The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)
Studio: New Line
Film Length: 98 minutes
Aspect Ratio: Anamorphic Widescreen (1.85:1)
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround EX, DTS-ES Surround
Subtitles: Spanish, English
Retail Price: $39.95
Being a rabid horror fan all my life, nothing I’ve ever seen started so much controversy as this film, a remake of Tobe Hooper’s 1974 classic, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. For the past couple of years fans have debated if such a classic film should be remade and most were wondering if we really needed it to be remade. Fans of the original protesting this remake and refused to watch it but a newer generation was probably seeing this without even knowing there was an original.
There’s no question the 1974 film is an all-time classic horror tale but I must come clean and admit that I think the film really doesn’t live up to its reputation. I’m not calling the original a bad movie, it’s far from that but I do feel the legendary reputation is a bit high considering there are several other films that dealt with this subject on a much better level. The rarely seen Deranged covered the Ed Gein story better as did Wes Craven’s later shocker The Hills Have Eyes, which actually deserves all the praise that the original TCM gets. As for my opinion on this remake, we didn’t really need it but then again, we don’t need many movies that are made today. I was open for the idea of a remake and I’m still not sure why fans are so unhappy with this being remade since Hooper basically remade his own film with Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2.
Since most reading this already knows the basic story I’ll keep this rather short. Also, there are many changes in the story, which shouldn’t be given away so that’s another reason not to go into much detail. The basic story is about five teenagers (Jessica Biel, Eric Balfour, Erica Leerhsen, Jonathan Tucker, Mike Vogel) traveling across Texas who wind up at an old farm house where they are terrorized by a deranged family including the leader Letherface and his trusty chainsaw.
While there’s no way this remake will ever gain the reputation of the original film, at least this one here did try something new and added new stuff instead of simply doing a scene for scene remake of the original. I know a lot of fans were worried that the story would be set in today’s world and the director would use Scream tactics rather than what the original offered but don’t worry, the film has the look and feel of something made during the 1970’s but the rest of the film seems to be paying homage to the 1980’s with its ruthless violence and over the top gore, which made this feel more like a Friday the 13th film more than anything else. Like those 80’s slasher, the biggest problem here is that the director went with gore instead of actually trying to scare the viewer.
As I stated earlier, a lot of the story has been changed from the original film and I think this has some good and bad. The good thing is that we are in for a new ride since new characters are added and we aren’t really sure what role they are going to play in the film. The teenagers find themselves at the farmhouse for different reasons than in the original film, which is another plus. It’s good that the screenplay offered a differentscenario because a constant reminder to the first film would have made this one even harder to watch. Another plus is an eerie opening sequence (perhaps influenced by The Blair Witch Project) where the narrator tells us what the story is and goes back to police footage of the crime scene. All of this new stuff helps us forget the original and realize that we’re watching a different film that is an actual new story more than just a remake.
Then comes the bad stuff. A new character is introduced at the start of the film and this character is the reason the teenagers end up at the farmhouse. While I respect the director for trying this angle, it simply doesn’t work and this “shocker” plays a role throughout the first hour and really adds nothing to the film. This here also leads to a second problem, which is the amount of gore the film has in it. The original film, as well as other “scary” movies like Halloween, let the atmosphere and scenery scare you without having to resort to violence and gore. This new film has very little atmosphere and isn’t too scary because the mindless gore scenes get in the way of anything that could possibly be scary. Seeing someone chased, with the right direction and style, could lead to some wonderfully tense moments but seeing someone get their body sawed in half with blood, brains and guts flying everywhere isn’t going to do anything other than put a smile on your face wondering how the effect was done.
This new film also has some fresh actors playing the leads, which didn’t bother me too much. The original film had a bunch of unknowns and many think this helped the film and that’s probably true but their weak acting always bothered me somewhat. This new film actually has a pretty good cast playing the teenagers. Jessica Biel does a very good job in the lead bringing a strong presence to the screen and she’s likeable enough to have us cheering for her throughout the film. Eric Balfour also does nice work here, although we all know he’s just here for one reason. The big highlight of the cast is R. Lee Ermey of Full Metal Jacket fame. Ermey knows how to chew a scene up and spit it in the viewers face and he does his very best here offering some nice comic relief and he also manages to be a lot more creepy than even Leatherface.
Since I brought him up, Leatherface here actually does more harm than good. This is the one part where the remake really can’t hold a candle to the original. In the original film Leatherface was creepy because of how quiet and mysterious he was. The makeup of the added faces was also wonderfully done but in the remake you could say less would have been more. The face just looks too good so we’re left with something that isn’t scary and is too pretty to bring any scares. I would also add that his body structure is a lot more menacing than in the original film but nothing is really done to show this off.
I’ve got a certain friend out there who refuses to see this film because he thinks enough is enough when it comes to these remakes. Many classic films have been remade throughout film history but to him, and many others, the original TCM is something that should have never been touched. Was there a need for this remake? After seeing it I would have to say no. However, even though there wasn’t a need for a remake I must say that this film holds up just as well as any of the three sequels, which in reality were nothing more than remakes themselves. I’m sure if the title The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 5 had been put on this film then there wouldn’t have been as many complaints. While this remake will die soon and the original will carry on, what we have here really isn’t that bad and it certainly could have been a lot worse. I enjoyed many of the changes but while watching the film, it just made me realize how much better things in the original were done.
