Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022)
Directed by David Blue Garcia
Screenplay by Chris Thomas Devlin
Starring Sarah Yarkin, Elsie Fisher, Mark Burnham, Jacob Latimore, Moe Dunford, Olwen Fouere, Jessica Allain, Nell Hudson, & Alice Krige.
★★★★ (out of ★★★★★)
If anybody thinks there are too many political and social issues in the latest Texas Chainsaw Massacre, one has to wonder if they actually watched Tobe Hooper’s original, in which the energy crisis was all but literally spelled out in the screenplay, a film undeniably haunted by the, at the time, still ongoing Vietnam War. Not only that, Leatherface has been read critically, for a few decades, as a queered character whose presence in 1974’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and a socioeconomically deprived family consisting only of men, challenges the patriarchal vision of a nuclear family under a capitalist system. Nearly all the films in the Texas Chainsaw franchise contain social, economic, and political issues. For those who feel this newest film is a product of so-called ‘woke’ ideology it might be best to look at the critical writing on Hooper’s film and how, since its release, it’s been regarded as an important socioeconomic/political horror film.
One of the greatest things about this newest instalment of Texas Chainsaw Massacre is that it treads new ground by bringing Leatherface into a contemporary story, rather than keeping him stuck in decades passed, while simultaneously echoing Hooper’s film in the most important ways by keeping the story focused on socioeconomic issues, as well as on Leatherface’s queered identity. Leatherface’s story in this sequel is a tale of queered identity, though this time it’s more about a return of the repressed in various ways. He’s caught in a web of contemporary issues when a group of young capitalists come to his hideaway in Harlow, Texas hoping to create a hipster paradise, but their mistreatment of his new home leads to Leatherface’s past and present collapsing in on each other, resulting in bloody mayhem.
A central element in Texas Chainsaw Massacre is the group of young “gentrifuckers” coming to Harlow so they can ‘revitalise’ the town, and the fact these young bourgeois land owners are actually villains in the grand scheme of things. This socioeconomic focus follows suit with the first film when we view Tobe Hooper’s film from the perspective that Sally Hardesty and her friends invaded Leatherface’s family’s home and Leatherface was simply defending his family property from outsiders. In the original film, the young folks in their van weren’t coming into Leatherface’s home in order to destroy it in any way, yet in this new 2022 Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the young folks in their vehicle are, in a sense, coming to destroy Leatherface’s home, even if they don’t know it, because they’re coming to gentrify the small town of Harlow without concern for anybody left behind.
Readings of the film, and assumptions about the characters, say more about those doing the reading than the film itself. Richter is automatically perceived by many as racist because of his “invasive species,” though it’s only him talking literally about feral hogs and responding to the general air of assumption happening surrounding Texans and guns. The line is bait for those who want to see covert racism. Because the main group of characters are half POC, many are inclined to see them as sympathetic. But they’re immediately prejudiced against Texas and making assumptions about the South, referring to revving truck engines as a “Texas mating ritual” and other snide remarks. And that’s before the young capitalists cause the death of an old woman they’re trying to evict.
Lots of critics were sceptical of the film’s supposed gun message, in that many seem to assume the film is Second Amendment-friendly due to Lila being a survivor of a school shooting who later takes up a gun to protect herself. What they seem to be missing, and is staring them right in the face, is that though Lila picks up a gun it doesn’t help her in the end whatsoever, considering Leatherface survives her gun attack and murders her last surviving ally. If there’s any real message in this Texas Chainsaw Massacre when it comes to guns it’s that even if you think a gun will save you in your time of dire need, it likely won’t; it certainly didn’t help Richter the gun-toting Texan, either.
“If you run, he’ll never stop haunting you.”
During an important scene, Leatherface puts on a bit of makeup belonging to his surrogate mother, Mrs. MC. Part of this emotional moment is that he’s grieving the loss of that surrogate mother figure. A bigger, more important part of this moment is Leatherface being haunted by a loss of his own queered identity. He was once able to foster that queered identity in a more inconspicuous way when he was living in his original home, cut off from Texas society. But when he came to Harlow he had to hide everything, from murderous tendencies to his masks and his queered identity. Mrs. MC represents a safe haven for Leatherface; she knew of the chainsaw, so she surely knew about his masks and thus, inadvertently or not, his queered identity, too. Also, in the original film Leatherface did not have a female influence or caretaker to protect him from the patriarchal, capitalist whims of his all-male family, so it’s safe to say he likely felt a level of comfort with Mrs. MC that he’d never felt before. We also see that, regardless of how long has passed, Leatherface is still inclined to wear masks of any gender later when he murders one of the young women then skins her face off and holds the new mask up proudly. In this new film, as opposed to the original, Leatherface’s expressions of gender face brand new social obstacles.
In the new Texas Chainsaw Massacre, there’s no room for queers who don’t conform. In the original, though Leatherface’s family treated him poorly they never once questioned, or particularly made fun of, the way he represented gender identity via various masks of different genders; this time around in the new sequel, it’s Leatherface as a poor rural queer whose family values don’t align with those of contemporary city folks. The way Leatherface plays a rural queer out of line with contemporary values is tied into his surrogate mother’s Confederate flag, and how sometimes the willingness to condemn doesn’t leave any room for interpretation.
Does Mrs. MC having a Confederate flag passed down through the family make her automatically a horrible racist who ought to be tossed out of her home into the streets, or someone who deserves to have a heart attack and die on the spot? No.
Again, Leatherface is the shunned queer figure whose home has been invaded, this time arguably to a greater degree, and because the home he’s chosen doesn’t fit with the contemporary values of bourgeois city folk gentrifying his town, it’s effectively destroyed, leading to a return of the repressed—Leatherface’s repressed gender identity and murderous tendencies—that destroys everything.
In spite of Leatherface’s queered identity only coming up briefly in the visuals of this Texas Chainsaw Massacre, everything still revolves around that identity because of how he had to conceal it after leaving his original home, and when his surrogate mother is killed, his entire world crumbles because she was the only one with whom his queered identity was safe. She helped Leatherface conceal his true identity, out of necessity, from the world, just like the allies and confidantes of queer folk who know their real queer identities but keep them secret from the rest of the world.
The destruction of Leatherface’s home is a threat to his concealed queer identity, and that threat comes about because of the bourgeois attack on his rural home. The planned gentrification of Harlow facilitates that threat to Leatherface’s queered identity. And so Leatherface’s retaliation against those who invade Harlow, as well as his home, becomes a form of queer rebellion against bourgeois forces conspiring to destroy the working class. It’s not an easy reading to accept, just like in readings of Hooper’s film where we attempt to see Leatherface as a victim rather than just another slasher killer. The fact remains, the film presents the logic that Leatherface has not been killing since his move to Harlow, further suggesting that Leatherface is actually a queer defender, only murdering to survive or in retaliation against home invaders.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a truly Queer Gothic horror film because of how the repressed returns to swallow everyone and everything whole. Uncanny imagery constantly takes us back to the original, or reflects that returning repressed in Leatherface’s life, from Leatherface putting on human skin again for the first time presumably in about 50 years, to Sally keeping a picture from the van in the original, to Leatherface swinging around wildly at the end but this time along with a decapitated head. It’s also no coincidence the filmmakers send Leatherface home in the short mid-credits scene, and Leatherface returns to a place that allowed his queered identity to flourish. This time Leatherface is returning to a home all his own, where nobody else but him is in charge of his identity, where he can be man or woman of the house as he sees fit, so the next chapter in his life might prove to be the queerest of all.