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PCR # 188  (Vol. 4, No. 44)  This edition is for the week of October 27--November 2, 2003.

This Week's PCR
Movie Review
"The Texas Chainsaw Massacre"

Movie review by:
ED Tucker

Three stars

Movies are rated 0 to 4 stars

theater seats

The Hauntings of 3016 Villa Rosa Park
 by Will Moriaty
"Runaway Jury"
 by Mike Smith
"The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" by ED Tucker
Where's The Scary TV?....Halloween TV Highlights
 by Vinnie Blesi
Quick CD Reviews....RIP: Elliott Smith
 by Terence Nuzum
Old School Haunts....Modern Monsters....Music
 by Terence Nuzum
Scary Movie 3....Soul Survivors....The Tribute
 by John Lewis
It's Halloween!
 by Matt Drinnenberg
Movie Notes....The Kid Stays in the Cartoon, Too....How Super Is He?....He's Still Got A Name
 by Mike Smith
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New Line Cinema     
Starring: Jessica Biel, Jonathan Tucker, Erica Leerhsen, R. Lee Ermey, Mike Vogel, Eric Balfour, Andrew Byrniarski (Leatherface), and John Larroquette (the narrator)
Directed by: Marcus Nispel
Screenplay by: Kim Henkel and Tobe Hooper
Rated: R
Running Time: 1 hour 38 minutes

Please note: The following review has been formatted to the PCR ratings standards and does contain a minimal amount of SPOILERS.

Happy Halloween horror fans and welcome to my contribution to this festively fright filled edition of the PCR! I made a point of seeing the so called remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in the optimum setting for this type of film, on opening weekend at the Ocala Drive-In Theater. This latest in a recent slew of 70’s genre wanna-bes was preceded by a preview for the remake of yet another horror icon, Dawn of the Dead. I have to ask myself why Hollywood has become so infatuated with remaking horror classics. Is it truly the pursuit of the almighty dollar? Have they really run the well of inspiration that dry? Do they really think they can add something with modern values or state of the art effects? I came to this film seeking knowledge and insight as much as I did thrills and chills.

Let me clarify one point up front, regardless of what the distributors and producers of this film would like audiences to believe, this film is not a remake of the 1974 Tobe Hooper horror classic. At least it is no more of a remake of the original film than the third or fourth installments in the series were. This is really just the latest disjointed segment in a horror film franchise that seems to try to reinvent itself every decade or so, right around the time audiences have forgotten the previous installment. So, before we begin our regularly scheduled movie review, let us pause for a moment to reflect on the history of this horror movie icon.

The original Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a film that is nothing short of legend. When it was first release in 1974, its style of unrelenting terror had such an effect on movie going audiences that almost everyone who viewed it was convinced they had seen far more than what was really on the screen. Word of mouth brought millions of movie goers to the lurid title and every time the plot of the film was reviewed for someone unfortunate enough not to have been able to see it, it became all the more violent and horrifying. The stories of the on screen carnage depicted in the film became so exaggerated that when Wizard Video (anyone remember that label?) first released the film on home video in the early 1980’s, many fans swore it was a diluted and heavily censored version from what they had seen first hand in the theaters a decade earlier. I was one of these early video junkies who was first introduced to this titan of terror on the small screen and I honestly cannot imagine this film having any less of an impact on me around 1984 than it had on audiences who had seen it in the theater in 1974.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre told the story of three brothers whose family had been displaced when the local slaughterhouse had gone out of business years earlier. At some point they had resorted to cannibalism to survive and they had become so proficient at it that they made it into a cottage industry! While younger brothers “Leatherface” (so called because of the mask of dried human flesh he constantly wore) and the straight razor wielding “Hitcher” handled the acquisition and processing of human cattle, the older brother, referred to as “The Cook”, took care of distribution via his roadside barbeque stand. When five teenagers in a van show up to investigate the desecration of a family burial plot, audiences got an up close look at the family’s highly unorthodoxed business practices!

The film as a modest hit when first released and it played in theaters and drive-ins across the country during more re-releases than anyone can count. The film's success was due in no small part to the performances of Edwin Neil, Gunnar Hansen, and Jim Siedow (in one of the screens all-time most believable psycho portrayals) as the demented family. It took ten years and the advent of a new crop of home video fueled cult fans for the first sequel to appear in 1984, but a franchise would finally be born and Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1989) and Texas Chainsaw Massacre 4: The Next Generation (1994) followed. It seems that after three sequels, the concept of doing a remake was inevitable.

If you asked the average horror fan what the difference is between a sequel and a remake, they would probably say something to the effect that a sequel expands on the ideas and situations already established, while a remake tries to reinterpret the original concept using characters and situations that have previously been established. If you asked the same question of today’s Hollywood producers, they would probably tell you (if they were being honest) that a sequel can tend to alienate audiences who feel that they have to come into the film with a certain knowledge of the series to fully appreciate another installment, while a remake causes them to feel that they can start over at the beginning with an up to date version that has no expectations of them. If this new film is anything, it is a remake of Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3, which brought the extended family concept and conspiracy theory subplot to the series. In fact, the only real connections between the original and the remake are the character of Leatherface (which has been the single constant in every installment), the year, and the van! Now back to your regularly scheduled review.

