Posted: 10/21/03

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)
by Gary Schultz

Some classics should not be messed with...

Posted: 10/21/03

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)
by Josh Gloer

Raves for this gory remake...

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First time feature director Marcus Nispel (Janet Jackson 1986/1996: Design of a Decade, Faith No More: Video Croissant 1992) has brought us another horror remake of an absolute masterpiece that really didn't need to be remade, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Understand this, next to the original Night of the Living Dead, I consider the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre to be the most awesome, important horror film ever made in mainstream American cinema. Now here we have a first time director who makes music videos directing one of the most important horror icons namely Leatherface in a Michael Bay (Pearl Harbor, Armageddon) production. God help us this could spell disaster.

The story starts out on a trip through Texas from Mexico, a group of teens pick up a survivor of a massacre that took place the night before. The group consists of Erin played by Jessica Biel (7th Heaven, Summer Catch), her boyfriend Kemper played by Eric Balfour (Six Feet Under), Pepper played by Erica Leerhsen (Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows, Hollywood Ending), Andy played by Mike Vogel (Grind) and whiny Morgan played by Jonathan Tucker (Virgin Suicides, Ball in the House). The friends had actually gone down to Mexico to purchase two ponds of marijuana for profit unbeknownst to Erin who is naturally pissed when she finds out.

Problems arise quickly when they pick up a woman on the side of the road walking aimlessly. She gets in the van and upon further inspection everyone starts to notice that everything is not quite right with her. The girl looks beat up like she's been in a fight. She raves continuously about someone trying to kill her. Then she pulls out a gun from an unbelievable place and shoots herself in the mouth. The audience gets the pleasure of following the bullet into her mouth, through the back of her head and out the back window. Best shot of the movie. Everyone's freaked out but they can't call the cops right away because they have two pounds of marijuana on them so they're forced to drive around with the fresh corpse in the backseat until they dispose of the weed and can find help. This is how the remake begins. So by now I realize that this is going to be a remake and not a retelling. So I'm going to except that the story might change a bit and not force myself to rip my eyeballs out and shove them in my ears. I'm convinced that Marcus Nispel and Michael Bay have never even read the script to the original.

With that in mind what we get is what's expected, a gruesome movie full of cool shots and quality kills delivered in a fashion that we would expect from a music video director and a producer that likes to blow things up. The film is brutal with some fantastic make up FX. The cast is actually pretty believable for the most part but it doesn't feel like the seventies, definitely not 1973. It just doesn't have that vibe. Seeing as how this is a Michael Bay production you can expect everything to be gigantic, explicit and at times over the top of what is needed. Everything is in your face. R. Lee Ermey (Full Metal Jacket) does the film justice as the nasty Sheriff Hoyt who just ends up screwing the kids royally as he already suspects they have something to do with the hitchhikers suicide. He then discovers they are dope smokers when he finds part of a joint in their van and really puts them through hell.

Now, normally an in-your-face horror movie is something I dream of. Drool over, even. But the beauty of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre is that it was shot on sixteen-millimeter film, in a documentary style, on a tiny budget with no name actors, and with very little blood. And the original is scary as hell and feels so real. The remake feels like a giant horror film. John Larroquette's voice over, sure it's still there although a bit different. They still kill off one of the main characters right away, something which is usually saved for the end so that was nice. The dinner sequence with the whole cannibal family gathered around the table with grandpa drinking blood and trying to whack our main character with a mallet - gone. Probably for the best since if they tried to handle a scene that delicate they probably would have just messed it up. The chase sequences are shorter and introduce some new trailer trash characters that steal babies...kind of pointless. Leatherface is definitely more brutal which is fine and we get to see him working stitching up a mask from one of his victims, which is strange and cool. But for the love of God they show his FACE. Yes that's what I said. They talk about how he has a skin disease as if to give more motivation for making masks out of other peoples flesh and in a moment of shock they show his face. The face does look pretty cool but what an awful idea. What's behind the mask is always scarier when it's your imagination.

Really it was Jessica Biel who moved the film through slower parts and screamed bloody murder while being chased that kept my interest throughout the film. Her mere presence steals every scene. But then again I'm a big Jessica Biel fan. And in the films climax she actually squares off against Leatherface and hacks away at his arm with a blade, which was also pretty gruesome. The biggest tragedy of all is that the final shot of the original, that classic shot of Leatherface, sun coming up behind him swinging the chainsaw through the air in a mad rage is gone. Maybe they didn't want to try a recreate it, maybe that was a smart idea. All in all the new Chainsaw plays out more like a straight forward bloody slasher-chase film than a classic well paced horror film about a family of cannibals. If you want an in your face blood and guts with little thinking involved movie, which can be pretty cool then check this film out. But please, see the original first because the remake doesn't touch it. But most other horror films don't either. Please someone stop remaking horror movies and write something original.

