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Review: Well-made pulp ‘Leatherface’ delves into the ‘Chain Saw’ back story

Stephen Dorff in a scene from the movie “Leatherface .”
Stephen Dorff in the movie “Leatherface .”
(Simon Varsano / Lionsgate)

Like a lot of long-running horror franchises, “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” series has become a tangle of rehashes and reboots — mostly dire and uninspired. So gore-hounds should be happy to hear that the new film “Leatherface” is the best “Chain Saw” movie that doesn’t have “Directed by Tobe Hooper” in the credits.

A prequel to 2013’s surprisingly scary “Texas Chainsaw 3D” — itself a welcome attempt to get back to the original Hooper films’ mythology — “Leatherface” is more complex than it has to be, combining old-fashioned splatter with a dusty Texas true-crime story about insane asylum inmates on the run.

French filmmakers Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo (best known for 2007’s grisly fan-favorite “Inside”), bring real vision to Seth M. Sherwood’s script, making an arty meditation on a legacy of wickedness. They get indelible performances from indie film stalwarts Lili Taylor (playing the stubborn matriarch of the murderous Sawyer clan) and Stephen Dorff (as a Texas Ranger with a blood vendetta against that family).

The plot of “Leatherface” explains the origin of the iconic skin-mask-wearing maniac, with surprise twists along the way. But it also explores a long-running back-country feud and the innocents who keep getting caught in the crossfire.

“Leatherface” is well-made pulp, not a masterpiece like Hooper’s original. But given what this character means to horror history — and how badly he’s been treated — any upgrade’s a gift.

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‘Leatherface’

Rating: R, for strong bloody violence, disturbing images, language and some sexuality/nudity

Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Playing: AMC Dine-In Sunset 5, West Hollywood; CGV Buena Park

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