“Texas Chainsaw Massacre” — not to be confused with “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” (1972) or “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (2003) — is the ninth film in the nearly 50-year-old “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” series. It’s also at least the fourth “Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2,” and at least the third “Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2” that ignores all the other sequels.
Canon? What’s canon? Canon got shot out of a cannon, and into some chain saws. Or, as this franchise sometimes likes to spell them, “chainsaws.”
All you need to know going into David Blue Garcia’s latest installment is that way back in the 1970s, a group of young travelers took a pitstop at the Sawyer family residence, and all but one of them were brutally murdered by that family of cannibals. The only surviving victim, Sally Hardesty (Olwen Fouéré, “Mandy”), became a Texas Ranger who hunted elusive serial killer Leatherface (Mark Burnham, “Ultrasound”) for decades, but dang it, she never found the guy. She’ll be important later.
Now, in the world of the film, the so-called “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” has become the stuff of tacky merchandise and true-crime documentaries, and the most interesting thing going on in Harlow, Texas, is an upcoming real-estate bonanza. Young entrepreneurs Melody (Sarah Yarkin, “Happy Death Day 2 U”) and Dante (Jacob Latimore, “The Chi”) have bought up every building in town, and they’re selling the storefronts at cushy prices to wealthy out-of-town urbanites who’ve all caravanned into the ghost town on a posh party bus, because apparently that’s a thing. That’s a thing that people do.
Sharing the audience’s healthy scorn are Melody’s sister Lila (Elsie Fisher, “Eighth Grade”) and the handsome local contractor Richter (Moe Dunford, “Nightride”). Lila recently survived a horrific school shooting, and Richter doesn’t take kindly to out-of-town folk who don’t take kindly. He also owns a lot of guns, which will also be important later.
And what will definitely be important later is one massive oversight: This ghost town’s still got people in it. An old lady named Mrs. Mc (Alice Krige, “Gretel and Hansel”) is pretty sure she still owns the deed to her mysterious and creepy orphanage, which has only one old, gigantic, and horrifying orphan left, whose name — as you can probably guess — rhymes with “Pleatherface.”
One unfortunate altercation later, and Leatherface is left all alone without the only person who, apparently, knew how to keep him from mass-murdering everybody in the world with a chainsaw. When Leatherface falls off the wagon, he falls hard, and the remainder of Garcia’s “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” sequel is little more than a running kill count as this iconic villain rips apart every single human being he can find.
Tobe Hooper’s original “Texas Chain Saw Massacre” retains its phenomenal power as a result of its stark realism, which gradually gives way to a shocking nightmare. Hooper’s original 1986 sequel tore all that seriousness away in favor of an over-the-top chainsaw-duelling bullet train to hell, with meat on the menu. Ever since, the films in this franchise seem to have waffled between absurdist gory camp and oppressively violent nihilism. Most of the movies in the “Texas Chainsaw” series have at least some fans, but very few feel like they take place in the same universe.
With this new film, David Blue Garcia (“Tejano”) — working from a functional but unremarkable screenplay by Chris Thomas Devlin (“Cobweb”), based on a story by Fede Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues (“Don’t Breathe”) — has no lofty ambitions. It’s an old-fashioned slasher, with Leatherface as the masked killer. There’s only enough set-up to explain why he’s killing everybody, and only enough characterization to help the audience keep track of who Leatherface is killing and who he hasn’t got to yet.
To some, a film with undeveloped themes, thin characters, and superficial gore might seem like a bad thing. To connoisseurs of the slasher genre, it’s all part of a well-balanced breakfast. “Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s” narrative efficiency and tight 81-minute running time make it an ideal delivery system for creative kills and memorable gore. The editing by Christopher S. Capp (“Honeymoon”) keeps the plot humming along so quickly you don’t have time to be annoyed by how shallow it is, and the film never lingers so long on its superficial characters that they become a detriment to the production.
Garcia’s film is nothing more, and nothing less, than an excuse to let Leatherface cut loose without pretense. And once he does, this movie is a scream. Watching Mark Burnham chase after a victim in the crawlspace under the house using his chainsaw like an upside-down “Jaws” fin is a vicious treat. A scene where he skips his roaring chainsaw along the ground like a shuffleboard champion is uproarious. And when he walks onto a party bus packed full of fresh meat, Garcia clearly knows that this is the film’s ultraviolent slasher centerpiece, and he absolutely delivers on all that gory promise. As violent slasher-movie set-pieces go, that bus is an instant classic.
“Texas Chainsaw Massacre” lacks the artistic inspiration of Hooper’s original, and it never matches the intensity of Hooper’s vomit-inducing grindhouse rollercoaster follow-up. There will probably always be fans of Marcus Nispel’s cosmically bleak remake, and we are perhaps only just now finally appreciating the kitschy wildness of Kim Henkel’s “The Next Generation.” But this is a solid and satisfying addition to the series, head and shoulders above the worst “Texas Chainsaws.” If nothing else, it’s the best “Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2” since the original “Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2.”
“Texas Chainsaw Massacre” premieres on Netflix Feb. 18.