Horror review: Texas Chainsaw Massacre

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ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, OCT. 16, 2003

Let’s face it, Texas Chainsaw Massacre was brilliant. Not the 1974 film itself—although for its time it was quite groundbreaking—but the movie’s title. Has there ever been three words that so powerfully evoked the promise of celluloid carnage? Say it with me, slowly and with feeling: Texas…Chainsaw…Massacre.

I wonder how many times exploitation-movie mogul Roger Corman kicked himself for not coming up with that name?

The folks behind the new Texas Chainsaw Massacre knew well enough not to mess with that amazing moniker. They also knew how to craft a pretty decent remake of Tobe Hooper’s relentless, cringe-inducing cult fave. And I’m not just saying that because lead actor Jessica Biel spends the entire film in a skimpy, tied-together tank top.

Or even because half the time it’s soaking wet.

The striking Biel plays one of five young adults travelling a deserted Texas highway in a beat-up Dodge van, en route to a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert in Dallas. It’s August 1973, “Sweet Home Alabama” is blasting on the 8-track, and everyone is smoking pot, wondering aloud if “Free Bird” will make the set list.

The steady-rolling party dies down considerably when they stop to help a dazed and bloodied young woman wandering aimlessly in the middle of nowhere. She gets in the back seat and mumbles through severely chapped lips about a very bad man who killed some people.

When she pulls a revolver from between her legs, puts it in her mouth, and pulls the trigger, you just know those Skynyrd tickets are gonna go to waste.

At this point in his debut feature, commercial and music-video director Marcus Nispel does a bang-up job of coaxing authentic performances from his actors, including The Deep End’s Jonathan Tucker and Eric Balfour from HBO’s Six Feet Under. Their freaked-out reactions to the unexpected suicide, its grisly aftereffects, and the potential repercussions—there’s a piñata full of Mexican weed in the van—result in some realistically tense moments.

By draining the film of colour and keeping the palette in the range of sepia and rust, cinematographer Daniel Pearl—who was also director of photography on the original TCM—brings an effective tone of desolation and decay to the proceedings.

But it’s R. Lee Ermey of Full Metal Jacket fame who deserves most of the credit for this remake earning its mutilated thumbs–up. His over-the-top role as a hard-ass, demented sheriff from hell who boasts about copping feels from dead women deserves a Drive-in Hall of Fame Award. The former U.S. Marine Corps drill instructor’s sadistic torment of these unlucky Texan kids puts Leatherface’s blustery chainsaw shenanigans to shame.

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