by Ian Roesler
The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the opinion of Byte or Byte’s editorial board.
This article contains images some readers may find disturbing.
Leatherface (2017), not to be confused with the early 90s film Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III, is a prequel to the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, this movie dealing with the origins of Leatherface.
The films opens at the Sawyer farm where the Sawyer family is celebrating Jedidiah Sawyer’s birthday. Jedidiah, who later becomes Leatherface is gifted a chainsaw—naturally. Present at the party are some familiar faces from the first film. Drayton Sawyer, Nubbins Sawyer, and Grandpa Sawyer. Also, present is the family matriarch, Verna Sawyer and a man that the family has tied up, suspecting him of stealing pigs The family pressures him to use it to kill the man. Jed is hesitant and refuses, so Grandpa Sawyer finishes the man with a sledgehammer.
Sometime later, Jed is used to lure back a victim to the farm. This is accomplished via Jed with a sheep’s head on as a mask, standing by the side of the road. This catches the attention of two teenagers driving past. The girl gets out and follows Jed back to the farm where she falls through the floor and then has an engine dropped on her. This girl happens to be Sheriff Hartman’s daughter. Sheriff Hartman vows to Verna that he shall take all of her kids away. So, Jed is sent away, but not Nubbins for some reason.
Next the film cuts to Jed now called Jackson, in a mental hospital. The movie does this thing where they try to keep the audience guessing as to who is Leatherface. It’s Jed. The other characters are Bud a hulking mute, Nurse Lizzie who’s first day it is on the job, and Ike and Clarice who are both sadistic and more or less the same character. Later on Verna Sawyer visits the mental hospital to speak to Dr. Lang the man who runs the hospital. She comes with a court order saying that she can visit Jed. Dr. Lang refuses to let this happen, so sometime later she causes a riot allowing the patients to escape. Ike, Clarice, Bud, Jed, and Lizzie escape in a car. They stop to change clothes.
The next morning Sheriff Hartman comes to view the aftermath. Meanwhile the gang stop at a diner to eat. Jed and Lizzie are both miserable and it’s revealed that Jed, prior to becoming a chainsaw-welding cannibal, was a sensitive man. Ike and Clarice start a gun fight in order to avoid paying for the food. They steal the gun from a patron at the diner, because everyone in Texas has a gun. The group escapes, but Bud is shot in the side. They make their way to a trailer where a man had hanged himself. Lizzie tends to Bud’s wound and the relationship between Jed and Lizzie is further explored.
Sheriff Hartman arrives at the diner to survey the aftermath and finds out from a survivor where the group is going. Later on it’s night at the trailer and Lizzie tries to escape but Ike catches her. He scolds Bud who is on watch, so Bud beats him and drags him away. He does this whilst everyone is gone. He takes Ike to a rock and recreates the infamous curb stomp scene from American History X.
The next morning Clarice is looking for Ike. And Sheriff Hartman is looking for the group and stumbles upon Clarice and shoots her. He then has dogs sent out to find the others. So, Jed, Lizzie, and Bud hide in a dead cow evading the dogs. Later on, Lizzie again tries to escape this time getting hold of a deputy. Jed chases after her, and Bud follows. Bud is killed by the deputy for not following his instructions. Jed beats the deputy to death, Lizzie steals deputy’s car. She drives off with Jackson (Jed) in the passenger seat. Sheriff Hartman is shooting at them. He gets Jackson in the face, tearing both of his cheeks. Lizzie is shot in the arm and crashes the car.
The remainder of the movie takes place at the Sawyer farm. The Sheriff has this plan to kill Jed at the farm. He gets ambushed by the Sawyer family, taken along with Lizzie to their house. He gets sliced up by Jed with a chainsaw. Lizzie escapes during the carnage with Jed, Drayton, and Nubbins chasing after her. She steps in a bear trap and begs for her life when Jed arrives. She has initial success, but she insults Jed’s family causing him to get angry and kill her. The movie ends with Jed making a mask from Hartman and Lizzies’ faces.
This film has a lot going for it. First of all, the acting in this movie is incredible. Everyone does a phenomenal job acting. Sam Strike, Vanessa Grasse, Lili Taylor, and Stephen Dorff all did wonderful jobs with their roles. They convey how their characters feel throughout the whole movie. This movie was more or less straight to DVD, and as anyone who has watched a straight to DVD movie can attest, those movies usually have a less than stellar effort of acting—either overacted or worse, underacted. This movie thankfully doesn’t have that problem. The accents are done well. Having been to Texas multiple times I can attest that the actors do a convincing Texas accent. And most of the actors are British, but you’d never know that. The original Texas Chainsaw Massacre used actors all from Texas. When both films are compared the accents in the prequel are good, maybe a little exaggerated or more of a Southern drawl in some instances but overall a good job.
Second, the gore and blood and effects are well done in this movie. The effects, as far as I can tell, are all practical effects. Hartman’s death scene is horribly brutal and bloody, reminiscent of the second Texas Chainsaw Massacre or something from The Evil Dead franchise. It’s rare for a movie to completely rely on practical effects, usually they’re augmented with CGI blood or are entirely CGI. The latter being the case with many straight to DVD films.
