By MICHAEL GINGOLD
Every decade since the release of Tobe Hooper’s THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE back in 1974 has seen a new screen take on Leatherface and his signature weapon, and the latest premieres on Netflix this Friday, February 18. RUE MORGUE got an exclusive chat with director David Blue Garcia on this latest TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE.
Scripted by Chris Thomas Devlin from a story by DON’T BREATHE’s Fede Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues (part of a producing team that also includes original scripter Kim Henkel), TEXAS CHAINSAW ’22 stars Sarah Yarkin and Elsie Fisher (EIGHTH GRADE, CASTLE ROCK) as sisters Melody and Lila, part of a group of young friends who travel to the ghost town of Harlow, Texas with an aim toward commercially reviving it. Unfortunately, there’s one resident who’s big and bloodthirsty and doesn’t appreciate the visitors; as he breaks out the chainsaw again, only his former would-be victim Sally Hardesty (Olwen Fouéré) may be able to help them survive. Garcia, a cinematographer with credits including 2018’s BLOOD FEST who made his directorial debut with the award-winning crime drama TEJANO, jumped into TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE when previous directors Andy and Ryan Tohill didn’t work out, and here discusses his approach to the classic franchise.
As you’re from Texas yourself, how did you bring that background to the movie, especially given that it was shot in Bulgaria?
I mean, Texas is all I know. I grew up in South Texas, and I’ve lived in Austin for 20 years and still live there, so many images of Texas are ingrained in my mind. So when I went to Bulgaria, which is kind of like the Texas of Eastern Europe, once I got out of the city and into the countryside, there were big landscapes, a lot of agriculture, so I was able to frame it to meet my Texas standards. Our production design and art team built us this beautiful Texas town in the middle of Bulgaria; was like walking into a small town outside of Austin.
Were you a big fan of the original TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE before you got this project?
I was terrified of the original before I got this project! I first watched it when I was in middle school; I turned on the TV late at night, the movie was playing, Leatherface came on screen and scared the shit out of me. I turned off the TV, waited, and was like, “I’ve got to finish this.” So I turned it back on and saw the rest. But I didn’t watch it again for like, a decade after that, I was so scared. I did revisit it a couple of times before I made this film, to make sure that the original was the last movie I’d seen before I shot mine.
The TEXAS CHAINSAW franchise is unique in that it has kind of been reimagined with each succeeding film, so what particular approach did you want to bring to this movie?
Actually, I wasn’t looking so much for a new approach, but to honor the original quite a bit. And I think we did. You know, the first movie is quite colorful, quite saturated, it’s got a lot of interesting camera movement, so the DP [Ricardo Diaz] and I talked about making our film “elevated grindhouse.” We wanted it to look really good, but also kind of grindhouse-type gritty, with a lot of handheld camera. We didn’t want it all to look perfect; we wanted there to be imperfections, and we used vintage anamorphic lenses that flared, like something from the ’70s would. We had a lot of fun playing, trying to degrade the image a little bit, in camera and also in post.
The other thing I wanted to bring to the film was levity. If you rewatch the first movie, and certainly the second one by Tobe Hooper, there’s a lot of dark comedy in them. You’ve got to look for it, because you remember the gruesome parts and the very shocking parts, but there’s a lot of humor, so I wanted to bring that back.
Speaking of the gruesome parts, this TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE is quite a bit gorier than the original. Were you taking advantage of the fact that nowadays, you can get away with a lot more?
Absolutely. I think the threshold for gore back in the ’70s was a lot lower, and now, horror audiences have seen so much, so it’s hard to shock them and surprise them. It was Fede Alvarez’s instruction to always go for more. I actually had a producer on the set, Shintaro Shimosawa, who I called “the blood director.” I would say, “OK, bring in the blood director and get him to approve the shot.” And he’d come in and look at it, and he’d go, “More blood, more blood.” And that’s how we did it [laughs]. It was a lot of fun to have that assignment and look for creative ways to do kills and really gross people out.
You came onto TEXAS CHAINSAW at the last minute, so did you have much time to make adjustments and make the project your own, or did you just have to dive right in?
It was a little bit of both. I didn’t have a whole lot of time, but there were a lot of changes that we did make–to the sets, to some of the wardrobe, even to the script. For instance, when I came on, the bus sequence had no mention of cell phones or anything like that, and one of the first things I added was the moment where everyone in the bus raises their cell phones and starts livestreaming Leatherface as he walks on, because this is what I know to be true. There are so many videos on-line of people in grave danger, from bear attack or avalanche or whatever, and they don’t stop filming. So I wanted to get that in there as a little commentary on our culture, and a bit of levity to kind of cleanse the palate before one of the movie’s bloodiest scenes. Also, just a little shout-out to Shin Shimosawa; he’s the guy who says, “Try anything and you’re cancelled, bro.”
