‘Remake’ has become a dirty word in cinematic circles in the last few years. And rightly so; remakes of classic horror films are uniformly uninspired, unsuspenseful, unscary and seem fixated on giving the killer a tragic backstory, which always boils down to the fact that they had a shitty childhood. The film makers seem to be mining The Jeremy Kyle Show more than the original films themselves. Halloween, Black Christmas (sorry, Xmas…*shudder*), even Jason Voorhees, already the owner of a tragic backstory, had his jazzed up in the remake of Friday the 13th. Not escaping this irritating trend of “all the other kids pick on me. Boo hoo; I’ll just become a deranged killer in 20 years, that’ll show ‘em” is Leatherface in the 2003 Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The 1974 Texas Chain Saw Massacre is often lauded as one of the best horror films ever made. And rightly so, it is a grimy, jarring, visceral experience, which led it to be banned in various countries over the years (and yes, it did get caught up in the ‘Video Nasties’ panic of the early 1980s). I’ve ranted about censorship in horror and remakes before so in the interests of fairness, I am going to try and treat Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2003 as its own film, and judge it on its own merits and failings. What if this was the first film called Texas Chainsaw Massacre featuring a character called Leatherface that existed? I can’t promise to not mention Texas Chain Saw Massacre 1974 at all, but I will give it a jolly good attempt. Spoilers to follow.
It Took All Of My Willpower To Not Put A Picture Of The Original Film Poster As Well, As This One, It’s Simply Miles Better Than This One.
We begin with police recordings of some sort of terrible tragedy that has befallen a group of people in the early 1970s. Tightly edited shots of evidence and a thumping soundtrack give the proceedings some sort of CSI: The South affair. I’m going to break my rule straight away but I am duty bound to point out that the gravelly voice-over narration is by John Larroquette, the same actor who loaned his vocal cords in Texas Chain Saw Massacre 1974. Also worth pointing out is that the opening scene in the original with the stark text scrolling the screen works so much better, as the narration is so well done that’s all it needs…bollocks, I’m beyond breaking the rule now. Sorry, but now that’s out of my system, I shall continue without too much comparison. I’m just going to say the rule kicks in when the pre-credit scene is over. So, from now.
A subtitle tells us it is 1973, and a van load of twenty somethings are heading to a rock concert, having stopped in Mexico beforehand to buy a few pounds of weed. Erin (played by Jessica Biel) is not impressed with this admission. Guess she forgot to wear her ‘Final Girl’ t-shirt so she’s prattling on loudly about not partaking in smoking or drinking instead just to really hammer it home to the audience. Others in the car are her boyfriend, Kemper (played by Eric Balfour), who despite lying to her about the pot business she is desperate to marry, two folk who are frantically trying to climb inside each other’s throats (Pepper and Andy, played by Erica Leerhsen and Mike Vogel and a random with a moustache (Morgan, played by Jonathan Tucker).
After The Sixth Round Of I-Spy And The Answer Still Being ‘Bloodied Corpse In The Backseat’, The Group Were Getting Fed up.
They swerve to avoid hitting a girl walking along the side of the road. She is disorientated and confused. They offer to take her home. Well, the girls offer to take her home, the guys bitch about missing the convert. As they drive the girl sits in the back seat alone as they all stare at her in wonder like she’s an exhibit in a side-show. ‘They’re all dead’ she offers by way of conversation, surely harshening any buzz the group of them might have been feeling. As they drive past the ominous looking Blair Meat Packing Plant the girl freaks and tries to take control of the car, screaming at them they are going the wrong way. Kemper stops the car and girl produces a gun from under her dress, tells them they are all going to die, and shoots herself point blank in the face, the gunshot through her head lovingly captured on camera. Surely she could have saved all of them from dying by just telling them that the road they are currently on will lead them to a family of crazed cannibalistic psychos so perhaps it would be a prudent move to turn around and find another route.
Shocked, the group stumble out of the car in horror and descend into that favourite activity of characters in horror films, bickering inanely amongst themselves. Pepper, screaming and whining about ‘why us’? is a bastion of morals here. Also in the running for the ‘unsympathetic knob head’ award is Morgan, who refuses to call the police due to the high amount of weed in the van. Kemper solves this problem by lobbing straw donkey containing it into a field, where it will grow into the crop the teens were looking for at the beginning of the Friday 13th remake.
Pausing only so Andy, possibly the dimmest of the group, can impart to us that brains look like lasagne, they make their way to a gas station. One of those horror film gas stations. You know the ones; isolated, barren, full of creepy stuffed animals, rotting food for sale, disgusting bathrooms and staffed by sinister yokels. This particular sinister yokel rings the Sheriff, and tells the group he will meet them at the Crawford Mill, as opposed to at the gas station, and it’s a two hour drive so they better get cracking. With only a murmur of discontent they do so, not giving any serious thought to why this is a really stupid idea. They manage to find the place with no bother despite it being really isolated and about 30 years before the invention of Sat-Nav.
