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The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

  The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Jessica Biel, Erica Leerhsen, Mike Vogel and Jonathan Tucker search for the sea monkeys.

© 2003, New Line
All Rights Reserved

"Who will survive and what will be left of them?" -- tagline of the 1974 "Texas Chainsaw Massacre."

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 Burns.

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+

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