'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre' (2003) Movie Review
As I sit here trying to gather my thoughts, I somehow begin reflecting back to my youth. Back when I first experienced terror of the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre and my journey through all of the installments that followed suit, starting with the very first sequel released in 1986. So before I begin my thoughts on the 2003 remake, I would like to take you readers back in time for a little bit in order to understand my thoughts on the franchise as a whole presently and what led up to my very first experience with the remake.
When I was young, and to this day, I declare Tobe Hooper’s 1978 film, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, to be one of the most frightening films of all time. It terrifies me now then just as much as it did then any time I go back to watch the movie. It just is one of the most perfect horror films ever made. Tobe Hooper’s 1986 follow-up, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, I find to be a lot of fun. No, it’s not nearly as scary as the first but it’s not trying to be either. It’s a black comedy rather than a straight forward thriller like the first, I still have a decent time with it occasionally. 1990’s Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III I feel has it’s moments, Viggo Mortensen is kind of fun to watch in a couple scenes, but overall I find to be a bit of a mess. Even the ‘Unrated’ cut I find to be relatively underwhelming and pretty dumb honestly. Texas Chainsaw Massacre 4: The Next Generation, I’m not going to lie, I love that movie. I do. I will not apologize for that. It’s absurd, it’s insane, the story is a total cluster-f*ck, the acting is strange, and it’s hilariously over-the-top. But easily the best part about that whole film is Matthew McConaughey playing one of the greatest villains to ever spawn out of the series. No, scratch that. To spawn out of the entire history of film. McConaughey is balls to the wall crazy and he is having the time of his life in Chainsaw 4, he truly is mesmerizing to watch in that film. I love it to death still to this day.
What I think of the series’ installments that came after the 2003 remake, real quick; The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning is awful and entirely pointless, possibly my least favorite of the entirety of the franchise. Texas Chainsaw 3D was hilariously idiotic as it tried fudging details and trying to claim that the first film took place in the early 1990s or that this was taking place in the late 1980s, either way it’s shockingly inept. Plus, the fact that it turns the psycho-killers into the ‘heroes’ and the cops into the ‘antagonists’… are you kidding me? Lastly, 2017’s Leatherface gave no lasting impression at all for me. It was a thing that happened, not bad or good, it just happened.
So as a whole, the franchise has always been inconsistent. Going from great to terrible to mediocre to hilarious and everything in between. It is a horror series that really has hit every possible mark of quality. Seemingly ‘rebooting’ the franchise with every sequel/prequel anyways or retconning anything that has ever happened in previous movies from the series. It’s never been one of my favorites in terms of continual horror movie franchises as the sequels have never measured up to the heights of the original film. In the near fifty years since the first film came out, there hasn’t been a single installment to even scare me.
Back in 2003…
Time traveling back to the year 2003, I was eleven years old at the time and was excited to check out the new Texas Chainsaw Massacre flick. I loved the original, I loved slashers, I was just beginning to understand the concept of remakes/reboots at the time and was on board to check this out. When the movie ended, tiny me was pissed. Little eleven year old me hated it so much when upon release, I couldn’t stand a single thing about it. I remember at the time I hated the look of the movie, I thought it looked gross and unattractive, not even in a scary way but in a subpar filmmaking way. I thought the acting was annoying and made my ears feel like they were bleeding. I felt like the film was too focused on being needlessly gory. I felt no real tension or suspense because I thought the characters were all morons. I really did hate this movie when it premiered. I thought it was the worst horror remake ever made for several years, especially when people I knew declared it to be better than the original. Many friendships died because of this remake.
I refused to watch it again for many, many years. About fifteen or sixteen years to be more exact. Now seeing it again for the first time in however long, with all of the knowledge I have today about the series and where it went after 2003, how do I feel about the remake now? Well, I can’t say I liked it, but I don’t hate it nearly as much as I did when I was eleven. Progress? I guess. It’s honestly just forgettable. It’s an early 2000s, generic, “dead-teenager” slasher flick. That’s it. There’s nothing great about it, but there’s nothing technically terrible about it. Do I think it’s good? Not really. I still really don’t like it, but do I still think that it’s one of the worst horror remakes ever made? Hmm… let’s talk a bit more.
A small group of young college kids come across a traumatized young woman on their road trip through rural Texas. After the scared young woman seemingly pulls a revolver out of her vagina (sure), she kills herself, leaving the rest of the group to figure out what to do with the deceased. Turns out the youths run directly into the torment this woman tried so hard escaping from as a chainsaw-wielding psychopath and his crazed cannibalistic family are on the hunt for them all now. Can they make it out with their lives or will they be taken down one by one until no one is left to survive?
