THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE
Review by Michael Jacobson
Jessica Biel, Jonathon Tucker, Mike Vogel, Eric Balfour, Erica Leerhsen,
R. Lee Ermey
Director: Marcus Nispel
Audio: Dolby Digital EX 5.1, DTS ES, Dolby Stereo
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: New Line Cinema
Features: See Review
Length: 89 Minutes
Release Date: March 30, 2004
on, boy…BRING IT!!!”
seem to incorporate mathematical formulas into horror remakes…most notably,
that more blood, more gore, and more action equals a better film.
The original Texas Chainsaw Massacre was low budget, marginally
acted, minimally stylish, and yet undeniably effective.
The remake of 2003 actually has a sense of cinematography, lighting, a
terrific lead actress and a much grislier approach.
But it doesn’t have the same impact.
horror movies are like sprints; they come out of the starting gate full
throttle. Some are like marathons,
where the leisurely pace creates atmosphere and suspense.
The new Texas Chainsaw Massacre is more akin to one of those
endurance challenges so popular on television.
If you can make it through to the end, the rewards are quite
satisfactory. But the challenge
will be putting yourself through what comes before, which is an exercise in
unbridled unpleasantness with an unapologetically sadistic flavor.
basic formula remains sort of intact…a group of young people are driving
through barren Texas territory in a van, pick up a hitchhiker, and find
themselves face to face with the ultimate dysfunctional family.
In the original, it was a family of cannibals.
Here, there is some kind of attempt at explaining why the villainous
Leatherface is the way he is. But
for the most part, the film goes for the kind of crude southern stereotypes
first made creepy in Deliverance. That’s
pretty much all the reason you need to be freaked out.
the first film wasn’t nearly as gory as reputed (only four deaths, and only
one coming via the chainsaw), this movie piles it on, not just gratuitously, but
stylishly as well. Consider the
girl who commits suicide in the van…have you ever seen a camera shot track
through the bullet hole in someone’s head before?
follows is murder and mayhem, as Leatherface starts picking off the kids one by
one, in mostly the same pattern as the original, but more so, if you get my
meaning. Every act of violence is
designed not only to be gruesome, but constantly elevated from what came before.
What’s worse that sawing off a limb?
Rubbing salt on the stump, of course…
film, which was produced by Michael Bay, is really designed to sicken and
unsettle rather than scare. Unfortunately,
there aren’t many people nowadays who seem to understand the difference
between what’s frightening and what’s merely going for the gag reflex.
My nerves don’t react to the kind of scenarios depicted in this
picture. My stomach does.
the final stretch delivers a sequence that makes the whole experience
worthwhile. It doesn’t duplicate
the infamous dinner table scene of the original, but rather re-imagines the
finale in a remarkably effective way. We’ve
all seen homicidal killers stalking innocent girls more times than we care to
count, but I dare say, it’s never been done as well or with as much real
tension and imagination as here. The
climax will just about drive you out of your skull.
other redeeming factor is Jessica Biel in the starring role.
In a picture where most of the characters, good or bad, are not very
likable, she brings the movie its only true human face.
Her performance is what keeps us invested for the long haul.
Oscars were probably to much to hope for, but she almost should be
considered for a Purple Heart for the exhaustive physical ordeal her character
goes through. The rest of the cast
is kind of bland and uninteresting. R.
Lee Ermey once seemed like a promising character actor, but his career has been
relegated to the role of caricature actor instead.
This performance won’t help him break out of that rut.
Nispel is a talented director, and original cinematographer Daniel Pearl
returned to man the cameras for this remake…I have a feeling this is more akin
to what he would have done with the original had there been more money and time.
The construction and execution of the film are flawless, but as I said,
the overall effect is lacking…which proves, I suppose, that talent bloated on
money is not as conducive to creativity as talent left hungry to prove
the end, I think producers ought to stop looking at classic cult films like Texas
Chainsaw Massacre or Dawn of the Dead and thinking, “These are
good…with more money and more special effects, they’d be great!!”
Instead, they should be studying the films and asking themselves how they
managed to be so successful without millions of dollars or state of the art
technology. That will be the point
when horror films will start becoming great again instead of merely mildly
TRIVIA: As in the original flick,
the opening narration is provided by John Larroquette. Also, the kids in the film are a bit ahead of their
time…they’re listening to Lynryd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” in
1973, a year before the song was released!
money doesn’t always equal better film, but New Line’s Platinum Series
always equals a superior DVD experience. This
anamorphic transfer is first rate; I’d dare say even better than the
theatrical experience! In a movie
where lighting or lack of lighting is crucial to the overall effect, this DVD
delivers unique clarity and depth of detail from start to finish. Dark scenes or light scenes render with no apparent
difficulties, no loss of resolution, no distortions and no undue grain or
compression. Colors are vivid
throughout, and those dark corridors with sporadic light patterns couldn’t
possibly look any better. Highest
is vital in horror, and the inclusions of extended Dolby Digital and DTS tracks
make this a reference quality disc. Everything
you’d want in a soundtrack is here; plenty of bottom end, a seemingly
limitless amount of dynamic range, clear dialogue, stark music, and lots and
lots of over the shoulder surround effects that might make you spin in your seat
more than once. Everything is
lively, well balanced and well mixed for a frightful experience…that saw will
frequently sound too close for comfort.
2 disc special edition is loaded with goodies.
Disc One features three commentary tracks labeled “production”,
“technical” and “story”. They
are all edited together group commentaries featuring the participation of Marcus
Nispel, Michael Bay, Jessica Biel and the cast, screenwriter Scott Kosar, DP
Daniel Pearl, New Line exec Robert Shaye and more. There are also some DVD ROM extras, including script to
screen and storyboard viewer.
Two has an alternate opening and ending, a “Severed Parts” documentary on
what scenes were deleted from the film and why (you can also select and view
deleted scenes from the menu), a feature length documentary that details the
origins and production of the project, a solid documentary on Ed Gein, the
real-life serial killer who partly inspired this movie (and Psycho),
screen tests for Jessica Biel, Eric Balfour and Erica Leerhsen (what a
screamer!), two trailers including Michael Bay’s famous all-black teaser, 7 TV
spots, music video for “Suffocate” by Motograter, and art and stills
package also includes a removable metal faceplate and an evidence file featuring
“crime scene” photos. An
excellent array of features!