Leatherface (Movie Review)

Leatherface (Movie Review)
3 10

PLOT: In Texas from 1955 to 1965, we witness the inherently violent growing pains of young Jed Sawyer, aka Leatherface.

REVIEW: The curse of a first film can be a very real thing. At least, a first successful one. The late great Tobe Hooper’s grittily unvarnished, intense sensory-blitz of a quasi-snuff film, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, ascended to a level of infamy the director could never quite duplicate. Not in his own work (not even via POLTERGEIST), and certainly not in the producorial blessings he lent to various directors in the countless Chainsaw redos, rev-ups, offshoots, sequels, prequels and unneeded addendums. To wit, in the character of Leatherface, a demented cross-dressing cannibal, Hooper created a truly frightful icon of all-time horror villainy. Now let’s consider Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo, the French filmmakers who enjoyed similar success with their first horror feature, INSIDE. With an unrelenting brutality of exorbitant gore, INSIDE proved to be as promising a horror debut as perhaps even TCM was for Hooper. Now, cue the curse.

LEATHERFACE, the new venture from the aforementioned Frenchmen, is not only an abject abomination on its own, but criminal charges ought to be brought for flagrant proprietary theft. Honestly, this in no way bears any resemblance to a TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE movie, and instead tallies to nothing more than a gross-out bastardization of the Leatherface character, and worse, functions merely as a shameless, cynical cash-grab for past TCM beneficiaries to recoup once more. Though much of the blame lies with screenwriter Seth M. Sherwood (LONDON HAS FALLEN), original and iterative producers like Hooper himself, Kim Henkel, John Luessenhop and the rest ought to be called out as well. LEATHERFACE does not even deserve to be called such. It’s poorly conceived, insultingly misdirected, badly acted, not at all scary, and worst of all, lets Leatherface off the hook with evidence that he’s merely a product of his own environment. Well, Leatherface may not be able to tell right from wrong, but anyone with two eyes certainly can. Crystally clear, every single stitch of LEATHERFACE is incorrectly laced!

1955 Texas. Old wheelchair bound Grandpa is still around, moribund as ever, taking a backseat to mama Verna Sawyer (Lili Taylor), a squinty-eyed harridan we can tell takes zero shit from anyone. As we open, young Jed Sawyer’s birthday is celebrated by gorily torturing an abducted motorist around the dinner table. I suppose this is meant to be redolent of the genuinely harrowing dinner-table-finale in the original, but like everything else in this infuriating iteration, it falls grossly short. Young Jed, who enjoys masking his face with an oversized cow-head, is soon apprehended by Texas Ranger Hal Hartman (Stephen Dorff), an unscrupulous vigilante lawman intent on serving comeuppance to the Sawyer family when his eldest daughter is found mutilated on their property. Cut ten years ahead to 1965. Whisked away to the Gorman Reformatory Hospital for Children, young Jed, now ten years older, is nowhere to be found. In fact, we begin to track a seemingly new group of children altogether.


Incomprehensibly, the movie is now operating on the key imperative that you must guess which kid is the younger version of Leatherface. I wish I was kidding. The movie becomes a farcical “Where’s Waldo” of misdirected mystery, one that ultimately undermines itself through mere process of elimination. Not only is Jed’s name inexplicably changed when he gets to the Gorman House, the attempt to implicate another kid in the hospital as young Leatherface is deeply, unnecessarily confounding. And it doesn’t even matter. By the third reel, even before the official revelation of which child is indeed Leatherface comes about, there simply aren’t enough characters left alive to NOT guess, or to NOT know, who the real culprit is. In other words, the identity of young Jed becomes obvious before we’re supposed to know. The attempt at a shock-twist is not only woefully ill-conceived, its execution is even more irksome.

So too is the absolution of Leatherface himself. Despite seeing his better nature in the middle of the movie, what this film suggests is that Leatherface was never inherently evil, but rather a victim of his own sadistic surroundings. The movie tries to make the case, however unconvincingly, that Leatherface was so heavily bred into a corrupt culture of sordid backwoods murder that he never had a choice to become anything other than a mentally-retarded homicidal madman. This movie wants to excuse Leatherface’s odious behavior to the culpability of his f*cked up family. It’s like someone saying, “oh, it’s not his fault that he’s racist, he was just brought up that way.” That’s simply not good enough. It cannot stand. It absolves Leatherface of any of his own violent transgressions, solely blaming them on his mother, and therefore allows him to continue to do so as long as someone else is held liable. It’s an insipid line of logic, and actually dehumanizes Leatherface as a mindless monster unable to think and act on his own behalf. But there’s no sympathy for the devil here, nor should there be. The movie not only bastardizes the character, it infantilizes him as well!

As far as the violence goes, outside of one admittedly gratifying stint of gory revelry with the infamous chainsaw, most of it is reduced to sick gross-out gags. A pig-feeding scene, a quasi-necrophilia sequence, a rotten animal carcass hideout bit, you name it. It’s the type of “horror” totally antithetical to the original TCM, which relied far less on graphic gore than brilliantly suggestive framing. More damming, the authentically tapped manic energy and air of genuine insanity of the original is nowhere to be found here. And while Sally Hardesty of the original was the only character we truly rooted for to survive, here there isn’t a single likeable character to get behind. Not even the supposed Sheriff, who presents direct opposition to the Sawyer clan. Sans a real protagonist, it’s as if the filmmakers tried to incur in Leatherface a sense of likeability simply by surrounding him with people even more deplorable than himself. Alas, like every other aspect of the film (sans the mildly inspired bookend scenes), it just doesn’t work.

Now let’s go back to that curse. The inevitable reality of making a great film right out of the gate is that you only have room to go downward. Not only has the TCM universe fallen victim to this kind of gravity of diminishment over the years, so too was Tobe Hooper after a certain point in his career. And now, the same seems to be coming true for Maury and Bustillo. INSIDE might not be as good as TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE – not now, not ever – but the curse of expectations heaped upon both films has unfortunately lead to LEATHERFACE. This never should have happened!

Extra Tidbit: LEATHERFACE is now on DirecTV and hits VOD/limited theaters October 20th.
Source: AITH



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