I really, really want to do my best in being as fair as I possibly can be with this film and try leaving my personal bias out of this critique. Honestly, it’s going to be hard. Especially since I hold the ’74 film so near and dear to my heart, but I will at least make an effort to name off some positives before really getting into the nitty-gritty of how I feel.
Honestly, the acting is not nearly as bad as I remembered it being when I first saw the remake. In 2003, everyone felt so fake and just a bunch of pretty-looking modern Hollywood celebrities. And, yes, that still holds true and I will touch on that more later. But the actual performances delivered by these actors are solid. They do what they can with the material given and they turn out decent performances. Particularly from Jonathan Tucker as Morgan, who I thought really put his all into this role that really doesn’t have a whole lot of meat to it, but because he feels so genuine in being thrown into all of this madness, I did find myself feeling a little bit of sympathy for the guy. Especially since his character seemed to be the only one with a brain to say that something doesn’t feel right and they should get the hell out of there. Unfortunately, his character isn’t the ‘final girl’ so that means he doesn’t make it to the end. But still, I thought Tucker really gave a standout performance here and it shouldn’t go unnoticed.
In terms of the lead character of Erin, played by Jessica Biel, she is trying. She does do her best with this role and gives it her best shot, much like the rest of the cast. In terms of ‘strong female leads’ I wouldn’t rate her all that high, because at the end of the day the character is largely bland and does some rather stupid sh*t in the movie. But strictly going off of what Biel brings to the table, her acting is believable in most of the high-tension situations. So I say kudos to her.
The one actor that seems to be having the real fun in all of this, and the one that comes out of this as being the most memorable is R. Lee Ermey. He is having an absolute blast with his role in this movie, he really is. When you break it down, he’s probably only in maybe ten minutes of the entire movie, fifteen at the most, but he sinks his teeth deep into the writing and squeezes out at least a few minutes of entertainment. I wish that he was in more of the movie to help liven things up, but I also saw how Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning turned out, so maybe not.
The Writer’s Intent
Even though I don’t like the writing, the story does at least have a three act structure with a narrative that has decent ideas, they just sadly don’t really work all that well. I will however give the writer (Scott Kosar) this, he didn’t try to simply pull a ‘copy-and-paste’ job from Tobe Hooper’s and Kim Henkel’s script. He did at least try to form a story line revolving around the same premise without being the exact same movie. Unfortunately the differences didn’t really make the film stronger, but rather weakened it. However, he at least tried, especially since this was Kosar’s very first job to write a feature length script, his efforts were certainly noble. Although I think Kosar had a director and producer that overpowered him a lot when it came to what actually made it into the movie. Scott Kosar has proven a very strong and capable writer after this though, with films like The Machinist and the remake of The Crazies, which I still find to be one of the better horror remakes; plus he wrote an episode for The Haunting of Hill House, which is one of the best horror shows I’ve personally seen. So at least The Texas Chainsaw Massacre gave him a proper launching point for a pretty successful career.
Aesthetically speaking, I’m not a fan. But if I have to be nice, I will say that it was competently shot. It certainly looks like a movie… directed by a music video director… okay, that was a bit of a backhanded compliment. The film is lit and shot intelligently enough. Even though I don’t like how it looks, it’s not because it is incompetently made. It’s more of a vanity thing I think, but I’ll get to that later. The gore effects, however, are legitimately well done. When someone gets dismembered or maimed, it is very convincing special effects work done here. Now that I’ve seen countless films over the years try to accomplish these exact same effects with poorly rendered computer imagery and crappy CG blood, I can now appreciate that this movie made the effort to at least achieve the effect through practical means instead of half-ass it on a laptop.
I’m Done Being Nice.
Okay, I’m done playing nice. I still really do not like this god damn movie. The characters are still the morons that I remember them as and the fact that it feels like the casting call was to find the best looking young television actors that they possibly could only irritates me more. These people don’t feel even remotely natural or believable as average small town college kids living in the 1970s, the time period that this film is taking place in. Instead it feels like I’m watching this week’s hottest young stars on a mediocre show playing on the WB in the early 2000s. “Oh sweet, that sh*tty My Redneck Life with Chainsaws show comes on right after Seventh Heaven and Buffy the Vampire Slayer!”
