TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (2003)
Director: Marcus Nispel
Ah, remakes. Hollywood can't seem to get enough of them, especially ones in the horror genre. In the past 25 years, dozens of remakes have been released. Some are considered as good as, if not better than, the source material (The Fly, The Thing, and the first Invasion of the Body Snatchers remake), some are okay (the well-made yet financially disappointing Willard), while others just don't pan out (Psycho). Perhaps one of the most talked-about remakes in recent memory has been Michael Bay and Marcus Nispel's remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. On with the review...
The date is August 18, 1973, and we join a group of friends in a beat-up van heading to a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert in Dallas following a brief excursion in Mexico. We meet Erin (Jessica Biel) and her boyfriend Kemper (Eric Balfour), smart-aleck pothead Morgan (Jonathan Tucker), sex-crazed Andy (Mike Vogel), and the equally sex-crazed Pepper (Erica Leerhsen), a hitchhiker the group picked up while coming through El Paso. Along the way, the five pick up another hitchhiker, a hysterical young woman (Lauren German) claiming that a "bad man" killed her friends before producing a gun and shooting herself in the face.
The obviously unsettled gang stops at the nearest general store, asking the clerk (Marietta Marich) if they could call the police and report the suicide. She basically blows them off, telling them "what you do is your own business." They get all up in her area about the dead girl in their van, so the clerk calls the sheriff and says he'll meet them at the nearby abandoned mill. They're understandably confused as to why the sheriff won't meet them at the store, but they go to the mill anyway. Upon arriving at the mill, the group finds not a sheriff, but a filthy little boy named Jedidiah (David Dorfman), who I nicknamed "the Redneck Troll" while watching the movie. Hey, I thought it was funny at the time, sue me. Anyway, Jedidiah tells them where the sheriff lives, so Erin and Kemper head in that direction while the other three wait for someone to arrive.
Someone eventually does arrive, in the form of Sheriff Hoyt (R. Lee Ermey), who is a foul-mouthed, abrasive pervert. He orders Morgan to help him wrap the body with saran wrap and put it in the trunk of his police cruiser. But there's more to him than he lets on, as he slowly becomes more vile, twisted, and disgusting as the movie progresses. Meanwhile, Erin and Kemper soon find a huge house in the middle of an otherwise vacant field, where they're confronted by Old Monty (Terrance Evans), a mean old man confined to a wheelchair due to his amputated legs. He lets Erin into the house to use the phone and call the police, but Kemper soon grows impatient with waiting and enters the house. As with the first movie, this turns out to be a huge blundering faux pas. Kemper is soon cracked across the skull with a sledgehammer and dragged into the basement by a man in a nasty homemade leather mask (Andrew Bryniarski), a giant monster known to us viewers as Leatherface. Things slowly devolve from here, as the group falls prey to the psychotics they've encountered until only Erin is left. Will she survive, and what will be left of her?
Like I said earlier, this was one of the more controversial remakes in recent memory. Not since Gus Van Sant revisited Alfred Hitchcock's classic Psycho had a remake been so hotly debated. Many horror fans hold Tobe Hooper's original 1974 Massacre close to their hearts, and news of a remake produced by Hollywood hot shot Michael Bay (the creative muscle behind flicks like Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, and the Bad Boys movies) was almost a slap in the face. But personally, I thought the remake was pretty darn good. Besides, just because there's a remake doesn't mean that the quality of the original is lessened in any way.
I feel like I should point out the "Inspired By A True Story" line, like I did in my review of the original. The remake using it as a tagline was merely a marketing ploy used because the large number of people that believe the original movie is real. While the plot of Leatherface and his insane clan is fictional, some of the family's traits are inspired by Ed Gein, a grave robber and murderer that haunted the small Wisconsin town of Plainfield in the 1950s. He would often use the skin and bones of his victims to create things around the house, as well as having a suit made out of skin and a collection of female sexual organs kept in a shoebox. Gein went on to inspire characters in at least eight movies that include the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Psycho, The Silence of the Lambs, and a biographical movie. (As in my review of the original, I'll forward those interested in learning more to CrimeLibrary.com and HouseOfHorrors.com for more information.)
Anyway, onward to the technical aspects of the movie. While the original looked very gritty and harsh, the remake is very sleek and clean. Marcus Nispel's direction and the cinematography of Daniel Pearl (who filled the same role in the original) give the flick a stylized, modern look that managed to keep the same edge the original had. I also loved Steve Jablonsky's score. It made every scene tense, dreadful, and unnerving, and that's what I like in my horror scores. And Scott Kosar's screenplay is great, too. It's not the same old thing that we saw in 1974, but a different telling of the same story. If I wanted to see stuff from the original done the same way, I'd just watch the original. Kosar's different take on the hitchhiker scene was also a fun change, and the inclusion of Sheriff Hoyt was a very welcome addition.
And now the acting. I absolutely loved R. Lee Ermey here. Imagine his drill instructor character from Full Metal Jacket as a sadistic redneck pervert with hints of necrophilia, and that's what he's like. He practically steals every scene he's in, and I love him for it. Meanwhile, I enjoyed the chemistry between the five protagonists. They all seemed like longtime friends (even though Pepper was a hitchhiker they picked up along the way), and they're all very likeable characters that are far more developed than their 1974 counterparts. Jessica Biel, Mike Vogel, and Jonathan Tucker are all good, but I enjoyed both Eric Balfour and Erica Leerhsen more. Balfour's portrayal of Kemper came off as being the kind of guy that I'd have hung out with if I lived in the 70s, while Leerhsen's Pepper was a sympathetic gal whose screams nearly made my ears bleed. Seriously, I think her screams could shatter glass and make dogs go nuts. She's that loud. And I'd be remiss if I didn't point out Andrew Bryniarski as good ol' Leatherface. Bryniarski gave Leatherface an animalistic side that made him the imposing, intimidating figure that the movie needed.
Not everything about the movie is good, though. For one, I disliked Erin's metamorphosis into Supergirl near the end of the movie. She just goes nuts in a turn that comes completely out of left field. I also didn't like the movie's reason why Leatherface was a killer. In the original, we're left to believe that he wears the masks of his victims as some sort of trophy, or as a sexual thing similar to Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs. Those reasons make Leatherface a sick freak of a monster. Here, he just wears the masks to hide his face. While what was under the mask was creepy, the reasons behind it were a bit of a letdown.
Overall, I really enjoyed the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake. While not the same kick in the butt that the original was, it's still a tense experience to be had. The movie may shock you, and possibly disgust or offend you, but that's the point. The new Massacre is unapologetic in its desire to shove horrific, mean-spirited violence in your face, and it kept this longtime horror fan on the edge of his seat for the entire ride. I give it four stars, and recommend it to anyone looking for an unrepentant horror flick that shows no mercy.
Final Rating: ****