TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE
** (out of 5)
October 17, 2003
Jessica Biel as ERIN
Jonathan Tucker as MORGAN
Erica Leershen as PEPPER
Mike Vogel as ANDY
Eric Balfour as KEMPER
Andrew Bryniarski as LEATHERFACE
R. Lee Emrey as SHERIFF HOYT
Directed by: Marcus Nispel
BY KEVIN CARR
The remake of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” the 1974 Tobe Hooper cult classic that sent preview audiences fleeing the theaters, brings up many questions in the minds of horror fans and film buffs alike. The biggest question for me is “Why?”
The charm – if you can use that word – of the original was its grittiness and innovation. The original “Chainsaw” was far from a perfect film, but it was perfect for what it was. Shot on a terribly thin shoestring with the often copied documentary feel, it was unbelievably brutal not for what it showed, but for what it didn’t show. Who didn’t squirm when the Hitchhiker sliced his hand open in the van? Who didn’t shudder when Leatherface first appeared and bludgeoned one of the victims to death in the hallway? Who of us wasn’t positive we saw the meat hook stab into the girl’s back?
Not surprisingly, this version has too much gore. Yes, we see the meat hook enter a body. Yes we see arms and legs lopped off. Yes we see a lot of blood. But who cares? We’ve seen all this before earlier this year in “Wrong Turn”. When Tobe Hooper made the violence happen off-screen for the most part in his film, he was doing so to secure a PG rating (a laughable concept in hindsight). But he ended up with a film that was so horrifying because we all imagined it would be sooooo much worse that what they could ever show.
Everything that made the original “Chainsaw” a classic is ground into the dirt in this new version. One of the worst choices was to not only show Leatherface without his mask, but to try and explain why he wore it. “Skin disease,” they say. “Who cares?!” I say. What made Leatherface the perfect relentless killer was his twisted mystery. We don’t need to look into his humanity.
Remaking “Chainsaw” is like remaking “The Blair Witch Project.” Much of the appeal of both of these films was in their visceral nature, which was driven by budget. This new “Chainsaw” takes $20 million to emulate the original, which had less than one percent of this budget, and it’s still just a cheap imitation.
Similar in story to the original (complete with John Larroquette narration – one of the film’s hidden gems), a van of teenagers are traveling across Texas on their way to a Lynryd Skynyrd concert. Along the way, they pick up a hitchhiker (this time a victim of, as opposed to a member of, “The Family” as we saw in the original). After mumbling about everyone being dead, the hitchhiker pulls out a gun and shoots herself.
The kids are left to dispose of the body. Trying to do the right thing, they call the police and end up getting lured into the lair of a cannibalistic, murderous family. Soon, the buzz of a chainsaw is heard, and teenagers start losing body parts. In another attempt to add a useless human element to the story, the heroine (Jessica Biel) is compelled to rescue a young boy who was kidnapped by the family. As if escaping a raging psychopath with a bloody chainsaw wasn’t enough motivation for her.
All of these points lead to the other big question that comes to mind about this remake: “Is Michael Bey the Antichrist?” Bey founded Platinum Dunes (which sounds more like a strip club than a production company) with partners Andrew Form and Brad Fuller. Here is a direct quote from Bey in the production notes of this film: “I wanted to do ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ because of name value alone.”
If this doesn’t illustrate what a screwhead Bey is, I don’t know what does. He wanted to remake the movie because of the name? Not to pay homage to the original. Not to scare the bejesus out of people. Not to even do something commercially appealing. He wanted to remake it because he coveted the name. This is where Hollywood is going by drawing their director talent from the music video world where style is everything and story, character and soul is secondary.
To further illustrate matters, here’s a quote from Ted Fields, CEO of Radar Pictures, who co-produced the film: “When Michael and I decided to go into business together, we quickly realized that ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ was the perfect film with which to launch the Platinum Dunes label. It is an iconic story, one that immediately establishes what Platinum Dunes is all about and sets the tone for what is to come.”
Exactly. From this, I expect Platinum Dunes to rip off more classics based on names with no regard for what made the film a classic in the first place. Maybe their next excursion will be to remake “Psycho.” Oh, wait! I forgot… Gus Van Sant and his raging ego already ruined that one.
So much is wrong with this “Chainsaw” – including characters that act brain dead, a worthless sympathetic family member played by David Dorfman from “The Ring” and overkill on the fake “inspired by a true story” marketing push. Still, this new film isn’t total crap. There are a few neat scenes and shots scattered throughout, including R. Lee Emrey’s performance as the whacked out Sheriff Hoyt. But it’s not worth sitting through all the screaming to get to them. Just go rent the original again.