The original The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is a horror film like no other, wrong footing its audience throughout. Instead of spacing out the scares, it keeps the audience waiting, and then delivers a barrage of violence at once, some in broad daylight, with no warning. It then ends, abruptly. It's a true one off. Certainly the director, Tobe Hooper, has been unable to do anything to match it, and his sequel Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 was a mere jokey shadow. Since then, attempts to make Chainsaw a franchise have led to increasingly poor sequels, the last of which, Texas Chainsaw: The Next Generation (aka Return of the...) was actually a laughable remake of the original. Bizarrely Renée Zellweger and Matthew McConaughey starred. Now we get the 'real' remake.
It goes without saying that the modern remake loses what made the original so striking: the aggressive structure. Instead, this new Chainsaw follows the classic scare-relax -scare pattern. That one change immediately makes the film lose almost everything that made the original great. The new film is far more graphically violent than the original, but it always feels safe. It's predictable, and the feeling of chaos that ran through the original is missing. There are attempts to evoke it, but in diluted form. The opening is a fake news report that apes the Blair Witch Project's handheld camera, and the supposed main character is killed first, with little fanfare. To those who haven't seen the original, this will probably seem strong stuff, and it's certainly far tougher than most modern US horror. The director and writer have both tried to put their stamp on the material, although sadly, for the director this means dark, backlit rooms. Just the kind of conventional imagery the original avoided.
Although the new film is supposedly set in the 70's it's more a fantasy of a cool 70's that never existed. The characters in the original were real 70's people: badly dressed, with dodgy hair. The characters now are young, very attractive, winners. Much is made of the contrast between them and the old, ugly Texas inbreeds they meet. The only disabled character is an evil old man, part of Leatherface's family, unlike the original, in which a selfish disabled kid was a main character. In the new film, if someone's fat, wrinkled, too thin, or generally not good looking, it's pretty sure that they'll be evil. That's perfectly in line with most other films, but a big backwards step. Leatherface remains the blank that he should be, but members of his family get a little more character, especially a demented policeman played by Lee Emery, the sadistic drill serge from Full Metal Jacket. Emery plays the cop exactly as he played the Serge, and is a hoot throughout.
Most curious, lots of the violent images in the remake carry a gay subtext. The second victim is now male, and we actually see the meat hook pushed into his back, rather than just implied penetration. His attempts to escape mean we also see the hook moving in and out of his back several times. Leatherface dispatches another teen by hanging him up, and then shoving the chainsaw between his legs. The cop forces his gun into a guy's mouth. The girls are never menaced in this way: the only female to die is sliced up after only a minimal chase, with the violence off screen. The final girl character is much more aggressive than screaming Marilyn Burns in the original.
Where Hooper's film ended suddenly, this new one is much more conventional, moving around several locations, before a big finale, and 'shock' twist. It all works well enough, and as a way of making Texas Chainsaw as a conventional horror flick, it's okay. But what's the point of doing that? The original wanted to traumatise you, this new film's only ambition is to give you just about what you expect. 7/10
Adrian Horrocks (September 2005)
Hills Have Eyes, The
Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The (1974)
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