Young Leatherface: THE SAWYER MASSACRE (Steve Merlo, 2022)

This full-length feature was released on YouTube on 21 October 2022. It is a “fan film” – you’ve heard of fan fiction, where people like Fannibals extend the stories they love into new avenues (often erotic ones). Well, this team made a whole tribute movie to the cannibalism classic, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (TCSM) came out almost fifty years ago, and was named by Total Film as number one of the fifty greatest horror movies of all time, as well as being the one that began the boom in slasher movies.

The Sawyer Massacre is the brainchild of Steve Merlo, a Canadian Musician from Kelowna British Columbia, who also wrote the score. Merlo described the original TCSM as “the first film to truly give him nightmares”. He financed the production through crowd-funding site Indiegogo, and somehow produced a film at least as well made and arguably better written and acted than the other sequels and reboots that have come out in the past several decades.

Presented as a prequel to the original TCSM, the film is set during the Vietnam War, as America fed half a million young soldiers into a futile conflict, thousands of whom did not come home alive. The pointless violence of that war and the battles between young counter-culture demonstrators and Establishment law enforcement is reflected in the gore that this film so generously doles out. The original TCSM was set in the Nixon years as the “silent majority” was taking control, the hippie dream having died at Altamont, in the streets of Chicago and on the campus of Kent State. This is a prequel, so it’s set a bit earlier – LBJ is in the White House and America still thinks its invincible military can defeat the Viet Cong. The young people who blunder into the wilds of Texas are not looking for gravestones as in the original movie, they are looking for themselves, seeking enlightenment and adventure. Jimmy has gone away with his friends to seek redemption for a family tragedy for which he blames himself, another family is looking for a camping site where they can get away from it all, and they certainly do. They inevitably end up on the point of the same knives, meat-hooks, and chainsaws as in the original. Some things remain constant, regardless of politics. And of course, movies like this always start off with a decrepit, run-down gas station.

If you’re not familiar with the TCSM, there is a review at this site, but basically it involves a lot of young city folks blundering in to an inhospitable part of Texas, where a family of killers, formerly abattoir workers, now ply their trade by slaughtering passing visitors and selling their meat to other tourists. In other words, they have done what business coaches always tell us to do – they have diversified. They are still killing animals for food, but now a different species – Homo sapiens. The original film did not go much into explanations, but the characters are there – Leatherface, the hitchhiker, even grandpa, who is rather more sprightly in this version.

In fact, the characterisation is far better in this one than the original, in which few characters lived long enough to have a back-story. And this Leatherface, with his range of masks for any occasion (including, shall we say, love interest) is much more a real person, showing not just the expected psychotic rage but fear, disappointment and even lust.

I’m trying to avoid any spoilers because the film is meant to be seen – it is available on YouTube in its entirety. If you loved the original TCSM, I think you’ll love this one too – for a film made on a tiny budget, it feels well made – the cinematography, direction, scenery, special effects, even the acting (which was pretty woeful in some of the sequels) is spot on. The feeling of claustrophobia inside the house is palpable and dials up the suspense – watching the film requires some restraint to avoid yelling at the victims to get the hell out of there – in that sense, it’s like the old pantomimes. The film also works well as a prequel – it feels like you could finish it, have a strong drink, and move straight into watching the original TCSM without losing any continuity, a tribute to the esteem in which the director holds the original.

 Steve Merlo also has a YouTube session in which he comments on the making of the film and explains some of the questions you may have, but [spoiler alert] don’t watch it until you’ve seen the movie at least once.

The full movie is currently available to watch at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a-GssBcG5fk