Between the borderline relentless number of sequels, prequels, reboots, remakes and spin-offs to Tobe Hooper’s original slasher classic, the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise is pretty much a totally dead horse by this point. Anything that promises a fresh take on the old legend has almost certainly been done before, and whilst cult French directing duo Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury are new faces on the American horror circuit, what they’ve produced here very definitely isn’t.

Attempting to carefully slot itself in amongst the insanely messy existing timelines (if you’re counting, Leatherface exists only alongside the original TCM, and 2013’s much maligned Texas Chainsaw 3D), this latest origin spin on the famed cannibal killer takes things all the way back to the 50s. Part period prison break drama, part standard new horror prequel, the meat of the story here comes from a group of a teenage criminals who escape a mental hospital with a nurse as hostage. Slaying their way across the Texan desert, chased by a vengeful sheriff (Stephen Dorff), it’s clear that one of the four will grow into the much maligned Leatherface himself – but the bigger question remains, which one?

The mystery element here, although surprising at first, does indeed add some much needed flavour to the otherwise fairly standard killings. Bustillo and Maury cite Rob Zombie as an influence and the shades of both his Halloween remake, and his grim slasher The Devil’s Rejects shine through brightest here. It’s an ultra grimy affair that at times feels nasty just for the sake of it, but the French duo stay true to their word and the film as a whole very clearly takes the horror bull by the horns. Fans looking for more of Bustillo and Maury’s trademark extremities will no doubt get a kick out of the large majority of this one, but those looking for a deeper tie to the Texas Chainsaw world will almost definitely leave disappointed.

The TCM tie-ins here are limited largely to bookends that never really feel like they have much overall impact. More simply, it’s a decent story that’s been shaped into a Leatherface prequel without much real connection to the source material. There’s a chainsaw, a backwards family (given a much greater presence thanks to a killer turn from Lili Taylor) and of course the great state of Texas, but despite promising more emotional and psychological depth to one of the genre’s most legendary villains, in the end we don’t really get that much here. 

In fact, the bigger TCM fans out there (much like the die hard Halloween followers before them) will likely point out that they don’t actually want to know what lies behind the famed Leatherface mask anyway. The mystery is what made him such an effective force in the first place. So not only is this prequel attempting to deliver something fans of the series don’t necessarily want, it doesn’t really do what it promises particularly well either. One for completists for sure, but on the whole Leatherface is too detached for TCM fans, and too extreme for the wider public.

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