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Movie Reviews: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974 and 2003)

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From time to time, I’ll be reviewing a classic (or sometimes not so classic) film and that film’s remake. For starters, I’ll begin with one of the most controversial films of its time, and its equally (but for different reasons) controversial remake.

Remakes of classic films rarely work. Most of the time, they end up as the impotent offspring of the film which served as their inspiration. Every now and then, a remake comes along which does its predecessor justice. Such is the case with the 2003 remake of Tobe Hooper’s 1974 classic, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre .

I’ll begin with my review of Hooper’s 1974 classic, and then move on to the Michael Bay-produced, Marcus Nispel-directed remake from Platinum Dunes.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is the tale of a group of young friends, led by Sally Hardesty and her wheelchair-bound brother, Franklin, who are traveling in a van to visit the grave of their grandfather. The trip doesn’t go as planned, as the kids end up re-routed to an old farmhouse which is home to the Sawyer family. I’ll just say that the Sawyers aren’t the most inviting folks when strangers come along, and leave it at that. Want to know the rest? See the movie.

The films stars Marilyn Burns as Sally. Marilyn’s performance is wonderful, although at times her screaming makes me wish she’d fall victim to the chainsaw early on, but I suppose someone in her position, were it in real life, would scream as much if not more! The great Jim Siedow plays Drayton “The Cook” Sawyer with such eagerness and splendor that it almost seems as though he enjoys his evil deeds. Teri McMinn plays Pam, who is an integral character in one of the most memorable scenes in the movie. If you’ve seen it, you know what I mean. Edwin Neal plays The Hitchhiker, a member of the Sawyer family and maybe the most psychotic of them all! And that’s saying a lot!

Finally, the role of Leatherface is played wonderfully by Gunnar Hansen. Leatherface is an almost sympathetic yet psychotic character who reacts to his brother, The Cook, and The Hitchhiker as if he is the family dog, there to serve and be abused at their will. He is brutal beyond your wildest nightmares and yet you do feel for him at times when he is mistreated by his brothers, an apparently mentally handicapped man who is equally capable of playing the role of the housewife and of brutally massacring poor souls who make the fatal mistake of crossing the path of the Sawyer family.

And let’s not forget Grandpa, who may appear to be a cadaver perched in a chair, but he’s as bloodthirsty as the rest of his offspring. Here’s one bit of trivia that some may not be aware of — providing the opening voice-over narration for The Texas Chain Saw Massacre in its opening scroll is none other than John Larroquette, best known for his role as D.A. Dan Fielding on TV’s Night Court .

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was co-written, co-produced, and directed by Tobe Hooper. When Hooper made this film, he had hoped for a PG rating from the MPAA. Well, anyone who’s seen it can tell you that there was no way that his hopes would ever come to fruition. Hooper came up with the idea while waiting in a long line at a store. He was tired of the wait, and happened to notice a display of chainsaws and thought to himself about how much faster the line would move if a chainsaw was used to mow down most of the other customers. By using his little shopping nightmare fantasy, coupled with inspiration from notorious grave robber and cannibal Ed Gein, Hooper created one of the most memorable horror films, not only of the ’70s, but of all time.

To clear a few items up, the movie was not based on a true story per se. As I mentioned, it was loosely inspired by Gein but not actually based on Gein’s life, nor any other actual occurrences. Also, contrary to popular belief, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is not a very gory film. Actually, it contains very little blood judging by today’s standards. Rather than show the gore and killings, Hooper chose to only show the beginning moments of the kill scenes, and then cut away. By doing so, it allows the viewer to use his or her imagination and as we all know, our minds can imagine far worse than what the filmmaker can show on the screen and not receive (at the time) the dreaded X rating. It is filmed in such a gritty, almost documentary style, that it seems more as though you’re watching a home movie than a scripted horror film.

The production of this movie had its share of hurdles, including the rating situation, as well as having no choice but to use Bryanston Distributing Company to distribute the film. Bryanston was run by the mob, and was less than fair when it came to the filmmakers receiving their earned share of the profits.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) is one of the scariest, most terrifying horror films of all time. One reason is that it preyed on a fear we all have — the fear of being out of our element and at the mercy of a stranger.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)

In 2003, Michael Bay and the folks at Platinum Dunes decided to create a remake, or re-envisioning of the original classic horror film, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre . They went with a script penned by Scott Kosar and chose music video director Marcus Nispel to direct their film.