I’m not a cinematographer but I would say that this film is well shot. I don’t see any glaring or obvious mistakes. The soundtrack is alright, not as memorable as the first two films. A standard run of the mill horror soundtrack. Again, not expecting much. The dialogue is also pretty good. It gets the point across and for the most is reasonably well-written.. Another minor thing that I enjoyed is it didn’t feel like it was pandering. Yes, there were some references to the original, but they weren’t in your face or used all the time. For instance, the fourth film, The Next Generation is loaded with tons of references to the original. Thankfully that’s not the case with this one.This film has a lot of good going for it. Watch a straight to DVD movie and compare it this film. Pay attention to the acting and effects it’ll make you appreciate all the effort put into this film. There was actually effort put in this. I just want to praise the acting again. It’s rare for a movie of this caliber to have good acting let alone all the other aspects.
Have you ever wondered how Leatherface became the way he is? Yeah, me neither. Leatherface as character is really simple. He’s a mentally disabled cannibal with a chainsaw. In this movie he’s a normal guy until he gets shot and gets in the car crash. I presume he got brain damage from the crash. That would best explain why he is the way he is in the original movie. Also, Leatherface isn’t the most interesting of characters at least for a whole movie. His family, however are the more interesting characters in the movies. Leatherface is the face of the franchise, but the family is the meat. Each member of his family is memorable and bizarre in their own way. Drayton Sawyer is a cook who has won two chili cook-offs as revealed in the second movie. Nubbins Sawyer is an artist crafting furniture and the like out of human and animal corpses. This movie could have been improved by focusing on Leatherface and his family. Take for instance the reboot that came out in the early to mid-2000s there was a prequel to that one as well. This movie explained Leatherface’s origins, why he wears skin masks, but what makes the makes the film interesting is that it focuses on his family as well, and how they became cannibals. Arguably a more interesting idea than how he went from a sensitive man to a killer.
Another aspect of this movie is that it feels like an unnecessary prequel that doesn’t really add to the franchise and complicates and subtracts from it. Let’s start with the characters and how they are portrayed. The family as a whole is a lot nicer to Jed compared to the first film where they were abusive towards him. In the first film Drayton makes it clear that he doesn’t take any pleasure in killing, in the prequel he kills a deputy and gleefully chases after Lizzie. Nubbins is wild and animated, in this one he’s just kinda there and appears to be missing his birthmark. Also, in the original, Drayton and Nubbins torment one another, here they get along. Verna isn’t in the original. At the Gorman house she mentions that she married someone rich, but she still lives at the Sawyer house. So, maybe she moved away or she’s the corpse next to Grandpa in the original. Also, all the members of the Sawyer family have to go through some extreme physical changes to look like themselves in the original. This film ends in 1965 and the original takes place in 1972. The original begins with a narration saying how it’s based on a true story. It’s not, but it seems believable however if you watch this movie before the original it removes any doubt as to whether or not the original is based on a true story.
The next few bad things are more technical aspects as opposed to the timeline and characters. The first bad technical aspect is relatively minor. As I mentioned in the plot Clarice and Ike have two sex scenes. Both of which add nothing to the plot. The first one isn’t that memorable, I didn’t realize there was a sex scene the first time I watched it, but that second scene that’s something else. Again, as I mentioned Ike and Clarice have sex on/with the corpse they find in the trailer. There’s also a shot of Clarice nude from the front revealing that she is burned. I think the reason that this scene is in the movie is so it’s more edgy and it’ll leave people revolted. This scene has absolutely no bearing to the plot and adds nothing to the movie but edginess, because there’s nothing edgier than necrophilia.
Speaking of Ike and Clarice, I personally cannot stand them. They remind of middle schoolers and bad horror movies from the 2000s. I don’t have a problem with swearing, I watch movies with it, I use it all the time, but these characters swear like middle schoolers just learning the words. I think it’s to give them some edge, but it’s just obnoxious. Clarice and Ike also feel like they’re the same character. They’re both annoying, obnoxious, and sadistic. I just described two different characters with one sentence.
Next is the plot and writing. The plot does have two parts that don’t make sense. I mentioned in the plot section about Hartman saying he would take all of her kids, yet Nubbins still remains with his family. He looks slightly younger than Jed and acts wilder so shouldn’t he be taken as well? The other oddity concerns Hartman as well. In the end Lizzie wakes up in the crashed car which is somehow at the Sawyer farm. Hartman is in the barn with Jed, planning to kill him in a similar manner to how his daughter died. He took a crashed vehicle and went to a farm full of people he knows are killers, people he knows hate him and want to kill him. He does all this with the intent of killing one of them. That’s one of the dumbest decisions in horror.
My Favorite Moment
When I paused it to grab a Coke. Joking aside, the last fifteen or so minutes at the Sawyer farm. It feels like a horror movie. Everything leading up to it was more like shock. It didn’t feel like horror.
Is it really that bad?
Honestly, probably not. It’s my litmus test for awful horror movies, not so bad they’re good but just awful. It has elements working for it, but the plot and name attached to it are what hold it back. This movie clearly has a lot of talent and passion in it. I think if it was detached from Texas Chainsaw Massacre and rewritten as something original then it could shine on its own.
Featured Image: Sam Smith
Ian is a Zoology major also minoring in German. He is fan of horror movies and punk rock. He has also seen an unhealthy number of bad movies.