Before we carve up its cinematic value, let’s discuss whether a remake of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” even needs to exist. Probably not.
Nearly 30 years after its release, Tobe Hooper’s influential slasher flick still holds up, in spite of — actually, because of — its low-budget aesthetic.
Here, the grainy, B-movie visuals and slow, silent suspense of Hooper’s 1974 film are gone; music-video director Marcus Nispel’s movie looks too good (though Daniel Pearl, the cinematographer on the original, shot the remake, too). And it’s smothered in the kind of overbearing score that unfortunately has become the standard for this genre.
Still, Jessica Biel (formerly of the WB’s “7th Heaven”) brings an athletic intensity to the role of Leatherface’s last elusive victim. And the basic premise remains intact, though first-time screenwriter Scott Kosar has made a few minor tweaks.
Five young friends stop to pick up a hitchhiker while on a road trip through Texas in 1973. Instead of a wild-eyed man, this time it’s a shell-shocked woman, who pulls out a gun and blows a hole through her head soon after taking a seat in the back of the van.
This leaves the stunned witnesses — Erin (Biel); her boyfriend, Kemper (Eric Balfour); brainy Morgan (Jonathan Tucker); crass Andy (Mike Vogel); and hippie chick Pepper (Erica Leerhsen) — stranded in a small, dusty town as they try to figure out what to do with the body.
They think they’re getting the run-around from the creepy locals when actually (as we know) they’re surrounded by a clan of cannibals, including the chain saw-wielding Leatherface (a mute, hulking Andrew Bryniarski).
Even Sheriff Hoyt (R. Lee Ermey, crazed and barking orders as he did in “Full Metal Jacket”), whom they’re initially happy to see, is part of the trap. But they don’t realize that until it’s too late (of course) because they’re potential victims in a horror movie.
Stick with the original
None of this is terribly frightening — partly because of its familiarity, partly because of its execution. What made the original so spooky, aside from the novelty of watching regular folks turn into homicidal maniacs, was the way in which Hooper steadily built suspense, with seemingly endless stretches of silence pierced by shrill sound effects.
Music drenches this new version, which is slicker and glossier than other contemporary horror films. After shooting the first “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” Pearl went on to make some of the most famous music videos of the past two decades, including the clip for Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” and Guns N’ Roses’ melodramatic “November Rain.” By now, he’s seriously overqualified for this material.
And unlike the first foray with Leatherface, this “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” is unnecessarily bloody. In the original, the gore was implied but not exposed, which also made it scarier than this new-fangled version.
The producers (one of whom is “Armageddon” director Michael Bay) have said they wanted to remake the horror classic because most young fans of the genre are aware of the film’s influence but have never seen it.
Here’s a slice of advice: Go to the video store and rent the original.