If I were to pick one of the most inconsistent horror franchises, TCM might be the top but is for sure top 3. There are solid movies, dumb but fun movies, weird movies, and just bad movies, all making up this franchise. The first suffers from age and some other issues, but I think it is an important part of horror history. I found the 2003 remake to be one of the better 00s remakes, for all that means, but followed up by many not-so-good movies. Now we have a new one, and it’s a mess…
Texas Chainsaw Massacre attempts to do what Halloween 2018 did and retcons the entire series aside from the first movie. This is the direct and “true” sequel to the 1974 movie in the eyes of the people behind it. In fact, it so desperately wants to be Halloween 2018 that it even attempts to make Sally into Laurie. Instead of a survivor broken by her experiences then never heard from again, Sally became a ranger, and they even tried to have her show up in “badass” glory to take on Leatherface in the final act.
The problem with this is that Laurie wasn’t shoved back at us after the Halloween franchise moved on without her. Laurie was there and a central part of the plot throughout the various canons with Halloween. Sally was not. She disappeared, Texas Chainsaw Massacre got weird, and now suddenly she’s back. While I appreciate the late Marilyn Burns and her place in the world of “final girls,” this attempt to make Sally a new Laurie simply didn’t work. Not only did it feel awkward because there is a lack of her having been around for the franchise she is also not as good as Laurie.
She’s a ranger that has been searching for Leatherface for decades while he’s been in this town easy enough to find? She is also dealt with rather quickly. In fact, the only purpose she really seems to serve is to push Lila to fight back even though Lila is not fully able to or really capable of it.
Okay, so away from that little digression, how is the rest of the movie? Well, not much better. It follows Lila and Melody as Melody and her friends attempt to rebuild a small town in Texas for people who are tired of the cruelty and rat race of life to live in. They stumble upon a woman and Leatherface when they see a confederate flag, and it literally becomes a central plot point for them. Yes, seriously. In fact, that’s kind of the attitude of the entire first two acts of this movie. Every single situation this group finds themselves in becomes some “gen Z railing about the ugliness of life” moment. See a random person, start in on guns. Driving down the road, start in on cops. Going to this “new world, they are creating” start in on the confederate flag.
I tend to hate when people talk about something being “too much,” but damn, this movie is too much. At first, I found myself wondering if maybe I am just old. I had this same reaction to Black Christmas 2019, where I felt like all the good messaging was lost because every five seconds, they have to bring it back up. However, I don’t think that’s it. Because here’s the thing, all the horror is caused by these same young people who are constantly lecturing the audience (whether their passions are good or not). They bring back Leatherface, they fail to stand up and fight back for the better part of the movie, they bring it on themselves.
The icing on the cake is a moment where Leatherface goes to confront the overwhelming majority of people, and they make a quip about canceling him. The moment is meant to be ironic, but I just feel like this movie really freaking hates its audience. It wanted to appeal to young people, so it hamfisted in a bunch of “messaging,” but then also hates that same audience for feeling like it needed to, so it enjoys killing and blaming them for their deaths. That or it was just poorly executed in its attempts to be ironic overall and not in just that one moment.
It’s also messaging without much purpose. Most of these moments don’t actually serve the larger picture. The only major “messaging” is Lila’s story, and it is well handled in comparison to the rest. But even her finding her own strength after what she’s been through is hardly served. Going back on my wondering if this movie hates its audience, everything about this movie seems to blame the young people for being outspoken and wanting things to be better, which downer horror is definitely a thing now, but it’s a bit odd in this movie. Again, it felt like it didn’t know what it wanted to say or why it was even trying to say anything, other than “we need to cover all these topics to appeal to young people but damn them for it.”
There are a few interesting moments where suspense starts to build with Leatherface hunting, but those moments are few and far between. It also attempts to be brutal and shocking, but it falls flat. There is a lack of personal engagement with the horror and instead just quick slices (heh). The relatively bloodless 1974 movie managed to be significantly more horrific in its violence and brutality than any of the attempts at over-the-top kills here.
But really, the main takeaway I had was that this movie was… boring. Sally was a boring version of Laurie. Leatherface was a boring version of what we already had. The kills were… okay, yeah, you get the point. It brings blood and attempts to bring a stronger plot, but it just doesn’t deliver on any real impact.
It also got pretty close to having a great climax, one that is actually different for the audience, but instead of sticking with that, it just repeats a, once again… boring version of the original film’s ending. I am not entirely sure what the writers here saw as being “the sequel” compared to everything else in the franchise. It’s a very paint-by-numbers horror movie which, for all the highs and lows of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise, it did manage to avoid being that with almost every other entry. Weird, zany, even bad would be better descriptors of most (not all) of the rest of the franchise entries. This is just another 00s remake only now trying to capitalize on gen Z instead of millennials.
Bottom line. It’s an average piece of slasher trash, but this movie has no real value beyond popcorn entertainment while declaring itself better than the other sequels. For all my complaining, I did find myself enjoying it at moments… kind of. It’s an okay watch, even rewatch, but honestly, there is a lot of personality, both bad and good, in this franchise, worth more than this.