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John’s Horror Corner: Leatherface (2017), the youthful origin story of the iconic killer.

April 10, 2021

MY CALL: The chunky gore and mean horror violence will satisfy those who desire it. But the film never even nearly lives up to its name Leatherface. This feels like a “Sawyer family story.” Despite its lackluster impact as a whole, the cruel death scenes still manage to hit hard. So if you enjoy mean slasher horror, then you ought to enjoy this… even lacking the macabre atmosphere and dread of the franchise. I’d only recommend this to TCM completists. MORE MOVIES LIKE Leatherface: Well obviously you should have already seen The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and the ultra-zany sequel The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986), though I was not a fan of Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1990). Then there was the excellent (IMO) franchise reboot The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (2006) and perhaps Texas Chainsaw 3-D (2013). From there I’d suggest seeing The Funhouse (1981), Motel Hell (1980), House of 1000 Corpses (2003) and The Hills Have Eyes (2006).

Being an origin story, I had hoped this wouldn’t take the over-expository path of Halloween (2007) regarding the creation of a soulless Michael Myers. And to be fair, I among the fans of Rob Zombie’s remake. But the young Myers story arc simply didn’t serve the character or enrich my view of the franchise. Well, in this film, the entire story revolves around turning a criminally delinquent child into what we know and fear as Leatherface. Let me spare you the suspense—this fell completely flat on its lame face. No wonder he decided to start wearing a mask!

The opening scene attempts to capture the unnerving magic of the iconic TCM dinner table scene, but does so with a toothless lack of intensity (and some weak writing). You feel none of the dreadful weight of the scene that was so earned in 1986 and 2003’s iterations. But what is nailed well is the abrupt violence and its accompanied brutal impact of the gore. Hammer-strikes to the head and chainsaw lacerations look great and provide brief spates of exhilarating violence amid an otherwise drab movie.

Except for the first few scenes, the first half of this film feels more like a family-size Natural Born Killers (1994) (more in character style than overall film tone) than anything from the Texas Chainsaw franchises. Hell bent on imprisoning the homicidal members of the Sawyer family, Sheriff Hal (Stephen Dorff; The Gate, Blade) seeks revenge for the murder of his daughter. As a result, in 1955 young Jed was removed from the Sawyer house and his family as a small child. In 1965, he came home. Most of this film is the few days marking.

A group of teenagers (including Jed) have escaped from their “mental hospital for troubled youths” with criminal intentions of getting money and a vehicle, quite comfortable with whatever bloody cost by which it comes. What’s interesting is that the movie keeps the viewers from knowing exactly which teen is Jed (i.e., eventually Leatherface). My obvious choice (in my opinion anyway) turned out to be very wrong.

[Spoilers in this paragraph] One thing I found perplexing was that I spent half the movie thinking a “different” character would end up being Verna’s (Lili Taylor; The Haunting, The Conjuring) son Jed (whose name was changed at the juvenile facility). I expected it to be the gigantic heavy teenager who hardly spoke; not the thin and spry, chatty sympathetic teen. And the movie essentially never acknowledges this deception or reveal. A second criticism would be that Leatherface’s fixation with making “human” leather-stitched masks comes completely out of nowhere. Sure, it makes for a mean closing scene, but completely unjustified given the movie. [end Spoilers]

The chunky gore and horror violence is solid. But, to the title’s-sake, the film never comes close to living up to its name Leatherface until except for a couple scenes. This feels like “a Sawyer family story.” Co-directors Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury (Livid, Among the Living, Inside, ABCs of Death 2—X is for Xylophone) have done some decent movies in horror. This is not one of them. Despite its lackluster impact as a whole, the death scenes hit hard. They’re mean. And if you enjoy mean slasher horror (e.g., Wolf Creek), then you still ought to enjoy this.

But where’s the macabre atmosphere and the dread? This film packs none of it. So ultimately, I’d only recommend this to TCM completists who want to see all things Leatherface/Sawyers ever created (which I am).

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