VIDEO---The movie is shown widescreen (1.85:1) and is enhanced for 16x9 TVs. Since this is a New Line production you should expect the very best and that’s exactly what you get. This is a film where scenes take place under the hot sun in clear skies as well as scenes at night in a dark fog and rain. The daytime scenes are incredibly clear without a hint of damage or dirt. The best looking scenes are the beautiful blue skies, which have a very natural look. The flesh tones look incredibly accurate as well. The nighttime scenes are just as impressive especially the stuff in the woods with all the fog, rain and dusty settings. It’s also good to report that there isn’t any edge enhancement that I could spot.
AUDIO---You get the option of a Dolby Digital EX 5.1 track as well as a DTS ES Surround. I went through both tracks and the DTS is a little more impressive but then again, I wouldn’t upgrade your system because of that because the main differences is in the sound of the chainsaw. The dialogue and other effects sound pretty much the same. Both are crystal clear and pack a nice punch especially the Surrounds, which are perfectly used for various sound effects from dripping water to insects. The opening song of “Sweet Home Alabama” also sounds remarkably well. The chainsaw buzzes from the left to the right with wonderful range and the level of the action will leave your speakers shaking. On the DTS track there’s a bit more range in the sound so that’s why I put it ahead of the DD track.
EXTRAS---On disc one we get three audio commentary tracks, all of which are pretty interesting. The first track, called “Production” features: director Marcus Nispei, producer Michael Bay, executive producers Andrew Porm and Brad Fuller and New Line co-chairman Robert Shaye. In this track we get everyone’s thoughts and ideas about remaking such a classic film and you guessed it, the biggest reason is that today’s crowds would know the name so that would put people in seats. The men also go into great detail about the production from the script to the casting. The second track, called “Technical” features: the director, cinematographer Daniel Pearl, production designer Greg Blair, art director Scott Gallagher, sound editor Trevor Jolly and composer Steve Jabinsky. While not as interesting as the first track, the biggest highlight is Pearl who was also involved with the original film. He tells some wonderful stories and speaks of how different the two productions were and the advantages of working with a higher budget. The third track, called “Story” features: the director, producer Bay, screenwriter Scott Kosar, the executive producers plus actors Jessica Biel, Erica Leerhsen, Eric Salfour, Jonathan Tucker, Mike Vogel and Andrew Bryniarski. This is another wonderful track and the really interesting thing is hear the new actors talk about the original film. The track is full of nice information and stories so this is certainly worth listening to.
Disc 2 is where we find the rest of the extras. We start off with the original theatrical trailer, Michael Bay’s teaser trailer as well as seven television spots. Both trailers are shown anamorphic widescreen. A music video is also included but this type of thing really isn't my cup of tea. There are also two art galleries covering the production as well as the visual look of Leatherface. We also get screen tests of Jessica Biel, Erica Leerhsen and Eric Balfour. All three segments are very interesting especially the Biel footage and how it compares to her performance in the film. Up next are seven deleted scenes including an alternate opening and closing. This alternate opening and closing sequence was going to be used over the police footage, which was eventually used in the film. This ending also sets up a sequel so it’s rather good they went with what was in the final film. Also included is an alternate death scene, which was apparently cut so that the film wouldn’t get an NC-17 rating. The scene features a lot more gore but I agree with the director that it took away from the action and the suspense he was trying to build. We also get an alternate, gorier version of the “secret” that happens in the van at the start of the film. You have the option of watching these scenes on their own or there's an option to select "documentary", which features the director talking about each of the scenes. All the scenes are shown anamorphic widescreen and look just as good as the feature.
Up next is a 25-minute documentary called Gein: The Ghoul of Plainfield, which is pretty good, although I wish it would have been a bit longer. This goes through the basic history of Gein and how he influenced such films as this one as well as Psycho. The big bonus is a 72-minute documentary called Chainsaw Redux, which is a wonderful bonus. This here covers the entire making of the film and all the controversy about remaking such a classic film. The cast as well as the director and producer are interviewed and we also get a lot of behind the scenes stuff, which is very interesting.
NOTE---The extras listed above are for the Collector’s Edition, which also features some lobby cards inside the packaging as well as a collectible metal plate, which is in front of the main cover. The single disc version only features a trailer, the television spots and the music video. The rest of the extras are on the Collector’s Edition only.
OVERALL---All the fighting and controversy over the original being made will be long gone in a few years as will this film. While there’s a lot of good stuff in this remake there’s no way it’ll take the place of the original so fans of Hopper’s classic can remain calm. The film was a nice try but as usual the director seems to forget that gore is not scary. New Line has once again delivered a wonderful package for the fans. The video is remarkable without any problems and both the 5.1 and DTS tracks pack a nice punch to show off your system. The extras are all very nice especially the first and third commentary track as well as the wonderful documentary about the making of the film. I wish the Gein documentary would have been longer but perhaps that’s a bit too much to ask for. The deleted scenes, unlike most, are actually very interesting.
There’s been even more controversy about the $39.95 price tag to this set. While I do feel that’s a bit too high I can’t imagine any fan wanting to own the single disc version. If you enjoyed the film and want to know more about it then the extras given you enough to make the $40 retail price worth it. If you’re worried about getting ripped off you can forget about it because New Line certainly gives you your money’s worth.
Release Date: March 30, 2004