So, to sum it all up here's what we've learned: Don't pick up hitchhikers even if they are cute girls. Don't use the Lords name in vain in a small town. Chainsaws are dangerous especially if in the hands of a maniacal madman. Don't trust small town sheriff's they could be cannibals. Don't EVER, I mean EVER take the liberty of showing a horror icons face in a remake if it wasn't so in the original, I don't care if Tobe Hooper is a co-producer. Oh, and someone find Jessica Biel's agent contact info for me, I need to speak with her on some personal matters.

Gary Schultz is an indie filmmaker from Chicago. He works under an independent production company called Highertribe Productions and spends his days coordinating the Screenwriting Center for Columbia College.

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The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one of the scariest movies ever made; and then it was remade, and remade again, and the third times wasn't exactly the charm as director Marcus Nispel's attempts to recreate the 1974 horror classic.  While shock noises, intense killings and a scantily clad Jessica Biel made this version entertaining, it failed to reach the height of terror portrayed in Tobe Hooper's original. 

The tale told in this 2003 rendition was much the same as its predecessors as several road tripping teenagers stumble upon the wrong house at the wrong time.  Their ill timed arrival at the house led them into the hands of the Hewitt family, and their son Thomas a.k.a. "Leatherface" portrayed by through the body language of Andrew Bryniarski.  Again, much like the 1974 classic, this version portrays the graphic and gruesome deaths as one by one the teens are senselessly slaughtered to satisfy the deranged Thomas as he acquires skin to cover up his own deformities. 

However, the two versions differ significantly beyond the nuts and bolts of the plot.  A hitchhiker, obviously in a state of complete hysteria, commits suicide in the Kemper's (Eric Balfour's) van.  When the teenagers stop for help, they quickly realize that this is not a normal part of Texas as they are told they must meet the Sheriff at the old mill out in the middle of no where.  Upon their arrival, the kids befriend the odd and obviously abused Jedidiah (David Dorfman) who tells them where the Sheriff lives.  In a quest to call police to retrieve the suicide victim, the group splits up, and the slaughtering begins as they attack, flee and just attempt to survive their assailant's meat hooks, sewing machines and chainsaws.  Erin (Biel) manages to escape, only to be brought back to the evil's point of origin, but sees her opportunity to do some good as she rescues a stolen baby, and runs the murdering Sheriff over three times.  The film ends in a bookend style as the investigation footage vaguely depicts Leatherface hacking up the police on the scene.  

Unfortunately, it is some of these differences that keps this film from reaching its potential as a true terror flick.  Rather than a family, isolated in the Texas countryside, screenwriter Scott Kosar's adaptation allows the insanity to spread as it seems that the whole town has been infected with Leatherface's madness.  Sheriff Hoyt, played by famous vocal harasser R. Lee Ermey, is only one of several town citizens who seem to lead the unfortunate youth toward the Hewitt household.  This addition gave the film a sort of X-Files conspiracy at a carnival feel as more and more people were involved.  The set design, while extremely weird and eerie, seemed to be a contest to make each scene more bizarre than the last as odd dolls, jars with strange contents and skulls in junkyards surrounded the unfortunate victims through their last minutes.  Where this seemed effective in the original, this newer version seemed like it had been given the "Hollywood Treatment" as the weirdness went a bit over the top.  This style of set design along with an attack on Leatherface with a butcher knife, and Jedidiah's assist in the escape makes this film seem more like Nightmare On Elm Street than a true tale of murder.  Finally, while the bookend style was interesting, it seemed to be a direct rip off of The Blair Witch Project, as the camera falls to the floor eluding that the cameraman has been murdered leaving the audience cheated as this ending has been seen before. 

What made the 1974 Massacre so extremely terrifying wasn't the use of special effects or fancy camera tricks, but rather the simple notion that this actually occurred.  The audience looked on in complete horror as these ordinary kids lost their lives in ways so terrible it didn't seem possible for them to be fiction.  Unfortunately, this realism was completely lost in this most recent film as it inherited a slasher film slant.  While it is definitely entertaining, and worth a viewing, if you like the original, you might want to hold off until this Massacre reaches the video store shelves. 

Josh Gloer is one of our LA staffers. He is a screenwriter working his way up the Hollywood ladder.

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