I thought the 2003 remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was serviceable. Neither as fun as Friday The 13th 2009 (sue me, I love that one) or as abysmal as A Nightmare On Elm Street 2010. The Wolfman sort of feels the same way. He doesn’t exactly like it, but he can’t outright hate it (even if it’s of course nowhere near as good as the original). Sometimes finding a saving grace in a film comes down to finding just one scene that really hits it out of the park. And that’s precisely the point The Wolfman (@TheWolfmanCometh – on the boards) aims to illustrate here in his column!
We’re going to, on occasion, start examining good scenes that outpace the general quality of the film that contains them. And we hope you’ll come along for the ride! Head inside for his take on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2003!
Whether you actually like the movie or not, I don’t think there’s any question within the horror community of the impact that The Texas Chain Saw Massacre had in 1974 and how that impact can be felt to this day. Almost 40 years after its release, we’ve seen hundreds of copycats or movies with similar themes that involve a mentally or physically deformed individual or group of individuals who are killing anyone who stumbles into their path. I think the biggest strengths of the original, as is the case with most classics, would be factors that were seemingly outside the production’s control. For example, the poor quality of film used on The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is what makes everything feel so grimy, filthy, and real (similarly to how the shark looking awful in Jaws caused Spielberg to barely show the creature). I won’t go on and on about all the reasons why the original is so good (but you’re more than welcome to by reading the review on my personal blog), but I wanted to emphasize its lo-fi feel to contrast it with what went so wrong with its remake in 2003, which cost roughly $10 million.
Using a similar style to the original, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre opens with footage “recovered” from investigators of the Hewitt household, and even got John Larroquette back to do the voiceover. From there, we see a group of coeds on their way to see Lynyrd Skynyrd, as was common practice in 1973. After picking up a hitchhiker who appears to be in need of assistance, the gang learns that there isn’t much they can do to help her, made clear by this hitchhiker pulling a gun out of her bathing suit area (the bottom parts, no less) and shooting herself in the head. When the gang pulls into a local gas station in hopes of getting help from the town sheriff, they instead receive help from R. Lee Ermey, who I’m willing to bet has never helped anyone do anything except cry over their physical imperfections. What follows is a bland series of chase scenes involving a big guy with a chainsaw chasing around Jessica Biel, and every time she thinks she’s made it away safely, we realize that the Hewitt family is quite large (figuratively and literally) and Leatherface (the most leathery-faced member of the Hewitt clan) catches up to her. She ultimately tricks him by putting a pig in a locker (huh?) and chopping his arm off. She then went on to get married to Adam Sandler and Kevin James… or something, I can’t really remember.
Being judged on its own, I can’t say this movie is awful, but compared to the original, it holds absolutely none of the fear or, dare I say, charm of Tobe Hooper’s 1974 version. Some of the cinematography was decent, causing moments where you felt like these characters really were driving through Texas in 1973 (based mostly on sweat), but that’s about it. The violence wasn’t really all that graphic, or at least not any more graphic than anything else in 2003. Then again, the original didn’t rely on gore to get its terror across, so I guess it’s a moot point. It was entertaining to see R. Lee Ermey chewing up the scenery around him, but it also really only showed just how much more talented he was than everyone else involved, making them look terrible by comparison. You didn’t care about any of the characters or whether they lived or died, but again, not too different than the characters in the original. I could see where the remake tried to go by highlighting the familial aspect of the original, but I think all the family members were just watered down versions of characters we’ve seen in other films in their generic creepiness. In fact, I think it was the almost cartoonish interpretations of the family members in the original that, when juxtaposed against the horror of the events at hand, made that film all the more successful. All that being said, there was one particular segment I found quite enjoyable.
One of the weirdest scenes in the original film is when a hitchhiker (Edwin Neal) is picked up and he proceeds to thoroughly creep out everyone in the van. From taking pictures of them that he sets on fire, to telling stories of when he used to work at a slaughterhouse, to straight up cutting people, he successfully creeps out them and the audience. The remake tried to do things a little differently, possibly knowing that they couldn’t even try to achieve the same effect that this scene had in the original, and they instead turned it into an ominous and foreboding moment. As I already mentioned, it involved a girl stumbling, crying, and bleeding her way down a dirt road. When she’s picked up, her ramblings don’t make sense. Once she tells them “You’re all going to die”, she puts a gun in her mouth and shoots out the back of her head. We see screaming and flailing, but the best part of this segment is when a camera starts in the driver and passenger seats, pulls back to see the reactions of the characters in the back seat, continues to pull backwards THROUGH the recently opened hole in the hitchhiker’s head, her head flops backwards towards the camera with a well-timed “thud”, and the camera continues out through the hole created by the bullet in the back windshield. Although the acting in that scene (if you want to call Jessica Biel frantically screaming “acting”) isn’t all that good, the practical effect is a really successful one. I have the Special Edition DVD (whoops, did I just admit to that?) and saw a little behind-the-scenes segment talking about that scene and how all it took was the prosthetic of the actress’s head and an endoscopic camera on the end of a long pole. The pole is what held the head in place, so as soon as the camera/pole rig was clear, the head flops. Simple, effective, and a cheap way to make a nice, gruesome gag that reminded me a lot of some of the shots accomplished by Raimi’s team on the Evil Dead movies. There were a few other moving parts to that scene, but that’s the gist of it. Another reason this scene is noteworthy is because up until this point, between the opening sequence and the look of the film, it really isn’t all that bad of a movie. But pretty much everything after that sequence is garbage.