Worth A Look: 22.54%
Pretty Bad: 11.89%
Total Crap: 18.44%
6 reviews, 208 user ratings
|Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The (2003)
by Scott Weinberg
Marcus Nispel's "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" marks the second time this year (after Disney's "Pirates of the Caribbean") in which derisive and dismissive snorts of "Why even bother?" would promptly and resoundingly be replaced with that most glorious of compliments: "It's ten times better than the film had any right to be." And though the remake is a grim, gloomy and gory great time - it doesn't pose any threat to Tobe Hooper's original film and its well-earned classification of "Grade-A Classic"; the fact that the revisit is a damn solid film in its own right is cause enough for astonished celebration.Few things could strike terror into the hearts of the Hardcore Horror Freaks of the World like the phrase "Michael Bay to produce Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake", but there it was, just a few short months ago, screaming from the top link of every well-read movie site. Fans of the immortal original film (and c'mon; who isn't?) found themselves agonizing over the project...while still holding out a little hope that the improbable could happen. And indeed it has.
"Second only to the classic original and quite commendable on its own merits"
Because Nispel's version of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a bona-fide gore-storm, a dark, dank and altogether delicious reminder that not all studio-distributed horror flicks are totally lacking in balls. There may be a more fervent purist than myself when it comes to the Modern Classics of American Horror...but I've yet to meet him. And when someone quite passionate about the Horror Movie tells you that an admittedly unnecessary remake of one of the finest genre films EVER MADE is actually pretty damn good...it means that a lot of us skeptics are about to eat some big-time crow.
And have a ball while doing it.
Deviating here and there from its celebrated source material while forging its own blood-soaked ground, the new TCM is quite simply one of the finest horror flicks of the year. And in a year that offered titles like Cabin Fever, May, 28 Days Later and Bubba Ho-tep...well that's some high praise indeed. Against all odds, it seems that the filmmakers accomplished everything they set out to do.
There's an obvious respect shown for Hooper's seminal film, though Nispel, Bay and company plow ahead confidently creating their own movie. Comparisons between the two will be inevitable but there's no denying that there's some real craftsmanship involved in the new one.
There's also a refreshing lack of that oh-so-ironic and self-referential tone that's been so prevalent since Wes Craven's Scream blew up big time...an attitude that only seems to work about 10% of the time its been exploited. Much like its predecessor, this TCM is a DARK affair, laden with shadowy, unsettling visions and a palpable sense of foreboding doom. There are lots of entertaining horror movies out there, but maintaining a 'palpable sense of foreboding doom' is a pretty tough thing to pull off. Expects lotsa chills, jolts, shivers, the occasional patch of goose bumps, and a handful of "Ew yuk" moments...as sort of the icing on the cake.
To those perhaps unfamiliar with the dance steps covered in the TCM movies, here's a brief primer:
Several young people end up where they ought'nt be and run afoul of a rabid family of cannibal butcher lunatics. It's so beautiful in its simplicity that the concept's been done approximately 2,400 times in the last 30-some years.
Horror Freaks of the World may wonder what makes this remake any different from the trio of sequels that followed Hooper's, and the answer is quite simply this: quality filmmakers. Sure, there's some campy good fun to be found in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 (1986), Leatherface (1990) or TCM: The Next Generation (1994) but the goods come in very small doses (particularly in the case of the truly awful 1994 version) due to subpar filmmakers working with the lowest of aspirations. The sequels are not much more than vague Xeroxes, garish follow-ups that try to ape the original's most iconic moments (the dinner scene, the meat hook, Leatherface's wacky dance o' death, etc.) without offering much of anything new or inventive.
This year's version uses Hooper's film as a jumping-off point, referring to its inspiration in short, effective doses. And if you're fully determined to remake a film adored all over the planet, it's probably a smart move to avoid blatant plagiarism.
Screenwriter Scott Kosar seems to know which TCM touchstones we most admire and doles them out sparingly, while affording his version an impressive array of divergences. Gone are a few of the extended "family" members; added are a few tragically effective character shadings. Jettisoned was the infamous "dinner table" sequence, while in its place are presented a few new fantastic chase sequences. While Tobe Hooper's original was presented in a gloriously stark documentary-style presentation, Nispel's update is awash in slick blacks and silvers; it's a wet, dripping, clanging nightmare come to life with a visual style that approaches mad genius.
A common thread between both films: fantastic performances from generally unknown actors. Though not much can approach Marilyn Burns' shriek-laden performance from 1974, the criminally beautiful Jessica Biel acquits herself exceptionally well here. Though her striking good looks are what intially draw us to Biel's "Erin", it's the gal's off-kilter smirk, her plucky tomboyism and her mother-hen presence that forces us to CARE about what happens to her.
And let's just say a lot of bad things happen to her.
Whereas in most slasher-type flicks we WANT the amazingly obnoxious characters to get sliced up in terribly gory fashion, here we have five Average Joe teenagers. (OK, maybe Average Joe doesn't have cheekbones like these kids do, but we're talking character here.) So it's essentially a simple formula: give us characters we LIKE and the horror is therefore amplified. And for us to like a character, they need to be well-conceived (Kosar relies less on stereotype and more on believability) and well-portrayed. Biel's quartet of co-stars (Jonathan Tucker, Mike Vogel, Eric Balfour and Erica Leerhsen) are absolutely strong across the board, the horror flick equivalent of a baseball player hitting five homers in one game.Sure, this one's not much more than a particularly polished addition to the age-old Slasher Genre, but every film deserves to be judged on its own specific merits. Nispel's Chainsaw is a bold, boisterous, bloody good time - and any old-school Horror Freak able to get over the "How dare they?!?" attitude should absolutely find a lot to enjoy here.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=8259&reviewer=128
originally posted: 10/17/03 15:12:10
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