That familiar narration begins about an unfortunate group of five youths...then changes from the version we have become so used to as police evidence is flashed before us and the beginning of a crime scene footage plays. Flash back to a Texas summer of 1973, where a van with five teens on their way to a Skynard concert are about to take a detour into "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre."
I've now gone through the cycle. Dread at the thought of the beloved (yes!) horror classic being remade, all the more fearful under the production banner of Michael Bay. Hope upon viewing the trailer, so well made, so seemingly respectful of the original film, yet with interesting touches of its own. Hopes dashed upon seeing the final product, which replaces horror with gore, social commentary with carny freaks and black humor with R. Lee Ermy. Any film which uses a Harry Knowles in-joke, even his decapitated head, should immediately be under suspicion.
Still, a little credit is due, mostly for retaining original cinematographer Daniel Pearl, who maintains the low angles and some of the vast landscapes which helped make the original film so unsettling (even if his moody shots of the new Hewitt House look like they were backlit with floodlights). Pearl also lights Ermy in a way that makes his eye sockets look hollow, a creepy effect. Debuting feature director Marcus Nispel has obviously put a lot of care into the film, which easily could have gone down the camp parody road of Zellweger, McConaughy starrer "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation," and Jessica Biel ("The Rules of Attraction") is a realistic, gutsy heroine (the sheer scream power of original star Marilyn Burns is present here in quickly dispatched costar Erica Leerhsen, "Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2"). Terrance Evans ("Terminator 2: Judgement Day") is also a nasty piece of work as double amputee Old Monty, but Andrew Bryniarski ("Scooby-Doo") has none of Gunnar Hansen's charm.
The main problem lies with the updating done by scriptwriter Scott Kosar, who takes the original family of slaughterhouse workers antiquated by modern technology and replaces them with a cliched group of backwoods weirdos. Kosar would have us believe that Leatherface wears masks made of the faces of his victims because of - a skin condition! It is not only the "Saw" that is being remade here, as references to films like "The Blair Witch Project" (in the opening and closing, not to mention the Blair Meat Company location, even if that is the production designer's name), "The Silence of the Lambs" (preserved items found in jars in old cars, Leatherface's sewing machine and dress dummy, musical leitmotifs) and even the old Mia Farrow vehicle, "See No Evil" (being drugged in a remote caravan). Worst of all, we are rarely allowed to conjure up the worst type of horror - that of our own imagination, which the original film so artfully did. Buckets of blood, as well as copious amounts of various kinds of dripping, oozing liquids, make this feel more like the Mucky Bayou Massacre. Kosar does plant one (almost too) nasty suggestion when a dazed girl removes a gun from between her bloody thighs that is reaffirmed when it is retrieved by its owner. In another new twist, Erin (Biel) looks back to see Leatherface bearing the face of her boyfriend Kemper (Eric Balfour, HBO's "Six Feet Under"
Another area sorely lacking is the sound design, an important element of any horror flick. After some echoes of the old during the new film's beginning, we get little more than the roar of the saw. Gone is that wonderfully effective generator with nothing to take its place.
"The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" has influenced so many films over the past three decades it would have been far better served with a revival than a remake. The 2003 version just doesn't cut it.
Robin's review coming soon!
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