Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo (director)
Lionsgate Home Entertainment (studio)
08 January 2018 (released)
10 January 2018
This prequel to the 1974 cult classic The Texas Chain Saw Massacre ‘explains’ how horror legend Leatherface came to be the chainsaw wielding maniac that terrified audiences upon its original release decades ago.
Leatherface is the eight film in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise and it is thanks to strong performances by Lili Taylor and co-star Stephen Dorff that this film hovers above the average run-of-the-mill slasher genre. Whereas the original 70’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre, although highly disturbing and without any doubt utterly demented, managed to manipulate its audience into believing that what they saw on screen was one hell of a twisted gore-fest, the truth is that a lot of the apparent gore was merely suggested. Ok, so we saw the bone littered home of Leatherface and family and strong hints of cannibalism were present throughout but you never actually saw really bloody and disgusting scenes… even if you thought you did. In contrast, the much later remakes etc were quite different and gore doesn’t even begin to describe it. Although Leatherface has its fair share of blood-soaked shenanigans the film has at least a proper plot instead of being a mere butchery just for the sake of it. Let’s face it, 21st century audiences are so de-sensitized anyway it would take something much stronger to turn stomachs than this latest addition to the Chainsaw franchise!
The film starts with Leatherface as a boy named Jedidiah and it would take years before he morphs into the monster so beloved by Halloween-mask creators. We witness little Jed being treated to a birthday party in his honour by his doting Mum - family matriarch Verna Sawyer (Lili Taylor), while the rest of the family join the celebration. Which little boy wouldn’t dream of slaughtering a captured man with a chainsaw? Only kidding! Alas, this is exactly what Mum and the others have in mind for Jed, as a special birthday treat you understand. The captured man signed his death warrant courtesy of apparently stealing from the Sawyers though truth be told, it takes a lot less to fall foul of the psychotic Sawyer family! Not quite sure what to make of his family’s well-meant offer to dabble in bloody rituals, Jed shrieks back from killing the terrified man at the last moment and Grandpa Sawyer has to step in to finish the job.
Forward to 1955 and young lovey-dovey couple Betty Hartmann and Ted Hardesty are enjoying a drive along a country road when the car hits something. At first they assume they hit an animal but it turns out to be Jedidiah Sawyer, apparently wounded. Of course he isn’t, it’s a mere ploy to ensure the couple, or in this case only Betty, follow Jed to an isolated barn where the poor girl is killed shortly after in a truly dreadful manner. Worse is yet to come because the dead girl happens to be the beloved daughter of local Sheriff Hartmann (Stephen Dorff) who has to be stopped by his colleagues to kill some of the Sawyer family members there and then. Nonetheless he succeeds in sending Jed into a notorious mental institution called Gorman House Youth Reformery. Forward ten years again and freshly hired nurse Elizabeth (Vanessa Grasse) manages to form some bond with two inmates in particulr: the obese Bud (Sam Coleman) and Jackson (Sam Strike) who is none other than Jedidiah. One evening, Mum Verna, lawyer in town, arrives at the reformery to take her son home but Director Lang (Chris Adamson) tries his best to put a stop to Verna’s plans. Bad mistake, for shortly after Lang is dead and so are several nurses and patients. Super-psychotic inmates Ike (James Bloor) and Clarice (Jessica Madsen) manage to escape and decide to ‘kidnap’ Jackson, Bud, and nurse Elizabeth. Soon, the little group flee across lonely lanes and forests though it doesn’t take long for our trigger-happy Sheriff Hartmann and his colleagues to take up the chase… and what a blood chase it turns out to be…
Obviously Jackson/Jedidiah survives and in the film’s final key scene we see him putting on a mask stitched together of human flesh and skin (I won’t give away whose skin and flesh) before applying some lipstick. This is the moment the iconic Leatherface is born though it’s somewhat hard to imagine that one day he will be the chubby serial killer as originally portrayed by Gunnar Hansen, considering that Jedidiah (or actor Sam Strike, rather) is of rather lean build.
The big question here is why Leatherface was made to begin with, and indeed you may ask yourself “What is the point of this film”? That, of course, is for you to decide.