Say this for the new The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, a remake of the 1974 horror classic: It's darned good looking. Shot by Daniel Pearl, also the cameraman for the original, the film is one of the better-looking horror films of recent years. But is it scary?
I would have to say no. Sure, it's pretty repulsive and sadistic in places, but it just doesn't produce the creeps that Tobe Hooper managed on a miniscule budget 30 years ago, before Jason and Michael Myers ever put on their masks. The grainy, cheapy "snuff" look that gave the original its documentary-like feel has been replaced by a visually pleasing sheen. It's often nice and pretty, but nice and pretty just doesn't seem right for a Chainsaw picture.
The film tries to be novel in "retelling" the original story. Its claim is that the original film was only a loose depiction of the "real" events that took place in Travis County, Texas in 1973. Instead of a van full of college students going to check out a vandalized graveyard, we get a van full of college students heading to a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert.
What's in the new version that reminds of the old one? Well, the chicken is back, but he's not clucking relentlessly in his cage. He's a free-range chicken now. The John Larroquette of Night Court-fame narrator, the car graveyard, the slamming metal door and, most notably, the infamous hook all make appearances. It's clear that the hook is the image that made the biggest impression on remake director Marcus Nispel, because he plays that particular prop to death. Victims are no longer just stuck on the hook like a slab of meat. Now we are treated to extended scenes of victims trying to remove themselves from said hook, sure to inspire many psychosomatic backaches.
What's gone from the original? Well, there's no Grandpa or Cook on hand to inspire unease. The new family of weirdos is closer to the kind of silly trailer trash depicted in films like Joe Dirt. R. Lee Ermey, the drill sergeant from Full Metal Jacket, plays a backwoods sadistic sheriff. His level of nuttiness is effective, but the overall cast doesn't come close to the original's sense of insanity with characters such as the hitchhiker with a hankering for headcheese. The original's icky dinner scene, where the heroine is repeatedly bashed on the head with a hammer, is replaced by a "trying to be quiet so Leatherface don't hear and kill us" scene in a remote cabin, replete with rats. Not nearly as memorable.
As for Leatherface, the human-skin-wearing, chainsaw-wielding psycho with shockingly bad teeth, he gets an OK depiction from actor Andrew Bryniarski, but he's no Gunnar Hansen. Leatherface's name is no longer Bubba Sawyer; it is now the bland Thomas Hewitt. Thomas is a bit clumsier than Bubba, not only cutting into his leg, but accidentally cutting one of his arms off as well. Dumb ass.
On the good side, Jessica Biel makes for a nice jean-clad heroine, a character to root for even if she makes all those stereotypically bad slasher film moves. And Ermey manages to create the film's most despicable character, upstaging Leatherface on the scary front.
While the film manages to be marginally entertaining for much of its running time, it falls apart in the end with a strange finale involving a rescued baby (huh?). While it's a far better remake than something like Gus Van Sant's useless shot-by-shot re-creation of Psycho, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre winds up being fodder for the argument that filmmakers should keep their dirty paws off the classics.