Netflix's Texas Chainsaw Massacre: Leatherface is back in gory sequel that takes on prejudice and violence in America

Elsie Fisher as Lila in a still from Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
PHOTO: Netflix

3/5 stars

Tobe Hooper gleefully claimed that his visceral and deeply unsettling 1974 shocker The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was based on real events. Though tenuously inspired by Ed Gein, a murderer and cannibal in the US state of Wisconsin, the film was mostly fictitious, and ironically includes only a single death by the eponymous arboreal power tool.

Regardless, the film's notoriety, commercial success and subsequent influence on the horror genre has inspired no fewer than eight official sequels, prequels and remakes in the decades since.

David Blue Garcia's confusingly titled Texas Chainsaw Massacre, produced by Legendary and released exclusively on Netflix, serves as a direct sequel to Hooper's 1974 film, reintroducing that film's archetypal 'final girl' Sally Hardesty, with Olwen Fouere assuming the role originally played by the late Marilyn Burns.

Garcia and screenwriter Chris Thomas Devlin use this opportunity to raise a subversive, blood-soaked middle finger to recent legacy sequels like Halloween (2018) that have attempted to find cathartic closure for the victims of life-changing trauma.

Elsie Fisher, the breakout star of Bo Burnham's Eighth Grade, stars as Lila, survivor of a high-school shooting, who is dragged to the dilapidated ghost town of Harlow, Texas by her older sister, Melody (Sarah Yarkin). Together with her business partner Dante (Jacob Latimore), Melody has spearheaded an entrepreneurial takeover of the town, but they are met with disdain and resistance by the few remaining residents.

In particular, the elderly occupant of a derelict orphanage (Alice Krige) claims that she is still the owner, only to suffer a deadly heart attack that sends her mysterious hulk of a son (Mark Burnham), none other than Leatherface himself, into a violent murderous rampage.

(From left) Elsie Fisher as Lila, Sarah Yarkin as Melody, Nell Hudson as Ruth and Jacob Latimore as Dante in a still from Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
PHOTO: Netflix

While eschewing the grisly stench of Hooper's sun-baked original for a more slick and polished aesthetic, Garcia's brisk and bloody take on the material is laudable for its commitment to delivering a relentless stream of gallows-style gooeyness.

He serves up a literal busload of obnoxious, disposable millennials, who are then indiscriminately dispatched in the film's stand-out sequence of unrestrained carnage.

Elsewhere, attempts at meaningful social commentary — be it the predatory gentrification of America's poorest communities, the uncomfortable ubiquity of Confederate flags, or the palpable threat of violence in schools — pale in comparison to Hooper's unflinching Vietnam war allegory.

However, for a franchise that has yielded precious little meaningful myth-building or even a coherent chronology, Texas Chainsaw Massacre at least attempts to connect a few narrative dots while acknowledging the endless cycle of all-too-recognisable prejudice in modern America.

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This article was first published in South China Morning Post.