The Face of Madness Returns.
The Face of Madness Returns.
The latest direct-to-Netflix sequel to Tobe Hooper’s 1974 classic slasher The Texas Chain Saw Massacre follows the model of Halloween (2018), using pretty much the same title as the original, scrapping the other seven franchise films and bringing back final girl Sally Hardesty. With a short running time of 83 minutes, the film quickly accelerates into gore territory and features some of the most creative kills by Leatherface thus far, but, by missing a few noticeable opportunities, it makes the audience question whether it’s a worthy follow-up to the horror classic.
The film kicks off with a nostalgic true crime narration by John Larroquette, who also provided the introduction in the first film and the 2003 remake. Sisters Melody and Lila (Sarah Yarkin and Elsie Fisher) and their friends Dante (Jacob Latimore) and Ruth (Nell Hudson) take a trip to the desolate town of Harlow, Texas where they’ve purchased a strip of cheap real estate to launch businesses. When they spot a confederate flag at one of the old homes they make their way inside to remove it, only to discover that the house is still occupied by an elderly lady (Alice Krige). The former owner explains that the run-down building was previously used as an orphanage and that her last child (Leatherface, played by Marc Burnham) still resides there. When the orphan keeper is forced to leave against her will, her health quickly declines, sending Leatherface on a murderous rampage nearly 50 years after his original killing spree.
The news of the grisly slaughterings draws sole survivor Sally Hardesty (now played by Olwen Fouéré) out of seclusion with a vengeance. She’s been unsuccessfully hunting down the Texan killer for half a century, in hopes of getting revenge for the friends he brutally murdered with his chainsaw. Hardesty’s return was anticipated and a recast actress had big shoes to fill, portraying the iconic role created by the late Marilyn Burns. Fouéré buoyantly works through the limited material she’s handed but sadly she barely has a supporting role. After watching the film, it’s questionable what the purpose was for bringing the character back, other than as a marketing ploy. Sally and Leatherface’s first confrontation feels anticlimactic and lacks the energy it so rightfully deserves. Fans were sold a 2018-style Laurie Strode return but ended up receiving a Halloween Resurrection execution; a missed opportunity. Still, it was fun to see the character again and Fouéré’s look and vibe as Hardesty are a high note.
Now in his 70s, Leatherface proves he’s still one of the most terrifying horror movie villains. His design in this latest entry is one of the best, sporting a skin mask cut off from one of his early victims in the film. Having his caregiver pass away was the perfect motivation to bring the killer out of retirement. Instead of taking place in a rural farmhouse, Leatherface now wreaks havoc on an entire abandoned town, and while we’re missing that claustrophobic feel that was so well done in the original, this new change of scenery allows for creative kills and suspenseful chase scenes.
Adding 20 minutes or so to the runtime of Texas Chainsaw Massacre would have tremendously helped the film to realize its full potential. The theme of gentrification is too quickly skirted around and needed more of a buildup. Character development would have been beneficial with the young characters, as well as further exploration of Sally Hardesty’s backstory. But where the film lacks, the serious gore and overall dark atmosphere surely make up for. Ricardo Diaz’s striking cinematography is quite mesmerizing and the closing credits (make sure to watch past them!) are imaginative and artistic.
Following the elevated sequel approach of recent years, Texas Chainsaw Massacre has all the right ingredients but at times fumbles the recipe. Still, this new project stands out as one of the best in the Leatherface franchise and a few minor edits could have easily moved this entry up a knife point. Buckle up for a fast-paced and energetic popcorn slasher full of satisfying thrills and chills.