The Sheriff is not there when they arrive so they launch into the ethical dilemma of just leaving the body and leaving. Predictably the boys vote for leaving and the girls for staying. Basically it’s Cons: Morally reprehensible. Pros: You reduce your chances of being chainsawed the fuck up. Tough call. They decide to wait and as they do so they see a shadowy figure lurking around. Erin goes to investigate and soon her screams bring the others running, and, cue unsatisfying jump scare, it’s only a possum. Turns out there was a human lurking around after all; a small urchin of a boy with really bad fake teeth who has a hobby of making creepy shit. He joins them in waiting and tells them the Sheriff probably won’t be coming as he’ll be too drunk. Erin and Kemper go to find him, much to the disgust of Morgan, who is still very much on the dumping the corpse and getting the fuck out of there team. Andy chastises the kid for peeking at the body and he flees.
Try As They Might, The Boys Just Couldn’t Decide On Their Favourite Girls Aloud Song.
Erin and Kemper find a house, it doesn’t belong to the Sheriff, but a crotchety old paraplegic who begrudgingly let’s Erin use his phone to call the police station. But it looks like a wasted trip anyway as the Sheriff has already turned up the Mill. He has fantastic eyebrows. Poor etiquette and manors, but man those eyebrows are gold. He is unpleasant to the kids and terribly suspicious and Morgan is probably preparing his ‘I told you so’ dance for Erin and Kemper in his head right this second. Meanwhile, at the house, Erin is successful in getting through to the Sheriff’s station, but as she is about to leave the old man calls for her, asking for help. It appears what he needed help was assistance in groping her arse. A shadowy figure also lurks in the house. Kemper, fed up of waiting, goes in the house and finds pigs wandering around and all the usual creepy props films makers stuff these kinds of films with; sepia photographs, broken dolls, rusty mangles…and a hulking brute of a man wearing a mask made of skin. This is Leatherface, he lunges out of the darkness and whacks Kemper on the head, rendering him unconscious, and drags him away.
Leatherface’s Favourite Girls Aloud Song Is ‘Biology’, Just For The Record, With ‘Sexy! No No No’ A Close Second.
No matter how unsophisticated criminal procedure may have been in the early 1970s compared to now, I’m pretty sure back then they didn’t go in for using cling-film to wrap up dead bodies with. This is the Sheriff’s method though, and he bullies Andy into helping him, rewarding him by regaling him with lovely stories of necrophilia from back when he was a young patrol man. When the job is done Andy and Morgan move the now wrapped dead body to the Sheriff’s car. He insists the put it in the boot so not to mess up his interiors and speeds off.
Erin, having been told by the old man that Kemper wasn’t in the house, has made her way back to the group, only to be told that the Sheriff has already been and that Kemper isn’t with them. The sound of a car horn brings them to some sort of vehicle graveyard, complete with human teeth and photographs in jars. Including the girl who shot herself, it appears she was with her family when all this bad stuff went down. The people perpetrating these crimes must be pretty confident or never getting caught to leave all this stuff lying about, even if it is the middle of nowhere. Morgan is very keen to get out of dodge immediately if not sooner but Erin, strangely, doesn’t want to dessert her boyfriend, and won’t relinquish the keys to the van so he can fuck off and leave them to their doom. Erin and Andy go to search for Kemper, Morgan and Pepper go back to the van and sulk.
Meanwhile Kemper, having earlier been prepared for whatever treat Leatherface has in store for him, is in all sorts of trouble down in Leatherface’s torture basement. He is strung up by his feet over a bathtub, and ring box falls out of his pocket. Aw, so he was going to propose to Erin after all. And he mostly wanted to do the right thing when it came to the dead girl in the car, it’s the not totally heinous character is the first to die twist. Erin and Andy make their way to the house. Erin keeps the old man talking while Andy sneaks into the house to search for Kemper, armed with a tyre iron. For some reason he thinks he might be hiding in the fridge (told you he was dim) and when he closes the door something on top of the fridge falls over, making a big noise and bringing Erin running. As the old guys alternates between shouting and muttering unintelligibly at them they back up into a door, only for Leatherface, avec chainsaw, to appear behind it and attack them. They run for their lives. Erin escapes as Leatherface goes after Andy, through many, many clean sheets hanging on clothes lines. For a house where everything else is a mess they love to keep their sheets clean. Leatherface saws the bottom part of one of Andy’s legs off and takes him back to the house.
