The UnPopular Opinion: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)
THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!
****SOME SPOILERS ENSUE****
Horror is a tricky genre to remake. A lot of films that have become beloved or cult classics over the years have done so in spite of limited budgets and mediocre acting. Achievements in the genre have been accomplished despite not always being the best film possible, but they are damn good movies. To that end, the remake of horror films can sometimes result in a movie that is too sanitized or too glossy and therefore loses the edge of what made the source material so distinct and gritty, While Tobe Hooper's original version of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE is widely considered one of the greatest horror films of all time, I firmly believe the 2003 remake deserves a spot right beside it. With better materials at their disposal as well as higher caliber actors, Marcus Nispel's THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE manages to step past budgetary restrictions and deliver a quality thriller.
But, remaking a film as highly acclaimed as THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE is a challenge unto itself. Filmed in a style that evoked almost a documentary-like appearance, Tobe Hooper's film took audiences by storm and joined the rarified company of movies like NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and HALLOWEEN as independent films that changed the genre forever. Both of those films have been remade to less than stellar results with critics but great numbers at the box office. The 2003 remake holds the record for highest grossing film in the entire franchise but also ranks as one of the most critically reviled in the series. While I am the first to say that Michael Bay serving as a producer is a major warning sign for the quality of a film, I am quite fond of the 2003 version of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and even think it holds up very well next to the original.
The raw and verite style of the classic original film helped lend it a sense of primitive realism which helped convince audiences that the "based on a true story" claim that opened the movie was actually real. This remake bears the same disclaimer but would never be mistaken for a true story. THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE may have a low budget but looks like a Hollywood production with slick visuals thanks to music video director Marcus Nispel. The movie is dark, wet, and gory where the original was bright, rusty, and most of the violence was inferred. The remake eclipses all of the sequels in the franchise simply because it regains the edge of the first film and ignores the dark humor of the second and third films. It is a different era, after all, and horror movies need different tools to hit audiences.
The biggest strength that the original film had was the anonymity of the cast. Since audiences did not know who these actors were, they felt like real people which made their deaths feel unexpected and truly random. Not knowing who was safe left the audience uneasy and on the edge of their seat. Modern studio horror requires recognizable names of which Jessica Biel is truly the only well known member of this cast. Eric Balfour, Erica Leerhsen, and Mike Vogel have gone on to decent careers but none are as well known Biel. At the time of this film's release, the actress was still riding her success on the Christian series 7th Heaven. Starring in a horror film was quite a jump for her but audiences still rooted for her to survive against the villains of the film. Unlike Freddy or Jason, fans don't really root for Leatherface and they want to see the starlet win.
Which is why the twist of having R. Lee Ermey as a member of Leatherface's clan works so well. While his character is performed in Ermey's trademark FULL METAL JACKET delivery, he drives home the maniacal depravity of this inbred family of cannibals. In the original movie, none of the clan were very relatable, but Ermey's Sherrif Hoyt shows that Leatherface may wear a physical mask but you can never tell whom you interact with could be wearing a mask of normalcy over their creepy interior. Ermey does a fantastic job here as does Andrew Bryniarski as Leatherface. Gunnar Hansen may be the iconic man behind the mask but Bryniarski adds a level of pathos to the non-verbal role, turning Leatherface from a monster to a monstrous man.
The drawback for many critics to THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE seems to have been the depravity of the film and that it lacked the same cultural subtext of the original. For me, a film does not always have to have ulterior motives to be entertaining. While I love that George Romero and Tobe Hooper imbued their terrifying classics with a political and sociological message, I don't think their films are any less worthy of acclaim without reading into them at that level. Purely from a cinematic perspective, these films deliver on the aim of horrifying the viewer and yet keeping your eyes glued to the terror unfolding on screen. That is the aim of the genre and Nispel's film works exactly in that regard.
The mistake for anyone is to compare this movie to the original THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. Bay and Nispel are in no way trying to replace the classic but instead take the gutsy and raw story and give it a new lease on life. This version of the tale may have more buckets of blood but it still retains that same edgy story and disturbing family of evil. This is leaps and bounds better than any other slasher film released in the last decade simply because it features the same story as THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. Yes, this is gory but it is not torture porn. This could have very easily turned into another HOSTEL but instead it is a worthy addition to Tobe Hooper's film and the canon of quality horror films of the 21st century.
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