Director Marcus Nispel has covered his bases with the 2003 Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Most notably, he hired David Pearl, the cinematographer on the 1974 original, to perform the same function here and it shows. The “something evil in the dark” feeling of the original film manages to seep through into this retread that plays more like a “greatest hits” version of the first four films than a remake. While this film opens with the same “five teens in a van” routine as the original, the similarities pretty much end there. In fact, except for the obvious omission of cell phones, this could be the present day. The rural locations used in the film could just as easily be Po Dunk, Nowhere circa 2003 as 1974. There are some sly nods back to the beginning (i.e. a hitchhiker that isn’t all they seem to be) but the real inspiration here is the extended family motif that was explored in the third installment of the series. The film does try to bring a few new items to the table, like a back story on why Leatherface has such an interest in human skin, but otherwise we have seen it all before.

The cast is uniformly good, with R. Lee Ermey the standout as the local Sheriff who is definitely not Andy of Mayberry! As much as I appreciate Ermey as an actor and enjoyed him in this film, I couldn’t help thinking that he was too obvious for the part. If the previews have not already given away the fact that Ermey’s character is one of the loonies, the film tips it’s hand way too early. The biggest flaw of the new Massacre is its complacency towards the plot. The director seems to be winking at the audience and saying “you know what’s going to happen already, so why should I bother to try and fool you?” The victims in this version have an intentionally vague history that thankfully helps to prevent them from becoming too stereotypical. While you never really identify with or root for them, you also aren’t begging for someone to hurry up and kill them either. The teens pull a few no-brainers in this one but about the time you start yelling for them to get the hell out of there, at least they try.

The chief asset of the film is its use of restraint when it comes to the gore and violence. This movie could have easily turned into an over the top comical gore fest like the recent Kill Bill, but the director keeps a tight reign on the effects. The finale is also a strong point as it recreates some of the stark, mindless, terror of the original film and still manages to keep some of its scares in the shadows. Unfortunately, this tension is broken by an ending that caters too much to the demands of the current horror genre to mesh correctly with the rest of the film and give it the payoff it deserves.

After sitting through 98 minutes of this film, I came away more entertained than I have been from other films in the recent wave 70’s throwbacks. My burning question of why was still unanswered (sure, I know, to make a buck but can’t they do that these days without rehashing a classic?). Does the young movie going audience of today really need their own interpretation of this classic in order to fully appreciate it or is Hollywood just infatuated with what they perceive as safe bet? The latest TCM is good for a few scares but it will not be the modern classic the hype would like you to believe it is, so I give it a qualified three out of four stars. Take this film as pure entertainment and do your best not to compare it to the original, since there really is no comparison. Just keep repeating to yourself, it’s really a sequel, it’s really a sequel, it’s really a sequel…………………. Three stars

Nolan Canova on
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)
three stars

Although I said I was going to review The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake myself this week, ED Tucker has done so remarkable and thorough a job, I would be repeating his review almost word for word, including the rating (3 stars). I agree with him wholeheartedly on all his well-stated points. So, I will instead offer some additional commentary on a few more things that struck me about the movie and may strike you too.

It may shock you to learn it's been a VERY long time since I've seen the original, and I don't remember it all that well, more like a distant nightmare with a few flashing scenes. I mean I LOVED it originally, but I've been told that things everyone swears were in the original were actually read later in interviews, or in behind-the-scenes books, because the original did NOT have very much deposition. This one doesn't either, at least nothing that helps much. But the original had a certain cheeziness and otherwordly snuff film quality about it.

The new movie has problems, but I generally liked it, high-gloss notwithstanding, Jessica Biel ("Seventh Heaven") is very sexy and I liked watching her bounce around. There, I've said it. I don't mind that Scott and Corey wound up calling this the Texas Wet T-Shirt Massacre, because the producers definitely took every opportunity to keep her soaked and show off her feminine virtues lest your mind wander.

Next, some folks may be surprised (as I was, I didn't read much pre-press) that John Larroquette reprises his role of narrator. Mighty big of him, since he's gone onto greater things since 1974 (well, sort of).

My strongest memory of the whole cast (wet titties notwithstanding), is definitely R. Lee Ermey as the loud-mouthed hick/wacko/inbred(?) sherriff that one just knows has some inside with "the family". The extended family is obvious early on, ED's right about that.

I think director Nispel does a disservice by lingering too much on backstory nonsense (where deposition is just not necessary). The first third of the movie spends way too much time building up relationships between the kids like some deranged WB teen show. And it's silly, and oh-so-postmodern, to expect us to sympathize with some medical problem Leatherface has so we want to forgive him for his obsession with, you know, homicidal mania and human flesh and everything.

The ending is a derivative disappointment that screams Blair Witch Project, as if some of those hand-held camera moves were just too hip to ignore (The film's bookend segments, shot in the grainiest B&W 16mm(?) film ever have to do with a crime photographer following a deputy around the scene of the murders. Extremely effective, except at the end).

These are my only beefs, tho. I highly recommend the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and remind you that it's best consumed in context with the other Massacre films, as ED so succinctly suggested.

This week's movie review of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" is ©2003 by ED Tucker.  All graphics this page are creations of Nolan B. Canova, ©2003, all rights reserved. All contents of "Nolan's Pop Culture Review" are ©2003 by Nolan B. Canova.