Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Dueling Reviews: Texas Chainsaw Massacre Remake

7:42:30 pm

Hey gang, we've got a new feature here, Dueling Reviews. A few years back when I first got to Wizard a rad dude named Rickey Purdin and I became roommates and started watching movies all the time. Mostly horror movies. So, we've got pretty similar tastes when it comes to those kinds of films, but not always. This is one of

those cases as he likes the 2003 Texas Chainsaw Massacre and I don't. So, to give a fair and balanced perspective I asked him to jump on and offer up his opinion on the flick. So, here's the basics before we get into it:

Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)

Written by Scott Kosar

Directed by Marcus Nispel

Starring Jessica Biel, R. Lee Ermey, Eric Balfour and a bunch of other folks with narration by John Larroquette

No offense to my friends from Texas of which Rickey is one, but it seems like only bad things happen when you drive through the state in which everything is bigger. Like getting killed by freaks. The original Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one of my top two favorite horror movies of all time, so I was pretty surprised when Rickey recommended this remake. So how did it hold up?

First, the story though. The flick opens with a cold case-like explanation telling you that these are based on true events and even shows "archival footage" from the 70s (which is when the movie is SUPPOSED to be set). We then switch to the actual movie which follows five kids as they're on the way to a concert and stop to pick up a female hitchhiker. This woman has been terrorized by the Hewitt family (Leatherface's peeps) and is just trying to get away, but it turns out that the kids are actually heading back towards the Hewitt's headquarters. She freaks out and shoots herself in the head in the van. So the kids stop and try to deal with it responsibly by calling the local police and all that. From there they split up and find out just how crazy the Hewitt's are and start getting killed. Pretty standard horror movie stuff.

I know I'm supposed to look at this TCM as its own independent flick, but it just doesn't work for me. It's impossible to not compare a remake with the original, especially when you're so familiar with the original. Which isn't to say that I hated all the changes these folks made. I have problems with the hitchhiker girl that I will get to, but it doesn't stem from changing her character from the original. But I really did like the opening credits and the old footage because it implies that the real world actually got involved at some point to try and stop these people. I'd like to see that movie actually.

So, what didn't I like? Well, first off, I didn't buy for a second that this was set in the 70s. Maybe it's because they were going to a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert and you can still do that. Plus, I see crappy vans like they ride around in all the time. I'm not sure if that's nit picky or not, but it bugged me.

I also wasn't all that scared. Sure, part of that is because I'm desensitized as hell by now, but watching the original TCM still freaks me out and I just don't get that here. I think part of it is the style they used to shoot/edit the movie. I don't know what it's called but it's been used a lot since this one came out. It felt tired to me because I've seen it in so many flicks, but that's not this movie's fault so I can't blame them. But, it did feel to "movie" like and completely lacked that "I'm right in this with them" feel that the original had due to the film quality and what not. I guess what I'm saying is that it looked too slick. It should have been dirtier like the Hewitts themselves.

And speaking of the Hewitts, man are they creepy. I had no problem with the restructuring of the family or the lack of the infamous "dinner scene." In fact I found that to be pretty brave. But, what bugged me was when they showed Leatherface's ugly mug. I don't want an explanation for what he does (as they give later on in the movie). I don't care how badly he was made fun of as a kid or what's wrong with his actual face. There's no reason for me to feel sympathetic towards a character that murders and tortures people with hooks, chainsaws and bathtubs full of blood or whatever that was. He's bad, that's that. Get on with the maiming.

Speaking of the chainsaw for just a second, it wasn't scary at all in this remake. Well, it was scary in the sense that all chainsaws are scary, but what made the original so terrifying was the looming threat of those teeth tearing into you, which was mostly achieved by its place in the sound mix. It was right there, always right behind you, always loud, always ready to attack. In the remake it just doesn't sound as good. It feels buried like a regular old sound effect and that really takes away from the looming scare factor.

But, hey, the movie wasn't all bad. There's this scene where Leatherface chases one of the dudes through a huge maze of hanging sheets (it was a LOT of sheets) that really captured what I was talking about above with the impending doom factor. There's also a scene where Jessica Biel has to kill one of her friends because she can't get him off of a set of hooks. That was pretty crazy too. I also like the cast for the most part. R. Lee Ermey's as over the top as always and the kids are all good, even though Jessica actually seems to fit and strong to be running around so scared. Not that I'd expect even Hulk Hogan to turn around and try to fight a psycho with a chainsaw, but you get my meaning. I hope.

But now, on to my biggest problem with the movie: its ending. So, Biel gets away from Leatherface's Saw-like torture chamber with the help of the youngest Hewitt, a kid who later gets punished for helping her and one of her friends escape. She gets chased through the meat factory by Leatherface and at some point decides its a good idea to hide in a locker with a meat cleaver and then GETS LEATHERFACE'S ATTENTION. Brilliant! She even lets him walk by her and calls out so he'll come back and look for her. She jumps out of the locker and ends up cutting his arm off with the meat cleaver. So she's in the clear right? He's freaking out so she runs away and gets to a road where a nice trucker picks her up even though she's soaking wet covered in blood and probably smells awful (but hey, she's hot). So, he's driving her away when they pass by the sign for the gas station where all of her troubles started (when they pulled over to call the cops about the dead hitchhiker who freaked out in the back of THEIR car). So what does she do? She freaks out and tries to grab the wheel. So, the truck driver does what any normal person would do, he stops and tries to get help at the gas station. I understand freaking out. Hey, she's had a pretty crappy day (though at least she didn't get gummed by grandpa at dinner), but the driver made no indication of stopping. She just went nuts and he stopped because of her. You'd think if you were getting out murdertown safely, you'd take whatever you could get.