The story in the remake takes place in 1973, and revolves around Erin Hardesty and her friends on their way to a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert in Texas after having spent some time in Mexico. They pick up a despondent female hitchhiker who is terrified to the point that she dramatically takes her life in the kids’ van. Erin and her friends know they need help and go into a little town nearby to seek police assistance. They end up, just as in the original film, re-routed to an old dilapidated farmhouse where this time they meet up with the Hewitt family who, like the Sawyers, don’t really care for out-of-towners. Once again, if you want to know more, you’ll have to see the movie.

This time around, the family name, formerly Sawyer, was changed to Hewitt and the family members were changed. The remake is far more brutal and gory than the original film, choosing to show the viewer the blood and violence that the original film allowed the viewer to imagine.

Jessica Biel stars as Erin Hardesty and is, like her predecessor Sally, seemingly the main target or focus of the psychotic family. R. Lee Ermey plays Sherrif Hoyt. If you can imagine a more aggressive and insane version of the drill sergeant he played in Full Metal Jacket , that’ll pretty well sum up his work in this film. The man is awesome in this as he is in every role he plays. He stops being former Marine Corp drill instructor and sergeant turned actor, and becomes the cannibalistic, torturous, and quite sadistic Sherrif Hoyt. This time around, the role of Leatherface, the chainsaw-wielding maniac, is played by Andrew Bryniarski. Unlike Gunnar Hansen in the original role, Bryniarski takes the role of Leatherface to an entirely new plateau. He’s meaner, nastier, and unapologetic! He’s a huge, angry psycho with a proverbial axe to grind. A nice touch was added to this remake. John Larroquette, the “voice” of the original film, was brought back to narrate the remake as well.

I may be slightly biased when it comes to this remake as Andrew Bryniarski is a former high school classmate of mine. However, this past relationship with him has nothing to do with the fact that his Leatherface is far scarier than Hansen’s.

I can still recall sitting in the theater on opening day in 2003 watching this movie. I literally sat there picking at my fingernails waiting for the insanity to cease! Not because it was bad. No, quite the contrary. It was such an intense experience sitting there watching these horrific events unfold. That mind-numbingly loud screech of the chainsaw. The screaming. When the credits rolled, and it was all said and done, the viewer gets the feeling that he or she is one of the surviving victims of Leatherface and the entire Hewitt family.

As Tobe Hooper had done with the original film, Bay, Nispel, and everyone at Platinum Dunes has created a piece of horror history, with one of the most violent and unforgiving horror movies of our time.

Which is the better film? That’d be almost like comparing apples to oranges. They are two very different films, which share the same theme. I enjoy both equally. Naturally, the 1974 Hooper original was a groundbreaking film that would forever change to landscape of horror movies. For that reason, I would have to say that the original film is better film, as it is undeniably the more important of the two. With that being said, Nispel’s 2003 remake is a very good movie in its own right, despite what many of the naysayers have claimed. The film captured a bit of the grittiness of the original, all the while managing to take the chaos and insanity level and propel it to greater lengths.

So, again I must ask, which is the better movie? I’ll leave that to each individual viewer to decide. Some fans appreciate the remake, while others, usually the purists, cannot allow themselves to enter into a viewing of a remake with an open mind. And others still simply dislike the remake. Period. And that’s just fine with me. I enjoy and appreciate both films (as well as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning ) but I most definitely can respect those with differing opinions. After all, what a boring world it would be if you, me, and Sally all shared the same taste in movies. Whether you  agree with me, and we discuss it, or if you disagree and we debate it, the fact that we are talking about horror movies is all that really matters.

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About Anonymous Scott

  • Merlo1980

    I have started working on a movie project that we believe would make a great prequel to the original. Check out our Indiegogo campaign, and support this film!

    Let me know what you think of the trailer too! Thanks,

  • Thanks so much, AudioDog and Eric. I appreciate the kind words.

  • Thanks so much, AudioDog and Eric. I appreciate the kind words.

  • very nice job on this Scott – I enjoyed your writing and learned a lot!

  • The remake of Texas Chainsaw Massacre was the first horror movie that I sat through, mouth agape in near shock throughout it’s entirety. It was brutal, it was gory, and it was creepy and suspenseful as hell. I loved it. The most unfortunate thing about it is that it seemed to open up a door, through which a new flood of gory, brutal horror movies came. This time, they brought with them a complete disregard for the ‘unseen’ horror, and began favoring the shock value of visible blood and guts. Hopefully we can rewind a little bit, and find a nice balance between graphic violence and psychological horror.