Not all things that start well, end well. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise has been twisted, broken, revived and destroyed during the course of its existence. Leatherface (2017) provides an unfortunate exclamation mark on the legacy. Leatherface has been described as the prequel that nobody wanted. That’s not entirely true. Many would love to see a prequel to the original 1974 Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but this story fails to rise to that lofty goal.
The Leatherface Family – The Sawyers
The first act reintroduces the Sawyer family. The family consists of a young Jedidiah Sawyer, Leatherface, Nubbins, Drayton and Verna. Verna serves as the strong matriarch that we never meet in the original film. Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (TCM3) introduces Anne Sawyer, but it was never really clear whether she was their mother, or just another relative in the extended family. Verna, portrayed by Lili Taylor, plays the role of hyper-protective mother hen. She is not crazy, but she is nasty. Verna calculates her moves with unrelenting precision and malice.
To begin, a young Jedidiah celebrates his birthday. As a guest, a hog stealing neighbor sits terrified, tied to a chair. Verna compels Jedidiah to perform chainsaw justice on the hog stealing neighbor. However, young Jedidiah lacks the courage. In a nod to previous films, grandpa finishes the job with a sledgehammer. The scene sets the tone for the movie and the family. At this point, the viewer still basks warmth of wide open potential.
Leatherface – Continuity Problems
This film purports to be a prequel to the 1974 film. However, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, also directed by Tobe Hooper, is indisputably canon. That means that Chop-Top should be represented as part of the family. We know that the producers reference TCM2 source material. Drayton refers to his brother as Nubbins, a reference directly from TCM2. Continuity problems like these are so easily avoidable, and unforgivable. How hard would it be to sit another kid at the table to make the family complete? Isn’t it worth not enraging the die-hard fans that have been watching these films for almost 50 years. Up, down and sideways, fans have been faithful to this series. All they ask for is respect.
The Sheriff’s Daughter
Leatherface goes down hill from here. First, Jedidiah lures a female victim. Betty Hartman, to an abandoned barn. Drayton and Nubbins kill the girl by dropping a tractor engine on her chest. That victim happens to be the daughter of Sheriff Hal Hartman, played by Stephen Dorf. Hartman vows revenge on the Sawyers. The sheriff takes Jed into protective custody. The director manages to pull off some cool imagery by disguising young Jed in cow’s head as a mask.
One Flew Over the Dodo’s Nest
Subsequently, the second act takes the audience ten years later to the Gorman House, a juvenile mental health facility. The producers try to create mystery around who Jed is. They place a hulking boy named Bud in the film as a decoy for Jed. It feels all to convenient, especially as the film spends the next 10 minutes developing Jackson, played by Sam Strike. My spider-sense goes off the charts. Jackson and Leatherface are one in the same.
Verna tries to get Jed out via legal means. When that fails, she escalates to illegal means. The result triggers a jailbreak. What ensues is a ridiculous and Mickey and Mallory tour across the Texas country side. Wow, what a story. Prior to slaughtering the Hardesty’s, Leatherface was a normal boy that broke out of a loony bin. Prior to forgetting how to speak, gaining 100 pounds and cross-dressing with human skin, Leatherface was a man on a 5 county crime spree. Could it really be that ridiculous?
Yes, it really could. Breaking out of Gorman, a man named Ike and a woman named Clarice steal a car. They take Jackson and a nurse named Elizabeth hostage. Additionally, they pick up Bud wandering on the road. Quickly Clarice and Ike assume the role of defacto leader. Believe it or not, Jackson, or rather Leatherface, is the moral compass of this bunch. Who would have thought?
Goodnight Ike, Goodnight Clarice
Holding up for the night, the crew presumably finds an abandoned trailer. Upon inspection, they find that the previous owner hung himself. In a sickening scene, Clarice is having sex Ike in the trailer. Conversely, nobody in the crew thought to remove the dead body. During sex, she reaches out with her tongue and starts to lick the corpse. Gross.
Eventually Bud tires of Ike’s abuse and curb-stomps him in a field. Clarice meets her end when Sheriff Hal cuts her down after making crude remark about his dead daughter. Hal is on a rampage.
Jackson goes berserk when a deputy shoots Bud in the head during a confrontation. Elizabeth tries to escape in the police car, but Jackson jumps in the vehicle. Sheriff Hal is on their tail. With a random shot, Hall inflicts a significant facial injury on Jackson. Hal eventually runs Jackson and reveals that Jackson is in fact Jed. He intends to kill Jed, but Verna and the rest of the Sawyers intervene.
Verna picks up where she left off with the hog stealing in the beginning. But, this time Jed is is ready to protect the family. Hence, he grabs a chainsaw and fulfills his destiny as Leatherface by carving up Hal. There you have it. The origin story of Leatherface is as appetizing as a day old slice of headcheese.
Leatherface the Final Cut
I am about to lambast this film, so let’s start with the good. Antoine Sanier does great job with the camera. He employs great angles and makes great use of lighting. The scenes during the jailbreak at Gorman create a foreboding sense of disorientation. However, the camera work is not especially unique. In fact, much of it appears to riff off of Daniel Pearls work in the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003).
Lili Taylor does a great job with the character Verna. Had this been a better script, I fully believe that she could have carried the role further. Furthermore, she contrasts well against her foil, Stephen Dorf as Hal Hartman. Stephen Dorf does a great job playing a cop on the other side of of the law.
Finally, this film supplies plenty of the red stuff. The practical effects are compelling and realistic.
Conversely, this film does so many things wrong. The plot sucks. Most of the characters suck, Stephen Dorf and Lili Taylor excluded. Finally, the conclusion is god-awful. All of this is so unforgivable because the potential exists for a nasty origin story lies right at the fingertips. There is so much open territory to tell a story but instead lays down poor-man’s Devil’s Rejects.
This films biggest sin is that it isn’t fun. There are lot of bad Texas Chainsaw Massacre movies, and god knows that this could have been worse. Leatherface is a joyless exercise in bad storytelling. If you are a hardcore Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise fan, struggling through bad films comes with the territory. By this point, you have learned to take the good with the bad. If you are new to the series and think that this film will provide a profound revelation, I assure you, it will not.
Leatherface (2017) - The Prequel that Nobody Wanted - Malevolent Dark
Director: Alenandre Bustillo, Julien Maury
Date Created: 2017-01-01 00:00