Erin makes her way to the van and jumps in, trying her best to start it and screaming all the while, to the bewilderment of Pepper and Morgan. The Sheriff pops up and notices a half smoked joint in the ashtray. Enraged, he orders them out of the car. Meanwhile Leatherface rubs salt in Andy’s wounds, literally, when he hangs him on a meat hook and, er, rubs salt into his leg stump. Sheriff has all the terrified teens on the ground and is refusing to listen to them, instead thinking that Kemper shot the girl and then took off. Warning: Rule Breaking About To Commence. Remember when not seeing Leatherface’s real face was one of the scariest parts of the original? Well they shit all over that here, displaying it as we see him swap his mask for one made of Kemper. He looks lame, basically an ugly dude missing a nose. Not scary. Rule Breaking Ends.
Did Someone Get Confused And Think This Was The Remake Of The 1925 Phantom Of The Opera?
Sheriff has taken Morgan into the van to recreate the girl’s suicide. He’s very keen on getting all the details right, forcing Morgan to take the gun and stick it in his mouth. When Erin distracts him Morgan turns the gun on the Sheriff. Pepper tells him to shoot, Erin says not too, Sheriff says he doesn’t have the balls anyway. There’s too much annoying shouting for it to be tense really. Morgan pulls the trigger, but there were no bullets in the gun and everyone remains unshot. Sheriff pulls out his own, presumably functioning, gun and orders Morgan out of the van and takes him away. In the Sheriff’s car he and Morgan bound over their love of Lynyrd Skynyrd, and it’s the beginning of a beautiful bromance until the Sheriff bottles him in the face. He then radios in the tell someone to get to the Mill to pick up the girls. You mean he wasn’t really an officer of the law, colour me shocked.
But He Looks So Trustworthy.
Back at the van, Erin succeeds in getting the car started and the girls beat a hasty retreat. For about a half a foot, before the wheel falls off. Luck is not on any of these folk’s side. Leatherface attacks as they cower inside, chainsawing the van from all directions. Pepper leaps out the car and makes a run for it, Leatherface kills her, before turning to Erin so she, and we, can see the Kemper mask in all its terrifying glory. It just looks stupid. Erin bolts, with Leatherface hot on her heels. She finds a caravan and bursts inside, where two more weirdoes live. Skinny girl channelling Anne Heche in I Know What You Did Last Summer, and less skinny girl channelling Divine’s homely aunt. They claim not to have a phone, but they do have drugged tea, which is a plus. Not Anne Heche tries to calm Erin down by telling her that Leatherface is a sweet boy with a skin disease who never does anyone any harm. Seems legit. Oh, no it fucking isn’t. They stole the baby from the family that included the girl who shot herself and are working with the Leatherface family. Erin passes out.
I Sense A Kickass Game Of Pictionary In The Offing.
She wakes up as the Sheriff pours beer over her face (guess we should be grateful it was only beer), the lady from the gas station is the matriarch of the family and she immediately chastises Erin as one of the ones who would be mean to her precious son. Which obviously excuses all the torturing, mutilating and murdering he does, bringing it down to the level of a mere personality quirk. She calls Leatherface, or Thomas Hewitt to give him is actual title, to take Erin away. He throws her down the stairs to his torture basement. She stares in horror at all the nasty things on display, including the Hulk’s arm by the look of it. Leatherface took down the Hulk? Hardcore. She finds Andy, still alive, still meathooked and having a really shit time. She tries and fails to free him so he entreats her to kill him, which she does by stabbing him in the chest. And leaving the knife embedded there. Should have taken the knife.
Next she finds Morgan, still handcuffed and sitting in a bathtub, she helps him out, and the little kid with the teeth from earlier shows them a way to escape. Leatherface has been watching all this with interest and goes downstairs to stop them. Unfortunately, the pressure on him to ‘perform’ was too great and his chainsaw stops functioning as Erin and Morgan stumble up the ladder to freedom. He gets it working and goes to attack them as the kid buzzes around like an annoying fly trying to stop him. Erin fends him off with the weakest kick known to man (this is why she should have kept hold of the knife. Always keep hold of the knife; a good rule of thumb for all horror films) and they escape. They make their way to some random building, with Leatherface right behind them. She hides Morgan, who is now playing the role of Velma in Scooby Doo when she loses her glasses, in a cupboard and secrets herself away, finding the time redo the knot on her vest top so we don’t miss a moment of her toned stomach. Rats are very attracted to her as they swarm at her as Leatherface stalks around looking for them. Leatherface finds her, grabs her by her hair and starts dragging her away. Morgan springs out from his hiding place ready to rumble. Except he’s handcuffed, injured and glassesless, not exactly a fair fight, so Erin joins in, pummelling him in an astonishingly weak fashion. The chainsaw falls to the floor, yet not one of them thought to pick the thing up and giving him a dose of his own medicine? Leatherface grabs Morgan and hooks him onto the light-fitting using the handcuffs, then goes to town on his torso. Erin barely waits to watch his grisly death before she is out that door and we’re back to running.
