuses to interfere when Leatherface gets the upper hand.  Heather takes him home and takes the role of caretaker for Leatherface.

It is a visually nice film, but the characters are paper thin archetypes.  The continuity is pretty shoddy.  Where did all the Sawyer family members come from at the beginning?  It is not really clear.  How is Heather not nearly 40 in the film?  Why doesn’t Leatherface know Heather is coming?  I mean, aside from it makes more sense when he initially tries to kill her.  Texas Chainsaw is a very weak film (though the 3D works pretty well).  Sure, it is better than Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III or the abysmal Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation.  But that is not saying a lot.

Let’s Visit Texas Part 4 (Texas Chainsaw Massacre: the Next Generation, 1994/1997)

texas_chainsaw_massacre_the_next_generationWritten and Directed by original Chainsaw co-writer Kim Henkel, this was meant to be the “real” sequel to the Texas Chainsaw Massacre (it references the two previous sequels in it’s opened scrawl as “minor incidents”).  And it was so good that it was shelved for a few years, like you do with wine.  It went the festival circuit briefly a Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre briefly before being shelved.  It reached readiness in 1997.  What magical thing happened?  Well, in 1996 Matthew McConaughey and Renee Zellweger hit it big with a Time to Kill and Jerry Maguire.  Oh, did I forget to mention that they were in this?  Their talent agency tried to block the release.  And I will say, it is pretty understandable  why they would try and keep this one under wraps.

 

Set on prom night in Texas, Renee and her friends get in a car accident…they run into the Slaughter clan.  Terrible things happen.  Leatherface is now a sort of transvestite.  The reason they are the Slaughter family instead of the Sawyers is unclear.

This film has the worst Leatherface mask…it looks like it was made by a junior high student.  Leatherface seems to pointlessly chase Renee for like…fifteen minutes.  This is what the They Live fight would have been like if it was terrible.

Some have tried to claim the film is a horror comedy.  But it is pretty terrible at that…since it is not actually funny.  One of the jokes is one of the evil clan ordering vegetarian.  HI-larious.  Admittedly, McConaughey does turn in a decent performance and seems to be having fun in his own little movie.  Zellweger is okay, but she is playing a stock character with little room beyond running and screaming.

I will give them credit for one thing.  The film puts the “camera screech” to an original use as it plays while prom photos are being shot.

Anyways…even the trailer is terrible.

 

Let’s Visit Texas Part 3 (Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3, 1990)

After the failure of Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, New Line Cinema got the the rights.  And they were determined to make the Texas Chainsaw Massacre into a franchise in line with their Nightmare on Elm Street franchise.  Let me get this out of the way.  The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3 has one of the best Teaser Trailers Ever:

leatherface_tcm3_posterOf course, absolutely to be expected the movie is just not as wonderfully absurd as the trailer.  Truthfully, the most interesting aspect of the film is they tried to get Peter Jackson to direct and the film stars Future Aragorn, Viggo Mortenson.  Unlike the second film, this one goes for darker and gorier.

A young couple runs afoul of Leatherface and his new family.  Leatherface is the only returning character (to be fair, all the others died in the second film) and his new family is a different approach.  They are more of a traditional family.  You know, a traditional family who hacks people up.  But a traditional family.  A mom, dad, kids, a guy with a weird eye.  And a big, big chainsaw.

Again…traditional family.

The film’s cast was mostly unknown at the time, though they did include genre vet Ken Foree. The cast is generally likeable, but the story is kind of dopey.  The story includes all sorts of references to the original film, but they feel like moments where the film makers felt they should be following the original closely without directly ripping it off.  At the same time, it is clear that the first time screen writer David Schow was trying to take the series in a slightly different direction that made the sequel open for more sequels.

The film also had many re-shoots that significantly altered the story.  One character clearly dies at the hands of Leatherface.  And then shows back up at the end.  A lot of what is happening gets confusing.

Director Jeff Burr had made the entertaining horror anthology Whisper to a Scream (also known as the Offspring).  The film was made bloody, but it then cut extensively to satisfy the MPAA.  So gore hounds were not going to be satisfied, while people looking for a great scary story were not going to get that either.  Everybody involved seems to have put a lot of effort to do it right…but there were to many cooks in the kitchen.

Looking back, most of the crew is pretty honest about how terrible the film turned out to be.  I had a conversation with Jeff Burr back in 2004, and he made no pretense about how it would be a good film “if only”.  And I honestly enjoy that kind of honesty.  Here is a short documentary about it.

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