Saturday, October 28, 2017

Texas Chainsaw Week: 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre' (2003)

Nine years after Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation seemingly killed the franchise, Michael Bay's Platinum Dunes production company acquired the rights and put together a slick remake/reboot from music video director Marcus Nispel (who'd later go on to direct the Friday the 13th remake as well). Although it follows the broad strokes of the original story, and is set around the same era (in 1973), this new Texas Chainsaw Massacre also adds and changes a lot, with different characters, more plot elements and a serious increase in blood and guts. Those changes are mostly for the worse, although Nispel puts together a serviceable mainstream horror movie that's more accessible and watchable than the previous TCM sequels, albeit also much less distinctive or interesting.

The nods to the original movie also include getting the same cinematographer (Daniel C. Pearl) and recruiting John Larroquette to once again handle the opening narration. There's no onscreen text, but otherwise the movie opens similarly to all the rest in the series, with a new set of "facts" about the original crime. In this case, we're told that the massacre committed at the home of the Hewitt family (renamed from Sawyer and then Slaughter) has been a cold case for the last 30 years, which sort of puts the filmmakers in a bind when it comes to potential sequels (not that it ended up being an issue). Other than a shot of a filing cabinet, though, there are no present-day reflections, with grainy footage of a police crime-scene investigation (similar to the snapshots in the original movie) serving as the story's framing sequence.

As in the original, the new TCM features five young people (here possibly slightly older than the original characters) on a road trip through rural Texas in a beat-up van. Nispel and screenwriter Scott Kosar add in more plot details, with a bit more back story on the characters' relationships, an actual destination in mind (they're on the way to Dallas for a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert) and a quickly discarded subplot about smuggling pot from Mexico. But of course all of that becomes more or less irrelevant once they find themselves stranded in the backwaters of Texas after picking up a crazed hitchhiker. Here, though, the hitchhiker is a victim of the homicidal family rather than a member, and she commits suicide in the group's van, necessitating their stopover.

From there, they fall into the clutches of the Hewitts, including one who poses as (or actually is, maybe) the local sheriff, played by R. Lee Ermey at his most unhinged. The other Hewitts are less distinctive, although this movie does offer the best take on Leatherface (played here by Andrew Bryniarski) since the original, returning him to a figure of menace after his more cartoonish appearances in previous movies. Nispel relies more on copious gore than on building suspense, and he doesn't skimp on the chainsawing. Jessica Biel is sympathetic but not always convincing as the scared young woman who finds the resourcefulness to get away (or possibly is just lucky), and the rest of the young cast never rise above chainsaw-fodder. The showy gore and the dingy visuals (everything in the Hewitt home is either grimy or dripping or both) fit in with the movie's modern horror aesthetic, but they don't do much to connect it to the original. As I said in my initial review (which doesn't appear to be online anymore), this is tolerable as a mainstream horror movie of 2003, but it doesn't do justice to the legacy of the movie it's remaking.

No comments: