Great Debate #6 – The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Remake in 2003 is good
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake in 2003 is a by-the-numbers horror movie starring Jessica Biel and Jessica Biel’s stomach that had and still has a huge number of fans. Why? Why is this? There have been six reboots, remakes or sequels to the 1974 classic, but none of them have the number of fans the 2003 remake does. It could be because the film was produced by Michael Bay, but I don’t think so, and I don’t want to give any credit to him anyway. It could be the cast, but there have been standouts in other sequels. Ultimately, I think it is probably the tone or the script, so credit to the director and the screen writer. I happen to like the tone, as it harkens back to the original.
I don’t think there’s a more realistic and horrific movie than 1974’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Some parts are genuinely creepy, moody, and fit the tone of the movie perfectly. It’s a backwoods, southern murder story. That’s the story. I mean, Friday the 13th is a backwoods murder story too, but The Texas Chainsaw Massacre may be the one exploitation film that I have seen where horror is art. I mean, the scenery is just so gritty and real, that it works. I think the little details do it, like a house chock full of old cans, an old-style meat freezer, and weird things hanging from the ceiling. That’s not the kind of thing you’re going to find in a by-the-numbers horror film.
The remake tries to emulate the style and atmosphere of the original and succeeds in some parts, but it’s STILL not dirty and grimy enough. That’s just how well-done the original was. Not to mention the original was made at a time when many people still had meat lockers or jobs at a meat processing factory. What it comes down to is that movies today are so sanitized that it is rare to get an authentic feeling horror film.
I think Leatherface is good in the 2003 remake. He’s more of a badass than in the other sequels, but that’s okay by me. Most of the sequels portray him as a simple child or a brain-damaged idiot. I don’t think that’s a good take. It works a little better in Texas Chainsaw 3D, but not by much, because that script is awful and the direction is crap.
Roger Ebert gave the 2003 remake 0 out of 4 stars. Seriously. Zero stars. He believed the movie was despicable. Ebert praised the direction and style of the 1974 original, which I’m not sure I understand in comparison. It’s basically the same film except with more plot conveniences in the remake and less social commentary. Both the remake and the original have some of the same shots and the setup is basically the same. I’m not sure what Ebert’s problem was.
I will say that the remake tries to cause disgust and the original doesn’t have to try so hard. The remake repeats the meat hook scene and the hitchhiker trope, but I think both work in either Texas Chainsaw incarnation. I’ve never seen them work anywhere else. I might even say the remake is a little more brutal in its violence. I think the original hitchhiker played by Edwin Neal tops everything in any Texas Chainsaw movie though, in the way he delivers his dialogue and evokes disgust just by cutting himself.
Of the characters in the remake, I like only Erin, the Sheriff, and Morgan sometimes. I think there is some legitimate suspense as Erin runs from Leatherface, especially in the meat locker scene. I think the sheriff played by R. Lee Ermey is a highlight of the film. He’s pretty good in the way he intimidates everyone he talks to. He goes way over-the-top with his delivery, but I like that. I didn’t think he overplayed it at all. I mean, it’s friggin R. Lee Ermey, for God’s sake. He’s a badass. He is run over several times by Erin at the end, which is about as brutal as it gets, so I’m not sure what the point of that was, except to continue being brutal. It works though, because it is messed up.
The remake has many differences from the original. The trailer park ladies who drug Erin are seemingly included to give more sympathy to her character, which I don’t think is needed. There’s a baby. And a kid. I think Jonathan Tucker as Morgan does a good job, perhaps better than any of the other secondary characters I can think of. The rest of the cast is pretty crap though, especially the ladies. Though it wasn’t an Oscar performance from anyone in the original either, so there is that.
Overall, I think this movie is not a zero star dud. It has been slammed over and over, but I think it is successful in places where the other sequels fail miserably or start to become hammy. I do think the original stands above all of them though, as if only to show that a rundown house run by rednecks can be stylistic. The remake made 100 million trying to recapture that style, but tries to use a bigger budget to accomplish cheap, raw effects, which mostly doesn’t work. I think the film still is a good time though and doesn’t deserve any classification as a bad B-Movie.