Warning: Here be spoilers.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise is best described as a mess. There is the beloved 1974 classic directed by the late Tobe Hooper. This was followed by two direct sequels, Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2, and Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 3. In the 1990's Kim Henkel, the writer of the first TCM, got a bug up his ass about where the franchise was going. Cue Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation. A movie that is a sequel to the original film, and ignores parts 2 and 3 to the point it even dismisses them in the opening monologue for the film. Following this, the franchise was picked up by Platinum Dunes for a remake treatment. After the remake, they pumped out a prequel Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning. Then a few years back, the franchise was picked up by Lions Gate, where horror franchises go to languish in mediocrity. They put out Texas Chainsaw 3-D, which ignored the remakes, and all the sequels of the original film and acts as a direct sequel.
Although it was an awful film that, for some reason, thought an elderly Leatherface in his sixties would be scary. However, did make a decent amount of money, which brings us to Leatherface. This film was supposed to be a prequel to the original film and explains the origins of the franchises titular character, again. Apparently, Leatherface is the Batman of horror movies, as we constantly need to revisit his origins, I guess. The film started production in 2015, but Lion's Gate shelved it until 2017. It was only released theatrically in foreign markets and made available in North America via streaming services. The budget is not known (at the time of this writing) but the film made a piddly 887k in the box office. It was also filmed in Bulgaria because it was probably cheaper to shoot the movie there than to actually film the movie in Texas.
Right off the top, things don't look very good for this movie, especially since it has just been announced that Lion's Gate lost the rights for the TCM franchise.
The movie starts in the year 1955 with a chainsaw themed birthday party for the Sawyer family, complete with begging victim and pork filled birthday cake. After the elder Sawyers murder the sheriff's daughter, their children are taken away. We then cut ahead a decade where we get to vaguely know a bunch of patients in a mental institution. When the Sawyer's mother tries to get one of her children back it causes a riot, and wouldn't you know it, a bunch of the troubled people escape. There's a complete psycho, his equally psychotic beau, the fat dumpy one (obviously) named Bud, the good-hearted Jackson, and his nurse/love interest Lizzy.
They go on the run, and ultimately, one of them slowly transforms and becomes Leatherface. The big reveal, as we like to say on the internet, will shock you, and only real fans would know, or whatever.
The Worst Red Herring Movie Ever
The movie tries to keep you guessing which character ends up becoming Leatherface by setting up some red herrings. The most obvious one is Bud, Jackson's friend. Who is naturally, big, bulky, with long matted hair, and is kind of dumb. The type of person who looks like Leatherface without the human skin masks and pretty make-up. Then you have Ike, the scrawn psychopath who kills basically everyone who gets in his way.
But, surprise, it's Jackson. Jackson is Leatherface. I'm saying this right out because the set up for the big reveal is so glaringly bad it becomes incredibly obvious if you don't suffer from a solvent addiction.
Where this movie fails in its reveal is the fact that they work so hard on making Jackson being a likable and sympathetic character, and completely within his mental facilities, that it becomes obvious they are going to do a bait and switch. However, when they finally begin the huge transformation from nice guy to deformed lunatic it's such a sudden transformation that it is not only jarring but unbelievable.
What sets ol' Jackson off? When his friend Bud is fatally shot by the cops. Suddenly, Jackson completely loses his mind and kills the cop. A character that had nothing in the way of violent tendencies throughout the whole movie, now suddenly becomes a psychotic killer? He just watched as Ike and Clarice murdered people left-right-and-center, he watched the sheriff shoot Clarice in the head, he even tried to hide out in a cows corpse Hoth style, yet his friend getting shot in the head suddenly makes him snap? Upset sure, but a movie long pacifist suddenly becoming a psycho-killer at the drop of a hat is incredibly far-fetched. Also since we spent over an hour of the film's runtime up to this point they rush through the entire "transformation". He's scarred by a bullet, gets his face stitched together, and tah-dah now he's Leatherface. It is the most underwhelming reveal and transformation I've ever seen in a horror movie.
Lots of Old Hats Going Around In This One
The other problem with this movie is that the plot is not really all that original. First and foremost, let's talk about the primary plot contrivance: Who really is really Leatherface? It's the tired "separated from the family"/"no idea I'm related to bad people" story that was the trope in that was done in Halloween II, Nightmare on Elm St 6, Jason Goes to Hell, and other horror films. You know the one: Someone important to the plot doesn't know they're related to the killers, or something to that effect. Suddenly, tah-dah, this seemingly oblivious person becomes integral to the plot.
Rob Zombie Lite
Also, the movie is almost like watching Devil's Rejects in reverse. In that, it starts off as a gritty police chase drama and goes into wackadoo horror movie incest murder family. While Devil's Rejects is a phenomenal film, Leatherface doesn't come anywhere near being entertaining, let alone being in the same category as Rob Zombie's masterpiece.The movie spends the majority of its runtime trying to be a gritty on-the-run type movie to the point where they rush to the big transformation at the end. I don't know what the writer was thinking, but I'm here to watch a Texas Chainsaw Massacre film, this movie is more like someone cut the end of a fugitive drama and replaced it with an awful TCM fan film that was found on YouTube. While I'll admit that the special effects in this movie are pretty decent, there's no art to it. It's just there to be gross or excessively graphic. Oh, and let's not forget the two lunatics fucking on a dead body. There is so much here that is imitating Zombie's filmmaking esthetic it's almost pathetic.
I suppose the one thing you could say about this movie, unlike Texas Chainsaw 3-D, is the fact that they actually put some time and energy in making sure that the film seemed like it was taking place in a different era. Proper cars, proper attire. I suppose that's also why they filmed in Bulgaria? Who knows. All I'm saying is that, unlike the previous installments, you could suspend your disbelief enough to accept that the movie takes place in 1965.
There is one huge glaring issue, and the main reason I even mention it is that it should be been the most obvious one. The prop they used for the chainsaw in the scene taking place in 1955. Here's the chainsaw they were using in the film:
Which looks real pretty, but that's not a 50's style chainsaw, this is:
I understand that this movie isn't exactly Back to the Future, but you'd think they'd at least get the design of the chainsaw fit the era in which they are trying to depict.
Well other than all the horrible things I've listed above, it is yet another in a long line of Texas Chainsaw Massacre films that there isn't actually a massacre with chainsaws. By which, I mean, none of the films in the series has an actual chainsaw massacre. Yes there are chainsaws, yes some people get killed by a chainsaw, but there is never really a chainsaw massacre. If you want a chainsaw massacre, you watch the Evil Dead movies because you won't find those in the movies with a chainsaw in the title.
This movie is like the final gasp of a franchise on its last legs. It's time to put it to bed and let to rest long enough for someone competent enough to make a new one. Also, to the future archeologists who find this review in the dead wastes of the "Old Internet" looking for ideas to make into your new-fangled three-dimensional hologram sex murder movies and want to take on the TCM franchise allow me to give you some advice: Stop reinventing the wheel. The original TCM came out in 1974. What made it the movie it was is the fact that it comes out in the time period it had come out. Instead of trying to recapture that feeling, try doing something original with the character. Just like Batman or Spider-Man, we don't need another origin story for a guy with a skin mask and chainsaw. We already know the story. Write a new interesting story that hasn't been told before, then we'll talk.