Also the fact that the dialog between the characters is mostly them bickering at one another really didn’t make this all that enjoyable to sit through. Especially in the first half where the whole group is arguing about what to do with this dead girl’s body, yet instead of being smart about it like finding a hospital, they go to a ‘hole-in-the-wall’ roadside shop that tells them to wait at an abandoned factory for the sheriff to arrive eventually. Seriously? At that point, something is clearly off about that place and they need to find a hospital or police station or something. Another thing that should have tipped these idiots off, since the girl that flipped out when the van was heading into the direction of this rundown desert town, you’d think that maybe there’s something wrong about this place. But because this is a horror movie, god forbid the hitchhiker girl that they picked up actually told the group what the danger was. Instead she had to act like crazy Ralph saying, “you’re all doomed!” before blowing her own brains out right after. It just felt forced and a lame excuse to insert gore as soon as possible. I guess I appreciate the fact that they created a spin on the hitchhiker sequence from the first movie, doesn’t mean it was f*cking good though.
It particularly irritated me in the last act of the film with the part where Jessica Biel’s character is hiding in a locker inside of this meat plant, Leatherface walks by the locker and is seemingly about to leave and she’s actually safe. But then, for no reason at all, she starts yelling and screaming inside of the locker at Leatherface so he can turn around to try finding her again. Yeah, it somehow luckily worked out for her, but that was stupid! What if he had just revved up his chainsaw and slammed it into your locker? How well do you think that would have worked out for ya? You stupid b*tch! I’m sorry, but that was one of the dumbest and most obviously inept ways in trying to create suspense that I have ever seen. Stupid. So. Freaking. Stupid!
Alright, I understand that the franchise started putting in more of a focus on the gore effects once the first sequel was released in ’86. I’ve accepted that. I have. It was the 1980s. Slashers took on a whole new life with the success of Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street. There’s no way they could have gone back to their roots of 1974 with a new installment at that time. Plus, with Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, it was being over-the-top and basically a cartoon. The third film, more or less, did it for the sake of having gore. Four actually barely has a drop of blood, funny enough. But there’s always been something about the 2003 film that came across as having a cynical attitude to be ‘bolder’ than the original somehow with the inserting of more blood and guts. I don’t know why I get that feeling, maybe it’s just me being protective over the first film, but for some reason I can’t shake it.
Hooper’s film really doesn’t show a whole lot in terms of the violence. The remake, on the other hand, I feel is the gruesome image that someone plays in their head when they hear the title The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. This remake is probably the imaginary movie that projects in someone’s mind who has never seen the original film and believes that this is what all of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre films are like. A bunch of good looking kids in their late teens, getting high and partying it up until a bunch of vulgar rednecks show up and start chain sawing them into pieces. To me, there’s way more substance to the original than simply a bunch of hot movie stars getting gutted. The original was disturbing and felt as though we were watching a secret snuff film with the amount of realism interjected into its filmmaking, all without showing the severing of limbs or anything like what the remake does. How I break these two down is that it feels like the ’74 film was made to terrify its audience, the ’03 film was made to gross out its audience. That, to me, is the major key difference between them.
I mentioned in my review of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre that the look of the film was extremely important in providing the most powerful emotional impact for scaring you. It was gritty, dirty, and grungy with genius photography replicating a documentary-style to create an uncomfortable sense of realism. The remake looks like a movie. It’s lit like a movie. It’s shot like a movie. It’s edited like a movie. Really, I suppose I can’t get mad at it looking like a standard horror film of its time. However, it is somewhat irritating when the first film flawlessly pulled of a direction that immersed the viewer into its world, while the remake simply looked like Jeepers Creepers 1.5. I never once believed that I was watching anything that could actually happen to me. I’m simply watching a world that can only exist in the movies. Maybe I’m being unfair, sadly though, I don’t ever feel all that immersed or invested in anything going on. Especially when I’m not even convinced that this is taking place in the 1970s. From the look of the actors and their wardrobe to the cinematography, everything feels way too glossy and polished like a music video. Makes sense seeing how this was the director’s first film since exclusively working in the music video industry. With the exception of the group heading to a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert, this could have easily taken place in 2003.
