"Who will survive and what will be left of them?" -- tagline of the 1974 "Texas
In a hot 1973 summer, 5 young adults (including "Seventh Heaven" star Jessica
Biel) are traveling across Texas to make their way to a rock concert. During
their travels they meet a hitchhiker who promptly kills herself in front of the
gang. Looking for help, the group makes their way to a house in the middle of
nowhere, which is home to a homicidal family, lead by a chainsaw-wielding man
named Leatherface (Andrew Bryniarski, "Hudson Hawk").
I don't have any venom against remakes. They are lazy, and the ugly end product
of hit-starved studios, but I can respect the idea of trying to recreate, yet
shape an original artistic accomplishment into something new. Hell, to this day
I still stand behind Gus Van Sant's intoxicating redo of "Psycho." But "The
Texas Chainsaw Massacre" is pretty much the granddaddy of modern horror films.
Its gut-wrenching, nail-biting tension has yet to be rivaled in the almost 30
years since its release. Music video director Marcus Nispel and producer Michael
Bay have teamed up, not to recreate the original film so much as to try their
hands at what creeped out audiences then, and still does to this day.
Right away things are different. Replacing the dirty, grainy footage of the 1974
installment is the slick, camera-tricky, glossy, hyper-edited sheen that always
trail Bay's every move. The production even retained previous cinematographer
Daniel Pearl to shoot the remake, which is noble in idea only. Pearl has
forgotten just what made the original such a classic: the stillness of the
horror. In the new "Chainsaw," (IMDb listing) the darkness is impeccably lit, the Texas
farmlands look like leftover sets from Ridley Scott's "Legend," and the young
adults are hip, clean, hot young WB stars on their way to a Lynard Skynard
concert - testing the already preposterous idea that this is all set in 1973.
Clearly, Nispel isn't too interest in establishing danger or unrelenting tension.
Director Tobe Hooper's "Chainsaw" kept audiences in their seats because it was
shot like a snuff film, with a cast that looked real enough for the picture to
almost resemble a documentary. Nispel is more attracted to slick images, and
with high gloss production comes very few scares. This new "Chainsaw"
doesn't have much up its sleeve in terms of ideas for jolts and innovative
imagery, resulting in, if you can believe it, a slightly boring sit.
What the original "Chainsaw" had in 1974, and a big reason why the sequels never
quite worked, was mystery. Leatherface and his clan were kept at arm's length by
Tobe Hooper, drawing out the dread in their confrontations with the victims, and
keeping a majority of their menace in the minds of the audience. 2003's
"Chainsaw" does exactly the opposite. The new film opens up the story by forcing
characterization into the matter. We spend copious amounts of time with the
young victims, at the expense of the film's pace. These moments do not help the
overall gloom of the piece, since they are directed like a deranged episode of
"Dawson's Creek." The screenplay even attempts to shine a little light into
Leatherface's background, revealing him to be a butcher and a victim of a skin
disease that is rotting away his face (hence the need for flesh masks). What are
we supposed to do with that? It's like learning Jason's been hacking away
through his ten films because he wants to research his upcoming novel on
unsupervised teenage behavior. If Nispel and screenwriter Scott Kosar wanted to
get a little sympathy on the side of pure evil, it doesn't work. 74's
Leatherface was a pure-blooded wacko, bent on taking down trespassers as messily
as possible. The new Leatherface is a monster you kind of want to hug and help
fix his problems. Now how scary is that?
There is an absence of overflowing gore in the remake, which is a little
surprising. That's not to say there aren't meat hook impalements, brain matter,
and severed limbs, but the gore itself has been sacrificed for more showoffy
Nispel visuals (which included one doozy that should spell out the remake's
intentions very quickly). The original wasn't all that bloody either. Nispel
spends more time trying to conjure shadow and eeriness, most notably though his
use of freakshow-style casting for the Leatherface clan. There are some pretty
big Texas, "inbred Jed" caricatures on display, most notably a turn by R. Lee
Ermey as a deranged sheriff. Again, none of these visuals have much of an
effect, especially when Nispel puts giant buckteeth on one young character - the
kind you'd find in a gag shop at the local mall. The movie calls them raging,
bloodthirsty rednecks? I call them hilarious.
And my friends, as much hell as Nispel puts her through, as well as the workout
her lungs receive from all the screaming, Jessica Biel is still no Marilyn
My suggestion would be to save your nickels and put them towards a rental of the
first film. That's a movie that will terrorize and disturb. The new "Texas
Chainsaw Massacre" is running with a dull blade, and is about a threatening as a
Nine Inch Nails music video.
Filmfodder Grade: D+