In October 2021, Cinemark theaters in the Orlando area decided to partake in the Halloween repertory screening market. As classics from the last century found their way back onto the big screen, 1974’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre became something of a must-see. A haunted house based on the franchise was a tentpole of Halloween Horror Nights. The theater screening the film was located at Universal’s Citywalk. With the promise of a crowd excited to relive the experience, I jumped at the chance to rewatch the classic. The original Texas Chainsaw Massacre is even scarier on the big screen, where the seclusion of a theater traps you with the unsettling imagery and sounds of the horror staple. The nearly sold-out audience of first-timers was left shaken by their experience. As the credits rolled, the palpable tension lingered over the theater. Tobe Hooper’s classic remains effective to this day.
While The Texas Chainsaw Massacre never seemed like an ideal franchise, Hollywood could not resist itself. Hooper returned for the unsettling sequel, which leans heavily into absurdist humor and camp elements. The subsequent films would pivot back into the horrifically cruel aspects of the franchise, believing the bread and butter of the franchise was its visceral gore. Finally, in 2022, the franchise returned. Once again titled, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the legacy sequel stumbles at every turn as it struggles with its satire-heavy narrative.
The latest iteration of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre opens on a group of young adults traveling into rural Texas. Melody (Sarah Yarkin) and Lila (Elsie Fisher) seek to restart their lives after Lila survives a tragic event. The sisters travel with Melody’s business partner Dante (Jacob Latimore) and his girlfriend Ruth (Neil Hudson) to a tumbleweed town they hope to transform into a paradise for young adults. However, after they enrage Leatherface (Mark Burnham), they find themselves on the wrong side of a sociopath. Their only hope is someone with firsthand experience of Leatherface’s evil: Sally Hardesty (Olwen Fouéré).
Director David Blue Garcia takes the lead from horror producer Fede Alvarez, a wise move considering he helmed the 2013 Evil Dead. Alvarez took a story by credit on the latest reboot with Rodo Sayagues and passed writing duties over to Chris Thomas Devlin. The foursome attempt to craft a story focused on generational and cultural divides. After all, the Millennial monolith has embraced different lifestyles than the blue-collar workers of rural Texas. Satire quickly gives way to gore and violence on the Texas plains.
The seemingly sound strategy goes entirely off the rails, in no small part to frustrating blunt storytelling. There is some irony in that metaphor (despite its name, the 1974 Texas Chainsaw opens with a blunt trauma-induced death), but the heavy-handed nature of the content leaves little room for nuance. The socioeconomic critique may have felt relevant two years ago (the film was originally shot in 2020). Yet, in 2022, a generation of young adults plagued by the inability to afford homeownership undermines the very premise of the story.
This version of Texas Chainsaw comes at the end of a string of horror legacy sequels. Halloween Kills, Nia Decrosta’s Candyman, and early 2022 favorite Scream all found box office success in the past six months. Even the soft horror favorite, Ghostbusters Afterlife, succeeded with audiences. Several of these films found success with the legacy sequel formula. Yet nearly all of them suffer from their need to service nostalgia exploring new storytelling beats. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre attempts to cash in on its nostalgia, but without the original Leatherface or Sally returning (both actors had passed before filming), the nostalgia rings hollow.
Two of Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s principal cast members should escape without much blowback. Fisher seems game to handle her character’s dramatic arc and never feels like a caricature at any point in the film. She imbues Lila with the strength of a woman experienced in trauma and finds strength within the character’s dark background. Additionally, Latimore does the most he can in his role. There’s not much on the page, but he finds small moments to explore his character’s ambition and drive. Unlike most of the cast, Latimore and Fisher leave an impression and stand out as a result.
Many will only need a high body count and bloody kills to find entertainment. Lucky for those viewers, the new film delivers some genuinely horrific imagery. A bloody corpse in a cornfield sticks with you long after the movie. Another sequence of destruction within a bus is both cringy and upsettingly violent. Alvarez and Garcia succeed on this level, even as the narrative struggles to tie any stakes to the dozens of millennials meant to be fodder for Leatherface’s weapon of choice. Anyone looking for profound meaning and storytelling will find themselves with a tedious experience.
However, even gore fans will struggle to keep a straight face during many kills. Many of Leatherface’s kills are unoriginal and unintentionally hilarious. The film cannot resist delivering commentary on American youth and self-obsession but cannot tie these themes into the narrative. There are only so many times one can watch Leatherface impale someone on his chainsaw and lift them into the air while blood sprays into the heavens. Some of the kills would work with stronger execution and less repetition. Many more seem rooted in an idea the production team found interesting, only to fall wildly flat when they appear in the film. One should not expect to chuckle at most of this franchise, but some moments are too over-the-top to ignore their hilarity.
Unwilling to pick its path, Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022) becomes one of the storied franchise’s most disposable and uninteresting entries. Horror can succeed as both satire and stomach-churning gorefests. Yet that balance requires a highly skillful hand, and unfortunately, the team making this film cannot pull off the high-wire feat.