a critiQal film review The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)

Plot: A group of friends are traveling across country in 1973, when they nearly hit a woman wandering along the road. They stop, she gets in, and almost immediately kills herself. Looking to report the suicide, they stop in a small Texas town. As their numbers begin to diminish, they discover there's a killer on the loose...and it's starting to look like none of them will make it out alive.

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I remember seeing the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre years and years ago (probably when I was a little too young to watch that type of film), and it scared the um…crap out of me (especially that one scene where Leatherface is chasing the girl with his chainsaw ripping through the air, and he looks close enough for her to feel his breath on her back – that one still gives me chills). Still, that could be nostalgia of youth talking, as I haven’t seen the film since.

After the remembered fright fest of that film, it seemed like it would be difficult for any film to match up to it nowadays in terms of sheer horror – especially not a remake. Still, I figured I’d give this new The Texas Chainsaw Massacre a try and see for myself.

Jessica Biel leads this cast, and is about as far from “7th Heaven” (TV) as she’s ever going to get. If the viewer has already checked her out in Blade: Trinity (2004), then they won’t be as surprised. But those viewers who remember her only from that TV show are in for a bit of a shock. While she still has the good girl image, she gets a lot messier in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and is up against much more gruesome foes. Still, she manages to turn her character from just the chainsaw fodder most will expect. Actually, she plays it a little too well, as her outcome never really seems to be in doubt in the viewer’s mind.

Eric Balfour leads the rest of the supporting characters, and does a decent job of leading the band into danger. He’s one of those characters that the viewer may recognize from somewhere, but can’t quite place him (maybe the short-lived TV series “Conviction” (TV)), which makes him perfect for a film like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. With that kind of hazy recognition, he manages to connect with the viewer, while at the same time letting the viewer watch his character without trying to compare it to other characters he may have played.

The rest of the merry group of chainsaw fodder is not really worth mentioning. They do their job of providing some tense moments and plenty of gore, but do little else, and would be easily interchanged with any of the “victims” of other horror flicks. H. Lee Ermey is the only other exception in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, as his sheriff character is creepy enough to be worth remembering.

The plot in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is typical of most of the other horror flicks. The characters break down in a remote area, a long way from help, and no way to get out easily. They are slowly drawn more and more into the web of horror, and by the time they realize it, it’s too late for most of them.

Some horror flicks try to mix it up a little by trying to confuse the viewer about which one (if any) of the victims will survive, and they try to come up with interesting ways to kill off members of it’s cast. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre never really does that. It’s obvious right from the start which member will survive, and the death scenes, while a bit gory, aren’t anything that hasn’t been seen before. It’s basic and it’s dirty…but it works.

One thing The Texas Chainsaw Massacre seems to drive into the viewer’s head over and over again: it’s based on a true story. While this is supposed to heighten the scare, most viewers who have seen the original, or any of the other films based on Ed Gein (The Silence of the Lambs (1991), Deranged and Psycho (1960)), know that “based on a true story” should be more like “very loosely based on a true story”. In actual fact, Leatherface shows some Ed Gein-like tendencies, but that’s about as far as the “true story” aspect goes. The real Ed Gein was only charged with killing 2 people, and did not chase them around with a chainsaw in Texas (he lived in Wisconsin, and there aren’t any reports of him ever using a chainsaw).

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre goes more out of it’s way to pretend it’s based on real events than any other horror movie since The Blair Witch Project (1999), even to including a grainy old-looking video of police inspecting the “crime scene” (yes, it’s fake). Maybe it’s just the graininess of that video, but that’s the most realistic part of the film, and is enough to send more chills down the viewer’s spine than most any other part of the movie (which explains why The Blair Witch Project (1999), with it’s jerky, hand-held camera shots was such a huge success).

Just like the original, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre should be able to satisfy most horror fans…but a word of warning – don’t watch the original and try to compare it to the remake. Think of the remake as just another semi-fictionalized telling of serial killer Ed Gein’s killings, rather than a remake. Comparing the two won’t help either flick. It’s better if you go into watching it like I did, with only a vague remembrance of the original. You’ll enjoy the chills it brings much more that way.

But, is The Texas Chainsaw Massacre worth owning? I’d have to say no. While the original, despite it’s rather outdated look, is a keeper, the remake doesn’t provide enough to keep this viewer coming back for more again and again.

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