Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)
The more modern films I review the more I am forced to come to the conclusion that much of Hollywood is woefully devoid of an original thought. The trend is to take a classic or cult film and remake it, actually the term now in favor is re-imagine it. That appears to be code for a third rate movie with nothing in common with the original other than the title. Such is the case with the 2003 version of the classic 1974 horror classic Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Absolutely everything that made the original work for me is completely missing from this abomination. This version panders to the lowest common denominator of the audience and the most puerile interests they may hold. Needless to say this is not going to be a rave four star review. The film opens with about the same narration supplied by John Larroquette, the voice of the original. Along with some revisited film footage the setup of this film as ‘based on true facts’ is advanced. Take this as very loosely. A group of twenty somethings are in their Scooby van on their way to a rock concert. Where the original group was concerned with the status of a beloved grandfather in a desecrated cemetery, here the immediate feeling we get about these kids is they are shallow, hedonistic and self-centered. It is almost impossible to forge an emotional connection to the audience. Not only did I find myself not caring about this group I was waiting for them to get hacked apart. The kids, Erin (Jessica Biel), Kemper (Eric Balfour), Morgan (Jonathan Tucker), Pepper (Erica Leerhsen) and Andy (Mike Vogel) do little to hold our interest as characters. We know they are fodder for the killer and absolutely nothing more. The violence here is taken to the heights of gore without reason. Where the original left much to the imagination of the audience, respecting them to supply more in their minds than presented on the screen, here, the overt use of ample quantities of stage blood floods the screen. The special effects people had a field day here with severed limbs galore. Where the first Chainsaw was a perfect representation of a nightmare the only nightmare here is sitting through this film. There are also the gratuitous scenes of sexual innuendo and drug use in a hopeless effort to connect with the youth market. You would have to have consumed a good deal of illegal substances to actual think this film is worthy of any accolades.
The cast here fills in time between the slayings with little to do or say. The most well known cast member is without a doubt Jessica Biel. Most will recognize her as the naughty minister’s daughter on the WB hit Seventh Heaven. Actually, most will remember her semi-nude photos in a men magazine. The later is more appropriate considering her contribution to this opus is to fill out a tee-shirt, several sizes too small and frequently wet. Her television work demonstrates that she has a modicum of acting talent that is completely ignored in this flick. Balfour is also a familiar face to those that watch the excellently scripted Six Feet Under. He has talent that is also placed on hiatus during the filming of this movie. Former Marine R. Lee Ermey plays the local Sheriff in a somewhat amusing over the top manner. He has recently made a career playing parodies of his tough military image that he created in Full Metal Jacket. Andrew Bryniarski plays the horrible Leatherface. Unlike his predecessor there is almost a comic feel to this presentation. Gunnar Hansen’s Leatherface was at least imposing, creating a sense of doom that is missing here.
The unfortunate trend of late is to recruit music video directors, give them a fairly large budget and let them direct a film. Being able to manage a four minute film video does not provide the credentials for a feature film. Such is the case with this director, Marcus Nispel. Here, instead of shots that provoke though and discussion we get something akin to a montage of frames gathered together without justification. The insistence on showcasing Ms Biel in her wet tee shirt is an attempt to misdirect the audience from the fact that there really is not a working script. Nispel faithfully follows the "let’s kill the kids" genre. Kids drive into a spooky place, they run around a lot and they get killed in the most gruesome methods that the special effects department can think of. Rather than creating a homage to the original he has degraded this American horror cult classic to just another slasher flick. Rather than trying to really re-imagine the story for a new generation Nispel merely restages the key scenes of the original dumping blood and gore in a futile attempt to drown out the remake’s imperfections. Instead of letting Leatherface be the ultimate bogey man, a creature of no history or discernable back story, here there is a stab (no pun intended) at humanizing him. This is simply wrong, it takes the antagonist away from the realm of the nightmare to the socially correct ‘there is a a reason for this bad behavior’. This only serves to dilute the menace in a film whose sole function is to horrify. I really cannot understand why Tobe Hooper would lend his name to the production credits here.
With so many worthy films crying out for a DVD of quality why did the studio decide to grant the resources to this film? We, the buying public, get bare bones releases of great films while this one gets the best the DVD format has to offer. First there is the audio. This disc features a crisp Dolby 5.1 EX sound track. Do you really need a center rear speaker here? In all honesty the sound field was well utilized; the use of the rear speakers creating a sound stage that is rich and full. The anamorphic 1.85:1 video possesses great color balance. After all, you wan to see the rich blood reds contrasting with the milky white flesh of the victims. The two disc special edition features a director’s commentary as well as ones for the production group and others involved with the making of the film. There are alternate endings, not any better than the one included in the release, and a few deleted scenes. There is also a featurettes on crime scenes, screen tests and television spots to round thing out. Do yourself a favor, stick with the original.