I rate movies based on how they compare to other films in the same genre. It seems pointless to rate “Dude, Where’s My Car?,” for example, by comparing it to “The Hours” because they’re both trying to achieve different things. Thus, I was disheartened to see critics berate the remake of the 1974 horror classic “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” because it is (in the words of critic Roger Ebert) “vile, ugly and brutal” and causes feelings of “disgust and hopelessness.” Guess what? This is a true horror movie, and those are precisely the reasons it should be lauded. If you want to feel warm fuzzys, go to a Disney flick; you won’t find them here.
Brief lesson: “Scream” and “I Know What You Did Last Summer” (and countless others like them) are not horror movies; they’re slasher films. The difference is that one (horror) is all about creating a mood of fear and a sense of foreboding, while the other just wants a reason to show creative gore. “Chainsaw” starts out calm, and then grabs you around the throat and slowly squeezes for the next ninety minutes. Gore is used, but the real star here is its increasing feeling of dread.
I hate that the “Chainsaw” remake played the “inspired on a true story” card (as the poster proudly proclaims), when the connection to deviant Ed Gein (who used to dress in the skins of female corpses) is tenuous at best, but I also understand that that’s part of what made it work for people who were disturbed by it. When I played the TCM remake at the theater I used to run, every night I had people leave the auditorium with a dazed look on their faces. One girl, about 15 or so, was absolutely sobbing when she came out, and couldn’t talk. Based on the reactions I saw, it’s safe to say this film did what it set out to do.
Yes, it uses familiar plot devices (teenagers are stalked, the car won’t start when they need to flee the killer), but this doesn’t matter; the film’s grip is relentless and these all work to create tension. When it was over, like Ebert, I felt less than human…but I knew that was really the point.
Pros: Gritty and disturbing, even for those who know it isn’t true.
Cons: The change in tone at the climax seems a bit out of place.
Review Rating: 4 out of 5…erm…chainsaws (really, what did you expect?).
“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (2003)
98 Minutes; USA
Rated R for strong horror violence/gore, language and drug content.
Jessica Biel (Erin)
Jonathan Tucker (Morgan)
Erica Leerhsen (Pepper)
Mike Vogel (Andy)
Eric Balfour (Kemper)
Andrew Bryniarski (Thomas Hewitt/Leatherface)
Directed by: Marcus Nispel
Written by: Scott Kosar, based upon the 1974 screenplay by Kim Henkel and Tobe Hooper
Viewing Format: Theatrical Release
(Portions of this review originally appeared in my “Video View” newspaper column on 3/24/’04)