The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

on October 01, 1974 by Mark Keizer
Audiences who didn't even know they wanted a remake of Tobe Hooper's 1974 horror classic "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" get it anyway, courtesy of producers Michael Bay, who brought us "Pearl Harbor," and Mike Fleiss, executive producer of TV's "The Bachelor." With a pedigree like that, can memorable filmmaking be far behind?

Five teenagers driving through Texas on their way to a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert stop to pick up a disheveled hitchhiker, who ultimately blows her brains out in their van (leading to the best shot in the movie, as the camera pulls back, then through the hole in her head). The teens, led by Jessica Biel, find a creepy mansion where they attempt to the call the local sheriff. The mansion houses a family of inbreds that includes one murderous chainsaw-wielding psychopath, dubbed Leatherface. Arrival of the sheriff (R. Lee Ermey, in the film's best performance) only leads to more trouble, as he torments the kids with the opinion that they killed the hitchhiker.

From here, the "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" lives up to its name, as Leatherface dispatches each terrified, sweaty teenager. Remembering the names of any of these people proves challenging, although there is one idiot who tries to escape Leatherface by running through rows of bedsheets drying on clotheslines. His name may have been Mel. Or maybe Ruttiger.

While genuine scares are hard to come by (and consist of standard horror film "boo" moments), the film is occasionally creepy and there are a handful of effective scenes, including one in which the sheriff forces a teen to re-create the hitchhiker's suicide by putting a gun in his mouth.

Music video auteur Marcus Nispel brings to the table everything he's learned directing Cher videos. Style consists of fog machines, rain and streaming light, usually all at the same time. Our plucky heroes look as if they're caravaning to a Diesel Jeans audition, while shot composition has an eye toward creation of a kick-ass trailer. What made the original so effective was its documentary style and home-grown, realistic quality. Here, Nispel cares only to create a 98-minute demo reel and impress a target audience of MTV viewers and devotees of the original. Although seemingly paid by the edit, Glen Scantlebury helps get the film over with faster while Steve Jablonsky's hard-working, effective score only occasionally hits clich├ęd horror film notes.

To its minimal credit, the film doesn't insult the legacy of the original, nor does it try to out-meta some of the more recent horror outings, like the "Scream" movies. The new "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" exists to scare teenagers the old-fashioned way and generate sequels. In that, it will probably succeed, as it's catering to a less-than-discriminating crowd. Starring Jessica Biel, Jonathan Tucker, Erica Leerhsen, Mike Vogel, Eric Balfour and R Lee Ermey. Directed by Marcus Nispel. Written by Scott Kosar. Produced by Michael Bay and Mike Fleiss. A New Line release. Horror/Thriller. Rated R for strong horror violence/gore, language and drug content. Running time: 98 min

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