The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

Texas Chainsaw Massacre

28 Days Later

The Evil Dead


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An already oiled-up cast are angered upon
discovering that they're starring in a remake of
1974's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and not
a sequel to 1977's documentary, Pumping Iron.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Review written by: Alex Sandell

On October 13th, 2003, lucky fans of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre and unsuspecting film critics alike were herded into theaters across America to experience an advanced screening of what they thought would be just another in a long string of "fun" little horror flicks.  What they found within the confines of that theater was a movie as dark and grisly as any had been in over fifteen years.  It was a chilling discovery that shocked and horrified a nation, and left even diehard horror fans running to the lobby in a desperate need to "get popcorn."  Now, for the first time, the only known critic to be an avid fan of the original film and an actual follower of the entire series, is breaking the silence and coming forward to tell the truth of what you can really expect in that remake known as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre...

I was against the idea from the start.  The day I heard they were remaking The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, I shot an email off to the director of the original film, Tobe Hooper with a subject line reading "If you have any control over this remake..." and a "letter" reading "don't let it happen."  My email didn't shut down pre-production and the remake moved forward.  Nothing could break apart the solid wall of skepticism I had built around myself regarding the film.  Not the nifty trailers, not positive Internet reviews (inevitably) planted by studio employees.  Nothing. 

I snickered at the grisly "Domestic Police Cooperation" report printed up by New Line Cinema and given out to members of the screening.  I rolled my eyes when John Larroquette began his opening narration.  So they got the original narrator from the original film.  Big deal.  It's not like he was doing anything noteworthy, anyway -- unless you count Big Paw: Beethoven 5.  I was mildly interested in the grainy police video showing the crime scene, but only because it was such a shameless steal of The Blair Witch Project.  And then the song "Sweet Home Alabama" came blaring out of all 20 theater speakers, and I knew I was right in my dubiety.  One on-screen suicide later, and another thought came over me...

Maybe I was wrong. 

It's ironic that the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is the most unique Texas Chainsaw Massacre film since the original.  All three sequels to the disturbing 1974 horror classic were nothing other than lesser versions of the film that they were supposedly expanding upon.  The remake makes a noble effort to be an entirely new Chainsaw Massacre.  A variation on a familiar theme, but one in which even the most devout fan of the original begins to feel that he has been placed in unfamiliar territory. 

Not all change is for the best.  Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2003 opens fairly weak (stupid pot jokes and Leonard Skynard are no match for the macabre news reports emanating from the van radio in the original film) and stumbles into generic slasher territory long before the final credits roll.  But from minute 16 to minute 60, this movie is about as intense and lurid as they come.  The only thing that took me out of the picture, during those minutes, was the disembodied head of a certain red-haired Internet critic and rumor-monger.  It got harry there for a minute.  Did I type "harry?"  Surely I meant to tap out, "hairy."

This is a sadistic bugger of a film.  The new "family" holds their own against the one we met 19 years ago.  Each family member -- with exception made for this dumb kid who should never even be shown in the outtakes, much less the actual film -- is deliciously depraved and sensationally swinish.  R. Lee Ermey (Full Metal Jacket, Willard 2003) steals the show as Sheriff Hoyt.  It's not unexpected that Ermey would steal the show -- he does so in almost every film that he stars in -- but the Sheriff he plays in Chainsaw is unexpectedly brutal and perverse. 

Impressive acting doesn't start or stop with Ermey.  The film is well-cast and the actors know how to do their job (even the actor stuck with the thankless task of playing the dumb kid).  This is a top-notch production.  The victimizers appear to be genuinely evil, and the victims appear to be genuinely terrified.  The circumstances surrounding them probably didn't make putting in a good performance that hard. 

It's difficult to say much about the movie without giving away all of its many twists and turns.  I think it's sufficient to say that -- even if you've watched the 1974 film a dozen times -- you'll never look at a meat-hook, a hitchhiker, a crotch, or even Leatherface the same way again.  But you'll be seeing all of those things in an entirely new way prior to the films' final half hour.

This is when the movie leaves that old Texas feeling behind, and turns into a Friday the 13th.  Keep the slashing and stalking with the slashers and stalkers.  I don't know why Scott Kosar took his screenplay in this direction.  This is his first film, so I suppose he can be forgiven, but it left a bad taste in my mouth (no pun intended).  The movie eventually starts to feel like it's trying to answer a long-lost riddle:  "how many hiding places can one girl hide in within 30 minutes?" 

Fortunately, director Marcus Nispel helms the film like a seasoned pro -- shocking when you take into account that this is his first feature film.  Once the movie does enter the realm of slasher sameness, he somehow manages to keep it from slowing down.  He's able to make all those time-honored (and worn out) methods of scaring an audience (a girl in hiding watching her stalker through a peephole, trying to keep quiet, only to have her silence broken by boatloads of rats, etc.) somewhat frightening again. 

And even a "somewhat" frightening film is scarier than about 99.999% of the movies released during the past 15 years.  So go you skeptics and be shocked all over again.  If you like your horror to actually horrify, you won't be disappointed.  And all you cynics out there can now breathe a sigh of relief.  This remake does not take a thing away from the original.  It's its own film.  And it's a scary and disturbing one at that.  Truly a movie worthy of the name, "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre."

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Coming soon -- Reviews of The Matrix Revolutions, The Human Stain and Runaway Jury!

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Text (Copyright) 2003 Alex Sandell [All Rights Reserved].