Erin escapes across a field, while Leatherface trips over some barbed wire and accidently chainsaws his own leg like a massive chump who was never warned not to run with scissors. Erin makes it to the road just as a car approaches. It ignores her and drives off. She makes her way to meat packing plant and hides there but Leatherface’s internal GPS means he finds her almost instantly. She escapes into a room filled with hanging meat and hides in one of the corpses, in manner of The Empire Strikes Back. Leatherface turns on the sprinkler system, how diabolical and nothing at all to do with the film makers wanting the very attractive Jessica Biel dripping wet for the second time in 30 minutes. Erin arms herself with a meat cleaver and hides, again. Leatherface stalks the rows of lockers looking for her. She calls to him. When he opens the locker he thinks she’s in there’s a piglet in it. She bursts out of the locker behind him and cleaves his arm off. Should have given him a swift one in the head as well but she just runs again, out into the rain, so that’s wet three times in the space of 35 minutes then. She hails down a truck and this time the vehicle stops for her.
Insert Your Own Lame Pun About Fondling Meat.
The trucker tells the stricken girl he will go and get help but he goes to the gas station run by the Hewitt family. Erin goes mental, like the girl who killed herself, and begs him not too. She obviously learnt nothing from that experience as she just gibbers at him as well, instead of just telling him about the family of psychopaths. He doesn’t listen and goes to the place for help. Handily the whole family is there. As they gather outside to talk to the trucker Erin sneaks in and takes the baby and makes her escape, running over the Sheriff in his own car a fair few times on the way and having one last encounter with Leatherface. She recovered her wits remarkably quickly there. A moment ago she was a senseless wreck, the next formulating a daring rescue and escape plan. But maybe she just remembered about the Skynyrd concert and wanted to get there before they sang ‘Free Bird’, and we should all be fair to her here, it is an awesome song.
Back to the police recordings from the very beginning of the film. The two officers investigating get killed on camera, capturing a fuzzy shot of Leatherface. The narrator intones the case remains open, but you know who did it. Thomas Hewitt, aka Leatherface, you said so yourselves. No wonder you all got killed by him if that’s the brain power the police around here can muster. Fin.
In The Interests of Equality, As Well As Jessica Biel, We Also Get To See Leatherface All Wet And Glistening. Enjoy Ladies!
Well I think I restrained myself from mentioning the original too much admirably there; only a couple of slip-ups. A gold star for me is clearly in order. Having said that, they are two quite different films, with Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2003 owing as much to The Hills Have Eyes and Wrong Turn as it does the 1974 film. As with many horror remakes, it is far too glossy and clean. Some attempts were made to grit it up (or grunge it down), with lots of brown washed out colours and so forth, and credit to the film makers for that. But Texas Chain Saw Massacre 1974 had such a striking look to it, possibly due to tales of woe one hears about the making of it, some of the time the looks of pain on the actor’s faces were real. Famous scenes from the original, such as the dinner scene, were omitted from the remake entirely. This was probably a sensible idea, as I’m sure the film makers wanted to bring their own original ideas to the table, and based on the rest of the film, I don’t think they would have been able to do it justice. One of the things people often forget about Texas Chain Saw Massacre 1974 is that there was very little blood and gore it in. Once again, and I mention this a lot I realise, it was about the building of suspense and then cutting away from the crucial moment and allowing the viewer’s imagination to go into over-drive. Another good example of this is the ear cutting scene in Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs. People were up in arms about it, but you don’t get to actually see anything. Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2003 isn’t as gory as it could have been, and I appreciate that, they didn’t just go straight for flying innards and grisly close ups of people being impaled on meat hooks. And hooray for no gratuitous rape scene, another unsavoury trope of recent horror films, remake or not. And as for the main man, Leatherface himself? Gunnar Hansen hands down a million times. 2003 Leatherface is not scary, at all. Showing his face was a mistake, and his mask looks like it was made of rubber, as opposed to skin (Yes, I know it was made of rubber, but the point is we were meant to believe it was made of the skin of some unfortunate victim) As a film under its own steam, Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2003 isn’t that bad a film really. The acting is decent (especially R. Lee Ermey as the Sheriff, the only actor I could see fitting into the original cast), ditto script and direction. But there’s not much to tell it apart from many other films of the same ilk being made these days. It’s very generic, and that is one thing Texas Chain Saw Massacre 1974 could never be accused of being.
Yeah, I wasn’t Going To Go This Whole Review Without One Picture Of 1974 Leatherface Looking Fucking Awesome.
PS: And a gold star for you if you noticed my insistence of referring to the 1974 film as Texas Chain Saw Massacre, as the film was originally released with this misspelling. Yep, I am just that sad.