The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (18)
Remakes rarely come better than this try-hard, studied exploration of the roots and reality of pure horror.
There are some that would consider this as foolhardy a project as Gus Van Sant’s scene-by-scene remake of Hitchcock’s Psycho. Where director Marcus Nispel succeeds is in not slavishly following Tobe Hooper’s original shocker but, instead, opting for a 21st century homage that retains the atmosphere of dread and terror that marked out the first film as a modern classic.
In Nispel’s version (shot, incidentally, by original TCM cinematographer Daniel Pearl) five 1970s hippies en-route to a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert pick up a shell-shocked teenager who, after much screaming, kills herself in their van. Trying to do the right thing, they pull off the road to report the suicide to the cops and run into a redneck sheriff (R. Lee Ermey) and, in a remote house, an old wheelchair-bound man.
Before long one of the kids is axed to death and another has his leg severed by a chainsaw-wielding psychopath who then skewers him, alive, on a meat hook.
Thus the figure of Leatherface is introduced, as is an entire community of inbreds who all work to cover up his actions: mass murder, necrophilia and cannibalism.
While Hopper’s film was loosely based on the crimes of cannibal necrophile Ed Gein, this remake is exactly that: a reconsideration of a memorable movie. While it occasionally strays outside of Hooper’s milieu it also retains the mood that made the first TCM such a white-knuckle hit.
Starring Jessica Biel, Erica Leerhsen (from Blair Witch 2) and Andrew Bryniarski as Leatherface, who is revealed early on, Texas Chainsaw Massacre opens out the story beyond the bounds of the original’s scope and, in doing so, dilutes the fear factor.
The tension is deflected by screenwriter Scott Kosar’s attempts to humanise his monsters – such as revealing Leatherface’s real features, or having Ermey interact with Biel, Leerhsen and Co. Too much detail is given, Leatherface’s various family members are seen to be too civilised and their home is too clean – certainly not the habitat of flesh-eating ghouls.
Horror, however, is present in abundance, and this is the style of horror that new movies seem to ignore and abhor. Nispel juxtaposes famous killings – he swaps a man over a woman for the meat hook scene – and creates a mounting sense to terror in a chase sequence involving Leatherface and Biel. The growing mood of conspiracy is also nicely delivered.
Still, much of the horror is unseen, as Peal’s camera pulls away from some of the nastier moments. Nispel also uses smoke and light effects to mask the gore. The overt shocks – Leatherface skins one man and wears his dripping face over his own – are, however, chillingly delivered.
Horror buffs will enjoy the grainy monochrome sequences that bookend the film. A word of advice for aficionados: make sure you stay beyond the final moments…
Star rating: ***