LeatherfaceClick thumbnail to view full-size
Visually speaking, Leatherface has a decent design in this film. I’ll admit that. The flesh mask that he wears, the one that isn’t Jessica Biel’s boyfriend’s face, is creepy looking. The actor that was hired has a good build and gives a good physical performance. From what I have read, it sounds like the suit that the actor had to wear was exceedingly difficult to work through in the harsh conditions of the Texas heat. So I will most definitely commend him there that he does a great job. Unfortunately, it was efforts payed to a film that I did not find him all that scary in. He does have an intimidating look, that is certain. But because this feels like a ‘paint-by-numbers’ slasher, I wasn’t scared at any time he popped up on screen. One of the reasons being that it is wildly telegraphed when he was going to “suddenly” strike, whether through audio ques or what have you. There’s another huge reason why I’m not ever afraid and I think it can be summed up in comparing the original’s introduction to Leatherface and the remakes intro to him. I’m going to put both the videos down below and let you guess the difference between the two. I’ll give you a hint though… listen.
Were you able to guess? It’s the musical score. In the ’74 film, it is completely quiet when Leatherface shows up. Creating a sense for the viewer actually feeling as though they are there in the moment as a man is being brutally attacked. The score only flowing in once the horrible act was done, establishing dread for the scene. In the ’03 film, music and sound is constantly in the scene. The underlining orchestral tones prior to the attack, the loud television playing the ‘subtle’ building up of the drums only to silence itself a split second before Leatherface appears. Then Leatherface strikes his blow with the hammer and the orchestra goes crazy, even the camera shakes all over the place while the man’s body is flailing all over the wooden floors, to end the scene with the loud shutting of the metal door. That slamming of the metal door was so much more impactful in the first film, wasn’t it? Just to have this eerie silence only to be interrupted by that door. The second film never stopped trying to force you feel what it wanted you to feel. It never let the scene play out naturally. The filmmakers were determined to give the audience every possible clue imaginable that they should be scared of this place. But because it tries so hard, I’m underwhelmed. If the scene played out in dead silence, maybe it could have worked a little better. I still wouldn’t have cared if the character lived or died, but at least I would have felt some sort of suspense. It would have been something, instead I’m left with nothing.
Another thing that really got on my nerves about how the remake handled Leatherface was all of the exposition that was shoehorned into the dialog with how he was picked on as a child because he was hideously deformed. Am I supposed to be frightened of this guy or sympathetic? Because you can’t really have it both ways. I suppose the movie can try, but it failed on both accounts. I wasn’t scared of Leatherface because there was never a scene that allowed the mood or tone to naturally unravel since it tried too hard with telegraphing in in its audio work and musical score. And I’m definitely not compassionate for a guy chasing down people with a chainsaw and wearing their faces as a mask. I really feel nothing for him either way. The physical performance and the design is completely wasted in this.
I Wrote A Lot More Than I Thought I Would… I’m Sorry.
I seriously didn’t expect to go on for this long, but if you’re someone that has been reading my stuff long enough then you already know that I get carried away. But to answer that question I raised earlier… do I still think that this is the worst horror remake of all time? No. I’ll still maintain that it’s most likely one of the worst. But it isn’t the absolute worst because at the end of the day, it’s just mediocre and forgettable. There is nothing about it that’s abhorrently wrong with the movie, it simply lacks creativity and originality. I suppose that makes sense seeing how this was the film that launched the Platinum Dunes studio with their long line of… less than stellar horror remakes. There are at least some things about this remake I admire and can respect, the same cannot be said for the horror remake that I do find to be the true worst. That particular remake can rot in hell. But that’s a discussion for another time. Until then my fellow readers, steer clear of this crap. After sixteen years, it isn’t anything that merits revisiting. Stick with the original. And if you haven’t seen the original, do yourself a favor and find it immediately. Also be sure to buy yourself a baseball bat, you’ll need that to go to sleep with after you watch it. Then sweet dreams!
- 'The Texas Chain Saw Massacre' (1974) Movie Review
Tobe Hooper's 'The Texas Chain Saw Massacre' is one of the greatest horror films of all time. No duh... so I felt like having fun with diving into my own thoughts on this horrifying classic!
That’s All Folks…
I’ve done it again… nearly four thousand words of me whining over a movie that no one even cares about anymore. Did you like or dislike my review? Agree or disagree? Think that Dennis Hopper should have had another chainsaw fight with Leatherface in the remake? Comment down below and let me know! Also, if you so happened to enjoy my article then please do me a little favor and share this around the social media world. Thank you so much for reading and have yourselves a decapitating good day! …that sounded better in my head…
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So what is your favorite 'Texas Chainsaw Massacre' movie?
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