The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a 2003 American slasher film, and a remake of the 1973 horror film of the same name. The film was directed by Marcus Nispel (Exeter; Friday the 13th; Frankenstein ) from a screenplay by Scott Kosar (Bates Motel TV series; The Crazies; The Amityville Horror). It was also co-produced by Kim Henkel and Tobe Hooper, co-creators of the original film.
This film was the first of a number horror remakes from producer Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes production company, such as: The Amityville Horror, The Hitcher, Friday the 13th, and A Nightmare on Elm Street.
Though met with a mostly negative reception, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre grossed $107 million worldwide against its reported $9.5 million budget.
A prequel, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, was released in 2006.
On August 18, 1973, five teenagers, Erin (Jessica Biel), her boyfriend Kemper (Eric Balfour), Morgan (Jonathan Tucker), Andy (Mike Vogel), and Pepper (Erica Leerhsen), are on their way to a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert after returning from Mexico, where they were supplying themselves with drugs for the concert.
As they drive through Texas, they spot a distraught hitchhiker (Lauren German), who eventually gets into their van. After they have tried to speak to the hitchhiker, who talks incoherently about “a bad man”, she shoots herself in the mouth with a .357 Magnum.
After the startling shock, the group tries to contact the police, they then go to a store where a woman (Marietta Marich) tells them the sheriff is at the mill. Instead of the sheriff, they find a little boy named Jedediah (David Dorfman) who tells them that the sheriff is at home drinking. Erin and Kemper go through the woods to find his house, leaving the other three at the mill with the boy.
They come to a plantation house where Erin is allowed inside by the owner, an amputee named Monty, to phone for help. When Erin finishes, the old man asks her for help. Kemper goes inside to look for Erin and is attacked by the vicious-looking Leatherface (Andrew Bryniarski), who hits him with a sledgehammer…
Gus Van Sant’s approach to remaking Psycho is starting to seem a lot less like a stupid idea. Given the impossibility of competing with a classic original, there’s actually a certain philosophical interest in reproducing it mechanically like an Andy Warhol silkscreen and forcing you to think about how something almost the same has a vastly different meaning in a new context.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, 2003 vintage, isn’t that clever or insane, which is why it can’t get close to the effectiveness of Tobe Hooper’s 1973 The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Understandably, remakes seem more annoying than rip-offs and so it’s easier to work up a full head of resentment against Marcus Nispel’s film than it is Rob Zombie’s far shoddier, frankly dreadful imitation House of 1000 Corpses.
The shame of it is that the new TCM is a solidly ok film – but it’s not a hand-made work of dementia fuelled by the neuroses of its time, it’s a machine-made attempt to found another franchise along the lines of the Freddy or Jason pictures New Line already owns (so they can add Leatherface for the pack to make a House of Frankenstein-style monster rally?). They tried it before with Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III, and this is certainly better than that.
You know the drill (or the saw). It’s Texas, 1973 (the period setting is a nice idea, less underused here than in 1000 Corpses), and five teenagers are travelling through Texas, after a dope-buying trip to Mexico and on the way to a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert.
Writer Scott Kosar and Nispel start well evoking the opening of the earlier movie but spinning off in a different direction – as a freaky hitchhiker turns out not to be a killer but a survivor (perhaps the girl from the ’73 film) who inconveniences her benefactors by blowing her brains out through the back window (cuing a memorable tracking shot through the wound).
The plot hook then becomes the kids’ problems getting a succession of bizarre locals to show any interest in the girl, with a mad Sheriff (R. Lee Ermey, shouting again) who takes a single joint more seriously than a dead teenager and a community of weirdos who all tie in together somehow in a manner never explained and collaborate to edge the interlopers towards doom.
The film loses its way somewhat when it has to replay the old plot and starts restaging key scenes. It turns surprisingly PC by showing restraint in the murder and menace of the female characters while subjecting the boys to an array of new horrors – the first victim (Eric Balfour) has his face removed and worn as a new Leatherface mask, while another loses a leg to the saw and spends much of the film struggling on a meathook eventually begging the heroine (Jessica Biel) to kill him.
In rethinking the premise as a franchise cornerstone, the new Leatherface (Andrew Bryniarski) has a larger group of weird relations, but is the only actual killer in the bunch and loses his old whiny hermaphrodite status to become essentially Jason with a power-tool. These characters inhabit their own little world, rather than being symptomatic of a larger society.
The look of the movie, created by Hooper’s cinematographer Daniel Pearl and expert horror art direction from Greg Blair, is persuasively nasty but somehow that buzzing saw doesn’t sound as scary as it used to. With a different title, locale and murder implement, it would play much better.
“Aside from this, it’s a gory, stylish, and occasionally scary push-button factory of shocks and shrieks remarkably better than anyone had the right to expect. Yet, it begs the question: if the filmmakers could churn out something this decent, why didn’t they shoot an original script, or even a sequel to Hooper’s 1974 classic instead of a remake?” Jamie Russell, BBC Films
“Hooper went for primitive, Nispel goes for slick. Hooper went easy on the gore, Nispel pours it on. What can the actors do? Well, R. Lee Ermey as a local sheriff not above copping a feel off a corpse is wonderfully repulsive. But Jessica Biel and Erica Leerhsen have clearly been hired for their lungs, be it to scream or fill a tank top.” Peter Travers, Rolling Stone
“But is it scary? Well, the fact that Harry Knowles has a cameo should be scary enough for most people but in the jaded world of genre, TCM only orbits Planet Horrorwood, never quite landing. It’s fun and thrilling and chilling, but it won’t keep most fright mavens up nights.” Staci Layne Wilson, Horror.com
“Roger Ebert famously gave this film a rare no-stars, and his reasoning is valid enough, but it’s still a solid remake, not too entrenched in the cynicism which was to come with every other horror title they began stuffing through the machine. It’s just that they ‘re-imagined’ it with too little subtlety, so it’s more of a box-ticking exercise than a grafted horror experience.” Vegan Voorhees
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“For the most part, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is old, borrowed and blue, with riffs from olders and betters – including Psycho and Blair Witch – together with nods to a few recent horror hits that inhabit the same dreary territory: if you have to resort to raiding the Jeepers Creepers larder, then boy, are you in trouble!” Steve Langton, The Spinning Image
“There are no scenes where family members yell at each other. In fact, hardly any interaction between the family members at all. TCSM isn’t about Leatherface, it’s about a family of maniacs, but this remake keeps them all separate until a little part at the end, like you don’t assume they’re in it together. R. Lee, the only memorable new character, doesn’t even interact with Leatherface.” Ain’t It Cool News
Cast and characters:
- Jessica Biel … Erin
- Jonathan Tucker … Morgan
- Erica Leerhsen … Pepper
- Mike Vogel … Andy
- Eric Balfour … Kemper
- Andrew Bryniarski … Thomas Hewitt / Leatherface
- R. Lee Ermey … Sheriff Hoyt
- David Dorfman … Jedidiah Hewitt
- Lauren German … Hitchhiker
- Terrence Evans … Monty Hewitt
- Marietta Marich … Luda Mae Hewitt
- Heather Kafka … Henrietta Hewitt
- Kathy Lamkin … The Tea Lady