Is Texas Chainsaw Massacre Mean-Spirited or Just Plain Dumb?

Leatherface in Netflix Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Texas Chainsaw Massacre – Thanks, I Hate It

With Fede Alvarez producing I should have realized Texas Chainsaw Massacre would border on transgressive in some category, and with it being a Texas Chainsaw sequel, I feel a little idiotic I didn’t expect it to be with the violence. Combine those together and you have a scene so chaotic and so grotesque it becomes borderline depressing. I could feel it in my chest. The hopelessness and sadness of witnessing mindless death.

This experience is the exact opposite of what I got from a PG: Psycho Goreman, Frankenstein’s Army, or Dead Alive. Funnily enough, all three of those movies individually have more violence and gore than Texas Chainsaw Massacre yet never crossed the line of repulsion. In fact, Dead Alive has the most gore I’ve ever seen in a movie (with Frankenstein’s Army a close second) and I laughed near constantly that entire film. Peter Jackson hits it out of the park! Meanwhile, Fede Alvarez’s work with the horror genre, both with Evil Dead (2013) and Don’t Breathe, show a talent for using extreme violence and viscera without it feeling nonsensical. They never felt obtuse, hateful, or nasty. I mean, sure, they’re nasty, but not mean. They’re fun!

I think that’s where Texas Chainsaw Massacre fails. It’s humorless. From a school-shooting subplot that joins a myriad of “timely” zoomer aesthetics to clear attempts at unsuccessful humor (self-driving car separating two characters in a dire situation), I never quite laughed. Well, alright, that’s not entirely true. I did laugh at the first kill. It was so absurd and so silly and so warranted that I cheered. But after that, I realized I wasn’t humored, and I wasn’t scared. Most of the movie runs at a decent pace what-with that 88-minute runtime but I never got all that frightened. One scene had me hold my breath with a character so props to that but, again, I was never really frightened.

Sally Hardesty in Netflix Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Amazing cinematography and an excellent tone do not a good movie make.

I think I wanted to have a fun, frightful time with Texas Chainsaw Massacre because I find the first film so dear to my heart. Yes, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre’s commentary on vegetarianism and the meat industry is quintessential to its theme and motivation for existing, but I connected most intrinsically with its depiction of care among living beings. The disparity between how the group of friends treat one another, including their disabled, and how the family of cannibals treats one another, including their disabled yet again, has such a warmth and depth to it. In other words, the movie is filled with fear and mayhem, but it never devalues creation or humanity within it. That no doubt sounds absurd to non-horror fans, but I know my fellow fans of horror understand. Often, what makes horror work so wonderfully is the genre’s understanding of what’s sacred and valuable. Of all genres, horror seems to regularly put them to the test. It’s why horror franchises like Candyman and Halloween stick around for so long. Horror has the opportunity to tackle topics in stark ways that other genres can only dream of.

In The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Sally undergoes an awakening of life. By having her life threatened, she no doubt will recognize the intrinsic value behind life. Maybe that value will produce joy. Or maybe she will live a life of misery and fear because the joy of life is incompatible with the terror she experiences at the hands of cannibals. Even so, the incompatibility only exists if there is a truth to life itself having value. And, thus, so begins the horror of the movie. That anyone could kill life in the first place brings its own terror.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre doesn’t see value in life. That’s why we can have such horrific violence feel so inhumane and grotesque. It doesn’t understand human characters. It doesn’t understand motivation. It doesn’t understand what makes horror fun as a genre, or violence exciting as a plot device. Its characters are incomplete, leaving me wanting to learn more before they die, but not leaving out enough to make their deaths inconsequential. It’s pure, absolute nonsense. Life isn’t valuable anymore. Nothing is sacred. Eat, drink, and be happy.

Sarah Yarkin, Elsie Fisher, Jacob Latimore, and Nell Hudson in
It’s a confounding film that frustratingly leaves audiences confused and irritated.

But if this is what brings happiness, then I’m not so sure whomever is consuming it is alive in the first place. Maybe consider it a personal attack. At least, a temporary one. Because maybe Texas Chainsaw Massacre will lose its flavor. I hope it would. There isn’t any joy to the fun of filmmaking here. No personality other than the one described above. And, most criminally, the movie isn’t fun. If a movie wants to be about something else, then commit to it fully, or at least be fun.

Elsie Fisher innocent. Was glad to watch her perform outside of some voice work and her lead in a more frightening film (Eighth Grade). Really enjoyed the soundtrack despite it contributing to the humorless nature of the film. And I felt the film was shot reasonably well with some decent visuals (occasionally). Otherwise, toss it in the trash.

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Melvin Benson Cinematic Doctrine Christian Movie Podcast Host

Melvin Benson is the Founder, Editor-In-Chief, and Lead Host of Cinematic Doctrine. He’s written fiction and nonfiction for over a decade with short stories featured on the Creepypasta Wiki and Wattpad. His novelette Ethereal Temptation, a teen drama with a tinge of magical-realism, can be read for free here. His hope is to see King Jesus glorified as far as the east is from the west!

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