Leather Face (2017)
Directed by: Alexandre Bustillo, Julien Maury | 88 minutes | horror, thriller | Actors: Stephen Dorff, Lili Taylor, Sam Strike, Vanessa Grasse, Finn Jones, Sam Coleman, Jessica Madsen, James Bloor, Christopher Adamson, Dimo Alexiev, Nathan Cooper, Dejan Angelov, Boris Kabakchiev, Lorina Kamburova, Hristo Milev, Simona Williams, Venelina Ghyaurova
Leatherface is without a doubt one of the best known and most notorious movie psychopaths in cinema history. The ghoul walking around in a human-skin mask and roaring chainsaw was first seen in Tobe Hooper’s ‘The Texas Chain Saw Massacre’, a terrifying, brooding, raw, intense, sick, sensory-overpowering and at times transcendental horror masterpiece that was released in 1974. an apple and an egg was made. That film about murderous and flesh-hungry hillbillies is a shocking viewing experience even now. Rarely has hysterical madness been portrayed so aptly, minimalistically and nauseatingly. The original relies mainly on suggestion, primordial feelings of fear and psychological terror and not so much on the plastic portrayal of explicit violence.
The franchise has expanded over the years with remakes, sequels, and prequels. The quality of those movies varies quite a bit. There are both decent productions (the 2003 remake with Jessica Biel in the lead role) and absolute misses (‘The Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre’) among that pile of releases. ‘Leatherface’ is a so-called origins movie and shows how the monster Leatherface is born. In the first scene we meet Jed, the youngest member of the Sawyer family, led by the sardonic matriarch Verna (nice role played by Lili Taylor). As a gift he gets to torture to death with a chainsaw a man who has stolen one of the family pigs. But the non-violent Jed refuses. Following a sequence that lays the groundwork for the additional storyline of a vengeful sheriff who hunts down the murderous Sawyers, the film jumps forward to Jed’s teenage years. The boy, who now goes by the name Jackson, is in an asylum for difficult to educate young people, a hellish place where the sadistic doctor Lang holds sway. The main focus is on the relationship between Jed and his friend Bud, a somewhat clumsy, barely speaking boy who is nothing like the charming, friendly and even gentle-appearing Jed. When Verna visits the asylum and demands her son back, the situation spirals out of control. A veritable uprising ensues, with Bud and Jed fleeing along with two other youths and a nurse.
The story mainly serves as a vehicle for a colorful array of atrocities and explicit bloodshed. It is striking that often showy borrowing is played from other films. Hiding in an animal carcass, a disfigured necrophilia scene, or someone getting a skull-shattering kick to the head with their jaws open on the floor; where have we seen that before? The question is also sometimes raised whether there is still something good in people who have grown up in a thoroughly rotten environment. But that ethical dilemma seems to be secondary in ‘Leatherface’ to the stringing together of shocking images.
For all that bloodshed, ‘Leatherface’ lacks the rawness, mystery, suspense and psychological impact of the original that underpins the Chainsaw franchise. What makes Leatherface so terrifying in that film, and to a lesser extent in the 2003 remake, is that he is a completely inaccessible and savage figure who is a reflection of faceless evil. It is a nameless psychopath who cannot be talked to or negotiated with, a person who commits shocking atrocities without anyone knowing the motives for it. By providing such a character with a clear background and humanizing the nameless horror, Leatherface as a movie villain ultimately becomes a lot less terrifying and effective. The same pattern can be seen in Rob Zombie’s Halloween remakes, although the discrepancy between John Carpenter’s Michael Myers and Zombie’s is even greater. Legendary horror author HP Lovecraft knew it long ago: “The fear of the unknown is the oldest and strongest form of fear.” Ultimately, the path to depravity outlined in ‘Leatherface’ is therefore very predictable and not very uplifting, partly because the monster is stripped of its mask.
What remains in the end is a somewhat weak version of the original franchise material. A film that is richly infused with splatter and shock moments, but lacks the intelligence, suspense, atmosphere, subtlety and subcutaneous rawness to rise above the horror mediocrity.