Like many people my age the 2003 remake to Tobe Hooper’s classic horror film was my entry point into the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise. And in all honesty this film is a bit of an anomaly. At the time a lot of horror franchises had run out of steam. Michael Myers was getting karate chopped by Busta Rhymes. Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees had to team up to keep themselves relevant. Child’s Play had gone into parody territory. And both Pinhead and Leprechaun had already been in direct to video territory for a few years. As for the Texas Chainsaw franchise it had been eight years since The Next Generation pissed off the entire fan-base.
The brand name was too valuable to let sit on the shelf, so what to do with a nearly 30 year old franchise that was for all intents and purposes creatively bankrupt? Remaking a classic horror film wasn’t exactly met with a lot of excitement. While some remakes found success with the fans, the black eye that was Gus Van Sant’s Psycho loomed over this production. Surprisingly when the film opened it was a hit. Everyone I knew who weren’t even horror fans wanted to see it. I remember watching it and enjoying it in spite of reading Roger Ebert’s zero star review. Sixteen years later I decided to see if my feelings had changed, so let’s dig in.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre – What is Different
The story does a good job of retaining the spirit of the original film while not being a direct carbon copy. A group of not all that interesting 20 somethings are head for Skynyrd concert after making a detour to Mexico. While driving through Texas they come across a woman walking dazed in the middle of the road. After delivering an ominous warning to the group she blows her head off. Not wanting a dead body with them the crew stops into a gas station to get ahold of the town sheriff. From here everything goes to shit.
With every new person our protagonists meet they ought to be thinking, “We need to get the fuck out of here!” but through stupid horror logic the characters keep going down the inbred rabbit hole. The big problem here is the lack of any memorable moments. Where the original had the infamous dinner scene. Here we’re left with some “found footage” to heighten the realism. (Side note: I had a friend who was dead set in his believe that this story was real based off that one aspect.)
“Well, well, well. Look at we have here. We got ourselves a killer. Only this time, you killed the sheriff.”
I will give the film credit for having a unique aesthetic. Director Marcus Nispel’s background in commercials and music videos makes the film look interesting without doing a copy/paste job. It’s shot in a more refined and slick way which is surprising considering cinematographer Daniel Pearl shot both the original ’74 film and this one. Throughout many of the days scenes are bathed in a golden sunlight which I remember an online critic calling a ‘piss filter’ which gives it a warm feeling of summer in Texas.
It definitely sets a stark contrast to the rest of the film being set during the night. Between this and a solid production design that makes you feel like you’re going to need both tetanus and hepatitis shots by the time the credits roll the film has a look that separates it not only from the original, but the bland palette most ‘00 horror films took on.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre – The Cast
The cast is probably the biggest problem the film has to deal with. It’s hard to criticize horror films acting as it’s never been a selling point for the genre. Hot people, they die and that’s about it. But here it feels like Nispel wanted to elevate his characters above that. There are things hinted at “the ring falling out of Kemper’s pocket”, but they go nowhere. All of the protagonists with the exception of Jessica Biel end up chainsaw fodder. Biel does a fine enough job as a competent final girl, but she has no real growth. The antagonists are all chewing scenery and if you were in Erin’s shoes you’d have gotten the Hell out of there ASAP. Everyone loves R. Lee Ermey’s Sheriff Hoyt and I have to agree. Ermey has always been an actor who always plays a similar character, but even when it’s in a mediocre film (Saving Silverman) he’s still entertaining.
Revisiting this film has been interesting. Now that I’m older I can understand critics (especially Ebert) problems with this film. Where the original was unrefined and gritty this one is a project crafted by a studio looking to cash in on a brand. It still has some merit and is worth watching, but can we forgive its success in kicking off the avalanche of horror remakes we got in the following decade? I’ll leave that up to you.
Overall Score 2.5/5