Leatherface is back to slay in first look at buzzy new Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Director Fede Álvarez won over countless genre fans with his 2013 film Evil Dead, a reboot of the beloved horror series. Now he and his writing partner Rodo Sayagues will try to repeat that trick with another famously terrifying franchise. Audiences can decide whether the pair have succeeded on Feb. 18 when Netflix premieres Texas Chainsaw Massacre, a sequel to filmmaker Tobe Hooper's 1974 horror classic, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, about a pack of hippies being picked off by a family of cannibals in the wilds of the Lone Star State.
"It felt familiar somehow because it took us back to when I did Evil Dead," says Álvarez, who also directed 2016's Don't Breathe and 2018's The Girl in the Spider's Web. "Me and Rodo really wanted to make sure we don't disappoint the fans, and we are [among them]. So it's pretty hardcore. But at the same time it has the simplicity of that first film. We wanted to come up with a very simple premise [with] a powerful domino effect. Everything is set up in the right place — all you have to do is push the first domino and everything will happen effortlessly."
Texas Chainsaw Massacre is directed by David Blue Garcia and written by Chris Thomas Devlin while its producers include Kim Henkel, who co-wrote the first movie with Hooper. The new Bulgaria-shot film stars Sarah Yarkin, Elsie Fisher, Nell Hudson, and Jacob Latimore as a group of friends who make the mistake of traveling too far away from the big city.
As Yarkin explains, "Me and my business partner Dante [played by Latimore] are these young hip people that come to this ghost town in Texas and try to get other people to come there and make it the next hip place to be. Our fatal flaw is that we ignore the history that came before us."
"The film takes place a long time after the original Texas Chainsaw," says Eighth Grade star Fisher, who plays Lila, the sister of Yarkin's character, Melody. "It's about a group of people who come to this town and things don't quite go as planned. It mixes a lot of important real-life issues with horror themes, which is always something I love."
Says Álvarez, "I think the first movie really hit a nerve when portraying that culture clash between the countryside and the city. Back in the '70s, the hippies were representing the youth of the city. This time, they're more like millennial hipsters from Austin who are very entrepreneurial and have a dream of getting away from the city and back to the countryside. They're trying to gentrify small-town America — and let's just say they encounter some pushback."
Some of that pushback will likely come from Leatherface, the franchise's iconic, chainsaw-wielding, masked killer who was introduced to terrifying effect in Hooper's original film.
"It's basically the same character, who is still alive," says Álvarez. "Our take on it was this guy probably disappeared after everything he's done. You know, how do you catch a guy who has a mask? Once he removes the mask and runs away, it's very easy for him to hide somewhere. This story will pick it up many, many years after the original story. He's been in hiding for a long, long time, trying to be a good person. These people arriving in this town are going to awaken the giant."
Álvarez cast Mark Burnham (Lowlife) as Leatherface, the role played in Hooper's film by the late Gunnar Hansen.
"It was quite a search," says Álvarez. "Gunnar Hansen passed away. If Gunnar had been alive, I'm pretty sure he would have played [the part], so we were trying to find someone that could have been Gunnar today. We tried to find the best next thing. When [Burnham] showed up, we definitely felt like, 'This is the guy.' He had all the physicality we needed from him on camera. He has such an imposing figure."
The latest movie is the eighth in the franchise since the hugely successful and influential first film. Hooper himself directed 1986's darkly comedic Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, while the 2003 Jessica Biel–starring remake earned an impressive $29 million its opening weekend. But in recent times, the Leatherface Cinematic Universe has fallen into a state of disrepair. The 2013 sequel Texas Chainsaw 3D made an underwhelming $21 million at the U.S. box office, while the 2017 prequel Leatherface caused nary a pop culture ripple when it hit theaters.
Like director David Gordon Green's 2018 hit Halloween, the new Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a direct sequel to 1974's first film, but Álvarez hesitates to say the movie ignores the other entries in the series.
"When I say 'direct sequel' I wouldn't say it skips everything," he explains. "When movies do that, sometimes it feels a bit disrespectful to all the other films. Some people love Texas Chainsaw 2. I love a lot of things about that movie — it's so wacky and of its time. But the rest is such a mess canon-wise. I think it's up to you to decide when and how the events of the other movies happen."
When Álvarez and Sayagues set to work dreaming up the story for their Legendary Pictures–produced sequel, the pair hoped to inspire in viewers the same shock and dread the director felt when he first saw Hooper's original as a kid.
