Wednesday, December 20, 2017

LEATHERFACE (2017) (Blu-ray Review)

Label: Lionsgate
Region Code: A
Duration: 88 Minutes
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (2.35:1) 
Audio: English DTS-HD MA Surround 5.1 with Optional English, Spanish, English SDH Subtitles 
Director: Julien Maury, Alexandre Bustillo
Cast: Lili Taylor, Stephen Dorf  

Synopsis: In Texas, years before the events of the Texas Chain Saw Massacre, in the early days of the infamous Sawyer family, the youngest child is sentenced to a mental hospital after a suspicious incident leaves the sheriff’s daughter dead.  Ten years later, he kidnaps a young nurse and escapes with three other inmates.  Pursued by authorities, including the deranged sheriff out to avenge his daughter’s death, the Sawyer teen goes on a violent road trip from hell, molding him into the monster now known as Leatherface.

The TCM franchise has a long a sordid history of iffy sequels that failed to live up to the gruesome legacy of the first film, I think it's one of the most wildly uneven franchises in the horror genre, and while I absolutely love Hooper's '86 black comedy sequel it still pales in comparison. What came after that was only more and more a case of diminishing returns, and in this age of prequels, requels and origin stories it was only a matter of time until a  Leatherface origin story happened, I'm actually surprised it took as long as it did to finally arrive. When I first heard tell of this movie I was pleased to hear that French directing duo Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo were helming it, they having arrived on the new wave of French horror cinema with Inside (2006), which they flowed up with Livid (2011), both are phenomenal, so I felt it had a fighting chance despite not feeling the need for a Leatherface origin story. The feel-good feeling waned slightly when the film debuted on DirectTV VOD followed by an anemic number of cinema screenings before being arriving on home video, but I went into this one with some blind faith just based on the filmmakers. It's also be interesting to note that in regard to this movie the filmmakers only consider three movies in the TCM franchise to be canon, the original, this prequel, and Texas Chainsaw 3D. 

The film opens on the Sawyer farm where matriarch Vera Sayer (Lili Taylor, High Fidelity) is gathered with her brood to celebrate the birthday of her youngest son, Jedidiah (Boris Kabakchiev), along with his older sibling, the maniacal Drayton (Dimo Alexiev), the dim-witted Nubbins (Dejan Angelov), and Grandpa Sawyer (Eduard Parsehyan). On this special occasion they gift young Jed with a chainsaw (of course), which he is then asked to use on a man bound and gagged at the dinner table, someone accused of stealing pigs from the farm. His refusal to dismember the man is upsetting to the rest of the clan and gramps kills the offender with a sledgehammer to the skull. Sometime later Jed is playing on the side of the road wearing a pig carcass and cow's head which catches the attention of a local couple driving by in a truck, Jed lures the young woman from the truck to a barn on the Sawyer property where she is killed by Jed's older brothers, who drop a large engine block on top of her, it's a damn decent kill. 

Turns out that the young woman was the daughter of the local lawman Sheriff Hartman (Stephen Dorff, The Gate) who when unable to prove that it was murder and not an accident sends Verna's youngest son Jed to Gorman House Youth Reformatory in retaliation, a mental home for the criminally insane. In a bit of sloppy storytelling we move ahead ten years, Jed has had his name changed by the reformatory, which I suppose is supposed to be some sort of mystery but I didn't find it all that hard to figure out who Jed was at the asylum. 

There's a new nurse on duty at the asylum, the pretty Lizzy (Vanessa Grasse), who shows much more compassion to the inmates than the asylum's director, the diabolical Doctor Lang (Christopher Adamson) whom regularly fries the kids brains with unnecessary electro-shock  therapy. Verna shows up wanting to visit her son with a court order in hand, she having apparently married into money at some point, but the director still refuses to allow it, causing Vera to sneak into the ward and cause a riot while looking for her son, who she cannot recognize. As the riot ensues nurse Lizzy is nearly violated but saved by a patient named Jackson (Sam strike), as the asylum goes up in flames during the riot Jackson escapes with Lizzy and his large mute-ish friend Bud (Sam Coleman), all three are picked up by a pair of violent inmate-lovers in a stolen car, Clarice (Jessica Madsen) and Ike (James Bloor), who are the Mickey and Mallory of the story, which turns into a violent road movie along the lines of The Devil's Rejects (2005) and Natural Born Killers (1994). 

