160 – The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Even those who haven’t seen a gajillion movies have a good idea of what to expect from a remake of an old horror movie (or the latest in a long-running horror series, for that matter). Our expectations are lowered at a rate proportional to the number of years since the first movie was produced. Using that logic, this remake of the 1974 ne plus ultra of low-budget gore from Tobe Hooper should be either an absolute laugh riot or a stunningly awful scare flick.

But this 2003 remake isn’t either of those. I was fully prepared to laugh out loud at inappropriate times (it’s okay, it was in the privacy of my own apartment) and basically point and giggle at the bad dialogue and inept acting. But I hardly got the opportunity. Oh, sure, like most horror films this did have the occasional “what the heck are they doing?” moments, the sporadic lapses in logic. But for the most part, this is a well-told story with just the right amount of special effects (including blood and guts, of course). It’s not a movie that throws every effect it can think of, drowning the viewer in coagulation (like the remake of The Haunting, or Freddy versus Jason, or the most recent Halloween movies). This movie relied on two main things: The storyline and the performances of the lead performers. How unhorror-like!

At its heart, the story is pretty simple: A group of five kids, on the way to a Lynryd Skynrd concert, stops to pick up a dazed young girl on the side of the road. She’s not terribly coherent, and just a few minutes after they’ve resumed their journey she puts a gun in her mouth and pulls the trigger, producing a gaping hole in her head and in the rear window of the kids’ van.

So many horror movies begin this way, don’t they? Now the kids have a dead girl in their van, so they bring her to the nearest town. And that’s where the fun begins.

It’s been a long time since I saw the original TCM, but this movie seems to keep pretty close to the general storyline. Kids find creepy house, kids get slaughtered, one person survives… you know how it goes. The movie’s presented as “what really happened” that fateful day in 1973, bookended by “real” film by police of the crime scene. Oh, and in a nifty touch, the narrator of the original has been brought back to narrate this one – the one and only John Larroquette, who was uncredited in the original.

This remake was surprisingly well done, with quick pacing (Michael Bay was one of the producers), excellent atmosphere, some genuine frights and chills, and competent work by a game cast of mostly unknowns (Jessica Biel of TV’s 7th Heaven was the only person I recognized).

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: ***

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