"You're 12, 13 and suddenly discover this thing called horror, right?" says the filmmaker. "It's always been this nightmarish thing, my experience of watching that movie. Like the original Evil Dead — as a kid, it's not that you enjoy it and go, 'Oh my god, let's watch it again.' It's so strong and traumatizing on so many levels, and it stays with you for f---ing ever, and that's what I think great horror movies should do. That's always my goal as a writer, and now as a producer: to make sure I make something that will stay with someone for a long, long time."
The experience of watching Texas Chain Saw will surely stick with Yarkin. The actress had not seen Hooper's movie when she was cast in the new film and decided to check it out in the name of research.
"I am scared of everything," says Yarkin. "I got scared watching Legally Blonde as a kid. I went, 'I'm not going to sit through this movie unless I get this role.' [Laughs] And then I got the role and I was like, 'Oh my god, I have to watch this movie. It was nighttime and I was like, 'I think it's time. I have to start learning what I'm doing to go shoot this.'"
She continues, "It sets a tone I haven't seen in a lot of other movies. It feels not studio-made; it feels like an indie. I watched it, and it was dark, and it was just me and my dog, and I was just covering my face with my blanket. That was a mistake. It is truly so horrifying."
Production began in the summer of 2020 with Northern Irish directors and first-time filmmakers Andy and Ryan Tohill initially at the helm of the shoot in Bulgaria. Then, on August 2020, Deadline reported that they had exited the project because of "creative differences."
"They were great," says Álvarez of the directors. "It was just going in a different direction. Me and the studio were not seeing it that way, and unfortunately we had to change."
The Tohills were replaced by the Austin-based Garcia.
"I had been in talks with Legendary about a different movie, and they were familiar with my first movie, Tejano, which means 'Texan' in Spanish," says Garcia. "I made it on a micro-budget and shot it in South Texas, where I was born and raised."
Garcia adds that the action-thriller, about a young man smuggling drugs for a local cartel, offers the sort of "raw grittiness" Texas Chainsaw needed, recalling his own indelible experience watching the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre as a youth.
"I remember it vividly," he says. "I was in high school, and it was playing on cable. When Leatherface first appeared in the film, I was so shocked I turned off the TV, and then I had to turn it back on and watch it because I had to continue seeing this story that was so crazy. There was something about the first film that felt so raw, so real, almost like a documentary of something that could have actually happened."
Within days of accepting his new assignment, Garcia was on a plane headed to Bulgaria. "We started shooting not long after that," he says. "The original was really low-budget, and they were sort of flying by the seat of their pants and coming up with the shots every day. This was a very similar project for me, and it gives this film quite an energy."
Garcia also recalls that Álvarez wanted to channel the spirit of the first movie by using practical effects whenever possible.
"Fede hammered, 'Practical, practical, practical,'" says the director. "He was really adamant about capturing as much in camera as possible, and that's something we strove to achieve on set. It takes discipline and a bit more time and patience, but it really pays off in the end."
The shoot for the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre was a famously grueling affair; Yarkin admits she had similarly tough days shooting.
"It was really hard, to be honest," says the actress. "I'm grateful for everything I learned and the opportunity, of course. [But] it was day after day of me and Elsie in pretty crazy physical [situations] in the elements. A lot of blood, rain. We're freezing, we're wet, we're sticky, over and over. [There were] days of me crawling in whatever and just being covered in more crap and then being [told], 'Okay, now, cry!' You're like, 'What?' I joke that after this I'm going to do a movie where I'm staying in sweats on a couch with tea and blankets."
Says Garcia, "It's a horror movie, so you have a few daytime scenes, and those are the weeks when everyone is bright and cheery. Then you switch to nights at some point and things change. You're shooting in the elements — you have a big rain machine and mud, and we're getting really dirty. I'm really a hands-on director, so I'm always either near the camera or operating the camera, to be close to the actors. There were times when I'd walk into the hotel after a day of shooting and be covered head to toe in blood. The night manager was shocked at first, but he just got used to it."
If those bloody efforts pay off, Álvarez reveals he would be up for overseeing a sequel, though he doesn't want to jump the gun (or chainsaw).
"I would never want to be too specific," he says. "Any thoughts are kind of a spoiler. But I'm sure if there's a chance to make another one, we'll be ready."
Texas Chainsaw Massacre premieres Feb. 18 on Netflix. See the exclusive first-look images above.
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