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Texas Chainsaw Massacre filmmaker David Blue Garcia is well aware of the weight of expectations placed upon him and his new film, which debuted on Netflix Friday. Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a direct sequel to the original 1974 film, with Garcia cutting his own path in the world of horror and leaving gallons upon gallons of the red stuff in his wake.
Garcia admits that despite having seen all the Texas Chainsaw films at one point or another, he doesn’t have an encyclopedic knowledge of the franchise. But it’s that first film, Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) that really captured his imagination and set the tone of what he wanted to achieve with Texas Chainsaw Massacre. As a boy growing up in Texas, Hooper’s film of made its way into his life at an early age.
“My first encounter with the movie was on cable. I was probably 12, 13 years old and as soon as Leatherface showed up I got really freaked out and turned the TV off. I didn’t know what I was watching,” Garcia tells The Hollywood Reporter.
Garcia managed to muster the courage to turn the television back on and the film carved an impression into him. That impression only grew as he became more invested in the film world, learning that not only was The Texas Chain Saw Massacre the stuff of Texas film legend, but was also a respected work championed by auteurs like Stanley Kubrick and Ridley Scott. Hooper hadn’t simply made a film, but an experience, one that is still capturing new generations of fans and filmmakers all these years later.
Garcia, who came up as a cinematographer, broke onto the scene with his first feature, Tejano, a thriller about a desperate Texas farm hand who smuggles cocaine across the Mexican border to save his dying grandfather. The film caught the attention of Legendary and Don’t Breathe filmmaker Fede Alvarez, who sought to bring that Texas spirit to their revival of the iconic slasher franchise. Interestingly enough, Garcia didn’t shoot Texas Chainsaw Massacre in Texas. Instead, the film was shot in Bulgaria, the second entry in the franchise to do so following 2017’s Leatherface, a prequel to Hooper’s original. Garcia admits that he was pleasantly surprised by how malleable Bulgaria proved to be in terms of its ability to bring his home state to life, though he says, “a real Texan will, of course, notice the details that were off.”
If you’re focused on how Bulgaria’s scenic landscape diverges from Texas, something must have gone wrong because there’s plenty else to invest your attention in, including a group of young, idealist, Gen Z types, Lila (Elsie Fisher), Melody (Sarah Yarkin), Dante (Jacob Latimore), and Ruth (Nell Hudson), who are looking to buy up abandoned property in a Texas ghost town, one that just happens to have connections to a family that has become something of a local legend, following an incident 50 years ago.
Older fans of the franchise may groan upon hearing the mention of Gen Z idealists, and Garcia understands that skepticism. But much of their story runs parallel to the hippie teenagers in the original, searching for roots and home in an America that was becoming increasingly divided by the Vietnam War, only to become trespassers themselves and find themselves in the midst of a different, though no less brutal horror. Lila, and her friends are faced with a different kind of war, gun violence in America, a war the led to a school shooting that left Lila scarred and dealing with survivor’s guilt. In many ways, this is Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation, y’know if that title hadn’t already been used for the 1995 Matthew McConaughey and Renée Zellweger staring sequel that left the franchise drying out on a meat hook for eight years.
There is a cycle of violence at play Texas Chainsaw Massacre, one that ties Hooper’s film to Garcia’s together. Leatherface (Mark Burnham), who hasn’t lost a step in fifty years, exists as an almost supernatural manifestation of America’s inability to confront its own violence, and the chain of events leading to it. Despite those apparent themes, Garcia insists that’s not the case.
“It’s not an agenda film. Some people will take criticism with this and say the film is anti-gun, but the film doesn’t take any kind of stance on things,” says Garcia. “But the characters are of our world and they have perspectives that make sense for someone of their generation.”
As for the previous generation? The original final girl, Sally Hardesty is back, with Olwen Fouere stepping in for Marilyn Burns, who passed away in 2014.
Sally, now a local sheriff who has waited fifty years to take her revenge on Leatherface, has no compunctions about bearing arms once the trail of body parts start. The character’s return makes Texas Chainsaw Massacre another fitting entry in the “legacy sequels” canon, recently popularized by David Gordon Green’s Halloween films, and deconstructed in Radio Silence’s Scream, which debuted mere weeks ago. While internet experts were already accusing the new Chainsaw film of stealing Laurie Strode’s (Jamie Lee Curtis) Halloween arc, Sally is utilized very differently here. Garcia compares her role to that of Dick Hallorann in The Shining, in which he comes in to help but isn’t the central focus. Sally, much like Leatherface, is yet another example of the hold of violence and how the violence done and done unto someone can become part of their identity.
Garcia adds several new iconic images to a franchise already chock-full of them. While there are homages to Hooper’s film, the majority of the film’s most striking visuals came from Garcia’s consumption of all types of cinema. When asked about the already social media famous shot of Leatherface popping up in a field of sunflowers, Garcia said it was “happenstance,” the result of location scouting with Burnham in his Leatherface getup.
“I’m always looking for things I wasn’t expecting on set,” Garcia says, citing another memorable shot of Leatherface’s silhouette standing under an archway in the pouring rain that happened merely from having a keen eye for interesting architecture.
Of course, unplanned gems didn’t mitigate the massive amount of planning that went into some sequences, such as the “Leatherface on the bus” scene that’s not only a standout in the franchise but might end up being one of the best horror sequences of the year.
“It was such a pain in the ass, but it was so much fun,” Garcia says about shooting that sequence. “We shot the bus scene over three to four different days during the production, and it was very hard to get in the middle of the pandemic. We had a lot of rules because it was a really tight space with a lot of people. Sometimes I would have to clear the set so that they could go in and air it out and sterilize it for safety reasons.”
While sterilizing is probably the last thing audiences think of when considering the franchise, it was all in effort to provide as much carnage as possible.
“We were using we’re using a lot of practical blood in there so when we got to the blood stuff I would get one take, but I had a team of guys hidden throughout the scene spraying blood all over,” says Garcia. “At the end of those takes the floor would be covered in blood and it would be too dangerous to film again if it’s too slippery so we had to clear the bus and mop up all the blood so that we could reset and do it again. I think in the end it was worth it.”
So, is this confrontation between Sally and Leatherface after 50 years the endpoint for the Texas Chainsaw franchise? Not if Garcia has his say.
“I’ve actually brainstormed quite a bit about what would happen in a continuation of this story, or just another tale in this world. I have some really cool ideas that I’d love to have the opportunity to pitch if Legendary wants to make another one,” says Garcia. “There’re also things when I watched this movie that I look back on and I wish I had done, so I’ve got those in my back pocket if I get to do another one. And of course, there’s that teaser at the end of the film, so there’s definitely a future to explore.”
Given all the twists and turns the franchise has been through this far, it feels like a safe bet that the massacre will continue, leaving us to ask, once again, “who will survive and what will be left of them?”
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