Netflix’s ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ restages a horror classic—review
TCM has a handful of references to the 1974 film The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but the movie largely avoids the overwhelming nostalgia that can at times be overbearing in series resurrecting titles. Alone from the original cast, John Larroquette returns as the narrator who opens the film — just as he did in the first movie.
The film does include a generous helping of references to the past, including a polaroid of the original victims, taken just before they encounter Leatherface. However, these moments are sparing enough to avoid oversaturation.
Rather than retread old ground, the new film restages the classic slasher in the context of a culture clash. The film opens as a group of young people show up to the ghost town of Harlow, seeing it as an opportunity for redevelopment. Their language and attitude marks them as stereotypical Zoomer/millennial types, determined to transform the town into a “safe space.” (As one proudly says, “We’re idealistic individuals who want to build a better world.”)
The group instantly clashes with the locals, who look cautiously at the interlopers. We are greeted early in the film by the classic hallmarks of the genre: the suspicious gas station attendant and the sheriff who pulls them over on the way in to warn them about meddling with their old-time values. Later in the film, the group is dismissed as “smug, self-righteous city folk.”
For their part, the visitors don’t jibe with the residents, either. They bristle at their development contractor, who drives around in a bright red pickup, proudly brandishing a handgun on his hip along the way. And they are horrified (understandably) to see a Confederate flag hanging over one of the buildings on the downtown strip. The whole tone of the dichotomy is captured by a moment where the Confederate flag is taken down and left to fall in the street, landing in a pile of dust.
At times, the cultural clash is quite neat. One of the young people, a survivor of a school shooting, shares a tender moment with the contractor as he comes to understand her hesitation is less about her origins in the big city than it is about her trauma.
The jabs at the younger generation at times have bite, as when one of the potential yuppie investors says they enjoy the quaint state of the town: “These people want the weardown, you know, the history.” (It’s made clear by the flood of investors rolling in on a tour bus that their utopian community has value beyond the spiritual level.) In a slightly less convincing moment, Leatherface storms the tour bus as one of the riders whips out a phone and goes live on Instagram, shouting, “Try anything and I’ll get you canceled, bro” at a blood-drenched man brandishing a chainsaw.
Series icon Sally Hardesty comes riding in as if to bridge the generational gap. Olwen Fouéré takes up the mantle of the late Marilyn Burns, whose Hardesty performance in the first film led to one of the most legendary final girl appearances in slasher history.
In the new film, Hardesty is haunted by the memory of the past. She has also grown cold as a result of her trauma, hardened by lust for Leatherface’s blood. In the midst of his massacre, she tells the terrified kids “50 years I’ve been waiting for this night,” just before casually using two of them as bait to help her get revenge on the villain.
Oddly, Hardesty’s role is quick, setting the film aside from other sequels such as Halloween Kills that put returning heroines front and center. In the end, the film remains in the vein of the classic slasher thematic, offering an interesting enough update.
Throughout the genre, slasher stands in for vengeful society, the murderer stalking naive youth. Villains punish the transgressions of the young, who cast out the seeming old ways for drugs, alcohol and sex. It’s a trope central to so many horror films over the years, including Friday The 13th, Halloween, and yes, of course, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
In this case, we experience a more literal form of retribution. In their haste to build their utopia, the victims unknowingly and wrongfully evict the elderly Mrs. Mc from her home. The last remaining resident, it turns out she actually does have a right to remain in her home.
Unfortunately for them, it turns out that they’ve also evicted Leatherface in the process. For his part, the film’s iconic slasher is eager to dole out justice. He “crafts” a new mask before returning to his murderous spree. And he gets in touch with his emotional side, furiously smashing a room in his house as he sees the crowded bus and the tourists milling about his town.
While some may take or leave the staged culture clash, the film is a fun return to a favorite killer, one who never requires much of a sell to draw out hardcore fans. There are also healthy doses of gore, especially a bus scene that is a real standout from the pack. It’s sure to be enjoyable for anyone who loves the genre. Anyone who loves (or hates) the new generations just might find that element to be an added bonus.