The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

cast: Jessica Biel, Jonathan Tucker, Erica Leerhsen, Andrew Bryniarski, and R. Lee Ermey

director: Marcus Nispel

98 minutes (18) 2003
EV VHS rental or retail
Also available to rent or buy on DVD

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by John Percival

Teenagers, psycho killer, blood and screaming, it has been done many times before, but this film is a remake of a classic horror flick that invented many of the horror clichés. Tobe Hooper’s 1974 The Texas Chain Saw Massacre has been given a Hollywood reworking and, while it cannot be called original, it still manages to have some pleasingly nasty moments.
Very loosely based on the true story of serial killer Ed Gein, the film is set in 1973 centres on a group of teenagers travelling cross-country to a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert. On the way they pick up a disturbed girl who on the back seat of the van takes a gun and blows her brains out. The teenagers search for help and a police officer to report the incident to and in doing so they come across a range of scary, freakish characters and the inevitable meeting with the deformed Leatherface.
I have never seen the original so I am free from making constant comparisons between the two movies. Generally I find that remakes are never as good as the original but it does not mean we should write this film off straight away. It does benefit from the Hollywood style as well as from a couple of good performances.
Usually the main focus is on the character of Thomas Hewitt or Leatherface, who with a severe facial deformity, slaughters his victims and wears their faces as a mask. Leatherface is a truly gruesome lumbering creature that hacks away at his victims with a chainsaw and then hangs them alive or dead on meat hooks. He is also very careful in cutting them up or removing their skin and sewing it into a mask. However, there is more than just Leatherface, if you see the family and community he comes from then a truly disturbing picture is painted. There is his controlling mother and wheelchair-bound father who encourage his murderous assault on the teenagers, then there is the awfully inbred looking child and the over the top, deranged Sheriff Hoyt played by R. Lee Ermey, who is best remembered at the tyrant drill sergeant in Full Metal Jacket. Sheriff Hoyt is every bit as mad and dangerous as Leatherface but he appears to be driven by different desires, and molesting a corpse seems to be one of them.

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The special effects in the film are reminiscent of Jeepers Creepers and are just as effective here. As the camera pulls the viewpoint through the red hole in the hitchhikers head, it pretty much sets the tone for what we can expect and there are plenty of other moments to wince at.
The teenagers, however, are frustrating they are ‘too’ everything, they are too all American perfect, too good looking, in too tight clothes and also too stupid. They walk into traps we would have gone out of our way to avoid. Special mention goes to Jessica Biel who as Erin screams in all the right places and she does try to flesh out her character from the limited script. But we are concerned for her only in so much as we would be concerned for a rabbit or deer being hunted by a predator on a wildlife documentary.
The true essence of the film is the creepy setting. The car graveyard, derelicts mills and farms, unused fields, they all set the mood. The sprinkling of teeth outside and all the body parts inside the house let you know that the teenagers who are being dispatched are only part of the full horror of this place and that people live here and do this makes it so much worse.
As there are currently a great many new horror movies out there, Texas Chainsaw Massacre does not suffer too much from being a remake. It shows a great vision and more imagination than just pure hack ‘n’ slash with the incredibly freakish characters. I just wish that some of the imagination had been left for the teenagers.