There is absolutely no need for you to read any further than the title of the film if you are not a fan of slasher flicks. If you are a fan, than this is a solid enough, if derivative, scare-fest with sufficient “eww” factor to satisfy those weaned on the blood-floods of Michael, Jason and Freddy. However, there is not enough originality here to make this version of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” better than average, and there is certainly nothing to justify it entering the vaunted ground of classic horror movies, where its predecessor and namesake resides.
The original Texas Chainsaw Massacre set the standard for horror movies of the blood-letting kind for the decades that followed and continues to top the lists as one of the most influential movies in a genre. This substantially more sanguineous remake –- the original had a full 40 minutes without bloodshed— again takes the Ed Gein murders as a starting point, places them in the heart of Texas in the 1970’s and replaces Ed’s hunting knife with a chainsaw. This movie pays homage to the original but delights in amplifying the bloodshed and adding its own twists to that nest of Gothic horror where Leatherface resides.
As for plot, don’t ask why, but a van of five bell-bottomed rebels, having just returned from Mexico on a penny-ante drug run, are driving across Texas and choose to stop in a small town as a result of picking up a hitchhiking waif whose strong desire not to go on to that town is made patently evident when she kills herself rather than return. It turns out that the small town is tiny -– comprising a slaughterhouse, a freaky farmhouse, an abandoned barn, a trailer home, a decrepit shack and a gas-station with a rotting meat display that would make David Lynch feel at home. The five youths wait at the barn for the sheriff to show up to cart away the suicide’s body but because they have Lynyrd Skynyrd tickets for that evening decide to expedite the process by going to the farmhouse where the Sheriff allegedly lives. As you might guess this is the last in a series of bad decisions that follow some of the familiar rules of slasher movies. These include:
- 1. When you come across a spooky hitchhiker who warns you about continuing on the road that you are traveling, do not listen to her but go right to the creepy location in question.
- 2. When greeted by the native, who is eyeing you from behind a display case full of flies, maggots and meat, you stay and chat. After all, how often do any of us have a chance to visit with the colorful locals in small eccentric towns?
- 3. If you meet with a feral kid, nesting in an abandoned and bizarrely decorated barn, stay. It will make a great story later.
- 4. Split up your party as often as possible to cover more ground and allow for more prolonged carnage. “Safety in numbers” is so passé.
- 5. Trust everyone, even the freaky sisters alone in their trailer home who insist you drink tea with them while a maniac wearing your boyfriend’s face is just steps behind you with his chainsaw. Sure, they will protect you.
The movie does a fair job at helping the audience to suspend disbelief at these and many, many more highly dubious choices, both by setting the movie in the early ‘70’s (like the original) when people apparently did not know that exploring freaky houses alone was a bad idea, and by relying heavily on the acting of lone survivor, Erin (Jessica Biel). While she does a decent enough job, the standout performance here is R. Lee Ermey (who made Sgt. Hartman in Full Metal Jacket into an icon) as the Sheriff who might be even scarier than the mechanically-inclined behemoth, Leatherface, or the rest of his enabling brood.
For dedicated admirers of the original, this version is just another rehash of the classic, but for new-comers or those who are looking for a good, old-fashioned scare, then there is plenty of meat on this table.
Parents should be aware that there is nothing misleading about this movie’s title. The chainsaw in question is assisted in its macabre work by meat hooks, axes, sledgehammers, knives and other assorted tools of the slasher trade. In addition to quick death, there is torture, mutilation (self and inflicted) and amputation under less than sterile conditions. Leatherface’s trademark fashion statement is his fondness for wearing other people’s skin to mask his disfigured face. While there is sexuality, drug use and strong language, it is the peril and carnage that pushes this movie to the cusp of its R-rating. This movie is only for audiences strong-stomached (I am not going to say “mature”) enough to handle the gore.
Families who watch this movie might discuss what about the setting, the characters and the circumstances heightens the scariness of this movie. What decisions would you make differently and how would you react?
Some families might wish to discuss why the survivors in slasher movies like this one are typically the kids who do not use drugs or become involved in casual sexual encounters. With their roots deep in morality lessons, scary stories have been popular throughout history. What might be the appeal of this medium? Why do some people find horror movies cathartic?
Families who enjoy this movie should see the original. For those who find the gore excessive but the story interesting, Hitchcock’s Psycho, and Silence of the Lambs both feature characters based on Ed Gein.