Okay, so the driver's out of the truck and what does she do? Nope, not just grab the keys and say "sorry dude." She sneaks around and grabs a baby that the family is fawning over while they're distracted (it's a tacked on plot element that was mentioned earlier in the movie, I think the kid was actually the hitchhiker's child, or something) and then hotwires R. Lee Ermey's police car and drives away in the rain. Though not before she repeatedly drives over Sherrif Ermy a few times and Leatherface gets one last jump at the camera in. The whole ending felt like it could have ended better a few times and just kept getting more and more ridiculous which took away from what, otherwise, was a pretty good last 20 minutes.

And now, Rickey will surely show me up:


"Well, I gotta admit that while the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre is definitely one of the most terrifying movies I’ve ever seen (the kind that creeps back into your mind at the most inappropriate times like when you’ve just laid down for bed in a newly lightless room or when you’re walking home from the bar in the dark all alone), no movie has ever been untouchable for me when it comes to a remake (except The Goonies and Monster Squad). That’s why I was more open to the idea of the updated version when it was released back in 2003 than TJ – but that’s not to say I prefer the remake; I just find a different kind of enjoyment in it. I may also have had a better viewing experience than TJ, which probably also increased my enjoyment of the film. It was Halloween and a bunch of my friends rolled down to the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas to check the film out. We had a bucket of beer between us and were sitting in the coolest theater in the world, ready to wet our pants with fear.

"That being said, though, I think the new TCM had a million and one things going for it in 2003. The Saw and Hostel film franchises had yet to open (that’d be 2004 and 2005, respectively), so the gorier, funkier takes on the slasher scenes in TCM were still fresh wounds on the eyes of the audience. TCM was also one of the few times that the MTV style of hip, beautiful, crisp images worked for me in a horror film. Sure Jessica Biel was gorgeous. But there was something creepy and crouching behind that massive metal door in that middle-of-nowhere mansion that whispered, “What do her insides look like?” and all I could do was stare at the screen.

"When looking at remakes, I mostly keep myself from trying to compare the remake to the original. I think you have to sometimes because the two films, while similar on the surface, almost always have a different intention. With the original TCM, director Tobe Hooper basically scared the audience sh_tless by showing what many actually believed to be a snuff film with a docu-style cinematography. It was a look into a world so horribly shifted from ordinary life that it was easy to see why the surviving girl had lost her mind by the end. With this remake, though, director Marcus Nispel wasn’t necessarily trying to pass off a rehash of the original, so much as update it with a more twisted look into the Hewitt family and a visual palette that, by itself, was extremely discomforting.

"From the start, you feel the heat in this small Texas town and the flies, sweat, blood, tears, saliva, fingernails and goo covering every frame maintain that constant anxiety. And the more the film continues after the genius R. Lee Ermey arrives on screen, the more your stomach hurts with the anticipation that something just god-awful will jump out and grab you. That’s not to even mention the real-world oddness a backwoods southern family can ooze. The last thing you want to run into after a girl shoots herself in the back of your car is a redneck cop eye-balling your ladyfriend and threatening to shoot you. I thought the look on the stoner kid’s face was legit. And don’t get me started on the little Hewitt who helps out Jessica. That kid was creepy enough in The Ring, but toss some hillbilly teeth on him and take away his shoes and…I just need a bath thinking about it (He’s tolerable, though, in the intolerable Drillbit Taylor)

"As for Leatherface, I thought the remake’s version employed a less unpredictable demeanor in the hulking madman, but there was some palpable terror in that Xanax-ed portrayal. Like a quiet, blood-covered dog whose steak you just pulled away. The unknown terror you know he’s about to unleash just continues to scare. For that matter, all the Leatherfaces in all of the various TCM films have all been fairly separate from each other and instigate their own, respective types of unease.

"And as for the ending, I thought it was rad that she chopped off Leatherface’s arm! I love when a movie tosses me a curveball like that because it leaves me thinking ANYTHING can happen. Especially when that type of thing creates a deviation in a remake from the remake’s source material. Just when you think the move will just follow the ending of the original, now there are NO rules. And that she kept getting stuck back in that backwards town just upped the tension for me. It was the “Don’t go in that room!” scenes for me. And that she got to take one final revenge on R. Lee Ermey’s kidnapping, rapist, misogynistic perv of a villain made me want to cheer. And it had me asking, “What would I do in that situation?” I like to believe I’d go back and help that baby. And I’d like to believe I could work my cathartic anger out on the man who created all this horror for me in the first place.

"So, it’s not better than the original – just different. But it did excite the horror genre at a time when horror was a little dead at the box office. Coupled with The Ring, the new TCM pointed out a sudden and promising new dawn on the horizon. I’m not sure it’s been a great day since that dawn, but it was still some scary sh-t in 2003. Plus, it has me excited for Nispel’s next remake; the 2009 New Line film Friday the 13th. Which, despite all out differences, TJ and I will be at on opening night."

He's right! We'll definitely be there. Hope you enjoyed this extra long, extra dueling review.

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