Do you want to know what the worst thing about Texas Chainsaw Massacre is? It's not a bad film. Hell it stands head and shoulders above the three insipid Texas sequels. But come on, when you're remaking one of the greatest Horror films of all time you should at least have the decency to make it suck or rock. That way the faithful can either hate it without guilt, or love it without feeling like a traitor. Instead what we get is a scary, but truly an irrelevant movie; a movie that simply shouldn't have been made.
If you've seen the original you know the plot. Yes, yes, I'm sure you've heard there is a whole different perspective taken on the Hitchhiker, and how she's connected and how they get to "the family" and such but it’s just a minor hiccup. In about half an hour we're back in creepy redneck land watching the very attractive people, finding lots of empty cars, and getting cut up like cattle.
Let’s talk about the good, because surprisingly there is some. Primarily there is R. Lee Ermey. Yep, R. Lee Ermey is real good in this. This shouldn't be a surprise to anyone with a brain. R. Lee Ermey managed to be good in Saving Silverman. Even Jack Black had trouble being good in that movie. He also played as a master of psychological abuse in Full Metal Jacket. The idea of this guy being set loose on "The Family" is enough to make a horror fan giggle and a non horror fan's ears prick up. As always he doesn't disappoint. He's here in full Sgt. Hartman mode, putting guns in uncomfortable places, feeling up corpses, and thinking up interesting ways to end human life. Whenever Ermey's on screen he blows the original out of your mind. In fact when he shines it is the only time when you can truly focus on THIS film for what it is, without the ghost of the original haunting it. Not only does he do as good a job as Cookie, he does better! Yep compared to Sheriff Hoyt, Cookie's a wuss. A man who shoved a girl into a burlap bag and beat her with a broom handle while offering reassurance seems mild compared to Hoyt. I'm not going to spoil what goes on, but damn!
Considering the impossible job he was given, that of making us forget Gunner Hanson's portrayal of everyone's favorite human skin wearing slaughter house worker, Andrew Bryniarski also does a respectable job as Leatherface. TCM makes the mistake of shoving “The Family” into the background to focus on the Face, but thankfully Andrew is up to the task. He captures a genuine animal menace just a notch or two below Hanson's original portrayal. This basically means that while the faithful will bemoan the loss of Grandpa and Ed Neal, general audiences will be too busy trying to clean the piss off their pants to notice the lack of family.
Dear Hollywood, quit trying to explain our monsters. I don't want to know that Jason has a demon inside him. I don't want to know that Micheal Myers was an abused child and was just getting revenge despite eight movies of contrary evidence. I don't want to know that Freddy is messed up because his mother was a raped nun. I ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY, HAD NO DESIRE TO KNOW THAT THE REASON LEATHERFACE WEARS MASKS OF HUMAN SKIN IS BECAUSE HE HAS NO NOSE.
All of this film’s problems seem to stem from a battle between the current high budget and the low budget beginnings of this film. While in an indie film unexplained evil is OK, mainstream mandates explanation (see also Psycho). But the budget battle doesn't end there. The new home is a modern wonder, apparently created by Martha Stewart during an institutionalization. However, even though the house has changed, the camera work has stayed the same. There is no starkness left in the house, though it is shot with a camera that seeks the bleak hillbilly poverty of the old home, instead of bathing in the perverse gothic beauty of a brand new abode.
This confused contrast continues to be true in the Leatherface chases. TCM again tries to ape the documentary style of the original, but again its equipment and money betray it. A camera with filters and perfect picture quality being "shook around" to make it look handheld is just not convincing. For those of you who may think I’m too stuck on the original, bear in mind that I wouldn’t be complaining if this version had just done its own thing. Redoing the original by making a weird mesh of old and new goes together like oil and water.
When you get right down to it this is just not as good as the original. This is a film that never should have been remade. What we get is a genuinely frightening mainstream horror film when the original was so much more. Not a single scene in this film even touched the original's power. Nothing touched the straight razor cut, the dinner scene, the grandpa scene, the police photograph scene, or the finger cut scene. What's worse is it keeps trying to pack in equivalent scenes that pale in comparison. I'm sorry but some Blair Witch style footage doesn't replace the primal nerve that the bodies lit by flashbulbs can create.
The original set out to disturb you. This is content to just scare you and it does a good job. If you accept it for what it is, both horror fans and those who never touch the stuff can have a good time at Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I just wish it was a little more relevant.