Franchise Expansion (Or Implosion): ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ (2022)
by Ben Martin
Franchise Expansion (or Implosion) is a column that looks at franchises that have new installments or releases forthcoming. In looking at a franchise, each entry in a franchise will be given a review and then be examined as part of the bigger franchise. (i.e., Was this sequel a worthy expansion of this franchise or was it an implosion of sorts?)
You know the adage, “Everything’s bigger in Texas?” Well, there’s one big, twisted franchise that — for better or worse — is synonymous with that sprawling state. I’m, of course, referring to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise; a series of films that spans nearly fifty years, nine entries, and a myriad of tonal shifts. Does it all work, or is it messier than a big plate of TX BBQ? We’ll find out by taking a strange, sun-roasted journey though the series. However, I’m going to do things a little differently. Instead of going in chronological order, I’ll start by covering the newest installment — Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022)!
Before I delve into Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022), it’s worth noting that this is not the first time I’ve written about the franchise for this site. In 2017, I reviewed Leatherface. A sequel not to be confused with Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1990). (That’s right, we’re jumping into what is arguably the most confusingly titled string of movies ever.) Normally, I wouldn’t cover a franchise if I’d already reviewed one of its installments separately. But thanks to Comicon’s editor-in-chief, Erik Amaya, I decided that the TCM is indeed worth covering despite this series not being untouched territory. After all, as I pointed out in my review of the previous picture, Leatherface is barely a Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie, anyway.
However, the 2017 one-off did set a precedent for this franchise. Leatherface premiered exclusively on DirecTV On Demand before slowly becoming available on other digital platforms and physical media. Thus, falling in league with many other genre franchises such as Leprechaun, Hellraiser, and Child’s Play/Chucky, in transitioning from being exhibited theatrically to being beamed directly into the comfort of one’s own home. It is a fate also destined for the movie in review. Initially, the production company behind TCM ’22, Legendary Pictures, planned a run in theaters. For better or worse, though, that exhibition approach was scrapped following several terribly-received test screenings. And, surprise, surprise, Netflix swooped in and picked up the rights to exclusively distribute this film.
Of course, going direct-to-streaming wasn’t the first bump in the road to the release of Texas. Genre filmmaker Fede Alvarez has used his cache from the Evil Dead (2013) remake and Don’t Breathe (2016) to foster other horror projects under the recently formed production company, Bad Hombre. Alvarez co-conceived the story for this legacy sequel along with Rodo Sayagues (Don’t Breathe 2) and screenwriter Chris Thomas Devlin (of the upcoming horror picture Cobweb). Unfortunately, Alvarez did not want to direct; instead, the helm initially went to Andy and Ryan Tohill (Dig). Alas, a week into production, the Tohills departed the project due to creative differences with the writers and producers. In the brothers’ steads, Alvarez brought in his pal, cinematographer-turned-director David Blue Garcia (Tejano), to take over.
As with every other legacy sequel of its ilk, the film takes the title of its original forebearer and ignores all the sequels. Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which makes a pointed decision to drop the definite article, picks up fifty years after the original 1974 film. Leatherface (Mark Burnham) has not been since then, but has become a local legend. The skin-clad killer soon re-emerges when his tiny ghost of a hometown is disturbed by a group of twenty-something hipsters. Led by trendy chef Dante (Jacob Latimore) and his girlfriend Melody (Sarah Yarkin), this crew have essentially purchased the dead, remote town of Harlow, Texas as they look to turn it into an alternative to the metropolis that is Austin. But their grand plans are thrown asunder after they inadvertently boot a seventy-something Leatherface and his caretaker from their home. Once he’s back in the wild, Leatherface grabs his chainsaw to make things right!
In reading that plot synopsis, if it sounds like I have it out for these protagonists as much as ol’ Leatherface does — and there’s a good reason for that! It’s been quite a while since I’ve seen a group of more unlikable young victims in a slasher flick. Most of these characters are performatively “woke” and self-entitled to the point of being insufferable. And, despite this movie’s scant 81-minute runtime, it feels like it takes an eternity to watch them get killed off in ways that I only found marginally satisfying. As far as these protagonists go, there are only two likable ones in the bunch.
First, there’s Lila (Elsie Fisher), who could have been the character to which we, the audience, we’re meant to root for. Unfortunately, though, Lila is saddled with a tastelessly tragic backstory that attempts to make her character seem more important than she is. Then there’s the gun-toting redneck with a closed mind (but a heart of gold), Richter (Moe Dunford). The dichotomy between Richter and the hipsters has given some viewers the opinion that this is the filmmaker’s “clever” way of showing the political division in the U.S. But, I have to tell you, I don’t think this film has that much on its mind. Moreover, trying to make these characters sympathetic and redeemable in the latter half of the story simply didn’t fly with me.
Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the character that attempts to make TCM ’22 part of a legacy — Sally Hardesty. Sadly, the actress who originally played the role, Marilyn Burns, passed away in 2014. Thus, actress Olwen Fouéré (Mandy) steps into the part, portraying a modern-day Sally as a grizzled and traumatized individual bent on revenge. Frankly, the character’s inclusion in this film has no impact narratively or nostalgically. In my estimation, the young lady we saw in the original 1974 would not have ended up as we see her here. Heck, if anything, I think Sally would have needed to be institutionalized for a time to rehabilitate, after which she probably would have gotten as far away from The Panhandle as possible. Beyond that, though, let’s face it, Sally Hardesty doesn’t have the same cache as Halloween‘s Laurie Strode. When I think about the OG TCM, I think about the ensemble instead of simply Sally. To this end, the most recent TCM fails as a legacy sequel since its angle is essentially pointless.
But what of ol’ cowhide visage himself? Well, Burnham delivers a solid performance as Leatherface. This is mainly because the actor moves like the man who played the original killer cannibal, the late Gunnar Hansen (1947-2015). The problem, though, is that the presumably seventy-something Leatherface presented to us in TCM ’22 is built like the late pro wrestler Dusty Rhodes (1945–2015) wearing a bad Halloween costume. Granted, the kills this older Leatherface pulls off are decent, even if they’re peppered with CGI blood. Nevertheless, the killer’s whole look is laughable.
Despite being well made with that slick look that most Netflix releases have, Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022) is the epitome of a Franchise Implosion. Aside from the aforementioned pointless inclusion of Sally Hardesty, this movie doesn’t work as a legacy sequel for a very simple reason. TCM ’22 feels more like a cheesy 80s slasher than it does a legitimate reboot of sorts for this franchise and a dull one at that. For me, Texas Chainsaw 3D (2013) is a better legacy sequel, even if that narrative approach had not yet been popularized at the time. Of course, this flick has already proved to be divisive in the horror community. Still, the film’s success of Netflix ensures we will get a follow-up, which will hopefully introduce the franchise’s familial element for this current iteration. After all, I think that aspect of this series gives it an edge. But more on that as we continue through the franchise.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022) is streaming exclusively on Netflix.
Next time, we’ll go back to the true beginning of this franchise with the classic that started it all, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)!
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