Origin stories have become a popular trend in the world of horror. With so many memorable villains and psychopaths, it’s no wonder why fans have become obsessed with finding out about what event flipped that character’s internal switch, to become such a grotesque and vile monster. Leatherface is no exception to this desire, and more than one attempt at showcasing his horrific upbringing has been made.
Upon first being introduced to Tobe Hooper’s 1974 masterpiece, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, viewers were captivated by the actions of the Sawyer family, and the franchise has spawned three sequels, two remakes, and two origin stories. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre:The Beginning, released in 2006, and Leatherface, released in 2017, display two completely different stories and styles for our introduction to the homicidal mad man and his deranged family.
Intended as a prequel to the 2003 remake starring Jessica Biel and R. Lee Ermey, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre:The Beginning opens with a slaughterhouse employee giving birth to a mutated infant, before dying on the work floor from labor complications. The child is then thrown aside like a piece of garbage, literally, before being adopted by a scavenger searching for food.
After developing an unknown skin disorder, Thomas is raised by the Hewitt family to work in a meat packing facility. Once the plant is condemned and ordered to close down however, he doesn’t understand that he must stop working. One ill advised insult too many from the head foreman, and Thomas surges into a fit of rage, bludgeoning the man to death with a tenderizing mallet, and claiming his first victim in a long spree of carnage.
The thing that works so well for this origin story, besides R. Lee Ermey’s performance as the tormenting Sheriff Hoyt, is its sheer simplicity. A deformed mute, with a cannibalistic family, who has only ever known how to slaughter and package animals, finds a chainsaw and brutalizes anyone his family tells him to… doesn’t seem that far-fetched. The writers also pay homage to the original by putting an emphasis on the family, and not just Leatherface.
Fans of the 2003 remake appreciate the details throughout; like showing how Monty loses his legs and winds up in a wheelchair, Thomas’s first mask worn to cover his facial disfigurement, or how Uncle Charlie came to be the self proclaimed local law enforcement.
Overall, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning delivers a unique perspective into what drove Thomas Hewitt to become the murderous chainsaw slayer, while still giving fans the gore and thrills they’ve come to expect from the franchise. The same may not be said for the second, and more recent, origin story, Leatherface.
Directed by French duo Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury, the pair decided to take a different approach, showing Leatherface as both a young boy and a teenaged mental
patient. Aside from a few well-acted scenes from Lili Taylor as Verna, mother to the soon to be Leatherface, the horrific nature of the family is absent throughout the majority of the film. After escaping during a wild riot at the local mental hospital, four patients and a nurse are on the run from the vengeful sheriff Hal, played by Stephen Dorff.
While the idea of Leatherface being an escaped mental patient might sound good on paper, the end result lacks a certain grit and griminess to it that a slaughterhouse employee fills more substantially. Throughout a large portion of the film, the viewer is left guessing as to which character actually turns out to be the deadly killer. It’s only within the final few scenes that we find out who is elected to become the monster, and how he came to adorn the iconic mask (that was considerably underwhelming and resembled something of a leather bondage piece).
The main issue many fans had, without giving too much away, is the dramatic change the character went through in such a short amount of time- from being very vocal and seemingly compassionate and intelligent, to suddenly becoming mute and losing all sense of a conscience in a matter of minutes. Add that to a few unrealistic scenes that seemed to serve no purpose other than to deliver what little gore and shock value there is (like three young adults all fitting inside of a dead carcass to hide from the police; or a random act of necrophilia during an unnecessary sex scene), and you have the makings of an origin story that falls short of its ambitious attempt to showcase a horror icon in a new and modern light.
Whether you want them or not, prequels and sequels will continue to re-imagine, reinvent, and often times downright embarrass some of our most beloved killers, psychos, and miscreants. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning and Leatherface are two examples of what can go well, and not so well within an origin story. At the end of the day, if neither of these prequels works for you, watch Tobe Hooper’s original and see what kind of origin your own mind creates for the chainsaw wielding maniac.