It can be impressive how much mileage certain slasher sequels get, you don’t need much, a couple of inventive kills, and you’ve got a franchise lasting decades with little variation. As evidenced with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, despite large gaps between releases, V.H.S sales helped keep the dread alive. They couldn’t stop after the success of the first two films, even if Tobe Hooper couldn’t return to the helm. In 1990, the infamous killer made a reappearance on the cinema screen with a modern return to its slasher potential in Leatherface.
In Leatherface, (the 90s version) we follow Michelle and Ryan, a young couple who has been having relationship issues and are taking one last trip together before separating. After a grisly encounter at a secluded Texan gas station, the duo flee down a secluded back road, happening on the home of the Sawyers, when their car breaks down, they also meet a variety of faces. As cannibalistic intentions run further than just skin deep, who can you trust in the back routes of Texas?
The film is a standalone affair, which means less of a strong callback to the original two, apart from a blink, and you’ll miss it cameo from a certain character from 2. Most of the action is pretty self-contained. Despite this, efforts to evoke the original are numerous, especially in the first 20 minutes. Observant viewers are treated to crushed armadillos, and the ghastly discovery of corpses does a lot to recall the iconic shots of the 70s classic. Much akin to the Night of the Living Dead remake of the same year, a lot of the action takes place out of the house, amongst the dark blanket of night. Contrasted with the original, it’s a good choice, while still returning to the house of terror when needed.
Ol’ Leatherface has had a bit of a redesign to once again reflect the era, ditching the killer threads (pun intended) for a muddier shirt and tie. But enough about old characters, the film introduces some new blood, to the franchise and the Sawyer family. Viggo Mortensen also makes one of his earliest appearances as an ever-sadistic fresh entry on the family tree. The composition of the Sawyer clan has also had a bit of a shake-up too. Most notably, the absence of Chop-Top and the inclusion of a matron-like Mama and other relations crawling out of the woodwork. Leatherface even potentially has a child, continuing the carnage for future generations. Yet, Grandpa is there, of course, looking even worse for wear and defying all medical logic.
After the hilarious and horrifying second entry almost six years ago, Leatherface takes the safer, but time-worn path of a conventional slasher. It feels more in line with the sequel that two would have turned into without the invention or intervention of Hooper. Whether this is a good thing or not will depend on how you like your horror films, but both approaches keep things interesting enough to honour the ideas of the original. While the first film might seem like a quaint memory, the classic terror still evokes shudders almost 20 years on, and a new mask can’t hide the success of the old-fashioned chainsaw.
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