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The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)

Artwork by Jake Farnsworth

This week’s prompt is a movie that has been remade, and having recently delved into the original Texas Chainsaw, followed by the second in the franchise, I was curious to see just how well this Jessica Biel lead film held up. This one has some very rough saw-toothed edges, but I found a lot of enjoyment out of this remake. I knew what I was getting into here. 2003 is a short time after the events of 9/11, and films during this period were inclined to stray away from the satirical take of 90’s horror and lean more into the gore porn that the film Saw solidified in the following year, 2004.

Let us go back to 1974, Nixon and Watergate, Vietnam vets are coming home, the nation is confused; tired, leading to an overall feeling of exacerbation. This is the year that the original The Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie premiered. The opening frames captured mutilated corpses baking in the Texas sun. Toby Hooper is exposing the decay and rot of American ideals in the 70s. Interestingly enough, the 2003 version opens with black and white footage accounting the events that befell the five teens. This opening opposes the opening of the OG movie by starting the film on a mournful beat, rather than grotesque.

The 1974 version is an interesting film in itself because the movie barely shows blood, yet tricks you into thinking that you’ve witnessed utter violence. We, as the audience, see a girl hit with a hammer, and leatherface himself slip cutting into his own leg with his saw, and that’s all the gore. Yet in 2003 we see puddles and bathtubs full of blood. We witness a man being hooked in the basement, which directly refers to the lack of gore from the 74’ film when one of the men was hooked, but it was done off screen.

The acting is okay, it’s a product of its time, and by that I mean that some of these actors move on and shine later on in their careers, such as Jessica Biel, and Jonathan Tucker. Most of the actors fall by the wayside and their performances are mediocre. Leatherface himself is fine, I am more interested in the care-taker aspects that the 1974 film introduced, here he is simply a killer. R Lee Ermey plays Sheriff Hoyt, who is not a sheriff but the oldest brother of the cannibalistic rednecks. His performance is great in any role he’s placed. That man’s quotability is endless. There’s a scene with him wrapping a dead body with plastic wrap in this film, and if you can fast forward to that moment I highly recommend checking it out for a laugh. The last actor I’d like to call out here is Kathy Lamkin, because she creeped me out to the Nth degree. Her smile should feel sincere, and her presence should be comforting like an aunt or grandmother, yet something is so off, I love it.

The finale takes place inside of a meat processing plant, which I found to be a good call back to the 74’ film. There’s an interesting dynamic in the original where the teens are treated like cattle the way that they are put down, so bringing this back was a good call. Yet, they don’t lean all the way into it by bludgeoning Leatherface, or at the very least, hooking him with a meat hook. Instead, Miss Erin, Jessica Biel's character, hacks him apart with a butcher knife, which doesn’t have the same effect. She then escapes the processing plant. She finds a truck driver only to be returned to the same house that the Sheriff and his family reside in. This loops her back into her nightmare, but also allows her another chance to rescue the kidnapped child they introduced earlier in the film. Blah. The stakes are already high, yet adding a child makes the stakes higher? Part of the genius of the 74’ version is that the stakes are simply life or death. We barely know the character of Sally yet we witness true fear from that actor, and that’s what propels that ending to greatness. Biel’s performance feels very standard final girl.

It seems that the 2003 version has a hard time telling it’s own story and instead builds on the foundation of the original, by adding gore and buckets of blood. It would have been interesting to see what they could have done by basing the movie in current time and running with some new ideas, but instead we’re given a typical 2000’s remake of a 70’s film. Some big name actors of the time take the spotlight, and our old pal R. Lee Ermey does spectacular work taking up the mantle Jim Siedow left behind.



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