Synopsis: Get help! That’s a good idea when carefree friends traveling the back roads of Texas run into trouble. So they ask for assistance at an eerie, ramshackle farmhouse. That’s a bad idea – one that cranks up the whirring, ripping terror of this fear-choke re-imaging of the cult fave The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Producer Michael Bay (Transformers), director Marcus Nispel (2009’s Friday the 13th) and their filmmaking team bring edgy contemporary style to a gory frightmare. Jessica Biel leads the cast of roadtrippers who must battle the spinning steel of monstrous Leatherface. Join them for a savage game of hide and shriek.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003) 6.75
eyelights: Jessica Biel. Jessica Biel’s snug outfit. its production values. its main cast.
eyesores: its length. its lack of subtlety. its nonsensical moments. its gratuitous bits.
“What, are you afraid of a little blood?”
I had good reasons to be skeptical of a remake of ‘The Texas Chain Saw Massacre‘: Firstly, remakes are rarely worth a glance. Secondly, it was produced by Michael Bay. Thirdly, its star attraction is Jessica Biel.
Let me explain:
1. Remakes are already of dubious merit, but it’s usually tenfold with horror; one has to dig deep to find a horror remake (or reboot) that’s as good, let alone better, than the original. There are a few (some would argue ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’, though I disagree), but you won’t run out of fingers to count on. On one hand.
2. Michael Bay sucks. (Need I say more?)
3. Jessica Biel, though delicious eye candy, had never impressed me as an actress. In fact, she’d just annoyed me to death in ‘The Rules of Attraction’. So a horror remake with her in the lead didn’t bode well. Not at all.
I was pleasantly surprised.
In fact, the 2003 motion picture (which I only saw because a copy had passed my hand at one belated point) is surprisingly slick, well-acted and entertaining. It even holds up relatively well as far as horror films go.
Is it scary, though? That depends on the viewer. Personally, I think that it’s more creepy than anything else: it came out at a time when so-called “torture porn” started to be the rage and its grisly visuals do haunt.
But its tension-building is heavy-handed; it basically tries to pummel its audience into a state of shock. Of course, the same could be said of the original, which features one of the most harrowing scenes ever filmed.
At least the 1974 classic paces itself and holds a few surprises.
The remake doesn’t.
It does change up a few things from the original, though, most notably the configuration of the Hewitt family, which is not cannibalistic this time. It’s also less gory than you’d expect, though it’s brutally violent.
The best part is the first act – the set-up, if you will.
It begins with a narrated intro with black and white footage of a police walk-through of a crime scene. This is a significant improvement over the original and its sequels, which all had a crummy text opener instead.
This one really sets the stage.
Then it finds five young adults tearing down the road on their way to a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert, smoking pot that they’ve purchased while in Mexico. It’s all sex, drugs and rock and roll until they find a hitchhiker.
The girl they pick up was wandering down the road in a near-catatonic state. She cries and mumbles about everyone dying and shoots herself in a panic. Distraught, the gang go looking for some police assistance.
That’s when they meet the oddball locals.
And the fit hits the shan.
Maybe I just loved the slick look of the picture, maybe I was surprised by how decent the cast was (the original’s elicited unintentional laughs), or maybe my brain fogged up at the sight of Biel’s sexy abdomen and hips.
I don’t know…
But I liked it.
Don’t get me wrong: it’s hardly brilliant (one has to wonder how the girl concealed the gun, for instance!), but it’s significantly better than the opening salvo of its predecessor. Maybe it’s just a question of expectations.
I mean, even Biel impressed me with her performance. It’s a horror film, and by that standard alone there’s no reason expect anything remotely resembling acting, but she’s actually really surprisingly quite good here.
And…. um… let me just return to the small matter of Biel’s abdomen and hips (and other bits) for a moment.
Seriously, when I think of this picture, the first thing that comes to mind are the jeans that Biel wears here, and how snug and flattering they are. It’s shallow of me, I know, but it really struck a chord for some reason.
It still does.
(And now back to our regularly scheduled programming.)
Obviously, people tune in to the Texas Chainsaw Massacre movies for Leatherface, the bulky horror icon who wears a human skin mask and lugs around a chainsaw. The filmmakers were well aware of this with the remake.
In this version, Leatherface is more prominently featured, showing up more frequently and having a larger part in the proceedings. He also gets to wear a variety of masks, and his real face is revealed – as are his origins.
Personally, I didn’t see this as a plus. What makes him scary is not so much in his appearance but in his unpredictability – the fact that he can pop up anytime and act erratically, dangerously, for the time that he’s there.
That type of character is best kept in the shadows, enigmatic; this allows the audience to project their insecurities and fears on him, whereas a greater reveal only serves to humanize him, maybe even make him relatable.
Monsters shouldn’t be either if they’re to remain formidable.
For me, though the picture’s allure is supposed to be Leatherface, the character that stood out the most was the brutal backwoods cop who harasses the protagonists time and time again – to the point of terrorizing them.
The thing with these scenes is that it’s genuinely terrifying: Sheriff Hoyt is an immoral, power-tripping Neanderthal, and likely the only law enforcement in the area. What’s one to do when threatened at gunpoint by his type?
There’s literally nowhere to run to.
Of course, this kind of abuse of power exists in many areas of the world. It’s not a new concept. But it’s precisely because it’s so real-world that the scenes chill the bone. This could happen. A chainsaw psycho is less likely.
Plus which Hoyt is extreme for a cop. Leatherface is exactly what you’d expect.
What’s less expected is that the film, though gritty and nasty, isn’t nearly as visceral as you’d expect. It has a torture porn sensibility, as evidenced by all the body parts and mutilations, but it’s not all that bloody or gory.
In fact, the editor cut away from the violence precisely at times when others would have exploited the moment for cheap thrills. You have to give the filmmakers at least that: they left some of it to our imagination.
Having said this, this ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ is generally unsubtle – extremely well made in comparison to its predecessors, but unsubtle; it gets right up in your face as much as it can and holds very few real surprises.
(Except for die-hard fans of the original, who may expect an exact duplicate – which it’s not).
Once it gets going, it’s nearly unrelenting, stringing together a series of emotionally or physically violent sequences until we’re totally punch-drunk, hoping that the next conflict will be the last. Alas, it never seems to be.
‘TCM’ started off very strong, easily getting a 7.75-7.5 but gradually overstayed its welcome. I’d like to give it a 7.0, but it doesn’t deserve this by the time that it wraps up. Still, it’s by far better than any of the original sequels.
Not that this is saying much.
Nota bene: There have been a few prequels, sequels and reboots since this one, but I can’t be bothered. I’m done with ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ franchise.
Date of viewing: October 9, 2017