Texas Chainsaw Massacre
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plot in a nutshell
Wow! Two new movies in two weeks! That's a record for me in the
last three years.
This film is a remake of the
1974 film by Tobe Hooper. Once again, five kids (they look college age
here, although the original they seemed closer to high school age) find
themselves trapped in the backwoods with a serial killer. He has a
penchant for wearing the skin of his victims, and likes long walks in the
woods with a running chainsaw.
I re-watched the original the
night before I went to see the new version, so that I could easily compare
the two. In some ways, this new version is far superior to the
original, but in other ways, it falls way short.
Spoiler Free Thoughts
Five kids are on their way back from Mexico, having picked up a couple
pounds of pot to make some easy cash.
There's little to differentiate the five from one another, except that one
girl is the 'good girl'. She didn't know about the drugs. She's
not engaged in wild sex, at least not on film. She's always concerned
with the plight of others, always worried about doing the right thing.
Unlike the others, she never turns her back on one of them, or any
stranger. I'll come back to this point later - it's important.
pick themselves up a hitchhiker, just like in the first film. Unlike
the first film however, this hitchhiker is a victim, not a wacko.
Well, she's still pretty wacko, and although she's managed to get away from
the very terror these five are about to meet, she still decides that killing
herself is a better option than fighting again. Okay, here's my first
big problem with the movie - a girl has the strength of will to fight her
way free, only to take her own life? She didn't give up and just let
them have her, no matter how hard she had to fight, but now just rolls over
and dies? Other than giving the director an opportunity for a pretty
neat camera trick, it's a pretty weak premise.
kids are now in a bit of a pickle. This is the time before cel phones,
so they have to find someone to take the girl's body. Unfortunately
for them, they find a guy with a chainsaw instead. You really have to
be careful when picking the house to ask for help.
film tries to capture 1974. It fails pretty badly. The original
didn't have that problem, since it was made in 1974. How everyone
acted, dressed and cut their hair wasn't an issue for Tobe Hooper. You
assume they tried this time around - the annoying fifth wheel wears a pair
of funky bell bottoms - but for the most part miss the mark. That 70's
Show does a much better job, and it's not just the look, but the dialog.
in the film, the AFW (annoying fifth wheel, originally annoying and in a
wheel chair, now just annoying) tells the two amorous kids all about the
dangers of 'STDs'. Huh? Yea, that was a big topic of
conversation in the back of a van in 1974. Was the term STD even
coined back then? I sure as hell don't remember it, although I have to
admit that since that was the decade of my teens, I don't remember a whole
lot. At first, I simply thought this was poor writing, until I
realized that perhaps it was all part of a plan to explain the motivation of
see, Leatherface (named Thomas Hewitt in this film) has a 'skin
disease'. We get to see this when he removes the mask at one point,
and we see he no longer has a nose. Of course, that's a sign of
untreated syphilis's, as is insanity. If his parents had the disease
go untreated, it could explain his behavior, and theirs (although you're
never really sure which ones of the crazed, inbred bunch are his mother and
is the cannibalism, gone is the tie into the meat packing plant although
it's still a backdrop. Gone is the furniture made of human bones, but
Leatherface does have a hell of a collection of parts and pieces in the
basement. The removal of the cannibalism, and the replacement with
this entire family back story hurt the film, and I much prefer the original
in this regard. The switcheroo they pulled with the hitchhiker also
didn't work for me, and the premise they built for having them meet up with
Leatherface didn't work as well as the original. But there are some
positive points here.
acting of the kid's is
world's above the original. Okay, now that's not too hard to do, but
it's still important to note. R. Lee Ermey does a particularly great
job as the sheriff, and the kids all turn in decent jobs screaming and
running. The other family members don't give you the creeps the way the
originals did though. Most of the dialog is an improvement, if you can
ignore the occasionally stupid lines like the one about STD's. And of
course the overall production values right down to the quality of the film
stock, are greatly improved.
are several concepts lifted right from the original, and while this film is
brutal, it's no more brutal than the original. There's a little more
gore, but not much, and the original was a master of the fast, unexpected,
brutal death. The neatest nod to the original though is in the use of
the same narrator - John Larroquette. He's the only actor from the
original (although he's only a voice) that ever made it to the big league,
and it's nice to see him return to do the work again. His role is
greatly expanded this time as well, and he gets to talk us through some
grainy black and white footage shot of the Hewitt basement, ala Blair Witch.
me though, there was one huge, obvious, smack you in the face difference
between this film and the original, and I hinted at it in the first
paragraph. In the original film, each of the five kids was clearly a
different personality. But none of them were 'bad'. The kid in
the wheelchair played the part of the AFW, but none of them took part in any
behavior that could label them as deserving to die.
since Halloween, it's been a rule of all slasher flicks that the kids who
die deserve it. They are involved in naughty sex, doing drugs, mean
behavior, or just disrespecting their parents. And the winner of the
battle, almost always a girl, is sweet, virginal and deserves to live.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre came out before this odd shift occured, and as one
of the very first slasher flicks, broke ground by showing regular people
dying - bad things happening to good people.
time around, they followed the modern standard. The other four kids
aren't just promiscuous drug users - they take turns making a push to leave
someone behind, showing true cowardice in the face of danger. Except
for our heroine of course, a sweet girl that wants nothing more than to
marry her high school honey. Hey, it's 1974, she's wearing a tank top
(which they spend over half the film keeping wet, from rain to sprinklers to
every conceivable method) but she still wears a bra! And she never
even burns it.
Rating - Rent It
I may have complained about this a lot, in reality it's one of the best
slasher flicks we've gotten in a long time. They manage to build
suspense, get your blood pumping, and use some truly creepy backdrops to
generate some real scares. It's not award material, but for the horror
fan, it's well worth watching.
don't have to rush out to see it though. It's a film that will work
fine at home, on DVD, on a dark rainy night all by yourself...just don't
pick up any hitchhikers. And if you're a large serial killer who likes
to wear the skin of his victims, take this advice - don't run through the
words with your chainsaw on.
note of a couple of the actors here - David Dorfman plays the youngest of
the 'clan', and he was also the kid in the Ring, fans of Seventh Heaven will
recognize Jessica Biel as our herione, and fans of Six Feet Under will
recognize Eric Balfour as one of the teens. Oh, and keep an eye peeled
for the cameo by Harry Knowles from Ain't It Cool News.
Spoiler Laden Thoughts
There's nothing really surprising in this flick, but...
...I was wondering for a little while just what role the
sheriff would play. For awhile, I though that maybe, just maybe, he
was just a sick old man that had nothing to do with Leatherface, but was his
own issue. While that thought evaporated fairly soon, it did get me
thinking about other ways they could have taken this film.
also was less than enthused with the motivations given for the
killings. In the original, it was quite clear that they'd been killing
for a very long time, and the hidden cars was a great touch. This time
we get a bunch of cars again, but all of them are so old that it could
easily be a dump, and there's no real attempt to hide them.
Leatherface has a ton of body parts downstairs, but it seems as though the
family isn't really looking to kill people in general, but only for specific
reasons. The death of the hitchhiker's family was clearly designed to get
the baby, and the idea that they just let her go bugged me as well.
Why didn't they pursue her til they found her? She was just wandering
down the road in the middle of the day. And if she took the gun from
the sheriff, why didn't she use it on any of them? And when it comes
to our five kids, the sheriff even tells the AFW that picking up the
hitchhiker had been their big mistake. The story was the weakest around
these changes, and developing motivations for the killers hurt the impact.