The Texas Chainsaw Massacre review by The Grim Ringler

When I read the review that critic Roger Ebert had written of TCM, the remake of the classic Tobe Hooper film, I was stunned. He could not have hated this film more and just reading his review killed my buzz to see it. But then I thought about it, all the things he said the film was, well, meant that if that were true, that it was a success. If the film had upset him so much then maybe it worked. Now, did I want there to be a remake of a classic horror film? No. No reason for it. The original was great and there was little I could see that pointed to a reason for them to remake it. The fact is that Hollywood needs to worry more about creating new horror films, hell, new films in general, and less about re-making the past. But they made the movie, it’s done, so why not see what the train wreck looks like.

Much like the original, TCM follows five young people on a trip through Texas on their way to a Skynard concert (the film being set in the seventies). On their way though they come across a young woman walking dazed in the middle of the road and stop to help her. Seeing how badly beaten she appears to be they usher her into the van and take her to find help. The woman though begins falling apart, her tears turning into rants about people being dead and about a bad, bad man, going so far as to try to force the driver of the van to stop it so they don’t go back to wherever she claims to have escaped from. Seeing the futility in it all and seeming to sense that there was no escaping her doom, the young woman pulls a gun out and shoots herself, to the horror of both audience and characters. Frightened but reluctantly wanting to do the right thing the friends go in search of the sheriff to report what has happened. They find though that it isn’t that easy to find him after being sent by one local out to an abandoned mill where the sheriff supposedly is. The group searches the place and finds no sheriff but does find a strange boy that seems to know who the girl is but refuses to say more. The group splits up, one girl and her boyfriend, the van’s owner, making off to find a phone to call the cops again, the others staying with the body, though it has become obvious that all they want is to dump her somewhere and go on their way. The trouble begins at the house, a run down behemoth that sits like stone idol amidst ruin and rust. The man that answers, a man in a wheelchair due to his lack of lower limbs, allows the girl to call for help but makes her boyfriend wait outside. The woman calls the police and is told they are on their way (little does she know that the sheriff has already arrived on the scene and is not at all what they had hoped for or expected) when the old man needs her help suddenly to get back into her chair after he’s gotten out of it to empty out his colostomy bag into the toilet. Fearing that something may have happened to his girlfriend the boyfriend enters the house in search of her, nosing around more than he should and finding that the old man isn’t quite as alone as they had believed. And from that moment on the film slides deeper and deeper into hell for these young people as they realize that they have entered a place that doesn’t exist in the world they knew, but a place much, much darker than they might ever have imagined. A place where every stranger is a killer and escape is a dream brought to harsh light by the sound of a buzzing saw.

I have to admit, and to a degree I don’t want to, but this is one hell of a horror movie. Filled with a dread that modern horror films have sorely lacked (until recently), and with a nastiness that again reminds one of the seventies, this is a remake that truly does the original justice. Refusing to re-tell the same story, the writers and director have crafted a tale that’s similar and all too familiar but which takes turns that were never in the original. What surprised me most was that this new TCM is far, far meaner than the original, wanting almost to make the first pale in comparison. But don’t get me wrong, the original is the superior film, because of its rawness, but moreso because it took viewers to a place they hadn’t been before with a film, and making them pay for that trip. As dark as this film is though, that is not to say it is bleak and hopeless. Unlike another great horror film from this year, House of 1000 Corpses, there is hope, even if it is dim one, and it is that hope that the audience latches onto tightly as the likes of Leatherface and the sheriff work their own brands of torture on their victims. This film is a nightmare, is a tale that takes the viewer to a very, very dark place and refuses to let them leave easily. And yes, there is a distinct nastiness to seeing these films and to knowing people have willingly made them. It is very hard to watch a film where people, especially young, attractive people, are butchered, brutalized, and tortured, but this is not, as Ebert claimed, a “geek show”, but a ride through a particularly nasty house of horrors. The fact is, this film is no more shocking than the original, it is just more graphic and more intense, but then, times have changed. So anyone expecting light fare, well, need not come.

The direction of first time director Marcus Nispel is very sure and shows a flare for the dramatic. He falls into the trap his producer, Michael Bay, does, in that he shoots a lot of action WAY too close to the actors so that it all becomes a blur of bodies and a clash of music, taking any art away from the scene and falling onto the modern version of the ‘jump-scare’ popularized in earlier horror films when a cat would jump out from the darkness at a character. But with the help of the original TCM’s director of photography, there is a stark sense of twisted reality as the film revels in the decadent rust that populates this film. I have to say too that the acting was very good, though I wonder how hard it is to fake fear when you see some of the scenarios the actors were in, but even the background actors (especially the actor portraying Leatherface and the wonderful R. Lee Ermey as the sheriff) are very good and add an element of paranoid fear to the film. The thing that shocked me most was how brutal and graphic the film was, the gore being very realistic, and used very well. Instead of buckets of blood, we get moments of horror that end in a very bright splash of red. And like the first, the most brutal killings are shot in a way so that you see what is happening to the victim but yet DON’T see it at the same time. This is not a perfect film. It is too decadently dark and a lot of people will hate the film for that reason, and it will be hard to see this as being a movie you will want to watch over and over and over again. But in saying that, I admit that that is why the film succeeds so well – they nailed the mood perfectly. They didn’t grave-rob it from the original but created their own.

As a horror fan I cannot recommend this film enough. It stands just behind 28 Days Later as the second best horror film in a year that has turned out pretty darned well for the genre. Yes, it is a remake, and yes, the original is better, but having said that, I also must tell you that this is a very well crafted horror film and a wonderful spook show ride. I dunno if I am happy that it is going to do well at the box office or not (it won the box office battle its opening weekend) because I don’t know what that means for all the other propose remakes. But if nothing else, at least they didn’t screw this one up.


9 out of 10 Jackasses
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