Neil Young’s Film Lounge – The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Published on: March 23rd, 2004

THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE

4/10

USA 2003 : Marcus NISPEL : 95 mins

Aaarghhh!! They messed with Texas!!! Remaking Tobe Hoopers 1974 semi-classic The Texas Chain Saw Massacre for purely commercial ends, co-producer Michael Bay, director Nispel and scriptwriter Scott Kosar have dispensed with much, much more than just that oft-overlooked gap between the words chain and saw.

Brrrrrzzzzzzhhhhummmmmmmshh!! Thats the sound the originals fans will hear as the both the fascinating subtexts (via Kim Henkels script) and the surface roughness of the original are crudely ripped away, to be replaced by a numbingly one-dimensional screenplay and incongruously slick production- values. Only the plots basic skeleton remains intact: driving through a Texas backwater in the mid-70s, a group of college kids fall into the clutches of chainsaw-wielding Leatherface and his family of murderous inbreds.

Re-employing Hoopers own cinematographer Daniel C Pearl was a nice touch (Chain Saw narrator John Larroquette also returns), but you wonder why they bothered – Pearls over-stylish work here bears little relation to his earlier efforts on a film whose degraded look formed part of an all-out assault on the viewers senses. Making a virtue out of necessity, Hoopers no-budget production was a thoroughly convincing evocation of a poverty-blighted hell-hole, as equally unpleasant to look at as it was to hear: his cacophony of human screams, animal cries and mechanical grinding remains unmatched in movie history.

Chainsaw, in contrast, must have spent many more times the originals entire budget on lighting alone. Though much of the action unfolds under a full moon, this doesn’t explain the mysterious and unseen sources of bright illumination which seem to be located behind every large building. At times, you wonder if the chainsaw-fodder kids are being stalked by an unhinged lighting-crew.

Writing in Cult Movies, Danny Peary summed up the original as well-made but excruciatingly unpleasant Nispels version is just excruciatingly well-made, a classic example of over-polished form proving wildly unsuited to the down-and-dirty content. Chain Saw an ordeal for everyone concerned not just for audiences, but also for cast and crew. According to all reports, the actors all hated Hooper and couldnt stand each other either ideal for a film in which all the bickering characters are obnoxious to varying degrees.

Well, not quite all One of the many radical aspects of Chain Saw was the development of Leatherface: though this hulking, mute, murderous brute initially comes across as a Jason Voorhees-ish killing machine, the scenes in which he’s cruelly abused by his despicable family show him as a truly pathetic figure. The hapless Leatherface is the most pitiable of the movies victims indeed, alongside the thoroughly unpleasant teens and his own evil kin, he’s by far the most sympathetic figure on view. Nispel and Kosar may go to the trouble of giving him a name Thomas Hewitt but, paradoxically, they thoroughly dehumanise the character: he’s never anything other than a hulking, mute, murderous brute – a Jason Voorhees-ish killing machine.

And the fact that he survives (as we see via an epilogue featuring some cheesily Blair Witchy found footage) suggests that Bay and company have their eyes on a money-spinning franchise* along the lines of Elm Street and Friday the 13th. Because this is, above all else, a money-making exercise according to Variety, In the press notes, an exec producer cavalierly admits that the idea for the remake stemmed from research showing that 90% of the films score, males-under-25 audience knew the title of Hoopers film but had never seen it.

Despite these cynical beginnings, an updated Texas Chain Saw neednt have been quite so shoddy not to mention boring as this. The antics of a certain Texan occupant of the White House make this an ideal moment to go into the darker recesses of the Lone Star State of mind (a la Bill Paxtons Frailty), but its an opportunity Nispel and Kosar seem content to miss. Despite its reputation, Hoopers Chain Saw is really a subversive, blackly comic anti-carnivore, pro-vegetarian satire – some critics even interpret it as a parody of dog-eat-dog US capitalism. One commentator has discerned similarities between the Hewitt clan and the Bush family, but this seems like wishful thinking Chainsaw is nothing more than a cynical, over-produced, teen-friendly exercise in one-dimensional shock-and-gore.

15th November, 2003
(seen 13th November : Odeon Gate, Newcastle)

* The originals three, barely-released sequels were 1986s Texas Chainsaw Massacre II (with Dennis Hopper!), 1990s Leatherface : Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (with Viggo Mortensen!!) and 1994s Henkel-directed Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, (with Matthew McConaughey and Renee Zellweger!!!)

by Neil Young