The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. 2003. Directed by Marcus Nispel. Screenplay by Scott Kosar; based on the 1974 screenplay by Kim Henkel & Tobe Hooper.
Starring Jessica Biel, Jonathan Tucker, Eric Leerhsen, Mike Vogel, Eric Balfour, Andrew Bryniarski, R. Lee Ermey, David Dorfman, Terrence Evans (R.I.P), and Lauren German. Platinum Dunes.
Rated 18A. 98 minutes.
Now before I get into anything about this film specifically, I want to start by saying I’m one of the most staunchly loyal fans of the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre. I saw it when I was about 12 years old and it totally frightened my balls off. It still does because, ultimately, can you say you’d stand emotionless, cool and calm as a six and a half foot man dressed in the skins of others, wielding a chainsaw, ran at you screaming like a lunatic? No, you’d shit yourself, or run for your life. It’s putting myself into the positions of the characters which gets me scared and what makes the suspense and tension feel real and palpable to me. Putting myself into that position, trying to imagine how I would feel and react, there’s a more visceral response to a horror film. But that’s just me. It doesn’t always work, as some horror movies are plain terrible. However, that’s the way The Texas Chain Saw Massacre continues to strike me up to this day, and each time I watch it there’s that visceral mounting fear inside my chest and throat I got the very first time I’d seen it, on a scratchy VHS tape.
In 2003, Platinum Dunes gave director Marcus Nispel the reigns to tackle a remake of Tobe Hooper’s indie horror classic. Though not modernized, there is most certainly a modern look to the film. Simultaneously flashy and also gritty, this new Texas Chainsaw Massacre does have a nice set of vicious teeth. Problem is, so much of what could’ve been excellent in this remake turned out to be just a cash grab. There’s no real interest in the original, there isn’t much care to preserve anything significant outside of the bare bones and structure. Mostly, this remake is a needlessly sexualized film which substitutes young glistening bodies, mainly Jessica Biel with her tights jeans hugging and hanging on for dear life against her hips, for anything either really innovative or overly impressive. Boasting some fun horror and well-executed gore, as well as general nastiness, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre isn’t a total waste of time. Just don’t head into this expecting you’ll find the greatness of Hooper lurking anywhere significant.
One thing that truly bugs me to no end about this remake is how Platinum Dunes seems to want to try and teleport cinematically back to the 1980s. What I mean is not in a good sense. The whole angle of DRUGS/MARIJUANA = MARKED FOR DEATH becomes a tired cliche. In the remake of Friday the 13th, an incredibly misfired piece of horror, the same type of trope comes into play. I get that part of the whole subplot between Erin (Jessica Biel) and Kemper (Eric Balfour) is the fact she didn’t know about his smuggling pot along the highways in their van, neatly packed into a piñata. However, having Erin be the only left at the end – just so happens to be the only person who didn’t wanna join in and smoke some weed in the van – is a dumb touch. Maybe intentional, maybe not. Someone along the line should’ve said “This feels too much like old and outdated horror tropes we have to write something better”. They didn’t, and Platinum Dunes seems to want to keep repeating that whenever possible.
It’s like the old slasher movies: if you drink, have sex, smoke, do drugs, you DIE! Frankly, I’m done with those cliches. Worked well for the slasher films of the ’80s, I love so many of them, but now unless it’s a meta-like situation, or postmodern commentary on the sub-genre, I’m just finding it tiring. New films need to find new ways in which to operate. Plus, the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre never went by any of those rules, preceding all the ’80s slashers by a half dozen years almost, so I don’t see why they felt the remake needed to lean in that direction.
Even further, it’s as if the screenwriter wanted to make this version of the movie into a world where the travelling group of young friends somehow deserved whatever they found. At every turn there’s a way to make the group out to be a bunch of city folk coming into the rural communities, acting bigger and better than everyone else. In the original, it was just these regular young guys and girls who ran into absolute horror at the hands of Leatherface and family. For the remake, we get the scene where they stop their van at a gas station in order to call local law enforcement so they can report the girl who killed herself. In this bit, the guys are pushy and they get heated when the woman seems a bit too laid back over everything. Although this might be slightly realistic, there’s still this need for the movie to point and say “THESE ARE THE ONES WHO WILL BE KILLED”. In fact, the only one who cares about not dumping the dead girl like a piece of trash is Erin – and though this does end up drawing them further into the world of Leatherface, it’s still screaming of a dumb morality the remake tries to impose on us.
