|Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The (2003)|
|Written by Paul Lingas|
|Tuesday, 30 March 2004|
Tobe Hooper shocked audiences and created a cult classic in 1974 with “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” one of many movies, including “Psycho” and “The Silence of the Lambs,” that took inspiration from the killings in Plainfield, Wisconsin, committed by Ed Gein. Now, producer Michael Bay and veteran commercial director Marcus Nispel revisit the original subject matter with this successful new version. Many of the story elements are the same as in the original film, though there are changes, some good and some that are simply missed. Either way, this is one of the better remakes in this era of remakes.
The film begins with a documentary-style portrayal of the “actual” murders of five youths in Texas in 1973. Featured in the narration is the original narrator from 1974, John Larroquette, which is a nice touch. The main portion of the film begins with the introduction of the van, driven by Kemper (Eric Balfour), who is with his girlfriend Erin (Jessica Biel) and their friends Morgan (Jonathan Tucker), Pepper (Erica Leerhsen) and Andy (Mike Vogel). As they travel through Texas, on their way to a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert (somewhat appropriate, considering the band’s demise), we find that they have come from Mexico, where Erin was not engaging in any of the pot-smoking or heavy drinking of the others. Andy and Pepper are all over each other and Morgan tries to be the intellectual of the group. After nearly hitting a young woman who is walking along the middle of the deserted country road, they take her in. As they drive on she seems very upset and out of sorts. As they pass a few signs, indicating that they are coming upon a small town, the girl starts to freak out, telling them that she can’t go back there. This is somewhat of a goof, considering that she was, in fact, walking in the direction of the town when the van picked her up. Anyhow, they stop the van as the girl pulls a gun, telling them that they are all going to die. Before anyone can prevent it, the girl puts a bullet through the back of her throat, blowing a hole in the back of her head and through the rear window of the van. The five friends all jump out and, after some hysterics, it’s decided that, even though they have a piñata full of Mexican pot, they should inform the local authorities.
After encountering a less than helpful woman at a gas station, they are told to wait for the sheriff at the Old Crawford Mill. They do so and they encounter a small boy who is into some really bizarre stuff. He leads Erin and Kemper to a house, where they can phone the sheriff again. The house is tended by a legless and creepy man who allows Erin but not Kemper to enter. Meanwhile, the sheriff (R. Lee Ermey) finally arrives and, after wrapping the body up in cellophane, departs with it. Kemper tires of waiting outside of the house for Erin and enters on his own. He looks around a bit and is whacked over the head with a shovel by good ol’ Leatherface (Andrew Bryniarski). Erin returns to the van to find that the body is gone and that Kemper has not returned. She and Andy return to the house to look for him, and finally we meet the chainsaw of Leatherface, who attacks Erin and Andy, severing one of Andy’s legs in the process. Erin is able to escape but once she finds Morgan and Pepper back at the van, the car has been sabotaged and the Sheriff shows up again, finds some of the pot and then proceeds to be really weird and violent. What ensues is the discovery that Erin must try to survive both Leatherface and the family to which he belongs. This is one of the biggest departures from the original film, in that the family is not shown to be cannibals. They are all very odd and condone Leatherface’s murderous escapades, and while Erin does meet all of them, there is not as much of the deeply disturbing sensations of familial cannibalism and dementia that the first film relayed. Nevertheless, this version is still creepy and scary, so much so at times that the desire is to laugh, if only because it helps to break the tension and absolute grotesqueness.
As a horror film, the new “Chainsaw” comes through in almost every aspect. There are surprises, frights, disgusting moments, comic moments, characters whom we mourn when they die and others that we really aren’t too upset about. The visual design is impressive, realized by director Nispel and cinematographer Daniel Pearl, who shot the original, for a fairly slim budget by today’s standards. The score is appropriate as well and helps to add to the overall feeling of dread. Basically, this is not Oscar material, but if you like horror, this is a good one to have.
The transfer is not only clear and crisp, but the timing done on the final video transfer is superb. Having seen the film in the theater, I can attest to the fact that the DVD transfer is better than the film print. There is just a bit more they were able to do with the color timing and especially certain areas of contrast. The film is a high contrast, low color film, so depending on the projector at the theater, some things will get lost in the darkness. This is especially true when using a skip bleach process (a skip bleach process keeps many of the silvers in the film negative, causing the colors to be a bit washed out). The clarity and detail in the DVD transfer is particularly evident in some of the creepiest parts, such as the interiors of Leatherface’s workshop and the kitchen. The Dolby Digital EX sounds really nice, but the DTS is incredible – there’s nothing like pumping up the sound of a running chainsaw in six-channel DTS. The art galleries, trailers, screen tests and DVD-Rom content are all standard and not too exciting. The two documentaries, however, are very well made. The one about the making of the film is interesting in that it takes a look not only at how the “Chainsaw” company went about remaking what is considered a classic cult film, but also many of the technical and production difficulties and challenges they were presented with while filming. The documentary about Ed Gein is truly disturbing, and contains some imagery that puts the film itself to shame. For anyone who has not heard the story of the Plainfield Killer, this is a revelation of the macabre. Of the audio commentaries, the one featuring director Marcus Nispel is the best, as he delivers very interesting, appropriate and insightful comments about not only the making of this film, but about filmmaking in general. He is a lucid, thoughtful speaker who clearly loves what he does and enjoys discussing it. It’s a nice departure from some director commentaries where they leave you wondering how they even know how to read a book, let alone direct a movie.
Overall, this DVD is high quality all around, from the execution of the original product to the transfer and extra features. As long as one remembers that this is not intended to be thought-provoking, highbrow entertainment, horror fans and those who are interested in strong filmmaking, albeit without fantastic writing, will enjoy this DVD.