Halloween Endurance Test: the Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)

Call me crazy, call me a glutton for punishment, but I actually went into the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake expecting good things. After all, its sequel, the Texas Chainsaw Massacre: the Beginning, wasn’t horrible. Certainly not as horrible as some of the original’s own sequels would turn out to be.

Unlike the unlikely lovable Texas Chainsaw Massacre: the Beginning, Michael Bay’s original reboot starts off on the wrong foot. Having bought the rights to the series for marquee value alone, Bay gave it to Marcus Nispel as an introduction to the major leagues of filmmaking. (Nispel’s prior work had largely been doing music videos.) Unfortunately, Marcus Nispel didn’t take carte blanche with his source material. Instead he opens his film with pretend police documentary footage, to recreate the illusion of the original’s “based on a true story” infamy.

Said pretend documentary footage is terrible. People believed Tobe Hooper’s (the Funhouse) original was a true story because it looked as if it could be. It didn’t have that Hollywood gloss over it; rounding out its edges. This film has none of those edges, it’s clearly a modern production: establishing shot, close-up, close-up, close-up. A made-for-TV major motion picture.

While I still have the utmost respect for Bay using his fame and resources to start a production company who’s sole aim is to bring aspiring filmmakers their start, I just can’t stand behind this film. If only they had done what they said they set out to do, which was exploit “the Texas Chainsaw Massacre” legacy for name value only, and create something new with it.

The director can't understand why people think the hitchhiker pulls a gun out of her crotch. Now why would they think that?

The film starts off on the wrong foot, centering itself around the suicide of a hitchhiker. Making heroes of our travelers early on, as they struggle to figure out what to do with the body. Whereas in Tobe Hooper’s original, the hitchhiker is crazy and possibly homicidal, making the principal characters victims right from the start. They’re not trying to prove/maintain their innocence, they’re just trying to stay alive.

The attack on Kemper (Eric Balfour), while effectively staged – he looks up, sees nothing, starts watching a cartoon, and gets brained from behind; still has nothing on Leatherface’s original introduction. Having a featureless, stainless steel door slide open revealing a hammer-wielding Leatherface will win every time.

I love how Leatherface’s first chase scene here involves him chasing Andy (Mike Vogel) through a field of billowing white sheets. What luck, the kids have stumbled upon the Hewitts during laundry day! Classy how Marcus Nispel decided to eschew the whole dirty ’70s survival horror idiom in favor of an ’80s new wave video aesthetic.

I wonder if it was stipulated in Jessica Biel’s contract that she had to go braless? With the penalty of being sent back to 7th Heaven as a consequence for not following.

I might just hate Jessica Biel. You probably wouldn’t suspect this coming from a guy who runs a website dedicated to Halloween, horror movies, and mocking God, but deep down, I’ve always been a 7th Heaven fan. It provided those of us who can’t enter a church without fear of bursting into flames a rare glimpse into the US’ Mid-Western, Puritanical mindset. A place where holding hands on the eighth date is considered risque behavior.

Now if you’re (rightfully) wondering what any of this has to with the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, besides the obvious Jessica Biel connection, I’ll be the first to admit: nothing. But a quick glance back at the screen shows that Biel is still running from Leatherface. A Leatherface who has made the unorthodox decision to forgo using his iconic chainsaw to dispatch Biel.

If the only way you can prolong your movie to make its required just under two hour running time is by having Leatherface turn his chainsaw off, then your script has a problem. If your killer is reduced to searching through lockers for his victims, your script has a problem. Perhaps you should’ve spaced the killings out a little better. If your big, burly killer needs a chainsaw to dispatch his victims, but can have his arm easily chopped off with a meat cleaver, your script has a problem.

Should’ve called this the Texas Chase-saw Massacre

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