The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
2003, R, 98 min. Directed by Marcus Nispel. Starring Jessica Biel, Eric Balfour, Mike Vogel, Jonathan Tucker, Erica Leerhsen, R. Lee Ermey, Andrew Bryniarski, Stephen Lee.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Oct. 17, 2003
Tobe Hooper’s original 1974 production of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, which was filmed just outside of Austin proper, remains one of the great subversive family films of the ages. Along with Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes and, to a lesser degree, Jack Hill’s Spider Baby, it mined both the temper of its times and the traditional notion of the nuclear family. Instead of the mainstream model with 2.5 kids and a carport, Hooper and screenwriter Kim Henkel came up with a witty and bleak black comedy that could be taken as an allegory about the generation gap, the co-opting of the hippies by their truly transgressive square counterparts, or, on the leathery face of it, as a down and dirty horror film. It’s no wonder, then, that Hooper’s film has survived the 30 years since its Summer ’73 shoot: Like Bonnie and Clyde and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid before it, the original Chain Saw pits the outsider against the entrenched system, only in this case the true American mavericks are a debased Texas barbecue clan featuring a chainsaw-wielding maniac as their point man. This new version of Chainsaw arrives courtesy of Michael Bay’s new Platinum Dunes production company, and while it’s far from bad, it also falls far short of the icy frissons produced by the original. The story is familiar, at least: Five teens traveling through Texas stop to pick up a mysterious hitchhiker, who then inadvertently draws them into the clutches of those darn cannibals. Director Nispel and cinematographer Daniel Pearl (who also worked on Hooper’s original) manage some truly disquieting moments throughout the film, but Nispel, having recently arrived from the world of commercials and music videos, allows the choppy editing to overrun the story. There are times when it’s difficult to know who’s chasing whom, or what, exactly, that chainsaw just did to that shadowy figure’s leg. Pearl’s camera opts heavily in the direction of blue filters for everything, which lends the film an otherworldly light that, combined with Nispel’s penchant for sudden rainstorms and all things gooey, only serves to make the film feel more like an MTV production. That’s not to say the film doesn’t have its shocks, however. A scene early on sets the tone with a bullet, and while this is a far more gory affair than Hooper’s original, it’s the sort of grue that doesn’t, you’ll pardon the expression, stick to your ribs. Biel and Balfour, as the leaders of the pack, perform, oddly enough, like kids in a horror movie, with the rest of the young cast registering little impact. Only R. Lee Ermey, as the small-town sheriff, chews the meat off his cinematic bones properly; his character’s libidinous urges will likely make even the most jaded gorehound sit up and beg for a doggie bag. That said, what’s most irritating about Nispel’s remake is its abandonment of the family theme midway through. There’s no final dinner scene with Grandpa to savor, nor is there any sense of real community among either the cannibal family or its teenage quarry. By the end, it’s all Leatherface (Bryniarski, easily outclassed by Robbie Jacks from 1994’s Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre) all the time, which may have sounded like a good idea at the pitch meeting, but ultimately isn’t.