Leatherface Blu-ray Review (originally published 2017)
Years before the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the youngest child of the infamous Sawyer Family is sentenced to a mental hospital after a suspicious incident leaves the sheriff’s daughter dead. Ten years later, he kidnaps a young nurse and escapes with three other inmates. Pursued by authorities, including the deranged sheriff out to avenge his daughter’s death, the Sawyer teen goes on a violent road trip from hell, molding him into the monster now known as Leatherface. (From Lionsgate’s official synopsis)
Tobe Hooper’s original The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was forged in a creative vacuum that led to an unprecedented motion picture. Despite being a categorically singular experience, the film’s rampant popularity led to countless re-creations and, more often than not, its lightning-in-a-bottle qualities proved unrepeatable. Hooper even struggled to make his own official sequel, eventually releasing a conceptual reapplication of his original ideas called The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 (1986). Thus began a tradition of Chainsaw Massacre sequels acting more like reboots and remakes than sequential follow-ups. Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1990), written by splatterpunk novelist/ace horror critic David Schow and directed by Jeff Burr, only has cosmetic continuity with Hooper’s films and was intended to be a soft reboot. Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1994), written and directed by Kim Henkel (Hooper’s writing partner on the first film), as the title indicates, was the brand’s first hard reboot. Both ‘sequelboots’ failed to find mainstream success and the property remained dormant until Marcus Nispel’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), which was a surprise hit and led to prequel in 2006 called The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, directed by Jonathan Liebesman. Then, even though Nispel’s film was the only follow-up to actually make a substantial profit, new franchise owner Lionsgate thought it would be a good idea to make another prequel using the latest 3D gimmicks, under the title Sears catalog-inspired title of Texas Chainsaw (2013).
When Texas Chainsaw – a movie so ineffectual and worthless that I legitimately forgot it existed until I started writing this review – failed to rekindle interest in the franchise, despite Platinum Dunes’ success with its own reboot and Dimension Films’ similar success with the Rob Zombie-helmed Halloween reboots (2007, 2009), Lionsgate decided to give it one more shot with yet another prequel. Obviously, history proves that they were doomed to fail (we never needed a movie explaining the history of the Sawyer family, let alone two), but the producers made a good choice by going to Julien Maury & Alexandre Bustillo, the directors behind Inside (French: À l'intérieur, 2007), which is one of the best, simplest, and most striking horror debuts of the last decade and a defining film in the New French Extremity movement. They followed that up with Livid (French: Livide, 2011) and Among the Living (French: Aux yeux des vivants, 2014), and contributed to ABCs of Death 2 (X is for Xylophone, 2014). I have not seen Among the Living, but there are shared themes of familial strife, feminine fortitude, and cultural embattlement between the other two films, which, when coupled with their penchant for graphic, painful violence, makes Maury & Bustillo good candidates to take up the reins on the Chainsaw Massacre franchise.
The directors took the project ‘for hire’ and did not write their own script, as they always have in the past. Writing duties fell upon Seth M. Sherwood, a man whose highest profile imdb.com notation is an uncredited writing stint on London has Fallen (2016). There’s an occasional twinge of charm in recognizing nods to Hooper’s original movie, but Sherwood’s basic plot has largely been drawn from two Rob Zombie films – The Devil’s Rejects (2005), from which Sherwood borrows the road trip and obsessively vengeful cop motifs, and Halloween (2007), from which he borrows almost everything else not already seen in Hooper’s movie. The irony here, of course, being that Zombie was already borrowing his ideas from the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween (1978), making Leatherface a third-generation dupe of some very old ideas. This lacklustre storytelling is muddled further by a pointless plot twist that is so strangely executed that I’d wager most of the audience didn’t even notice anything happened.
Maury & Bustillo seemed hobbled and hemmed at every turn (indeed, the film was rumoured to have gone through extensive producer interference and reshoots). Editing choices appear to have been made exclusively for the sake of bringing the movie in under 90 minutes (1:24:18, plus credits, to be exact). Scenes are clipped to their core elements and, during the first act, major exposition seems to be happening off-screen. I agree that there’s no reason for a Chainsaw Massacre prequel to be longer than 90 minutes, but less plot and fewer characters would’ve been preferable to a nearly incoherent and rambling first 45 minutes. Despite all of the problems, the directors do engage in some truly subversive ickiness as they build up to satisfyingly gory climax (one that is thematically boring, nonetheless), including an improvised curb-stomp (on a rock), nasty facial reconstruction, and a necrophiliac ménage à trois that would be right at home in a Jörg Buttgereit movie.
Leatherface is merely the latest in a long line of disappointing Texas Chainsaw Massacre movies and it definitely won’t be the last. They’ll probably try again in another four years and another four years after that and another four years after that and on and on until the sun swells and absorbs the Earth (2019 edit: Fede Alvarez is apparently currently working on one).
Leatherface was shot using Arri Alexa digital HD cameras and is presented on Blu-ray in 1080p, 2.40:1 HD video. Despite the cutting edge hardware, Maury, Bustillo, and cinematographer Antoine Sanier still try to achieve a grim ‘n gritty appearance, similar to the one seen in the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, its remake, and all the early ‘00s movies that followed suit. They don’t try to exact the look of film grain using digital means, but they are sure to press the footage to its limit with dim lighting schemes and heavily textured environments. At the same time, they also embrace the digital format’s ability to smoothly blend colors, as well as the unique focal qualities of anamorphic lenses. This transfer excels in presenting all of these contradictory visual elements as cleanly and consistently as possible, despite some purposefully crushed black levels getting in its way during the darkest sequences. The palette is limited to earthy browns, oranges, and greens during the day and steely blues at night, both with rich red highlights (usually blood). Despite the lack of eclectic hues, the colors are quite vivid without major signs of bleeding or blocking.
Leatherface features an angry, aggressive 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack that puts an awful lot of emphasis on John Frizzell’s generically spooky, but undeniably enjoyable score. Dialogue-based scenes are clear and consistent, even when characters are whispering and mumbling at each other, but action sequences and other set-pieces become musical soundscapes pretty quickly. It’s not a problematic choice and it doesn’t get in the way of the sounds of revving car engines, driving rain, blasting guns, or roaring chainsaws, it’s just interesting to note how much emphasis the score has on this particular soundtrack.
Behind the Bloody Mask: Making Leatherface (13:24, HD) – A relatively fluffy EPK with the cast & crew.
Six deleted/extended/alternate scenes, including an alternate opening and an alternate ending (21:04, HD) – For the most part, the movie would’ve been better had these scenes been left intact. The alternate opening, in particular, is an evocative and simple look at Leatherface’s childhood, while the deleted footage helps establish the characters a bit better (I assume there was even more cut from the first act, though).
An option to watch the film with the alternate ending (spoiler: it’s basically identical, except that the ‘last girl’ is condemned to a much more brutal fate)
Trailers for other Lionsgate releases
Note: I haven’t kept all of the discs I’ve reviewed over the years, so some, like this one, will not include screen-caps. The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray’s image quality.