7th October 2017
A teenage Leatherface escapes from a mental hospital with three other inmates, kidnapping a young nurse and taking her on a road trip from hell, while being pursued by a lawman out for revenge.
Now in its fourth decade, the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise has explored every possible avenue of the maniacal Sawyer family. Or so we thought. But here we are, in 2017, and there’s a new entry in the series that no one particularly asked for.
Acting as both a standalone movie and a prequel to 1974s Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Leatherface reveals the history and upbringing of Jedidiah Sawyer, the youngest and most reluctant member of the psychotic household. After a horrific crime involving the daughter of Sheriff Hartman (Stephen Dorff), Jed is taken to an asylum and imprisoned for over ten years. While there, he befriends a mute named Bud and a well-meaning nurse named Lizzy. One evening, after Jed’s mother Verna unsuccessfully tries to visit her son, she sets off a riot which in turn sparks a breakout by Jed, Mary and Bud as well as Ike and Clarice, an unhinged and over-sexed couple. Taking Lizzy hostage, the group embark on a rampage across Texas pursued by the vengeful Sheriff Hartman, putting them all on a path of irreversible chaos – and one which will see the birth the notorious Leatherface.
While there, he befriends a mute named Bud and a well-meaning nurse named Lizzy. One evening, after Jed’s mother Verna unsuccessfully tries to visit her son, she sets off a riot which in turn sparks a breakout by inmates Jackson, Bud and an unhinged and over-sexed couple named Ike and Clarice. Taking the nurse Lizzy hostage, the group embark on a rampage across Texas pursued by the vengeful Sheriff Hartman, putting them all on a path of irreversible chaos – and one which will see the birth the notorious Leatherface.
Searching for reasons for Leatherface to exist is a tough task indeed. Hollywood’s obsession with giving backstories to characters who not only don’t need it but whose legacies are harmed by it clearly knows no bounds, and poor Jed is arguably the real victim here. Having been ‘re-invented’ so many times, it’s getting to a point where the franchise is looking as butchered as his grotesque mask.
Leatherface is by no means the worst entry, however, and it’s clear that screenwriter Seth Sherwood is an avid fan of the characters. It tries its absolute best to right some past wrongs, and drives on a surprisingly more narrative road than its hack ‘N slash predecessors, but for all its rotting carcasses and excess gore contained within, it’s like a trip that’s been planned for over forty years: the eventual destination is already known, leaving little to be surprised about.
On the acting front, everyone performs solidly. Stephen Dorff as the senseless Sheriff is a clear standout, and Lili Taylor as Verna Taylor, the mother of the Sawyer clan, is a joy to watch. Sam Coleman as the mute Bud brings a sympathetic touch to the troubled character through actions and makes him more believable than dialogue ever could, while Sam Strike as Jackson is commendable as a misunderstood young man. Vanessa Grasse’s job as Lizzy is essential to just run, scream and be soaked in blood and she does it well.
You’ll notice there’s no listing of Jed in that summary of performances, and that’s because it’s not until late on in the film that it is explicitly revealed who he is. There’s an unshakeable feeling of DeJa Vu as the film rolls on, and anyone who has seen Rob Zombie’s work will feel it too; the most obvious connection would be The Devil’s Rejects, but the entire set up is uncannily similar to Zombie’s Halloween.
There’s moments which just about make Leatherface worth your time – the titular character’s first kill being one and the obvious Ed Gein inspired set design of the Sawyer house as another highlight – but this is only essential viewing if you were dying to know what puberty was like for one of your favourite fictional killers.
I’m going to take a wild swing and assume that’s not something that has kept you up at night though.
Admirable in not following the usual prequel narrative route
High level of gore, but it's not so frequent that you become desensitized
Good performances by Dorff and Taylor
Disappointing third act