There’s really only one requirement for a Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie: Unsuspecting Horror-Movie Targets need to get massacred with a chainsaw, preferably in Texas. So when director David Blue Garcia stepped in to make a new installment of the franchise, producer Fede Álvarez — a certifiable maestro of mayhem after directing 2013’s Evil Dead and 2016’s Don’t Breathe — made the priorities clear.
“Audiences expect more, they want to get wowed, they want to be shocked,” Garcia tells Polygon. “Fede taught me to get creative with the kills, and use more blood than you think you need to. If you didn’t get it, right, reset, even if it takes an hour, then shoot it again, because that’s the stuff that people are coming to see.”
Garcia is quick to note that the violence in Netflix’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre — a direct sequel to Tobe Hooper’s original 1974 movie, much like 2018’s Halloween directly follows the 1978 original — is “not violence for violence sake.” Inspired by the way Hooper’s anti-Vietnam-war rage blossomed into the grungy slasher-movie milestone, Garcia’s film deals in social commentary even as Leatherface disembowels his victims. But unlike the original, it isn’t allegory. The 2022 Texas Chainsaw Massacre directly grapples with gun violence in America and the trauma of school shootings. Between scenes of intense splatter violence, Garcia threads scenes of intense real-life violence.
In the sequel, two Instagram-brained chefs, Melody (Sarah Yarkin) and Dante (Jacob Latimore), descend upon a Texas ghost town with hopes of revitalizing it into a haven for avocado toast. But the locals aren’t keen on Austinites invading their lives on the fringe — especially a burly man who enjoys wearing human-skin masks. So sparks fly. Garcia calls the ensuing gore “cathartic,” suggesting “as humans, we just want to see something that we fear.”
But the director also punctuates the horror-fantasy with flashbacks to a deadly shooting that nearly killed Melody’s little sister, Lila (Elie Fisher). As one of the few survivors, the incident sent Lila off the rails of her ideal life, leaving her to ride backseat on Melody’s harebrained schemes — including the terraforming of a small Texas town. So when Lila crosses paths with the gruff Richter (Moe Dunford), the gruff local mechanic, she’s both intrigued by someone outside her bubble and sent spiraling by the rifle he keeps by his side.
It’s a heavy detour for a movie with a kill quota, but for Garcia, a lifelong Texan who moved from a small border town to Austin nearly 20 years ago, it’s true to the inherent conflict of his state. While the 2022 movie lines up with lore from the first Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and even brings back Leatherface survivor Sally Hardesty, this time played by Olwen Fouéré, the creative team really hoped to honor Hooper’s vision by making “a contemporary story to its time.” That meant being frank about Texas gun culture and the new American norm, where high schools are as dangerous as abandoned ghost towns populated by horror icons. The new Texas Chainsaw Massacre has a school-shooting survivor as a character because of the strong possibility that a twentysomething in 2022 has faced a school-shooting scenario, or come close enough for comfort.
“I didn’t really want to comment on Texas in any way, but what was in the script is true,” Garcia says. “There are guys like that, who drive around casually with assault rifles and pistols on their hips. I know them. So the characters in this film might be anti-gun, and for good reason — all of Lila’s friends were killed by a gun in a school shooting, and it makes sense that they’re anti-gun. But I don’t know if they’re all anti-gun for very long when there’s a homicidal maniac with a chainsaw running after them. That’s one of the interesting parts of the movie: She kind of has to use the gun if it’s there. So it’s very nuanced. It’s complicated.”
Garcia, whose previous work includes the Texas-border-themed indie action film Tejano, says he didn’t want Texas Chainsaw Massacre to make “a statement” on any of the political issues on the table. He’s seen too much of Texas life to draw hard lines on the subject of guns. “I grew up in a place that was kind of like Richter, a smaller town, a lot of country people, people shooting deer out of their trucks on the way home from school, that kind of stuff. But I’ve lived in Austin for 20 years. So I kind of know both sides of it.” So much so that he’s “kind of like the Richter of Austin” when it comes to the changing landscape of the bustling city. He can see every shade of purple in his sprawling, unique state.
Garcia’s Texan background gave him the clarity to see the hints of social commentary as character joints. When he joined Álvarez and screenwriter Chris Thomas Devlin on the project, he says he saw Lila less as a stand-in for the gun debate, and more as a character who was reliving her worst nightmare. “She’s now faced with an even more traumatic event with Leatherface,” he says. “And she has to decide whether this time she’s going to run again, and run from her fear, or if she’s going to stand and fight.”
Adding more tension to the scenario is the way Texas Chainsaw Massacre devotes time to Leatherface’s perspective in the gentrifying conflict. Garcia recalls many conversations between himself, Álvarez, and Kim Henkel, the screenwriter of the 1974 movie, who serves as a producer on the new film. They spent some time considering how much the audience should understand about the killer’s situation. Ultimately, “it was important that we don’t humanize him too much,” Garcia says. “Because he is a monster, and we need him to be monstrous. But that does happen. We do sympathize with them. We sympathize with the villain, and the reason why he’s going on a rampage in this film.” The filmmaker himself says he’s anxious to see how it all plays for an audience.
In the end, Garcia’s main priority — even on top of seeding Big Ideas and massacring Unsuspecting Horror Movie Targets with a chainsaw in Texas — was to make something Tobe Hooper would applaud. He wanted to channel Texas Chain Saw Massacre while making a new one. So he kept his blinders on to pretty much everything that wasn’t related to Leatherface.
“I watched the original right before I made this,” he says. “Those are the last images that went in my head. So I like to think that it sort of cleaned my palate and made it a pure thing. It just passed through me into a new form.”
Texas Chainsaw Massacre debuts on Netflix on Feb. 18