That was probably my favorite moment, and the whole bus scene is pretty intense, so can you talk about the logistics of shooting all that mayhem in such an enclosed space?
That was very difficult, especially in COVID times. For safety, we had to clear the bus every 30 minutes to an hour, to ventilate it and sterilize it, so sometimes I’d get only one or two takes with all those extras before I had to stop and wait for the cleansing. The other difficult part was, once we got into the mayhem, I had a bunch of guys with blood cannons and hoses hidden throughout the bus, just spraying buckets of blood into the air nonstop. By the end of those takes, there’d be so much blood all over the walls, and the floor would be about half an inch of it. I’d have to, again, evacuate the bus, bring in a bunch of mops and clean it up so people weren’t slipping and falling. It was wild.
TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE deals with issues like school shootings and the Confederate flag; how important were those to you in making the movie?
Those social issues were there from the get-go, and not something I brought to the film, but I believe they’re important, because we needed to make a contemporary film that took place in our world, with the issues of today. The film is really about how hard it is to shake the past, and about culture clash and gentrification and the things that happen when people from the big city go to the country, and there are different views of what the Confederate flag means. That’s what starts the movie off, and knocks over that first domino.
Given that you weren’t involved with the casting, how was it working with your actors?
I was really surprised–well, I wasn’t surprised at all. It was a great cast, they all clicked, and they were hanging out on set, singing and dancing and having a good time, and it felt like a group of friends by the time I arrived. It was a real pleasure working with all of them. Some of the TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE movies have bred Renee Zellweger, Matthew McConaughey, Viggo Mortensen, so I hope we’ve discovered stars like those in this cast as well.
Elsie Fisher is already a rising star, so how was it working with her?
Elsie is so amazing. She’s super-easy, would try anything, had great ideas. There was one time when she and I really synced up. It’s a moment where Lila puts on a cowboy hat from another character. I had that idea, and wanted to tell her to do it, but I was embarrassed or something and was going to tell her on the next take. And she came up to me and was like, “Well, what if I put on that hat?” And I was like, “Yes, thank you! I don’t have to say it, this was your idea. This is so much better.”
How about Olwen Fouéré, who plays Sally Hardesty? How was it getting her into the mindset of that iconic role?
Olwen was just a breeze to work with. She has a gravitas and a true presence, and one of those strong faces that you can just frame up with the camera, and it says everything the character needs. She can play dark, she can play brooding; she was nervous at first about the gun, but we gave her probably a week’s worth of training about how to brandish it, and all this gun safety, so she was fun.
And Leatherface actor Mark Burnham?
Mark was great. The first time I saw him, he was just standing in a doorway, and I turned around and was shocked, because he was already wearing the mask. They were trying to show me the mask, and I just saw this giant guy, his head hitting the top of the door and the mask staring down at me, and I was like, “Oh my God, am I going to die?” And then I saw the Diet Coke with a straw in his hand, and I was OK. Mark had so many awesome ideas, and I’d like to say that it’s very hard to perform from behind a mask like that, and he was really able to bring something to the character, and honored Gunnar Hansen’s performance in the first film.
There had been some prior discussion that this film was going to present “Old Leatherface,” though he moves around pretty well in the final film, so was that something that got changed along the way?
I wouldn’t say so. In a way, he is “Old Leatherface,” in the sense that he does get tired. We have a scene where he’s just exhausted; he can’t move and he can’t breathe, and he’s just over it. His younger version wouldn’t have had that scene; he would’ve kept going. You know, I grew up in Texas around a lot of farmers, and some of these guys are in their 70s and 80s, still working every day on the farm–doing physical labor, not just managerial work. So I’ve seen these old guys who can move just like young guys, and could lay you out in a fight if they wanted to, so honestly, I’m not worried about Leatherface in this film. The way he moves makes complete sense to me. If you lived in the country and just ate farm-to-table, I’m sure you’d be in that kind of shape too.
Should there be another TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, would you want to come back for it?
Yeah; that’s always on the table, and I have a lot of ideas that didn’t get used in this film, or things I thought of too late. So I’d love to come back for another and try out some of those.
Do you have plans to do more horror films in the future?
Yeah; I just finished the first draft of my next feature, a sci-fi/horror film that deals with issues of immigration, but in a really fun way.