I may not be the aficionado Donnie is, but since my brother and I sat in a dark room and watched the first two installments of Scream
a number of years ago, I've developed quite a liking for good horror. I've gone back to the roots: Halloween
, Friday the 13th
, Evil Dead
, even the original 1930s Frankenstein
. Along the way, I've learned one significant lesson about horror: at its worst, it can be an absolute embarrassment, a waste of celluloid. At its best, however, horror is the one genre that can provoke the most primal of emotions--terror, rage, bloodlust--emotions so extreme that most deem themselves incapable of producing.
As I said, however, I'm not a true connoiseur of bloody power tools, dismembered body parts, and disfigured madmen. For evidence, please refer to Exhibit A: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
. I've never seen the original. Nor have I seen any of its sequels. The closest I've gotten was Seth Green's one-liner in Idle Hands
, while holding an electric turkey carver: "Look at me, I'm Leatherface!"
So, awaiting the arrival of the 2003 remake of the same name, I couldn't help but feel like a bit of a poser. I'd contemplated renting the original first, but my wallet decided against it. I didn't care. At least, I suppose, I could give the re-Massacre
a fair chance as its own film. Besides, judging by the trailer, it seemed like this one would at least be better than the lowball horror we've been getting as of late.
Indeed, this film was certainly superior in the casting department. The late tendency to cast poor actors, apparently rejected from MTV melodramas or something, has been a horrible smear on the genre and kept me from enjoying it. The hopelessly doomed youths in TCM
, however, don't have doomed careers. Jessica Biel is quite a surprise, very reminiscent of Jamie Lee Curtis in the early Halloween
films, and she could definitely contend as the next queen of scream, should she so desire. Her companions include Mike Vogel (Grind
) and Eric Balfour (perhaps best recognized as "Satan" from a Hyundai commercial), both of which help ground the group in reality. Even the silliest two of the group are at least played naturally, as the class clown or ditz might actually be.
Unfortunately, the bad guys are not so believable as the good guys, and this may be the biggest shortcoming of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
. R. Lee Ermey is quite spooky as the town sheriff, a role Kubrick fans will quickly draw parallels with to Full Metal Jacket
's Sgt. Hartman. Ermey can't sell the freaks singlehandedly, however, and he's given little support. In the end, Leatherface is barely more believable than Jason Voorhees, and keeps this film from graduating from horror to the psychological thriller its producers hoped to make.
If The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
wasn't well-written, it was at least well-shot. The film, like the original, is set in the early 1970s, and everything within seems genuine: the youngsters, the cars and the clothes, but more surprisingly, the atmosphere. There's something sticky about the film that recalls how the sweaty southwest must've felt before air conditioning was in every home or vehicle. It looked as though the film may even have been shot on some vintage stock, or processed to give an aged look, because the graininess and color was reminiscent of an early '70s film.
Cinematography set the time, and direction set the mood. The careful balance of gore, tact, and deliberate concealment help to propel TCM
above other recent horror, which is either too tame or too inexplicably gross for its own good. Pacing, perhaps, is even more significant: the kids, and the audience with them, move slowly & cautiously into the carnage. Leatherface and other threats are more patient and less anxious to reveal themselves than we're used to, so before the first limb is hacked, we've already become very suspicious and alert. The payoff is grand--rather than resorting to (many) cheap gotchas, this is horror that actually relies on legitimate... horror
... to frighten.
Despite setting the right mood, again, the film does fall short as it reveals the reasons for such madness. I won't spoil, but it's so conspiratorial and bizarre, even for a small Texan town, it's just hard to swallow.
Is this remake an example of horror at its best or worst? Will you feel embarrassed, or feral, by watching it? Neither, really. When I eventually do watch the original, I won't be surprised to agree that the remake is inferior. Still, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
was a breath of fresh air after films like Wrong Turn
and Jeepers Creepers 2
and the obviously derivative House of 1,000 Corpses
. Though I stand by 28 Days Later
as the smartest and most psychologically eerie horror film of the past few years, TCM
is certainly the most visually rich, and quite possibly the outright scariest film of the year.