The early 2000s was an interesting, transitional time for horror. After all the strangeness to come out of the 90s, theater attendance was declining and studios were forced to go back to the drawing board. Maybe moviegoers wanted to see something familiar, they thought. Because of that. we saw a string of remakes hit the big screen breathing new life into some of horror’s most celebrated properties. It was a shaky time, and a big gamble but it introduced a new generation of horror fans to films like The Hills Have Eyes, Dawn of the Dead, and Black Christmas. Arguably, this all began with 2003’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the remake train hasn’t lost any steam since that day.
In my eyes, a movie should remade for one of four reasons:
- A bad movie had a good premise that went unnoticed
- The movie didn’t live up to its potential
- To update the film for modern audiences (Context, Technology, etc)
- To tell a different side of the story.
Tobe Hooper‘s classic doesn’t exactly fit into those first three categories, it’s a near-perfect film. But a new angle and a fresh take can occasionally prove to be interesting but this movie can get filmmakers into trouble if they don’t stay true to the essence of the original. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003) simultaneously succeeds and fails to do so.
“Leatherface is absolutely terrifying in this version, however, he doesn’t leave the same psychological wound as the original…”
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre directed by Marcus Nispel plays out similarly to the 1974 original, with some significant changes in the character department. The original has a group heading to check the grave site of a dead relative, tying into the opening narration. It gives you a reason to care about them, versus our new group who is headed to a Lynard Skin-, sorry Skynard concert after picking up marijuana in Mexico. This change makes the attacks seem more random. Also, instead of picking up a hitchhiking Hewitt, they pick up a traumatized victim who kills herself in the back of the van, prompting the group to find a way to call the cops.
The camera moves from the character’s reactions through the victim’s head and out the back of the van. Not only does it show-off the make-up from the gunshot, but also some pretty decent cinematography that’s featured throughout the film (minus that sweet sepia/grain look of the original). The 1974 original is notoriously known for cutting out most gore for a better MPAA rating but this 2003 update wanted to show the grisliness and brutality of Leatherface. And rightfully so! The guy who cuts people up with a chainsaw and wears their faces. On a personal note- that scene where he shoves salt on Andy’s stump haunts me to this day. This Texas Chainsaw Massacre was for fans of gore who may not have appreciated the psychological terror of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
This might be a controversial opinion, but I’m going to give big points to the remake in the final girl department as well. Yes, Sally goes through hell and escapes the Hewitts (AKA the best chase sequence of all-time), however her escape his heavily indebted to that nice man driving by in his truck. 2003 Texas Chainsaw Massacre‘s Erin, played by pre-fame Jessica Biel, is a fantastically capable final girl. Amidst her escape, she manages to cut Leatherface’s arm off, kill Sheriff Hoyt, and rescue a baby. Talk about going above and beyond! Erin demonstrates her intelligence and compassion, topped off with great physicality shown by Biel.
With the increased gore and violence, some could say it’s scarier on a basic fear level. It’s got some really great stuff in there like the shot of Leatherface wearing Kemper’s face or when Monty calls on Leatherface with his cane. The film doesn’t hold up as much as I remembered, but it’s a very serviceable horror movie. Most remakes fail (in fans eyes) because if you’re going to remake a classic, you have make it special in some way. Sure it might be good as a horror film, but how is it as a Texas Chainsaw movie? The Platinum Dunes re-imagining’s biggest downfall is its portrayal of Leatherface and the Hewitt clan.
The group in Tobe Hooper’s classic were warned multiple times to turn around and to not trespass on the Hewitt’s land. They blatantly ignore these warnings multiple times and stroll right into the Hewitt’s house unwelcomed. Back in 1974, Leatherface is barely the antagonist when you think about it. He’s been taken advantage of his entire life, forced to do the bidding of his demented family. In Texas culture, you’re expected to protect your family and land, though Leatherface does so in some pretty gruesome ways. In the 2003 he is no longer portrayed as the big baby he once was. Instead, Leatherface is a vicious and animalistic killer that barely feels human. He’s bigger and more violent, behaving more like a true slasher.
In 1974, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was subverting modern cinema and creating slasher tropes. It’s part of what makes it so special. There was a depth to Leatherface and the Hewitt clan, as well as a conflicting feelings about whether the teens brought their demise upon themselves. The modern The Texas Chainsaw Massacre functions as a standard slasher, with standard horror motifs, and results in a fairly standard horror film. The new group are mostly unlikable, caught in a wrong place at the wrong time. Leatherface is absolutely terrifying in this version, however, he doesn’t leave the same psychological wound as the original does in portraying the whole Hewitt clan.
“[The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003) is] an average horror film that just wore the face of its predecessor.”
To finish things off, let’s revisit my list of valid reasons for remake. Was the original a bad movie with a good premise? Nope. Did the original live up to its potential? For the time, it went above and beyond its potential. Did it need to be updated for modern times? Not really, as the remake downgrades the story contextually and I rather enjoy the pure 70s look of the original. Lastly, did the film tell a different side to the story? Sadly, no. It’s an average horror film that just wore the face of its predecessor. Platinum Dunes’ Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a scary, brutal, and a thrilling ride. It’s just hard to defend a film trying to replicate magic that comes up short. On it’s own, not a bad film. But when it comes faces to faces with the original, it just doesn’t compare.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre came out 15 years ago! What do you think of the remake? Are you planning to revisit the remake today in honor of the controversal release? Let us know on Twitter, Reddit, or in the Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook.