Oct 092003
two reels

While driving through rural Texas, Erin (Jessica Biel), her boyfriend, Kemper (Eric Balfour), and three others, pick up a girl in shock, who soon after commits suicide.  While attempting to report the incident and rid themselves of the body, they find themselves in a nightmare of assorted inbred maniacs including a drunken sheriff (R. Lee Ermey), and Leatherface, who wears a mask made of human skin and carries a chainsaw.

1974’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was a disturbing film.  Poorly filmed and acted, and lacking frights, it gained its cult status through shock and originality, both of which it had in abundance.  It was ripe for a remake since the basic filmmaking skills used could be improved on, but could a new adaptation be shocking and original?  Well, the 2003 version (now with the word “chainsaw” spelled correctly in the title) looks good, and the actors, particularly Biel and Ermey, do a respectable job, even when all they have to do is scream.  But originality is out of reach.  The story is different, eliminating the unbelievable visit to the family farm as the reason for meeting the backwoods freaks.  Instead, the travelers pick up a victim, not one of the killers, and it is her death that sets events in motion.  And the characters are all different as well, except for Leatherface.  But that isn’t enough to make this feel new.  It isn’t even the only brutal, mentally-deficient-inbred-family movie of 2003; House of 1000 Corpses also was inspired by the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

Since this is all old material, does it shock?  A little.  It has a few horrific scenes, but mainly, it creates an atmosphere of despair.  Once the five travelers pick up the girl on the road, they are trapped and there isn’t much they can do other than scream and die.  I’m not a big fan of long term hopelessness in film.  I prefer a kick now and then.  There are a few, involving Leatherface and his chainsaw, but not enough.  More time is spent with characters crying, and repeatedly yelling the name of whichever person has wandered off.  It gets a bit dull.

Interestingly, Leatherface isn’t the most frightening of the tribe of fiends.  That honor goes to the sheriff, who won’t be on any tourism ads for Texas.  Leatherface is a stupid brute, who rarely makes a clever move, even when chasing someone.  The sheriff is cruel, vulgar, authoritative, and armed.  While hardly brilliant, he at least has a functioning brain, which makes him feel dangerous.

The film’s only major misstep is the addition of a stolen baby subplot.  It is bizarre to see Erin getting upset about the baby; stealing a baby is the nicest thing any of these people do.  After seeing the skin of one of my friends made into a mask and watching another hang on a hook, I’d find the existence of a stolen baby (who is being treated acceptably) rather humdrum.

While nicely made, without the shock factor, there isn’t a lot of reason to watch the remade The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  For anyone who never saw the ’74 version (and missed its sequels and the many films based on it), this one will have the proper impact.  But if you haven’t seen the original, I’d recommend finding it instead of this one, for historical reasons if not quality.

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