The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Remake: How Do You Re-Imagine a Classic?

Welcome to the inaugural edition of Re-Animated, where I compare horror remakes to their original counterparts. In this inaugural post, Ill be looking at a benchmark horror film, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Tobe Hooper’s 1973 classic is arguably one of the best horror films of all time. Its influence on the genre is immeasurable. More importantly, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre has lost none of its ability to shock audiences. To a large extent, it is the definition of a film that did not need a  remake.

Nonetheless, if studio executive see money lying on the table, a remake is often inevitable. And, like it or not, the 2003 The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake exists. As such, I intend to examine whether the remake stands on its own two legs as an effective horror film. It was always doomed to labour under the shadow of the original, but does it entertain on it own merits?

Nispel’s Visceral Gore Seemed Counterintuitive to the Original

The 2003 remake of TCM was divisive, generally prompted unfavourable reviews. It even won a a Razzie for worst remake that year. As compared to some of the other slasher franchises, the Texas Chainsaw series has a muddled history. So I’m going out on a limb and arguing that the 2003 TCM has some merits as its own horror film.

Produced and released through Michael Bay’s production company, Platinum Dunes, the 2003 Texas Chainsaw Massacre kickstarted the remake trend of the 2000’s. Recall that it was a decade that saw studios plunder the 1980’s horror catalogue. Platinum Dunes itself became synonymous with the remake trend churning. Prior to helming the remake, director Marcus Nispel had largely worked on television and music videos. It was that music video editing and polish that earned a lot of the criticism levied at the remake. The original  was low-budget and looked it. In fact, the grainy picture quality and murky nighttime shots added a documentary realism to the film that enhanced the horror.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre

For contemporary audiences raised on the overt graphic violence of 1970’s splatter films and the slasher cycle of the 1980s, Nispel also opted for a more visually visceral framing of the violence whereas Tobe Hooper’s original Chainsaw offered surprisingly sparse amounts of graphic violence. These deviations from the source material, among others, turned off a lot of audience members from the remake.

The Remake Achieves a Consistent Sense of Dread

The TCM remake does get a few things right. It was never going to re-capture the atmosphere and mood of the original. Even if Nispel had elected to retain the original’s low-budget sensibilities, the remake does maintain a consistent sense of nihilistic dread from start to finish.

Nispel doesn’t make the mistake of lightening the tone to draw in younger audiences. Like the original, the TCM remake has an aura of doom that hangs over its characters; from its opening narration (John Laroquette even reprises his role of the narrator from the original) you know things will not end well. The remake also boasts a good cast of polished young actors, including Jessica Biel as the film’s ‘final girl’. While the characters are largely fodder for the ensuing carnage they do at least remotely resemble ‘young adults’ you might encounter in the real world.

TCM 2003

The Hewitt Family won’t make you forget The Cook, the Hitchhiker, or original Leatherface. But Nispel’s antagonists are suitably menacing. R. Lee Emery, in particular, makes for a terrifying and unpredictable antagonist and any time he is on screen interacting with the film’s victims there is clear tension and a level of suspense that raises this remake above most of the reboots that would follow in the 2000s. A former Marine drill sergeant, Emery is a distinct actor impossible to miss, that makes the TCM remake watchable whenever he is onscreen.

texas-chainsaw-massacre-2003-r-lee-ermey

Andrew Bryniarski’s Leatherface is physically imposing. To some extent, Nispel makes Leatherface a more straightforward monster. Nevertheless, Bryniarski’s Leatherface remains an object of fear in the film.

The Remake Works as Mindless Horror Entertainment

To his credit, Nisepl conjured up some suspense and tension. The climatic chase of Biel’s ‘final girl’ is a highlight. In spite of some of the film’s strengths, the remake is a dark and ugly film. Much of the set design looks like it was discarded from Se7en. Nispel also doesn’t show much imagination with the film’s violence. Like the set design, Nispel relies on a brutal, straightforward, “in-your-face” approach to its death scenes; Leatherface’s chainsaw gets far more use in the remake than Hooper’s original.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake has more in common with the f ‘torture porn’ cycle of the 2000’s than it does to the original film. Simply put, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake can be enjoyed if you can do two thing. Can forgive the remake for existing at all? And can you accept that it will in no way compare to the original. If you can answer yes to both of those questions, you can probably enjoy the remake as mindless horror entertainment.

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I am a Criminology professor in Canada but I've always had a passion for horror films. Over the years I've slowly begun incorporating my interest in the horror genre into my research. After years of saying I wanted to write more about horror I have finally decided to create my own blog where I can share some of my passion and insights into the films I love.

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