I liked the opening scenes of the Sawyer clan, I was less enthused about the asylum/road trip part of it, which I felt strayed a bit too far from what a TCM prequel should be, they swing for the fences for sure, and I applaud that, but it just didn't feel like TCM. While on the run there are fracture within the group, there are differing opinions about to what to do with the nurse, and there's a diner scene that of course gets violent and gory, including a waitress having her head shot at point blank range, though we don't see the head-shot there's a nice geyser of blood as her head is obliterated off camera. I think the part that irked me the most about this part was the nurse's reluctance to make a full on run for freedom from the group at various points, but then drawing attention of the cops when she knows that they're killers. As a non-TCM entry I would have liked this part of the film more, but the whole Bonnie and Clyde style crazed-couple we get with Ike and Clarice is sort of fun, but at the end of the day doesn't add up to much as far as story. In an odd Nekromantik-esque detour the couple engage in a macabre threesome with a dead body they discover in an abandoned trailer out in the woods, the sex scenes revealing the scarred/burned body of Clarice. 

Coming into the third act we get mad-cop Sheriff Hartman on the trail of the escaped loonies, he's straight out of Rob Zombie's  Devils Rejects playbook, aping Sheriff John Quincey Wydell who is just as bad if not worse than those he is perusing, not above stone-cold killing the unarmed teens in retaliation for his daughter's death. Dorff is nicely demented and scummy in the role, he's really developed a name for himself these past few years as an unlikable characters in low-budget horror movies.

The film comes to a close revealing who the real Jed is, if that was ever even a real question, but I have friends who were "blown away" when it was revealed, but like I said, I never once gave it a second thought. The turn from more or less decent guy to the mute and violent Leatherface we know and love comes real sudden, with a magic bullet that rivals the one that killed Kennedy as far as how much damage one bullet can do to a man, both physically and mentally. There's a nice stitching up of the face and we see the iconic skin-mask being made, even giving a nod to why he applies make-up to the damn thing, which I though was a nice touch.

I didn't love this movie, but I enjoyed it, it starts and finished off strong but the middle part was such a Girl Interrupted/Natural Born Killers riff I found it distracting. There's plenty of blood and gore here, it earns the R-rating, but I was a bit disappointing that it pulls away from the grue at times, particular during the waitress's shotgun blast to the face and during a late-entry curb stomp on a tree stump, but there's still plenty of the red stuff, including some good chainsaw dismemberment.   
Audio/Video: Leatherface (2017) arrives on Blu-ray and Digital HD from Lionsgate on 1080p HD framed in 2.35:1 widescreen, looking crisp and sharp, the colors are muted with a sepia tone desaturated look. There are no issues with artifacting or video abberations I could detect, a very nice looking digitally-shot image. 

Audio on the disc comes by way of a lossless DTS-HD MA Surround 5.1 option with optional English subtitles. The surround presentation is very good with some nice use of the surrounds, but overall not over-active. Everything sounds crisp and well-balanced, I found the score from composer John B. Frizzell to be non-intrusive and thoroughly unremarkable, it definitely didn't stand out in any sort of way. 

Onto the extras we get the option to watch the film with tan alternate ending. There are also 21-minutes of deleted scenes which include that alternate ending, plus an alternate opening and four deleted scenes. There's also a 13-minute making of featurette. This single-disc Blu-ray release comes in a standard Blu-ray keepcase with a one-sided sleeve of artwork with a slipcover (o-card) featuring the same artwork, the disc itself featuring an image of the chainsaw.  Inside there's an insert with a Ultraviolet Digital HD redemption code.  

Special Features: 
- “Behind the Bloody Mask: Making Leatherface” Featurette (3 min) HD 
- Deleted Scenes (21 min) HD 
- Alternate Opening
- “Betty”
- “Clothes”
- “The Pit”
- “Trailer Confession”
- Alternate Ending

Much like Halloween's Michael Myers I never thought that Leatherface was a character that needed a back story, I appreciated the  mystique, but to my surprise I didn't loathe Leatherface (2017), it was a good watch. It starts off strong but the middle third was a bit of a slog, coming off as Girl Interrupted by way of Natural Born Killers, with the scummy trailer-trash patina of Rob Zombie's The Devil's Rejects, but it finishes strong in the final third when we get to the actual Leatherface stuff. All in all it doesn't feel like a TCM franchise entry, an maybe considering some of the later entries that might not be all that bad. If I had to place this in order of the other TCM entries it would come in fifth after The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre(2003), Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3 (1990), and followed by Texas Chainsaw 3D (2013), Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (2006), Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1994), putting it in fifth place out of eight. 

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