The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (October 15/03)
When word got out that Michael Bay was going to be involved with a remake of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, fright fans had good reason to be horrified. Would he and director Marcus Nispel stay true to the original's gritty and low-budget origins? Or would they take the material and churn out yet another beautiful-teens-on-the-run-from-a-psycho flick? The result is somewhere in between the two, but leaning far more towards the latter than preferable.
Like the Tobe Hooper classic that inspired it, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre takes place in rural Texas during the summer of 1973 where five teenagers are making a cross-country trek. Along the way, the pick up a hitchhiker who babbles incoherently before shooting herself. This sets off a chain reaction of events that eventually culminates with the teens encountering the Hewitt family - including skin-wearing Leatherface.
Right off the bat, it's instantly clear that Michael Bay's hand in the film's production wasn't limited to the sidelines. The movie has that slick and glossy look that the director's become famous (or is that infamous?) for, which is surprising given that the cinematographer is Daniel Pearl (who worked on the original). Visually, the difference between the two films is night and day - where Hooper's version was gritty and disturbing, director Marcus Nispel's adaptation feels more like a Scream clone than anything else. Contributing to the latter is the presence of a far more attractive cast than the original, including the absence of the wheelchair-bound Franklin. Perhaps it wouldn't be considered politically correct to have a handicapped guy that's obnoxious, but his character's been replaced by a nondescript figure.
Admittedly, the film is a lot more coherent than the original - but that's not necessarily a good thing. Hooper did a fantastic job of making us feel as though we were just as trapped as the characters, with escape a slim possibility. But Nispel (along with screenwriter Scott Kosar) inserts a linear storyline into the material, ensuring that we're never disoriented - which, in turn, takes away from that feeling of dread that was so prominent in Hooper's version. Additionally, the second half of the film becomes awfully repetitive - Jessica Biel's central character runs screaming for help, encounters seemingly helpful citizens who turn out to be part of the Hewitt clan, Biel runs screaming for help, etc - to the point where it becomes laughable.
The one aspect of the film that actually improves upon the original is the emphasis on Leatherface's history as a meat packer. After slicing off the leg of a victim (yes, in this version, we actually see his infamous chainsaw piercing skin), he rubs salt in the wound and ties it up with paper just like a butcher would do with a side of ham. Attempts to humanize Leatherface don't come off quite as well, because really, who's going to sympathize with a guy that runs around wearing his victims skin for a mask? (A gratuitous shot of Leatherface's disfigured face falls under the category of didn't-need-to-know-thankyouverymuch.)
In all fairness, though, the first half of the film is somewhat entertaining and a few of Nispel's innovations are enjoyable (including a shot that starts with a screaming Biel and travels through the dead hitchhiker's skull until finally emerging outside of the van). But really, the film never improves upon Hooper's vision, so why bother?