Aren’t remakes intended to improve on the films they’re honoring? First-time director Marcus Nispel may return audiences to the Lone Star State to recreate the horrific and (not really) factual events of August 20, 1973, when five hippies were abducted and tortured by a killer named Leatherface and his inbred family of cannibals. But this flavorless rehash ultimately proves you can’t just fire up a power tool, hang an innocent teenager on a meat hook, and call yourself The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
The new Massacre hacks away everything different and inventive Tobe Hooper’s original film did for the horror genre. Graphic yet pointless, it introduces five teenagers returning from a Mexican vacation who make the fatal mistake of stopping to ask a woman wandering the side of the road if she needs a ride. They assume she’s on a bad acid trip, and intend to turn her over to the local authorities. Little do they know that their bad trip has just begun.
Ten minutes into Texas, the screaming officially starts. Nispel isn’t content to scare these kids, he’s hell-bent on torturing them. His efforts lead to overkill. Following a suicide, during which one character puts a gun in their mouth, Nispel traces the bullet’s path with his camera. Can you tell Michael Bay (Bad Boys II) produced this?
Texas begins with a grainy docudrama style that’s quickly traded in for bleached-out cinematography and sun-drenched frames. R. Lee Ermey plays a deranged sheriff, but riffs off his Full Metal Jacket persona to put a world of fear into these kids. The last 20 minutes are spent torturing lead actress Jessica Biel, always making sure her assets are well-lit and properly soaked with blood, sweat, and water from a sprinkler system.
The main thing I remember about the original Texas is the terrified looks on the teenage captives as they clawed for survival. It fed the film’s inherent realism. The cast of this slow-going, repetitive, and polished remake always look like buffed actors occupying a set. This one feels like a remake in the way the original felt (and still feels like) someone’s demented home video.
Part of the reason a remade Texas Chainsaw Massacre can’t possibly work today is that we’ve become a desensitized "been there, seen that" audience. Leatherface severs one character’s leg in this movie. Well, 50 people lost their legs in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill, and we just watched that last week. What else have you got?
The new Texas reminds us of how genres come full circle. The original film influenced countless horror filmmakers, from Wes Craven (A Nightmare of Elm Street) to Victor Salva (Jeepers Creepers). Now this frustratingly futile remake steals from countless other horror films instead of blazing its own trail. Leatherface – once a harbinger of genuine terror – might as well be the indestructible Jason Vorhees sporting a dirtied Michael Myers mask. At this point, they’re the same killer stalking the same victims. It’s all been done, and a lot better than Nispel is doing here.
Among the copious extras to be found on the Chainsaw two-disc special edition are three – count ’em! — commentary tracks, alternate opening, ending, and some incredibly gory deleted scenes, a making-of featurette, a documentary about Ed Gein (who inspired the original so long ago), screen tests, and some non-digital goodies, including a metal faceplate with the film’s poster image on it (no idea what you’re supposed to do with it*) and an "evidence" envelope with mock photographs inside. Kooky.
* The company that created the Chainsaw packaging writes to explain that this is the beginning of a collectable series of plates targeted at the youth market and suitable for framing, magnetizing, adhering to book binders, and more.
Review by Sean O’Connell – Copyright © 2003 filmcritic.com