I’ve griped quite a bit now about what I don’t like, so let’s electric slide into something I’ve enjoyed about this film.
The gore stands out as being fairly vicious. A few amazing horror movie kills in this one and I don’t think anyone would disagree. While not all the aspects of this remake hold up, I do think they seal the deal with a nice amount of blood and guts.
And it isn’t only the gore, I find there were a few truly unsettling moments. For instance, one of the parts in the original which terrified me is the hammer to the head, then Leatherface wails his creepy voice into the air and slams his metal door. I thought that was SUPER CREEPY! In this one, there’s a very similar bit that makes me feel almost the same. As Kemper (Balfour) walks around the house they’ve come across looking for the sheriff, he knocks something off a door. While bending to pick it up, Leatherface slides in behind him looking so depraved and then he sledgehammers Kemper to the floor – he drags the body away, out to where a big sliding metal door is fixed on the wall. Disappearing inside with the body, Leatherface quickly comes back and slides it shut. So reminiscent of that scene in the original and it’s a genuinely scary bit. Dig it, so hard.
Even further, once Erin (Biel) goes back to the house with one of the other guys looking for Kemper who, of course, has disappeared, there’s another pretty wild and jumpy moment when Leatherface finally and fully reveals himself to the young people. I thought it worked great, as the addition of wheelchair-bound Uncle Monty (Terrence Evans) made it extra weird and creeptastic. His pounding on the floor with the cane, almost a call to action for his little/giant creepy nephew Leatherface, it gives things a real nasty excitement.
Not to mention, the whole hitchhiker scene was subverted from the original in fine fashion. They found a way to make that whole scene fresh for their remake, as well as extremely grim. I couldn’t believe it the first time I saw it. One of the biggest things the movie has going for it is the shock you’ll receive during that scene. Disturbing bit. Plus along with that comes some a good little bit of blood and brains, all around nastiness.
One thing I both hate and love is the way the film looks, the whole aesthetic in general. While there’s this gritty, dirty feel to the cinematography (courtesy of Daniel Pearl who coincidentally did the work on the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre), it also has that overall glossy edited style Platinum Dunes like to force on its remakes. It focuses more on the sweaty bodies of the muscles of the guys, the exposed and glistening midriffs of the women, than truly trying to make the entire atmosphere and tone of the movie into something dark, something nasty. It’s as if everything is working towards that grimy feeling – they almost want you to feel the grit in the back of your mouth on your tongue – and yet still, there’s a television commercial-like quality to so many of the scenes that it’s almost embarrassing at times. I think a lot of that comes in the exterior scenes – especially when the camera rides along right behind Biel’s ass in the purposefully low low cut jeans. Inside the house itself, so much of the scenes are extremely dark that it becomes hard to give it that glossy look. Though, it is still there in certain parts and it bugs the hell out of me. If they’d gone totally head first into that dark and filthy atmosphere, I’d be sold almost 100%. Instead, there’s this weird quality to the cinematography where it balances on this thin edge, often coming too far down on the wrong side for me to fully enjoy the movie.
Overall, I give this a 2.5 out of 5 stars. It’s by no means a great movie, not even close. There were elements of the script I felt added something fresh to this remake, however, what ultimately hurts this as a movie is that it confuses the gritty atmosphere and tone at which it aims. Coming out of the Platinum Dunes remake machine, this looks too flashy at times and throws itself off course. There’s nothing that bad about the acting – especially when you throw the fascinatingly creepy R. Lee Ermey into the mix. So mainly, I find it’s the weird and off-balance feeling of the entire film that detracts from this becoming a good movie. Moreover, the focus on Jessica Biel’s ass and body parts, as well as the implication that DRUGS ARE BAD KIDS MMKAY, make so many scenes in this movie laughable. Especially if you compare it then with the first. There’s not near enough to make this a fitting tribute, so if you’re looking for a good remake look elsewhere – Platinum Dunes haven’t got any of those.