Stars: Natasha Blasick, Richard Tyson, David A. Lockhart, Charlie Glackin, Alanna Forte | Written by Barry Massoni, Rene Perez | Directed by Rene Perez
Before we start, let me clarify some things… Or not. Because I’m still a little confused.
Last March saw the UK DVD release of director Rene Perez’s Playing With Dolls. That release passed me completely by, however I know it did get a decent reception from some quarters (if memory serves Zombie Hamster’s Dave Wain enjoyed it). Yet now, some months later, we have Playing With Dolls under the unoriginal, and possibly copyright infringing, title of Leatherface. Confused? I am. The BBFC website list this film’s cast as the sequels cast, whilst Amazon is the opposite. It doesn’t help that the UK distributor has the official synopsis for Playing With Dolls: Bloodlust on the back of the DVD but then has the cast from the first film listed in the credits too! It literally wasn’t until I popped the DVD in and it started playing that I finally managed to unravel this mess.
So to elucidate, and for those [still] interested, Leatherface is actually Playing With Dolls – the first film NOT the sequel. And no, it has NOTHING to do with that more famous mask-wearing, chainsaw-wielding killer of the same name!
Also know as Cinderella: Playing With Dolls (that’s the title this film was released as in Europe) Leatherface tells the story of Cindy, a young woman who is down on her luck. Her roomate has abandoned her and she’s facing eviction from her dive of an a apartment – unless she’s willing to give the sleazy landlord some “help”. Things are looking grim until Cindy gets a phone call about some work – complete with a $4000 a month salary and mysterious free gift of a car to drive her to her new job. Let’s just say if it sounds too good to be true, it is… Turns out Cindy’s job is to hang out in a cabin whilst being watched by scopophiliac Richard Tyson and stalked by the titular character.
Another supemarket-friendly retitling of a franchise horror, I did not have high hopes for Leatherface. However my respect must go to writer/director/editor/producer Rene Perez, as he truly makes the most of what was undoubtedly a low budget. Keeping things simple for the sake of finances, the movie is filmed mostly in one location – a cabin in the woods – with only a handful of actors… Yet somehow, despite any misgivings, Perez still manages to create a fantastic new horror villain and one who looks particularly stunning. Even if the rest of the film is somewhat mediocre.
Yet there are flourishes of a decent story buried within this style-over-substance tale. Our killer is described as one of the worst serial killers in the world, was apparently released from prison by Tyson’s character (who paid to have him freed), the set-up is that the mask wearing, wrapped in barb-wire killer is a partner to Tyson’s voyeur. Only maybe he’s not… There’s an interesting scene in which we see the “monster” throw up in the woods – giving us an insight into the fact this particular killer might not be as nasty as the audience is led to believe. It’s little touches like that which will keep horror audiences watching long after the mundanity of this film sets in.
Opening with one of the films very few deaths, Leatherface soon decends into little more than a cat and mouse game between Cindy and her captors – as we watch them watch her. The lack of kills really brings down this story – after all, if you’re going to use the tropes of a slasher movie, why not feature at least one decent, budget-busting special effects laden kill? Though the kills are few, the film still features some intriguing and grotesque effects: dead and rotting bodies strewn around, corpses hanging from trees like Christmas decorations etc. Just a shame that the budget didn’t stretch to actual kill scenes!
What it lacks in deaths Leatherface makes up for in twisted humour. Nowhere is that more apparent than the “Hello my name is…” stickers used to identify body parts that pervo Richard Tyson keeps on his desk. In fact Tyson’s character is the real villain here: he has a hold not only over the women he fools into coming to his cabin in the woods for his voyeuristic pleasure, but also the monstrous killer – billed as Prisoner AYO-886 in the credits – watching and controlling his every move too. Though the humour strays from black comedy to more ridiculous territory when Cindy tumble dries a flash grenade and runs head first, Scooby Doo-style, into a tree branch. Yes, the humour is as much of a dichotomy as the rest of the film!
Whilst Leatherface, aka Playing With Dolls, is not one of those films that you’ll revisit any time soon, it is worth 90 minutes of any horror fans time just to see the birth of a great new horror villain. However don’t be fooled by the cheeky UK marketing of the movie and expect a massacre of any kind, chainsaw or not!