*. In the twenty-first century the classic slasher horror films of the ’70s and ’80s were all being remade, their franchises “reset.” I’m not sure why. The short answer would be to cash in on what were recognizable brand names, but as a creative challenge? These cover versions brought little that was new to the table, and they all looked exactly the same (many of them being the product of the same production company, Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes, which was created specifically to make low-budget horror flicks).
*. What is new with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (the title now renders “chainsaw” as all one word) isn’t an improvement, and what stays the same probably wasn’t worth keeping.
*. For example, why set the movie in 1973? To get rid of everyone’s cellphone? Anachronisms pop up. “Sweet Home Alabama,” which they’re all singing at the beginning, hadn’t been released yet. As Kim Newman remarks, “gym-toned 2000s starlets like Jessica Biel and Eric Balfour just don’t look like hippie chicks and dudes.” Those big round bales of hay we see out in the fields didn’t come in until later. Apparently even the make of chainsaw is an anachronism.
*. Just sticking with the chainsaw for a second, I want to say something. Let’s get real. If you hit so much as an old nail or a bit of wire the chain on a saw is fucked. You certainly can’t grind them on tire irons, or cut through car roofs with them, or slice through steel barrels, or saw them into cement floors. That would destroy the saw right away. And they don’t run that long on a tank of gas (or oil, given how much it seems to be burning). I think the chainsaw here must have been purchased at the same magical store that sells those guns that never run out of bullets in action movies. No matter how much work Leatherface makes it do, it just keeps going.
*. Something else that stayed the same is cinematographer Robert Pearl, who also shot the original. Newman mentions how “the look is more highly wrought” because Pearl had “the resources to make the grime almost pretty.” He doesn’t say whether he thinks this is a good thing. I certainly don’t. The original film’s grunginess was a big part of its success. This movie just looks like all the other horror resets: slick, without being unsettling.
*. Newman does flag “a certain inauthenticity which comes with trying to redo a property that achieved near-perfect form the first time out.” The original was always going to be a hard movie to remake (or follow up, for that matter) given that its success was so much the result of its shock value, cheapness, and rank unpleasantness. So much of what it did has gone on to become cliché, which is what a lot of this movie turns into at the end. There’s the car that won’t start. The basement step that breaks through. The rats scurrying over the person who’s trying to stay quiet and hide. The last girl in the tank top. They didn’t need any of this.
*. A good example of the higher production values leading to disjunctive results can be seen in the crazy family’s house. In this movie it looks like the mansion from Giant, especially given its isolation. It appears especially ridiculous at night, backlit by what seem to be stadium lights. I didn’t buy it for a second.
*. Then there are the big changes to the story. The concept of the crazy all-male family is exploded in a misguided attempt to build up more of a back story or mythology and include more family members (whose exact relations remain obscure). But the original family were characters. These are just freaks and types.
*. Leatherface has a name (Thomas Brown Hewitt), but seems even less sympathetic a figure. The franchise has always had problems with Leatherface, as he is both the iconic villain and a big baby.
*. Even more puzzling is the lack of any reference to cannibalism, which is the crime that basically defined the first film. We visit a slaughterhouse here, and there’s a crude likening of Erin to a slab of beef in one scene, but there’s no suggestion that the family are actually eating people.
*. Of course in those early shock horror movies sex and violence were always near allied. And they still are, which means basically you have to amp those qualities up: making it sexier and gorier.
*. On the former front, Jessica Biel looks entirely edible here, bouncing around in an hourglass-accentuating outfit which even turns into a wet t-shirt that she jiggles about in at the end. This is another example of a disconcerting upgrade, as Biel is just so damn sexy it makes you feel dirty watching her suffer. I also thought it kind of sad how her character Erin is wrong about everything. Then when she has to kill Andy, do you think she might have thought of a kinder way of doing it than stabbing him in the gut and disembowelling him? Holy harakiri.
*. As far as the gore goes, it seems fairly standard. It isn’t there to shock or create suspense, but merely to depict people suffering. This makes you feel dirty too.
*. A lot of effort went into making Tobe Hooper’s film into a franchise. Including all of the sequels and prequels and resets and spin-offs there are (as of this writing) eight titles in the Texas Chainsaw canon. I don’t recall any of them after the first being any good.
*. Give Platinum Dunes credit for making an unpleasant film. At least if that’s something you want to give credit for. To be honest, I was checking my watch a lot near the end, wondering how much more I had to sit through. Too much.
*. Roger Ebert hated (hated, hated) this film. Here’s how he starts off his review: “The new version of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a contemptible film: Vile, ugly and brutal. There is not a shred of a reason to see it.” And here’s how he ends: “Do yourself a favor. There are a lot of good movies playing right now that can make you feel a little happier, smarter, sexier, funnier, more excited — or more scared, if that’s what you want. This is not one of them. Don’t let it kill 98 minutes of your life.” He’s right, and I think he was more sad than angry. So am I.