The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Review
By Shawn McKenzie 10/17/2003
I’m one of the few critics who doesn’t have a problem with remakes. Either they usually make a new generation appreciate the original, or they put a new spin on an old story. When I heard that they were making a big budget remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, I didn’t think that it was a bad idea. Then I heard that Michael Bay was going to direct it, and they were going to lessen the gore. I was outraged, and I figured it was going to suck. Fortunately, Bay regulated himself to producer, it is gory, and it didn’t suck.
The movie opens with the same narrator as the first one, John Larroquette. In August of 1973, the police discover the butchered remains of 33 human victims. This is the story of just a few of them. Erin (Jessica Biel), her boyfriend, Kemper (Eric Balfour), and their friends Morgan (Jonathan Tucker) and Andy (Mike Vogel) are driving through a remote section of Texas. When we meet them in the movie, they’ve already picked up a hitchhiker named Pepper (Erica Leerhsen), who has bonded with Andy. They are on their way to a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert in Dallas when they narrowly avoid hitting a young woman (Lauren German) walking along the road. She is bloodied and has a stunned look on her face. She tells them “the others are dead,” and then commits suicide in their van with a gun she had between her legs. Understandably, they are freaked out, so they stop at a gas station to call the local sheriff. The lady manning the station, Luda May (Marietta Marich), tells them that the sheriff wants to meet them by a bridge near the old Hewitt Farmhouse. After waiting awhile for the sheriff, Erin and Kemper head off to look for a phone at the farmhouse, and the others stay behind. Sheriff Hoyt (R. Lee Ermey) finally shows up at the bridge, but he doesn’t seem to be taking the suicide scene too seriously. Eventually he starts taunting and torturing them for fun. Meanwhile, Erin and Kemper reach the farmhouse, which is inhabited by wheelchair-bound Old Monty (Terrence Evans.) Little do they know is that he is the patriarch of the Hewitt clan, which includes Luda May, new mother Henrietta (Heather Kafka), a weird kid named Jedidiah (David Dorfman), and a fat lady who like to drink tea (Kathy Lamkin.) Oh…there is one more person who lives there. Thomas Hewitt, a.k.a. Leatherface (Andrew Bryniarski), is the chainsaw-wielding moneymaker for the clan. He was the former head-skinner at a local slaughterhouse called the Blair Meat Packing Plant, but now apparently does his slaughtering for kicks (and to wear their faces on his deformed face, as he does to one of these victims.) From that point on, it’s a matter of survival avoiding becoming the latest victims of the Hewitt clan.
When I was a kid, my mom specifically forbade me to see two movies: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and for some reason, Eddie Murphy’s Raw (it must have been all of the naughty words.) When I was finally able to rent movies on my own, they were two of the first movies I chose. I couldn’t see what all the hype was over Massacre, since most of the graphic violence happened off-screen. I had already seen the more graphic Nightmare on Elm Street movies, and this was relatively tame. The new version is more graphic, but it isn’t more graphic than other films I have seen this year, including Final Destination 2 and Kill Bill Vol. 1. When director Marcus Nispel took on the project, I’m glad he decided that gore was the way to go. After all, I imagine death by chainsaw isn’t subtle.
It is the best “killer hillbilly” movie of the year though. I don’t know why they brought out so many of them this year, but this one is the kingpin of the trend. First, there was Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses, and then there was Wrong Turn, and now this one. I guess if you want to guarantee having a good psycho hillbilly movie, remaking Massacre is the way to go (there was Deliverance though…)
Visually, the movie was awesome. The same man who did the cinematography for the original, Daniel Pearl, handled this one. Instead of making it grainy (the original was on a shoestring budget after all), he decided to make it big and bright. Even on a smaller screen, you will feel like you are watching a giant movie. As the numbers of victims dwindle, the size of the movie feels like it shrinks, which I thought was creative.
I also thought the occasional reference to pop culture was creative, and fun for a hardcore geek like myself. Aside from Larroquette’s re-appearance, there was a nod to The Blair Witch Project in some “found footage” that we see a snippet from in the beginning and end of the film. In addition, Ain’t It Cool News maestro Harry Knowles makes a cameo as a decapitated head on a platter halfway in. Even Ermey, a man who steals almost every movie he appears in, might remind you of his signature role in Full Metal Jacket with his performance.
I did have two gripes about the movie. First, and I have been chewed out for caring about this, but the movie makes a musical continuity error! When we first see the cast driving along the highway, they are listening to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama,” off their album Second Helping, which was released in 1974, a year after the movie took place. Furthermore, they refer to the hope that Skynyrd will do “Free Bird.” While that song had existed during the setting of the movie, it hadn’t reached popular status until 1975 (I know…they could have been hardcore fans and just coincidentally enjoyed the future pop hit the best.) Second, Biel is kind of a wimp (and a little stupid) until the very end. She spends most of the movie running and not fighting back. At one point, she escapes one building only to enter another one clearly labeled as a meat packing plant (do you really want to hide in a meat packing plant from a chainsaw-sporting maniac?) She did look really good in her tight, white tank top and bell-bottom jeans…
This Texas Chainsaw Massacre managed to live up to the original and emerge fairly decent. I won’t say that it is better than the original, but it managed to at least not suck. There is enough of a change in this one that it isn’t a word-for-word copy, so I think fans of the old one might appreciate it (though some will probably think of it as Texas Chainsaw Massacre 5, since it already had three sequels behind it.) I’ve heard rumblings of a prequel, which I wouldn’t mind seeing. We always see the cannibalistic hillbillies kill people, but we never see how they got that way. Bring on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 6…er, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: Behind the Slaughter, or whatever…
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